Maurice (de) Abravanel was one of world ‘s greatest conductors of the 20th century. He was born in Turkey on January 6, 1903, in a little place called “Saloniki”. Later on Saloniki was captured by Greece. At this time it is known as Thessalonica, and is an important industrial harbor in the north of Greece. He died at the age of 90 in Salt Lake City, USA, on September 6, 1993. He was of Spanish – Portuguese judish parentage. His father Edouard de Abravanel and mother Rachel Bitty where both born at Saloniki. On of his ancestors was Don Isaac de Abravanel. The Abravanel family settled permanently in Saloniki in 1517, at the time of the Inquisition. For more information about the Sephardic: go to the link page. Through the centuries the family traditions remained Spanish.
His father Edouard de Abravanel was a successful pharmacist. He retired at the age of 39. The Abravanel ‘s had four children: Inez, Gaston, Ernest and as youngest Maurice. In 1909 the family moved to Lausanne, a town in the French speaking part of Switserland. At that time 150 Portrait of Maestro Maurice AbravanelMaurice was nearly 6 years old. The Abravanel ‘s lived for several years at the same house as Ernest De Ansermet. At that time Ernest De Ansermet was one of the best-known conductors. He was the founder of the “Orchestre de la Suisse Romande”, and chief conductor for Diaghilev ‘s ‘Ballets Russe’. De Ansermet thought the young Maurice for his first musical ‘Sleight Ride’. They used to play four-hand piano. It was there at de Ansermet ‘s house, that Maurice Abravanel had his first contacts with the composers Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky. At the time he was twelve, he was playing the piano well and was doing some composing. He felt passionately about music. At that moment he already knew he had to be a musician.
During his teens, he got two jobs through his music. He was hired as both: a performer and an arranger of incidental music for the shows at Lausanne ‘s municipal theater. So, he discovered that he could read a score and commit much of it, to his memory. At the age of sixteen he was a music critic for a daily newspaper in Lausanne.
Music was his first love, but his father insisted on a career in medicine. At a last resort Papa de Abravanel has sent his youngest son to study medicine at the University of Zurich, hoping it would bring him to other thoughts. At the university he had to work on corpses all winter. It was not pleasant for him. He felt that being a terrible conductor might possibly be less dangerous to mankind. So, he finally wrote to his father: “I have come to the conclusion that I cannot live without music. I don’t know which way this will lead. But, I shall be content even to be an assistant second percussionist in an orchestra; I only can hear and make music. His father’s opposition eased since there was not much he could do. Finally Edouard de Abravanel sends his son to Berlin (Germany).