December 06, 2015

Nikolaus Harnoncourt announces his retirement at the age of 86

For health reasons, the Austrian conductor and period-instrument pioneer bows out with grace on his birthday.

Maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the cellist and conductor who spearheaded the early music revival of the 1950s, has taken his final bows. He announced his retirement over the weekend with a handwritten letter published the day before his 86th birthday.

His message appeared in German on 5 December on his website, and was reprinted the following day in the programme of the Vienna Musikverein, where Harnoncourt has conducted more than 300 concerts.

'Dear audience, my physical strength requires me to cancel my future plans,' he writes. 'Great ideas arise, and an incredibly deep relationship has developed between us on the stage and you in the hall – we have become a happy community of discoverers! The current season is still at the forefront of my mind; stay true to it! Yours, Nikolaus Harnoncourt.'

Born in Berlin in 1929, Harnoncourt had a career as a cellist in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra before turning his hand to conducting. A champion of historically informed performance practice from the dawn of the movement, he founded the period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien with his wife, Baroque violinist Alice Hoffelner.

With more than 500 recordings to his name, many with Concentus Musicus Wien for the Teldec early music series Das Alte Werk, the great conductor is particularly renowned for his Bach Cantatas, acclaimed Mozart and Beethoven cycles and more.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt letter