Fritz Reiner was a legend among conductors. Universally admired for his music-making, widely disliked for his aggressive and exacting temperament, and survived by a legacy of definitive recorded performances, he was largely responsible for the artistic ascendancy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and exerted considerable influence on generations of musicians.
Born in Budapest in 1888, he studied piano with his mother and, at the age of 15, entered the Franz Liszt Academy -- an institution that also boasts Bela Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst Dohnányi, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Georg Solti and Antal Dorati as graduates. Reiner gained conducting experience at a number of regional opera houses before eventually returning to Budapest in 1911 to serve at the city's Volksoper, where his reputation as a conductor of special abilities finally emerged.
In 1914 Reiner accepted a position at...