René Leibowitz (17 February 1913 – 29 August 1972) was a French composer, conductor, music theorist and teacher born in Warsaw, Poland. He is remembered best as a champion for the music of the Second Viennese School and for his revolutionary anti-Romantic recordings of Beethoven's symphonies.
René Leibowitz was born in Warsaw on February 17, 1913. His musical career began with the study of the violin at the age of five. Between the ages of nine and thirteen he gave violin recitals in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna and Berlin, but his father decided to end his premature concert career, since he wanted his son to lead a normal life and not that of a child prodigy. On no account, however, did this diminish young Leibowitz's interest in music. In fact, he continued his daily practice and began to conduct as a young student in Berlin" (Readers Digest). Eventually he made Paris his home. There he studied composition with Ravel and Schoenberg, and also studied orchestration with Ravel. Additionally, he studied composition with Webern and conducting with Pierre Monteux.
René Leibowitz made his debut as a conductor in 1937 with the Chamber Orchestra of the French Radio in Europe and the United States. In 1944 he taught composition and conducting to many pupils, including Pierre Boulez (composition only), Antoine Duhamel, and Vinko Globokar. "Meanwhile, he continued to conduct whenever he found time - though his podium activities were interrupted by the war. It was during this period that he wrote several books concerning the music and techniques of the Schoenberg school - theoretical works which are classics of their kind" (Readers Digest). Also, during the war he was an active member of the French resistance against the Nazis. Upon the conclusion of the war, he returned to conducting - reluctantly at first. He felt that in his five-year enforced retirement he might have lost his touch as a maestro. This proved to be totally untrue. Soon after his return to the conducting world, he became one of the most sought-after directors in Europe. Attesting to his international success is the fact that his list of recordings is well over the hundred mark (Readers Digest).
René Leibowitz's repertoire as a conductor spanned virtually everything, including opera, from the Baroque to the most modern 20th century composers. Stamped by the spirit of the Viennese school, he considered faithfulness to the music as the highest standard of interpretation, a principle which must have collided head-on with the romantic ideals of contemporary concert practice. His achievements as a conductor were unique because of the uncompromisingness with which he expressed the modernity of the classical composers as well as the roots of modern composers in the traditions of the past" (quote by Sabine Meine).
Leibowitz was also known as an orchestrator. His arrangement and recording of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor for double orchestra is just one of the unique achievements of his in this area. His most famous orchestration is his re-orchestration and recording of Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain. Apparently the maestro had reservations regarding several aspects the famous Rimsky-Korsakov version. He even made a special trip to Russia to study all the available manuscripts before creating his own rendition. Leibowitz completely eliminated the fanfares, as well as implemented many other orchestral and musical changes. RL's version ends with a huge crescendo, and is quite powerful.
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