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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 694

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This is the grave of Arthur Fiedler.

Born in 1894 in Boston, Fiedler grew up the son of Jewish immigrants from Austria who were musicians. His father was a violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and his mother a very good pianist. When he was a child, the family moved back to Vienna and then to Berlin. Fiedler followed his father into the violin, studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Berlin in the early 1910s. He took a job with the Boston Symphony in 1915. But his real skill was as a conductor and a popularizer of classical music. In 1924, he started the Boston Sinfonietta, dedicated to free outdoor concerts.

In 1930, Fiedler took the job that would define his legacy, as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. He would hold that position for the rest of his life. He dedicated this orchestra to recording. By far the most financially successful conductor of all time, Fiedler’s recordings would surpass $50 million in sales. This included the first recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. He conduced the Pops on the first long-play classical album ever released, a recording of Jacques Offenbach’s Gaîté Parisienne, in 1947. Far from some snob attempting to uphold elite standards, Fiedler was a huge populist who loved making first rate recordings of film music, Broadway, and pop music, including The Beatles. He conducted on TV too, being the first conductor most Americans had ever heard of (and maybe the last too). He even conducted a high school band in the early 70s! He also conducted the orchestra on the nationally televised opening of Disney World in 1971. His most famous work was during the Bicentennial celebration, where the old man was visibly excited conducting the 1812 Overture on television while a huge fireworks show went on behind him.

Fiedler also had some fun eccentricities. He was so obsessed by firefighters that every time there was a big fire in Boston, he would drive out to it so he could watch his heroes work. In 1977, Gerald Ford presented him with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After nearly dying of congestive heart failure in late 1978, Fiedler rallied and had a giant farewell concert where he conducted a variety of works before dying two months later. He was 84 years old.

Let’s watch some Fiedler in action:

Arthur Fiedler is buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other American conductors, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Pierre Monteux is in Hancock, Maine and Fritz Weiner is in Westport, Connecticut. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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