Born in Düsseldorf, Elmendorff studied music at the Cologne College of Music and Hochschule für Musik Köln from 1913 to 1916 under Fritz Steinbach and Hermann Abendroth. Early in his career, he conducted for a number of cities including:
- 1916 to 1920 in Düsseldorf
- 1920 to 1923 in Mainz
- 1923 to 1924 in Hagen
- 1925 at the Munich State Opera
- 1927 to 1942 at the Bayreuth Festival
- Fred K. Prieberg: Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933–1945, CD-Rom-Lexikon, Kiel 2004, p. 1392–1393.
- "Bayreuth's Blight". Time. 19 June 1933. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
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