Eugene Ormandy was a Hungarian-born conductor and violinist.
Born Jen? Blau in Budapest, Hungary, Ormandy began studying violin at the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music at the age of five. He gave his first concerts as a violinist at age seven and graduated at 14 with a master’s degree. In 1920, he obtained a university degree in philosophy. In 1921, he moved to the United States of America. Around this time Blau changed his name to “Eugene Ormandy,” “Eugene” being the equivalent of the Hungarian “Jenö.” Accounts differ on the origin of “Ormandy”; it may have either been Blau’s own middle name at birth, or his mother’s. He worked first as a violinist in the Major Bowes Capitol Theater Orchestra in New York City. He became the concertmaster within five days of joining and became the conductor of this group which accompanied silent movies. Ormandy also made 16 recordings as a violinist between 1923 and 1929, half of them using the acoustic process.
Arthur Judson, the most powerful manager of American classical music during the 1930s, greatly assisted Ormandy’s career. When Arturo Toscanini was too ill to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1931, Judson asked Ormandy to stand in. This led to Ormandy’s first major appointment as a conductor, in Minneapolis.
Ormandy served until 1936 as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, now the Minnesota Orchestra. During the depths of the Great Depression, RCA Victor contracted Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony for many recordings. A clause in the musicians’ contract required them to earn their salaries by performing a certain number of hours each week. Since Victor did not need to pay the musicians, it could afford to send its best technicians and equipment to record in Minneapolis. Recordings were made between January 16, 1934, and January 16, 1935. There were several premiere recordings made in Minneapolis: John Alden Carpenter’s Adventures in a Perambulator; Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite; Arnold Schoenberg?s Verklärte Nacht and a specially commissioned recording of Roy Harris’ American Overture based on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Ormandy’s recordings also included readings of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 which became extremely well known. The high technical and interpretive quality of these records contributed to Ormandy’s musical reputation.