The eminent Dutch conductor, Eduard van Beinum, who died just about four decades ago while rehearsing his beloved Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, would be out-of-place in today's superficial world of "glamour, jet-set" conductors. His career was based on solid musicianship and a total lack of self-glorification. He had a natural instinct for making music, and learned his craft through hard work and study. His prophesy became true -- he became conductor of one of the major orchestras of the world, entrusted with carrying on its distinguished traditions.
Eduard (Alexander) van Beinum was born into a musical family; his father was a double-bass player in the local orchestra. Young Eduard studied piano, violin and viola, becoming so proficient on the latter that at the age of 16 he played that instrument in the Arnhem Orchestra. When he was 14, his mother took him to a concert by the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, and he told her that one day she would see him standing before that Orchestra. He learned basics of music from his older brother, who was a violinist and choirmaster. Eduard became a proficient pianist, and impressed teachers at the Amsterdam Conservatory with his performance of L.v. Beethoven's First Piano Concerto. He also was known for his interest in chamber music, which he performed frequently with his wife, violinist Sepha Jansen. But his prime interest was conducting, a craft he basically learned through experience.
Eduard van Beinum began his conducting career by leading several amateur choirs and orchestras, after which he was appointed conductor of the Haarlem Orchestral Society, where he remained for four years. During this time he learned repertory, not only standard orchestral works, but music of contemporary composers, an interest that continued throughout his entire career.
Eduard van Beinum's accomplishments were noticed in nearby Amsterdam. He was invited to appear with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam both as piano soloist and guest conductor. In 1931 he was appointed second conductor of the Orchestra; in typical Beinum fashion, the first concert he conducted in this capacity consisted of two Eighth Symphonies, those of L.v. Beethoven and Bruckner. Even though the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam was led by the imperious Willem Mengelberg, with frequent appearances by major conductors of the day including Pierre Monteux and Bruno Walter, Beinum more than held his own, and in 1938 was appointed principal conductor, beside Willem Mengelberg. His international career began in the late 1930's; he was invited to appear with many leading orchestras including the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1947, after a series of successful guest appearances, he took over leadership of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Under his direction, the Orchestra became the finest in England, reflected in a series of recordings for Decca/London. In 1945 Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam made their first tour of the USA, beginning a tradition that the Orchestra continues to this day. He generally avoided performing just one or two concerts as a guest; he preferred to work with orchestras over a period of time. He was a great favorite in Chicago, conducting 8 concerts at the Ravinia Festival in 1955. In 1956, after highly successful guest appearances, Beinum was appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Eduard van Beinum's style of conducting was different from that of most conductors. He was not an authoritarian like Willem Mengelberg. He respected his musicians and considered them to be colleagues. His concept was that he and his orchestra were making music together. Bart van Beinum, the conductor's son, described his father's attitude concisely and accurately by pointing out that for him it was less a matter of "interpreting" a score than of "realizing" it. He sought to grasp its inner motivations and to transform it into sound through his own energy, so that it was conveyed to listeners as directly and purely as possible. He had infallible musical instincts over a wide range of repertory. Eduard van Beinum died of a heart attack at the age of 59, while rehearsing his beloved Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in the Johannes Brahms First Symphony. He was at the height of his career.