Dimitri Mitropoulos was a famous Greek conductor, pianist, and composer, born in Athens in 1896 (March 1, 1896). He was made famous internationally as one of the major conductors and composers of the 20th century.
Mitropoulos’ father Yannis owned a leather goods shop in downtown Athens, at 15, St. Mark Street. Mitropoulos was musically advanced, demonstrating his abilities at an early age. His earliest acknowledged composition dates from the time he was only 11 years old.
Mitropulos studied music at the Athens Conservatoire as well as in Brussels and Berlin. He assisted Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera between 1921-1925 and following this he took a number of posts in Greece.
Mitropoulos made his US debut with the Boston Symphony Opera in 1936, and he later settled in the US, becoming a citizen in 1946. From 1937 to 1949 he served as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.
In 1949, the peak of his orchestral career, Mitropoulos began his association with the New York Philharmonic. He was initially co-conductor with Leopold Stokowski and became the sole music director in 1951. Mitropoulos recorded extensively with the New York Philharmonic and tried to reach new audiences in the city through appearances on television and by conducting a week of performances at the Roxy Theatre. Mitropoulos expanded the Philharmonic’s repertoire, commissioning works by new composers and championing the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. In 1958, he was succeeded as the Philharmonic’s conductor by one of his protégés, Leonard Bernstein.
“Only life suffered can transform a symphony
from a collection of notes into a message of humanity.”
It was noted that Mitropoulos had a photographic memory which enabled him to conduct without a score, even during rehearsals. He was also known for his monk-like lifestyle due to his deeply religious, Greek Orthodox beliefs.
Mitropoulos never married and he was “quietly known to be homosexual” . It’s said that he had a relationship with Leonard Bernstein.
He died in Milan, Italy at the age of 64 (on 2 November 1960) of heart failure, while rehearsing Gustav Mahler’s 3rd Symphony.