Willem Mengelberg (born Utrecht, 28 March 1871; died Zuort, Switzerland, 22 March 1951) was a Dutch conductor. He is famous for conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam for fifty years, making them one of the world’s finest orchestras.
Willem Mengelberg studied music in Utrecht, Netherlands and at Cologne Conservatory. He had four years of experience conducting an orchestra in Lucerne. Then, in 1895, he was given the job which was to last him the rest of his working life: conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He took over this job from Willem Kes who had started the orchestra five years earlier. At Kes’s farewell concert on 25 October 1895 Mengelberg performed as solo pianist.
Mengelberg soon made it into a great orchestra. He was particularly good at conducting the music of Richard Strauss and Mahler. He took the orchestra on tours to many countries, including Norway, Belgium, France, Germany, England and Switzerland. He celebrated his 25th year of conductor of the orchestra by performing all the orchestral works of Mahler.
Mengelberg also conducted other groups in the Netherlands, including Maatschappij Caecilia and the Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir.
Mengelberg worked hard to get good discipline in his orchestra. He worked to introduce his audiences to good music and to make them listen quietly to the music. He did a lot to help the musicians get better working conditions and he conducted a lot of music by Dutch composers, helping them to become better known.
During World War II he accepted invitations by the Nazis to conduct in Germany. After the war people in Holland were very cross that he had done this, and he was forbidden to conduct in Holland for six years. He said that he had only conducted in Germany for the sake of the musicians.
Mengelberg was very sad and went to live in Switzerland. He died just before his six year ban would have come to an end.
- New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2
- Encyclopedie van de Muziek; Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1957