Alfred Hertz studied music at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt an der Oder, before taking up a series of posts at various theatres across Germany, as was the common career pattern at this time: Halle (1891–1892), Altenburg (1892–1895), Barmen-Elberfeld (1895–1899) and Breslau (1899–1902); in addition he conducted concerts in London during 1899. In 1902 he was invited to take over the German repertoire of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, retaining responsibility for this repertoire, as well as for all new works by American composers, for thirteen years. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera with Lohengrin, and at the end of 1903 conducted the first performances of Parsifal outside Bayreuth, to the anger of Cosima Wagner. Short extracts from several of Hertz’s Wagner performances at the Met were recorded at the beginning of 1903 by the company’s librarian, Lionel Mapleson, on cylinder machines located in the flies above the stage. In all, Hertz conducted twenty-seven different operas at the Met, including the world première of Humperdinck’s Königskinder, and the first American performances of Richard Strauss’s Salome and Der Rosenkavalier; and shared the 1908 season with both Toscanini and Mahler. He also conducted at Covent Garden, successfully leading there Götterdämmerung, Tannhäuser and Tristan und Isolde in 1910 and Parsifal in 1914.
Following disagreements over artistic policy with the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager Gatti-Casazza, Hertz agreed to take over from Henry Hadley as the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, then only four years old. He remained with the orchestra for fifteen years until 1930, and did much to develop it during this period. Under his direction the orchestra became fully professional, recruited women players, played a full season, and was one of the first in the USA to make recordings. Open to new initiatives, Hertz inaugurated orchestral concerts at the Hollywood Bowl at Los Angeles in 1922 and conducted radio concerts as part of the Standard Symphony Hour between 1927 and 1937, as well as conducting at the San Francisco Opera as a guest. After his retirement from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra he remained the principal figure in San Francisco’s musical life through his directorship of the Federal Music Project for Northern California and his conducting of the San Francisco Federal Symphony Orchestra. Married to the Austrian singer Lilly Dorn, Hertz bequeathed funds after his death to support the building of Hertz Hall at the University of California at Berkeley, and the creation of the Hertz Scholarships for advanced studies in music.
If one includes the unofficial Mapleson cylinders, Hertz’s recording career is surprisingly long, stretching from 1903 to the end of the 1920s. Of central importance to it is his recording in 1913 of excerpts from Parsifal with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the Gramophone Company, in excellent sound for this period. These recordings offer a clear glimpse of Hertz’s skill as a conductor, whereas the quality of the Mapleson cylinders, which captured moments from performances of Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tristan und Isolde, is so primitive that it is almost impossible to discern clearly the orchestra, let alone any interpretative nuances. The recordings which Hertz made in the late 1920s for the Victor Company, towards the end of his time with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, consisted predominantly of short pieces, such as the overtures to Der Freischütz and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Leonora No. 3; although the repertoire did also include Liszt’s Les Préludes and the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Hertz’s recordings provide a direct link back to a German performance style current in the late nineteenth century and thus possess considerable documentary, as well as musical, value.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).