Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg was born March 28, 1871, in Utrecht. His early education was in his native city where he studied under the tutelage of Richard Hol, Henri Wilhelm Pertri, and Anton Averkamp. Mengelberg continued his studies with Franz Wullner and Adolf Jensen in Cologne where he earned prizes as a pianist, violinist, and conductor. In 1891, Mengelberg assumed the directorship of the Lucerne City conservatory. It would not take long for the young conductor to garner an excellent reputation, and in 1895 became the music director of the prestigious Concertgebouw Orchestra, where he would serve until 1945. Concurrently, Mengelberg served as chief conductor of the Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir, an ensemble he found invaluable, marshaling his resources to perform such choral masterpieces as Bach's St. Matthew Passion.
In 1902, Mengelberg met and befriended the great Gustav Mahler, and consequently became a devoted champion of the legendary Austrian composer's music. During his time, Mengelberg was widely respected as a foremost interpreter of Mahler's scores. In 1920, in celebration of the Concertgebouw's 25th season, he led the orchestra in a cycle that presented all of Mahler's symphonies. From 1907-1920, Mengelberg served as the director of the Frankfurt Museum concerts, and in 1921 became the conductor of the New York International Symphony Orchestra, which he would conduct until 1929. From 1922-1930, Mengelberg was the principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and for the 1928-1929 season shared the podium with Arturo Toscanini, a relationship that was strained and led to Mengelberg's return to Amsterdam. He was an avid supporter of contemporary music, and conducted the premieres of many notable works by such influential composers as Zoltan Kodaly, Darius Milhaud, Henk Badings, Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartok, Max Reger, and Ottorino Respighi.
Mengelberg's discography is extensive, and is represented by a host of renowned orchestras including the BBC Orchestra, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Paris Radio Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and of course the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The conductor's popularity was widespread, and was exemplified by Richard Strauss' dedication of his Ein Heldenleben, to the Dutch conductor. In an unfortunate incident, Mengelberg was deemed a Nazi sympathizer, and was eventually exiled to Switzerland for six years. Consequent to his exile, his tenure at the Concertgebouw Orchestra was revoked, and the Gold Medal of Arts and Sciences he had been awarded was withdrawn and reclaimed by Queen Wilhelmina. While Mengelberg was banned from his native Holland, he did receive requests to conduct elsewhere, including the Soviet Union. The conductor could not accept such offers however, as his passport had been surrendered to the Dutch government. Willem Mengelberg undoubtedly was an important figure in music. His dedication to the work of Mahler and advocacy for the artistic output of his contemporaries solidified his reputation and established his career as one of the most influential of his time.