Dimitri Mitropoulos was a Greek conductor, pianist, and composer. He received international fame both as a major conductor and composer of the 20th century.
Mitropoulos was born in Athens on Mach 1st, 1986, the son of Yannis and Angeliki Mitropoulos. His father owned a leather goods shop in downtown Athens, at 15, St. Mark Street. He was musically precocious, demonstrating his abilities at an early age. From the ages of eleven to fourteen, when Mitropoulos was in secondary school, he would host and preside over informal musical gatherings at his house every Saturday afternoon. His earliest acknowledged composition – a sonata for violin and piano, now lost – dates from this period.
He studied music at the Athens Conservatoire as well as in Brussels and Berlin, with Ferruccio Busoni among his teachers. From 1921 to 1925 he assisted Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera and then took a number of posts in Greece.
Mitropoulos made his U.S. debut in 1936 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and he later settled in the country, becoming a citizen in 1946. From 1937 to 1949 he served as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (forerunner of today’s Minnesota Orchestra).
In 1949 Mitropoulos began his association with the New York Philharmonic, the peak of his orchestral career. He was initially co-conductor with Leopold Stokowski and became the sole music director in 1951. Mitropoulos recorded extensively with the Philharmonic for Columbia Records and sought to reach new audiences in the city through appearances on television and by conducting a week of performances at the Roxy Theatre, a popular movie 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.”
Dimitri Mitropoulos was noted for having a photographic memory (which enabled him to conduct without a score, even during rehearsals) and for his monk-like lifestyle due to his deeply religious, Greek Orthodox beliefs.
Mitropoulos never married. He was “quietly known to be homosexual” and “felt no need for a cosmetic marriage”. Among his relationships reportedly was one 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.