Désiré Defauw

Born September 5, 1885; Ghent, Belgium
Died July 25, 1960, Gary; Indiana

Désiré Defauw began studying violin at the Ghent Conservatory at the age of seven and later attended the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. After touring Europe as a violin soloist, in 1906, he was selected to lead the New Symphony Orchestra of London. Defauw appeared as guest conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic and served as director of the Concerts du Conservatoire. He was professor of conducting and orchestra classes at the Royal Conservatory, and he founded the Brussels Symphony Orchestra in 1931.

In 1939, Defauw made his U.S. debut, conducting four performances with Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra. After leading only one concert with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 1941, he was signed as permanent conductor and served in that capacity until 1952.

He first conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January 1943, leading one week of subscription concerts and a Popular Concert. One month later, the Orchestral Association announced that Defauw would become third music director, beginning in October of that year.

During his four seasons, Defauw introduced Chicago audiences to works by several composers, including Barber, Bloch, Carpenter, Chadwick, Copland, Elgar, Goldmark, Milhaud, Sibelius, Walton and Warlock. For RCA, Defauw and the Orchestra recorded works by Borodin, Franck, Grétry, Handel, Prokofiev, Respighi, Smetana and Stravinsky, along with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Mischa Elman, Strauss’s Burleske and Weber’s Konzertstück with Claudio Arrau and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Erica Morini.

Defauw’s tenure coincided with American involvement in World War II, and uniformed servicemen were able to hear concerts for free. For the first concerts following the end of the war in October 1945, Defauw led the Orchestra in the national anthems of the Allied nations: China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Following his tenure in Chicago, Defauw served as music director of the Gary Symphony Orchestra in Indiana and the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan.