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date: 25 June 2022

Burger (Bürger), Juliusfree

Burger (Bürger), Juliusfree

  • Ryan Hugh Ross

(b Vienna, March 11, 1897; d New York, June 12, 1995) Austrian-born composer, conductor, pianist, and repetiteur.

Julius Burger circa 1960s; Photo by permission of the Julius Burger Estate held at the Exil.Arte Center for Banned Music at the MDW (Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien)

Burger began formal music studies in 1916 at of the University of Vienna, attending lectures by Guido Adler and Egon Wellesz. The following year he enrolled at the Imperial Academy of Music and the Performing Arts where he studied composition with Franz Schreker. In 1919, he left Vienna to study composition with Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin. Upon Schreker’s appointment as director of the Hochschule für Musik Berlin in 1920, Burger returned to his former tutor’s studio. While enrolled, Burger also studied conducting (1921–2) and was employed as accompanist to the tenor Leo Slezak until gaining his diploma in 1922.

Burger served as repetiteur for the Karlsruhe Opera in 1922–3, and in 1924–7 at the recommendation of Bruno Walter he assisted Artur Bodanzky at the Metropolitan Opera. He served as accompanist to Contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1926–7), and from 1927 to 1930 he worked as assistant to Otto Klemperer at the Kroll Oper. Burger also conducted for Funk-Stunde AG Berlin from 1929 until forced to resign in April 1933 because of his Jewish heritage. Two commercial successes of the 1930s include the songs Zigeunerlied and Launisches Glück, both recorded by the tenor Joseph Schmidt. The latter was featured in the 1933 German film Ein Lied Geht um die Welt.

From 1933 to 1939, Burger was employed as a composer/arranger for the BBC, credited with creating the programme genre ‘Radio Potpourri’. After two failed applications to gain a settlement permit in England, he emigrated to New Yorkin 1939 and became a citizen on May 23, 1944.

Throughout the 1940s, Burger worked as an arranger, composer, and conductor for CBS and Columbia Records, collaborating with Andre Kostelanetz and Arthur Fiedler. From 1944 to 1945, he conducted the operetta Songs of Norway on Broadway. In 1949 he returned to the Metropolitan Opera as assistant conductor/repetiteur until retiring in 1969; notable performances there include his ballet Vittorio (Dimitri Mitropoulos’s 1954 début), his adaption of Offenbach’s La Perichole in 1956, original entr’actes for the Peter Brook production of Eugene Onegin in 1957, and his début as conductor for the opera house on March 24, 1961with Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

In 1984, he won first prize at the Contemporary Music Festival at Indiana State University with his Variations on a Theme by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. A meeting with the lawyer Ronald S. Pohl, Esq. in 1990 led to the composer’s revival concert the following year with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Other notable orchestral performances of his music include the University of the Negev’s orchestra in Beersheba, Israel (August 1993) and the Austin Symphony (December 1994); orchestral recordings were made with the Radio Symphonie Orchester Berlin, conducted by Simone Young (September 1994) and were later released on the Toccata Classics label.


(selective list)

Two Songs, Bar, orch, 1919/23

Symphonic Overture – Ozeanfahrt, 1925

Eastern Symphony “Far and Near”, 1931

Conc., vc, orch, 1932

Scherzo for strings, 1937

Variations on a Theme by C.P.E. Bach, 1945

Str Qts nos.1–3, 1968

Lieder Des Alters (E. Geibel, M. Claudius, and J.W. von Goethe), 1970

4 Heitere Lieder (G.E. Lessing), 1979

Goodbye, Vienna (Wienerlied), 1988


(selective list)

  • D. Margolick ‘At the Bar: a Probate Lawyer Turns Impresario, Reviving Music so Sweet to his Client’s Ears’, New York Times (Feb 19, 1993)
  • M. Böggemann, ‘Julius Bürger’ in Franz Schrekers Schüler in Berlin : Biographische Beiträge und Dokumente, ed. D. Schenk, M. Böggemann, R. Cadenbach, Universität der Künste Berlin, 2005, p.18-19.
  • M. MacDonald ‘Julius Burger (1897–1995): Orchestral Music’, Julius Burger: Orchestral Music. Toccata Classics TOCC0001 2007 [disc notes]
  • Documents from the Julius Burger Collection are held at the Exil. Arte Center of the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna.