Walter Legge

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Legge was one of the most influential figures in the classical music industry and one of the most exacting administrators and producers, setting high standards for both recordings and performances. Several…
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Legge was one of the most influential figures in the classical music industry and one of the most exacting administrators and producers, setting high standards for both recordings and performances. Several of the recordings he oversaw are legends, the gold standards for all comparisons. Astoundingly, he had no formal musical training; he was entirely self-taught. In 1927, he began work as a writer at the still-new HMV label and later, acted as a music critic for various newspapers and as a music assistant for Thomas Beecham at Covent Garden. The war interrupted musical life in England, but after its conclusion, he formed the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus in 1946 mostly as a house orchestra for Columbia, where he worked as a record producer. While he made several memorable recordings for that company, particularly those from the 1951 Bayreuth Festival, it was his Angel/EMI material that produced legend after legend, including the de Sabata Tosca, the Bohm Così fan tutte, Toscanini's recording of Brahms' four symphonies, Dinu Lipatti's Chopin waltzes, the Klemperer Das Lied von der Erde, and nearly a dozen operetta recordings, most with Otto Ackermann. He also had a track record for recognizing promising young artists and offering them exclusive contracts, and he was largely responsible for launching the recording careers of Otto Klemperer, Dinu Lipatti, Hermann Prey, Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Maria Callas. He was well known as a perfectionist, though he was not above engineering and creating a scandal in the music world when, for the 1952 Tristan und Isolde, he substituted Elisabeth Schwartzkopf's high Cs for Kirsten Flagstad. In 1968, he began a five-year stint as director of the Royal Opera House. He was married to soprano Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, who starred in several of the EMI operettas. His memoirs, Words and Music, as well as Schwartzkopf's own memoirs of her husband, are a revealing view of the world of music administration.