Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Walter Burle Marx began his career as a pianist, studying with Enrique Oswald in Rio de Janeiro, Tobias Mattay in London and James Kwast in Berlin. Although he concertized widely throughout Brazil and Europe in the 1920's, he also studied composition with Emil von Resnicek and conducting with Felix Weingartner during this period. In 1931 he founded the Rio de Janeiro Philharmonic and conducted numerous premieres with this orchestra, among them, the first South American performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Soloists with the orchestra included Arthur Rubinstein, Mieczislav Horszowski and Margaret Long. He was also the first to organize youth concerts in Brazil.
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Walter Burle Marx
During the decade following his return to Brazil in 1931, Burle Marx continued to conduct in both Europe and the United States. Among the most notable orchestras that he guest conducted were the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit and the National Symphony Orchestras. He served as Music Director of the Brazilian Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City where he conducted the New York Philharmonic in several premieres of works by now-notable Brazilian composers such as Heitor Villa Lobos and Camargo Guarnieri. He also introduced some of his own compositions. One of these, Fantastic Episodes, prompted N.Y. Times critic Olin Downes to remark, "It was a score of astonishing workmanship. Very few young men of his generation could write with such a proficiency that it conceals knowledge and seizes the public."
In 1947 Burle Marx was appointed Artistic Director of the Rio de Janeiro Opera. In 1949 he left Brazil in order to become a permanent U.S. resident and devote himself entirely to composition. From 1952 until his retirement in 1977, he taught piano, theory and composition at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia . He continued to compose until his death in December of 1990.
The Burle Marx Music Society was founded early in 1987 to promote the music and work of W. Burle Marx and other Brazilian and Pan-American composers and musicians. The Society produces musical events, and distributes scores and recordings to performing ensembles and organizations. Associates in both the United States and Latin America are working with the Society to achieve these goals.
Among Burle Marx's richly varied works are 4 symphonies, several pieces for solo guitar, 2 concertinos for piano and orchestra, a cello concerto, 2 string quartets, a quartet for ancient instruments, a quintet for flute and strings and a song cycle entitled The Great Occasions, featuring songs for American holidays as well as others celebrated around the world. His Halloween song provided the inspiration for a musical play with orchestra, chorus and soloists written for UNICEF entitled The Witchkids.
Madalena Burle Marx, "W. Burle Marx Symphony #3", Program Notes (Akron Symphony Orchestra n.d.)