Fiedler: canny, feisty, he looked the part.
Boston — Though the idea of the Boston Pops was that of Henry Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, no one did more to advance the Pops than Arthur Fiedler, who had joined the BSO at age 21 as a violinist. In an era when American musicians were looked on as no more than apprentices to European masters, it was 14 years before he got his chance to conduct some outdoor concerts in 1929. The next year, after three disastrous seasons by the famous Italian composer Alfredo Casella, Bostonian Fiedler was the first American to be appointed conductor.
According to friend, biographer, and fellow musician Harry Ellis Dickson, Fiedler was fiercely anti-snob. With his first consideration that the audience would no longer squirm or whisper, he was fond of quoting Rossini: ``There is no bad music, only the boring kind.''
Keeping the essential three-part format, Fiedler revitalized the last section with the most current popular music of the day. He hired symphonic arrangers Richard Hayman and later Leroy Anderson, who contributed significantly to Fiedler's successes.
One of the largest contributions of Fiedler toward taking music to the people was to introduce Pops concerts free of charge. Known as the Esplanade concerts, the summer performances were played outdoors along the Charles River at the famous Hatch Shell. Even the early concerts attracted upwards of 10,000 per night. By the nation's bicentennial in 1976, 500,000 came to witness the band playing the ``1812 Overture,'' replete with howitzer cannons borrowed from the National Guard.
Although, according to BSO musicologist and program annotator Steven Ledbetter, one of Fielder's immediate advantages was that he looked like a conductor, ``his staying power over five decades was quite simply [a result of] his imagination and breadth of taste.''
When European conductors were scorning new American idioms -- notably jazz and ragtime -- Fiedler recognized the importance of playing a truly American-sounding music.
He invited the latest jazz artists to perform. And he always tried to keep up with the latest trends, introducing music by all of the leading composers of Broadway's golden years, and continuing through early rock, the Beatles, and beyond.
The biggest element in the Pops's rise to world fame under Fiedler has been recordings. Three days in 1935 produced 40 pieces -- Schubert, Chopin, Strauss, Mendelssohn, Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Rachmaninoff, and ``Turkey in the Straw.'' The recording that year of Jacob Gade's ``Jalousie'' was the first orchestral record ever to sell a million copies. That and a Pops recording of Gershwin's ``Rhapsody in Blue'' established the Boston Pops brand name worldwide.
Throughout his tenure, Fiedler had to wrestle with critics. Many, like the famous BSO conductor Serge Koussevitsky, found the Pops demeaning to both audiences and musicians alike. Others called the Pops, in the words of biographer Dickson, ``that vulgar relative who is tolerated because he helps pay the bills.''
Though Fiedler added to his fame with Pops tours and guest appearances, and, from 1969 on, with the famous ``Evening at Pops'' PBS broadcasts, his musical star waned somewhat at home in later years for rehashing past glories. Critics complained that the Pops was becoming more of a museum of the light classics than a forward-looking institution.
Fiedler fought back by saying he played more Mozart piano concertos with the Pops than the BSO under all its conductors -- and premi`ered other serious works such as Walton's Violin Concerto. Says Michael Steinberg, former director of publications for the BSO, now with the San Francisco Symphony: ``There was at one time a real serious musician [in him], and that's the part of him that everyone lost sight of, including himself.''
When he passed on July 10, 1979, writes Mr. Dickson, he ``brought to an end an unprecedented era in the history of the Boston Pops and of music in America . . . no matter that he was actually the 18th conductor. To most people, Arthur was the only conductor.''--