The Kennedy Center

Hugo David Weisgall


Hugo Weisgall was a Czech-born American composer and conductor. He is best remembered as an American composer of opera and large-scale cycle songs reflecting Judaic and western literature themes.  He is famous for his popular opera Six Characters in Search of an Author that made him nationally known and for his most elaborate opera, Athaliah. 
Hugo David Weisgall was born on October 13, 1912 in Eibenschitz a town in Moravia, now the Czech Republic.  He was born to a family with a long history as musical cantors.  He was a child prodigy who began singing in a synagogue choir around age four.  His father, Abba Yosef (Adolph Joseph) Weisgall was both a cantor at synagogue and a classical lieder and operatic singer.   At the age of eight, his family immigrated to America in 1920 and settled in Baltimore.
He received all of his formal educational training in America.  He studied at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA where he studied with Fritz Reiner and Rosario Scalero and earned diplomas in conducting and composition.  He even studied intermittently with Roger Sessions.  His varying interests led him to pursue a doctorate in other academic areas and in 1940 Johns Hopkins University awarded him a Ph.D. for his dissertation on primitivism in 17th-century German poetry.
He served as an assistant military attaché to General S. Patton during World War II.   After the war, he returned to the United States where he founded and directed the Chamber Society of Baltimore and the Hilltop Opera Company.  From 1949 to 1951, he was the director of the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts.  He also directed the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts and taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1951 – 1957 all the while continuing his work with synagogue choirs.  His greatest ongoing project was his forty-four-year involvement with the Jewish Theological Seminary.  He became a professor at Queens College, the Julliard School and the Jewish Theological Seminary all located in New York City.  In 1955, he was awarded the Columbia University William Schuman Award and three Guggenheim fellowships for musical activities and accomplishments.  Hugo David Weisgall died on March 11, 1997 in New York City.  He was survived by his wife Nathalie Schulman and a daughter Deborah and four grandchildren.
Hugo David Weisgall