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Alexander, Jeff (02 July 1910–23 December 1989), composer and conductor, was born Myer Alexander in Seattle, Washington, the son of Max Alexander, Jr., a salesman, and Della Goodhue, a pianist. His musical education was initiated by his mother and continued at Becker Institute of Music in Portland, Oregon, as well as under private tutors Edmund Ross in Los Angeles and ...

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Barrère, Georges (31 October 1876–14 June 1944), flutist and conductor, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Gabriel Barrère, a furniture maker, and Marie Périne Courtet. As a child in Paris he played in a fife, drum, and bugle corps and began flute studies with Léon Richault. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Henry Altès (1889–1893) and Claude Paul Taffanel (1893–1896), who became his mentor. Barrère graduated with the ...

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Beck, Johann Heinrich (12 September 1856–26 May 1924), conductor, composer, and violinist, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Beck, a businessman, and Rebecca Butler. He was one of five children, all boys, all of whom played the violin. He was educated in Cleveland and spent most of his life there, although he attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1879 to 1882. He made his acclaimed European debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus as violinist in his own String Quartet in C Minor. His diploma read in part: “In Theory Mr. Beck possesses highly advanced knowledge, in practical Composition, ...

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Bergmann, Carl (12 April 1821–10 August 1876), conductor, cellist, and composer, was born in Ebersbach, Saxony, the son of middle-class parents. His talent for music manifested itself early, and he was a pupil of Adolph Zimmerman at Zittau as early as 1827 and later studied with the organist-composer Adolph Hesse at Breslau. By 1842 he was playing cello and occasionally conducting the orchestra in Breslau and in these capacities toured central and eastern European cities between 1842 and 1848. His early compositions, written before 1848, apparently included an opera and a symphony....

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Bernstein, Elmer (04 April 1922–18 August 2004), composer and conductor of film music, was born in New York City, the child of Ukrainian immigrants Edward Bernstein, a teacher, and Selma Feinstein. He displayed multiple artistic talents in childhood, studying at the King-Coit School and Children's Theatre and the Walden School. At age twelve he won a piano scholarship to study with Henrietta Michelson of the Juilliard School. Sensing the boy's potential, she brought him to the attention of ...

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Leonard Bernstein. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90733).

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Bernstein, Leonard (25 August 1918–14 October 1990), conductor and composer, was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Bernstein, a supplier of barber and beauty products, and Jenny Resnick. He began to pursue musical activities with abandon at about the age of ten and as a teen performed in classical and popular venues, including staged operettas with friends, as a jazz pianist at parties, as piano soloist with the Boston Public School Orchestra, and by playing light classics on the radio for thirteen weeks in 1934. Bernstein’s consuming interest in music was not encouraged by his father, but he never seriously considered another career. In 1939 he received a B.A. cum laude in music from Harvard University, where his teachers included Heinrich Gebhard, ...

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Braham, David (1838–11 April 1905), composer, conductor, and violinist, was born near London. His father and brother were musicians, as were two of his sons and four of his nephews. In his teens Braham decided to become a professional harpist but, according to one source, gave up the instrument when a British coach driver informed him that he was welcome aboard but his bulky instrument was not. Shortly thereafter he began studying the violin and became an accomplished performer though he never aspired to a career as a concert soloist. As a youth he played violin in various London music halls....

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Brico, Antonia (26 June 1902–03 August 1989), conductor, was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the daughter of parents who were of Italian and Dutch ancestry. Brico’s parents, whose names are unknown, died in 1904, and she moved to the United States with her foster parents in 1906. As a child she showed promise as a pianist but decided at the age of ten that she wanted to be a conductor after hearing a concert conducted by Paul Steindorff, the director of the San Francisco Opera. Brico graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1923 with honors and a degree in music....

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Casals, Pablo (29 December 1876–22 October 1973), cellist and conductor, was born Pau Carlos Salvador Defilló de Casals in El Vendrell (Catalonia), Spain, the son of Carlos Casals i Riba, a musician, and Pilar Ursula Defilló i Amiguet. Casals demonstrated his musical gift early, joining his father’s church choir at age five and later studying violin, piano, and organ with his father. He discovered the cello in 1888 and entered the Municipal School of Music in Barcelona. Casals studied cello with José García, his only teacher on the instrument, but even then he was rethinking accepted techniques of cello playing. He was joined in Barcelona by his mother and brother, helping support the family by playing in a café. He graduated in 1893 with highest honors in cello, piano, and composition....

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Carlos Chávez Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103962).

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Chávez, Carlos (13 June 1899–02 August 1978), influential Mexican composer/conductor, author, and educator, of Spanish and some Indian descent, was born Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez in Mexico City, the seventh son of Augustin Chávez, an inventor, and Juvencia Ramírez, a teacher. His mother supported the children after her husband’s death in 1902. Chávez began his musical studies at an early age and studied piano, first with his elder brother Manuel, then with Asunción Parra, and later with composer and pianist Manuel M. Ponce (1910–1914) and pianist and teacher Pedro Luis Ogazón (1915–1920). Chávez credited Ogazón with introducing him to the best classical and Romantic music and with developing his musical taste and technical formation. He received little formal training in composition, concentrating instead on the piano, analysis of musical scores, and orchestration. Chávez’s maternal grandfather was Indian, and from the time Chávez was five or six his family frequently vacationed in the ancient city-state of Tlaxcala, the home of a tribe that opposed the Aztecs. He later visited such diverse Indian centers as Puebla, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Michoacan in pursuit of Indian culture, which proved a significant influence on his early works....

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Damrosch, Leopold (22 October 1832–15 February 1885), musician and conductor, was born in Posen, Prussia (now Poznań, Poland), the son of Heinrich Damrosch. Neither his father’s occupation nor his mother’s name is known. Like many middle-class Germans of the nineteenth century, Damrosch grew up in a music-loving family and received thorough musical training as part of his general education. Musical activity, however, was valued more as an avocation than as a profession, so his father objected when Damrosch expressed a desire to pursue music professionally. Damrosch reluctantly yielded to family pressures and halted his music studies. He completed Gymnasium training, embarked briefly on legal studies, and ultimately switched to medicine, completing a medical degree in 1854. Music continued to beckon, however, and within a year of earning his medical degree Damrosch left medicine for the violin. Consequently, the rift with his parents widened. Indeed, when Damrosch’s famous son ...

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Damrosch, Walter Johannes (30 January 1862–22 December 1950), conductor and composer, was born in Breslau, Prussia (now Wrocław, Poland), the son of Leopold Damrosch, a conductor, and Helene von Heimburg, an opera singer. His father, a converted Jew, and his mother had met in Weimar, where Leopold was concertmaster of the ducal court orchestra led by Franz Liszt and Helene was a leading singer of opera and lieder. Moving to Breslau in 1858 as chief of the Orchesterverein, Leopold soon became a conductor distinguished enough to attract the attention of such luminaries as Liszt, Peter Cornelius, Richard Wagner, Carl Tausig, Anton Rubinstein, Joseph Joachim, Hans von Bülow, and Clara Schumann, all of whom were Leopold’s personal friends. It was into this milieu that Walter Johannes was born....

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DePreist, James Anderson (21 November 1936–08 February 2013), conductor and musician, was born in south Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to James DePreist and Ethel Anderson DePreist. His father died when James was six years old, and he was raised by his mother and her sister, the famous contralto ...

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Dean Dixon Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92597).

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Dixon, Dean (10 January 1915–04 November 1976), orchestra conductor, was born Charles Dean Dixon in New York City, the son of Henry Charles Dixon, a lawyer and hotel porter, and McClara Dean Ralston. Both of Dixon’s parents were West Indian—his mother was born in Barbados and his father in Jamaica. Because more than two decades elapsed before his parents secured their U.S. passports, according to Dixon, “[T]here is a lot of legal questioning as to whether I am an American or whether I only have an American passport. Both [of] my parents were Commonwealth citizens when I was born” (Dunbar, pp. 189–90)....

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Dohnányi, Ernst von (27 July 1877–09 February 1960), composer, concert pianist, teacher, and conductor, also known as Ernó and baptized Dohnányi Erno Jeno Frigyes, was born in Pozsony, Hungary-later known as Pressberg, then Bratislava, Slovakia. (The population of Pozsony was approximately half Hungarian and half German, so Dohnányi was comfortable with the language and heritage of both.) He was the son of Frederick von Dohnányi (Dohnányi Frigyes), professor of mathematics and physics at the Royal Catholic Chief Gymnasium (Királyi Katolikus Fögimnásium) and an accomplished cellist and composer. Dohnányi's mother, Ottilia Szlabey, was tiny; she was sometimes referred to as fiercely determined and willing to sacrifice her comfort for others. Dohnányi embodied these characteristics as an adult helping family and friends survive the vicissitudes of wartime Europe. His sister, Mitzi, was a year younger. A brother died in infancy. When traveling outside of Hungary, he called himself Ernst von Dohnányi....

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Doráti, Antal (09 April 1906–13 November 1988), conductor and composer, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Sándor Doráti, a violinist, and Margit Kunwald, a pianist, violinist, and violist. Doráti began his musical studies with his parents at an early age. Late in his life he remarked, “Since my earliest childhood the strongest impressions and influences which pointed my way, emanated from my father and mother. Both were musicians through and through” ( ...

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Dragon, Carmen Martin (28 July 1914–28 March 1984), arranger, conductor, and composer, was born in Antioch, California, the son of Frank Dragon, a building contractor, and Rose Dedio. Both parents were born in Italy. His background in music came naturally: Sunday evenings and holidays were spent making music, with his parents on violin and guitar and Dragon and his brothers Peter and Roland alternating on accordion, clarinet, piano, saxophone, string bass, trombone, and trumpet. Dragon also had perfect pitch. He attended San Jose State College, where his major was music and his minor was psychology. In order to make money, Dragon often interrupted his college education to work, and he did not return to complete his senior year....