Today in Yiddishkayt… June 18
Birthday of Manuel Rosenthal, French composer and conductor
Manuel Rosenthal was born on June 18, 1904 in Paris to a mother of Russian Jewish descent. Rosenthal began violin studies at age 6, and after his stepfather’s death in 1918, he played the violin in cafés and cinemas to support his family. In 1920, Rosenthal entered the Conservatoire in Paris, although he had to leave the institution after failing to win an expected first prize. In October 1921 he contributed his own music to a recital in Paris and in 1924 his Sonatine for two violins and piano was performed at the 99th concert of the Société Musicale Independante in Paris.
After military service, he became Maurice Ravel’s third and final student. Rosenthal continued to play violin in the orchestra at the Moulin Rouge and the Casino de Paris. Ravel helped Rosenthal acquire the Prix Blumenthal (worth 20,000 francs) and arranged for his conducting debut, at a concert of Rosenthal’s own music in 1928. In 1934 Rosenthal became a percussionist and assistant conductor of the Orchestre National de France. In 1936 he became the conductor of the Orchestre de Radio PTT. In May 1940, while serving military duty, Rosenthal was taken as a prisoner of war. In March of 1941, he was included in an exchange of prisoners that were sent back to the occupied zone. Rosenthal arrived back in Paris but escaped to Marseille in the Zone libre. He was arrested in Besançon in September 1941 while attempting to see his son, and was sentenced to six months forced labor. With the assistance of a German officer, he got the necessary papers to escape back to Marseille. Later in 1942 he returned to Paris and worked in the Resistance.
In 1944, he returned to the Orchestre National de France to become their principal conductor, a post he held until 1947. In early 1946 Rosenthal went to the USA to conduct concerts with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. He accepted the post of composer-in-residence at the College of Puget Sound, and then was invited to become music director of the Seattle Symphony from 1948–1951. He also undertook guest engagements in San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Algiers and Tunis. Rosenthal served as music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Liège from 1964-1967, and professor of conducting at the Paris Conservatoire from 1962-1974. In February 1981 Rosenthal made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera New York. In 1988, he conducted the first performance of Pelléas et Mélisande in Moscow and later that year gave the premiere of the same work in Caracas, Venezuela. Rosenthal was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur in 1961 and a Commandeur in 1991. In 1999 he published a small book Crescendo vers Dieu in which he looked at his religious beliefs, woven into the story of his life. Rosenthal died in Paris on June 5, 2003, at the age of 98.
Listen to Rosenthal’s arragement of Gaite Parisienne-Offenbach, performed by The London Philharmusica, conducted by Rene Leibowitz in the 1950s: