Furtwängler, Wilhelm (vĭlˈhĕlm fŏrtˈvĕng-lər) [key], 1886–1954, German conductor, b. Berlin; son of Adolf Furtwängler. One of the greatest orchestral conductors of the 20th cent., he studied music in Munich, where he grew up. He began his career conducting opera in Lübeck (1911–15) and Mannheim (1915–20). In 1922 he succeeded Arthur Nikisch as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and shortly thereafter also became principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. Furtwängler was a regular conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1925 to 1927 and its permanent conductor in the season of 1937–38. In 1934 he resigned his important posts in Germany when the performance of Hindemith's music was prohibited. In 1935 he returned to conduct the Berlin orchestra.
Furtwängler remained in Germany during World War II and, while he was never a Nazi, his failure to break with the regime led to considerable criticism. After the war he was absolved of a charge of having collaborated with the Nazis. He continued to conduct in Vienna, revived (1951) the Bayreuth Festival, and retained the position of conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic until his death. He was succeeded in Berlin by Herbert von Karajan. Furtwängler was particularly renowned for his interpretations of the music of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, and Schumann. He was also a composer, following in the German romantic tradition.
See M. Tanner, ed., Notebooks 1924–1954 by Wilhelm Furtwängler (tr. 1989); biography by C. Riess (tr. 1955); P. Pirie, Furtwängler and the Art of Conducting (1980) and J. Hunt, The Furtwängler Sound (1985).
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