The Hungarian-born conductor Fritz Reiner was one of the leading orchestral conductors of the major American orchestras in the early to mid-1900s. He was notorious for his sadistic behaviour towards his orchestra members but appreciated for the high level of performance from his orchestras. He made many recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Fritz Reiner was born Reiner Frigyes on 19 December 1888 in Budapest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He came from a secular Jewish family that spoke both German and Hungarian. Reiner began playing the piano at the age of six, and immediately showed much musical promise. With his mother’s encouragement, he entered the Franz Liszt Academy at the age of 10. There he gained a general music education in addition to piano and composition studies. His teachers included Béla Bartók and Leo Weiner, who also taught Georg Solti and Janos Starker.
Reiner’s first professional job came in 1908 as the répétiteur at the German Comic Opera in Budapest. He was then appointed co-conductor at the Laibach (German name for what was later to become Ljubljana) Opera with Václav Talich. Reiner conducted 57 performances between October 1910 and March 1911. At this point, his name was Germanized to Frederik Reiner. During this period, Reiner met the first of his three wives, Elca Jelacin. In the autumn of 1911, Reiner left Laibach for the private opera and ballet company The Budapest Népopera. He remained there for three seasons, during which time he successfully conducted about 25 different operas per season. The repertoire consisted primarily of German, French and Italian operas, though they were sung almost entirely in German.
In late 1914, Reiner was appointed co-conductor with Hermann Kutzschbach at the Königliches oper Dresden (Dresden Royal Opera), also known as the Semperoper, at the Königliche Hoftheater Dresden (Royal Court Theatre of Dresden), following in the footsteps of Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner. Upon his appointment in Dresden, he became known as Fritz Reiner. Also considered for this position were Karl Muck and Felix Weingartner, but it is not certain whether or not they actually declined the position.
While in Dresden, Reiner not only conducted operas, but also gained experience as an orchestral conductor. He was appointed Royal Court Conductor in 1915 and also became the conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden.