With a professional career spanning more than seventy years, Pierre Monteux combined longevity with prestige. He is considered to be the creator of an aesthetic "French style" of conducting. Pierre Monteux's fame extended outside of France and he spent most of his career in the United States.
Pierre Monteux began learning the violin at the age of six and in 1885 entered the Paris Conservatoire where he studied viola and chamber music under Benjamin Godard and harmony with Albert Lavignac. He was awarded the Premier Prix in 1896, but had already begun his career in 1890 as a violinist at the Folies Bergères. In 1892, he joined the Geloso Quartet on the viola, which led him to perform in front of Johannes Brahms and to meet Pablo Casals, Georges Enesco and Alfred Cortot.
The following year, he was appointed as Principal Viola of the Colonne Orchestra. He participated in major events such as the premiere of Claude Debussy's opera Pelléas and Mélisande and performed under the baton of the great conductors of the era: Arthur Nikisch, Felix Mottl, Felix Weingartner and Richard Strauss. Pierre Monteux mastered the art of conducting with Edouard Colonne who noticed his talent and put his trust in him. In 1906, Monteux acted as a choirmaster for a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.2 conducted by the composer. In 1908, he became the conductor of the Dieppe Casino Orchestra with whom, among other things, he accompanied Camille Saint-Saëns in a performance of Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto. His career took a decisive turn in 1911 when he was engaged by Serge Diaghliev to conduct the Russian Ballet Orchestra. He premiered Igor Stravinsky's Petrouchka (1911), The Rite of Spring (1913) and The Nightingale (1914) and, in 1912, Claude Debussys's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé.
The First World War brutally interrupted this series of historical musical landmarks. Pierre Monteux was conscripted and sent to the Front. But in 1916 Diaghlev managed to have him demobilised in order to undertake a tour in the United States with the Ballets Russes. The French conductor was warmly welcomed by the Americans and decided to remain there. He was invited to conduct the Metropolitan Opera and in 1919 he took over and rebuilt the crisis-striken Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1924 he returned to Europe to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, alongside Willelm Mengelberg before taking up the principal conductorship of the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris in 1929. However, in 1934, Monteux permanently returned to the United States. He was first appointed as principal conductor of the San Francisco Orchestra with which he produced a large number of quality recordings. Then, in 1937, he was invited to train the newly formed NBC Orchestra, which would later be conducted by Arturo Toscanini, another great master. Pierre Monteux's reputation in the USA reached its peak in 1942 when he became an American citizen. The following year Pierre Monteux founded a school of conducting in Hancock, Maine which would produce future celebrated conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, Marcel Landowski and André Prévin. Igor Stravinsky dedicated his Greetings Prelude to Pierre Monteux on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. In 1961 Pierre Monteux became conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. This would be his final appointment.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Pierre Monteux
• 1908 : Chief Conductor of the Orchestre du Casino, Dieppe
• 1911 : Named as Principal Conductor of the Orchestre des Ballets Russes
• 1913 : Conducted the tumultuous premiere of The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
• 1919 : Became Principal Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra
• 1937 : Prepared the NBC Orchestra to receive Arturo Toscanini, its future conductor
• 1961 : Became Principal Conductor of the LSO
Six Key Recordings by Pierre Monteux
• Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique, Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, Gramophone, 1930
• Chausson, Symphony in B-flat, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, RCA, 1950
• Franck, Symphony in D minor, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, RCA,1950
• Ravel, Daphnis et Chloé, London Symphony Orchestra, Decca, 1959
• Stravinsky, Petrouchka, National Orchestra, Montaigne, 1948
• Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Boston Symphony Orchestra, RCA, 1951