By Casey Quackenbush
July 18, 2018

Google‘s new Doodle celebratrates Maestro Kurt Masur, the legendary German conductor and humanitarian on what would be his 91st birthday.

Born in 1927 in the former German (now Polish) town of Brieg, Masur grew up studying music. He spent much of his life living under communist rule in East Germany, where he trained as a pianist, organist, cellist, and percussionist until he was 16 years old, when a damaged tendon forced him to focus on conducting. After a brief stint in the national militia, Masur resumed studying conducting, composition and piano at the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig until he was 21 years old, at which point he left school without finishing his studies and started working at Halle Opera House.

Masur went to pursue a storied musical career, landing the top posts in the world’s most famed orchestras, from the New York Philharmonic, to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, to Orchestre National de France. The maestro is widely remembered for conducting a moving, nationally televised performance of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem at the New York Philharmonic in the wake of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Kurt Masur leading the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven's "Symphony No. 1 in C major" at Avery Fisher Hall on May 12, 2010.
Hiroyuki Ito—Getty Images

Alongside his success as a conductor, Masur was also a decorated humanitarian. One of his most notable acts came in 1989 when East Germans began revolting against communist Soviet rule. As tensions mounted over pro-democracy demonstrations, Masur intervened, helping to facilitate meetings that would avert violence. Post-Communist, pre-reunification leaders of East Germany seriously considered appointing him president, the New York Times reports.

Masur bears numerous honors including Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor from the French government, New York City Cultural Ambassador, Commander Cross of Merit of the Polish Republic, Honorary Citizen of Brieg, the Leo Baeck Medal for promoting tolerance and social justice, and a Goldene Henne award for public policy work.

After a long, successful career, Masur died at the age of 88 in Greenwich, Connecticut, from complications of Parkinson’s disease on Dec. 19, 2015.

Wednesday’s black and white Doodle depicts Masur’s “robust conducting style,” according Google, “notably baton-less due to his childhood hand injury.”

Write to Casey Quackenbush at casey.quackenbush@time.com.

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