Felix Weingartner, who did much to shape the modern art of conducting, studied piano and composition in Graz, Austria with the composer W.A. Remy. On the recommendation of Hanslick, he received a stipend from the state, and in 1881 he went on to study philosophy at Leipzig University, later attending the Leipzig Conservatory where he made the acquaintance of Liszt. Liszt persuaded him to become a conductor and helped to produce Weingartner's first opera, Sakuntala, at Weimar in 1884. In the same year he began his conducting career in Königsberg.
Thereafter, Weingartner was constantly on the move: Danzig (1885-1887); as Hans von Bülow's assistant in Hamburg (1887-1889); Mannheim (1889-91); Berlin's Kaim Royal Opera Orchestra (1891-1898); the Vienna Opera, where he succeeded Mahler (1898-1903); Hamburg again (1912-14); Darmstadt (1914-1919); Vienna Volksoper and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (1919-1927). Over the same period, he toured Europe, making his first visits to London in 1898 and to the U.S. in 1905, where he conducted the Boston Opera Company for its 1912-1913 season. From 1927 to 1933, he was director of the Conservatory and Symphony Orchestra in Basel, Switzerland, and returned tp the Vienna State Opera from 1935-1936. In his second period with the Vienna Opera he appeared tired, and resigned at the end of the season. In 1939, Weingartner was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.
Nor were Weingartner's activities confined to conducting: he was also a prolific composer. His output includes eight operas, six symphonies, two concertos, chamber music and songs, though none of his works had more than a brief success. Together with Charles Malherbe, he edited the complete works of Berlioz and was one of the first to bring that composer's works back into public favor. Weingartner's arrangement of Weber's Invitation to the Dance was recorded four times by him, and he also recorded his own orchestral arrangement of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" piano sonata, Op. 106, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Weingartner was among the first great conductors to insist on a meticulous interpretation of the composer's score and steady, moderate tempi. While in Hamburg, he clashed with Hans von Bülow, whom he criticized for romantic exaggeration and wayward performances. In 1895, Weingartner wrote a book, On Conducting, in which he accused von Bülow of "wanting to divert the attention of the audience from the music to himself."
His baton technique was refined and simple. The English critic Neville Cardus wrote this of his podium style: "Weingartner does not use the familiar gestures of the modern 'dictator' conductors; he retains the old fashioned belief that an instrumentalist understands how to play his notes correctly, and does not need illumination in the form of arts that scarcely belong to a conductor — the arts of Terpsichore and declamation. His gestures are quiet; he is always dignified.... He belongs to the cultured epoch of music, the epoch of good manners, good taste and scholarship."
Weingartner made his first recordings in 1910 with the American soprano Lucille Marcel, who became the third of his five wives. He recorded all the Beethoven symphonies, some several times, most famously with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1930s. In Japan, his Beethoven "Choral" Symphony sold over 100,000 copies, a remarkable achievement. Weingartner's immense reputation was obscured by the rise of the high-profile, much-recorded conductors of the 1950s and 1960s. However, CD transfers have been made of some of his finest Beethoven performances.