Lorin Maazel, who has died aged 84, was a senior star of the conducting firmament, a model of expertise, a fount of musical knowledge, with a memory in a million; his repertoire was vast and he was seldom seen to use a score. Only once, when a performance of Wagner's Siegfried in Berlin suddenly came unstuck, was he known to lose his grip of what was going on. It was so unexpected that it went down in history. More typical was the fact that he was invited to conduct every great orchestra in the world, and to become musical director of several of them.
Born of Franco-Jewish parents at Neuilly on the outskirts of Paris, where his father was a singer and actor and his mother a pianist, Lorin Varencove Maazel was a child prodigy, conducting Haydn from the age of nine and attracting the attention of Arturo Toscanini.
In his thirties, with large-scale forces, he sensationally conducted Bach's B minor Mass. In his forties he was conductor of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, and of the Berlin Radio Orchestra, with which he accompanied Yehudi Menuhin in Berg's Violin Concerto, the first time Menuhin had ever played it, though it was as simple as ABC to Maazel.
In Britain he struck a close association with the Philharmonia Orchestra, both as a conductor and as a violinist (another of his feats of expertise) playing Mozart concertos in programmes also containing Mahler symphonies. On one occasion, without any suggestion that he was showing off, he conducted all nine Beethoven symphonies, one after the other, in a single sweep, which the audience loved but the critics frowned upon.
It was with the critics - who thought they detected a certain superficiality in him - that he faced most of his problems. With a meticulous stick technique and utterly confident stage presence, he was just too good to be true. Although in his heyday he was artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, he found himself often in the middle of Viennese controversy and resigned after two years.
When, after the death of Herbert von Karajan in 1989, he expected to find himself appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, he could not believe it when Claudio Abbado was appointed instead. Thereafter he refused to conduct the orchestra - with which he had been closely associated - ever again.
But as conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, he had his achievements. As he grew older he seemed to grow younger and busier, becoming musical consultant to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and, in 2009, taking over the Munich Philharmonic. In recent years he could only be said to be accelerating to his death, founding in the process his own festival at his farm in Virginia, composing an opera on George Orwell's 1984 (reputedly adroit but not a success) and threatening to write, as a sideline, a series of novels.
At the Edinburgh Festival, where he often appeared, he was considered good value. On one occasion, in the middle of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra at the Usher Hall, a viola player collapsed and had to be carried off the platform but Maazel never stopped conducting. He had an arresting presence, sometimes raising one leg while conducting and bringing it elegantly down again, and wielding his baton with an intricacy that had to be seen to be believed. Though Mahler and Ravel were among his specialities, he also conducted Gershwin and knew how to make the Cuban Overture (which he conducted in Edinburgh) sound like the masterpiece it was.
He was married three times, his second wife being the pianist Israela Margalit, who once played Rachmaninov with the Scottish National Orchestra and Sir Alexander Gibson, with the newly-married Maazel sitting in the audience.
Margalit was succeeded by the actress Dietlinde Turban Maazel, who joined him in running his farmhouse festival. She survives him, as do their two sons (one of them called Orson) and daughter, along with four children from his previous marriages.