Born in Arnhem in 1901, Eduard van Beinum mastered several instruments by the age of 14, with a particular emphasis on the piano. By the time he was 16 he was playing viola in an Arnhem-based orchestra led by his father. After entering the Amsterdam Conservatoire, Beinum began to conduct local choruses and provincial orchestras throughout the Netherlands. Beinum's talents as a pianist brought him to the Concertgebouw Amsterdam in 1927, and he made his debut as a guest conductor there in 1929. In 1931 he was named to the post of assistant to chief conductor Willem Mengelberg. In 1938 Eduard van Beinum was promoted to joint leadership of the Concertgebouw alongside Mengelberg, but did not take full control of the orchestra until 1945 when Mengelberg was suspended from his post and exiled after being declared a Nazi collaborator.
Musicians responded strongly to Beinum's leadership — he represented the antithesis of Mengelberg's autocratic manner. Beinum preferred to work with an orchestra in a collaborative sense, and his evenhanded approach was what the Concertgebouw needed in the postwar period when tensions were running high. In 1949 Beinum was named principal conductor of the London Philharmonic, premiering several works of Benjamin Britten and encouraging the efforts of aspiring composer Malcolm Arnold. Beinum took the Concertgebouw on a successful tour of the United States in 1956, dividing the conducting duties with Rafael Kubelik. Beinum also accepted the job of musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning in 1956. It was during a rehearsal with the Concertgebouw in April 1959 that Beinum suffered a fatal heart attack at age 58.
Beinum is first heard in radio air checks from 1939, and his full-fledged recording career did not get underway until Telefunken recorded him with the Concertgebouw in November 1941. Beinum made up for lost time quickly at war's end, recording frequently and well for the English Decca and Philips labels, primarily with the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the London Philharmonic. His recorded output is well invested in Romantic literature, and his interpretations of Beethoven's Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus and Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 are justly famous. But Beinum was also greatly interested in the contemporary music of his time, making many first recordings of works by Pijper, Diepenbrock, Badings, and Hendrik Andriessen, in addition to those of Bartók, Britten, and Stravinsky.