March 06, 2016

Vale, Nikolaus Harnoncourt: the pioneering Austrian maestro dies at 86.

One of the most influential and beloved conductors of the past century, Harnoncourt made more than 500 recordings.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the great Austrian conductor who spearheaded the historical performance movement from the 1950s onwards, has passed away in Vienna. The BBC 's obituary describes him as the "pope" of the Baroque music revival. The news comes just a few months after he took his final bows at the podium, announcing his retirement on his 86th birthday with an open letter published in the programme of the Vienna Musikverein, citing health reasons.

Born in 1929, Harnoncourt began his career as a cellist in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, performing under Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, among others. Founding his own Concentus Musicus Wien orchestra in 1953, he was at the forefront of the post-WWII Baroque and early music movement.

One highlight of his rich legacy of more than 500 recordings includes the voluminous, pioneering cycle of Bach cantatas for Teldec (winning the 1990 Gramophone Award for Special Achievement).

The splendour and depth of his Baroque sensibility can be heard in his trilogy of Monteverdi operas, featuring soprano Cathy Berberian and reissued as a boxed set in the Das Alte Werk series.

Harnoncourt also brought his extensive research and exacting approach in historical performance to modern-instrument orchestras like the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics and the Concertgebouw. In 1991 he recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, winning Gramophone’s Orchestral and Recording of the Year Awards in 1992. His Bruckner symphonies were released on Teldec and remain available in a boxed set. The excitement and supreme elegance of his New Year's galas with the Vienna Philharmonic have also been doumented on disc.

Harnoncourt received the Echo Klassik Lifetime Achievement Award shortly before his 85th birthday in 2014. An inspiration for generations of musicians, Nikolaus Harnoncourt will be deeply missed.