This Easter, Harnoncourt's Passions will be felt more powerfully than ever
The late maestro Harnoncourt's quest for truth and beauty in music touched a wide range of repertoire, from Monteverdi to Bruckner and beyond. But there can be no question that the pioneering Austrian conductor made his mark, above all, in Bach.
Harnoncourt's recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach's sacred music will remain with us always, particularly at Easter time. Next month, on 15 April, Warner Classics will release a double album paying homage to Harnoncourt with some of the finest moments from his St Matthew and St John Passions, as well as the Mass in B Minor, the Magnificat, and the cantatas that he championed in his famed complete cycle. The epoch-defining recordings presented here were recorded between 1968 and 1995.
Vale, Nikolaus Harnoncourt: the pioneering Austrian maestro dies at 86.
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.
06 December 2015
Nikolaus Harnoncourt announces his retirement at the age of 86
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.
Every year a different conductor is given the privilege to wave his baton in Vienna’s New Year’s Concert in the famous Musikverein, conjuring up a champagne mood with the Vienna Philharmonic. Two of the most famous maestri to be invited to the podium have been Riccardo Muti and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, both of whom left unique marks on the history of the concert. This release gathers together their unforgettable appearances in 1997, 2000 and 2001 – with a Viennese lilt to keep you dancing into 2015.
05 December 2014
Nikolaus Harnoncourt celebrates his 85th birthday this week
He has led his ground-breaking period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien for more than sixty years; his complete Bach Cantata cycle for Teldec is one of the great achievements of classical music on record, and maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt shows no signs of slowing down as he celebrates his 85th birthday this weekend on 6 December.
Warner Classics rings in the new year celebrating the Austrian conductor's accomplishments, with the latest album in the ever-popular Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert series to hit shelves 2 January, 2015. The new disc captures Harnoncourt at the podium of this major annual Viennese society event in 2001 and 2003 (alongside Riccardo Muti's 1997 and 2000 stints).
Earlier this year, ECHO Klassik awarded Harnoncourt its Lifetime Achievement Award. "We are pleased to honour, in Nikolaus Harnoncourt, an outstanding personality who has made an enormous contribution to the field of classical music and has repeatedly set new benchmarks", said Dr. Florian Drücke, Managing Director of the German Music Industry Association.
It was a great year for Harnoncourt on disc, with the release of a boxed set dedicated to his pioneering Monteverdi opera trilogy of 1968-74, featuring the redoutable Cathy Berberian and sounding as fresh and lively as ever.
So how has the maestro chosen to spend his 85th birthday? On 6 December he'll be conducting Haydn's Die Schöpfung with his Concentus Musicus Wien on home turf at the famous Musikverein. Here's to many more concerts with one of the most outstanding conductors of our time.
28 October 2014
Nikolaus Harnoncourt honoured with ECHO Klassik
"We are pleased to honour, in Nikolaus Harnoncourt, an outstanding personality who has made an enormous contribution to the field of classical music and has repeatedly set new benchmarks", said Dr. Florian Drücke, Managing Director of the German Music Industry Association.
You can find Nikolaus Harnoncourt's releases on Warner Classics here.
07 October 2014
Nikolaus Harnoncourt honoured with ECHO Klassik's Lifetime Achievement Award
Germany's prestigious classical music awards, ECHO Klassik, today honours the Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt with its Lifetime Achievement accolade for 2014.
The 84-year-old maestro has been a leading light of the early music revival and historically informed performance movement since he founded the period-instrument ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien as a cellist in 1953. His magnum opus, the complete Bach cantata cycle recorded for Teldec was a pioneering series launched in 1971 with the late harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt, and completed in 1990. But his expertise ranges from the early Baroque — he made his conducting debut at La Scala in 1970 with Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (his sumptuous Monteverdi recordings, available in a new boxed set have lost none of their impact over the decades) — tothe Viennese waltzes of Johann Strauss II (reissued in a new 7-CD boxed set); which he performs with a crisp, authentic sound and, he insists, "without the sugar-coating".
"Nikolaus Harnoncourt has granted music a new life through his persistence and inexhaustible diligence, transforming the seemingly 'outmoded' into historically informed performance," said the ECHO Klassik jury. "He has paved the way to an enlightened, less complacent and ever-questioning approach to composers and their works. He enables music-lovers all over the world to hear what has been previously unheard in our time, and inspires in his performers and audiences alike a thoughtful, conscious approach to music."
With his 85th birthday just two months away, Harnoncourt is currently on tour in Germany and Austria with his Concentus Musicus ensemble performing Mozart.
He conducts Bruckner and Gershwin, Beethoven, Verdi and Johann Strauss – but at the beginning of his career Nikolaus Harnoncourt, one of the most revered maestros of our time, was a major pioneer of historical performance practice. With his ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien he re-established the 'original sound' of early Baroque music in the 20th-century concert hall.
From 1968 to 1974 he rediscovered the father of opera, Claudio Monteverdi, resulting in three studio recordings of his operas. Among the vocalists are Paul Esswood, Kurt Equiluz and Max van Egmond but also renowned opera singers such as Elisabeth Söderström, Helen Donath, and Sven-Olof Eliasson. These highly esteemed recordings are now re-released in a boxed set in the Das Alte Werk series, together with Harnoncourt’s Monteverdi album with the legendary Cathy Berberian, which has been out of print for many years.
Featuring Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione de Poppea plus the great scene Lamento d 'Arianna - the sole surviving fragment of the 1608 opera L'Arianna - the release is a complete edition of Monteverdi’s dramatic works. These productions are still regarded as milestones that should not be labelled as “historical recordings” – they sound as fresh and sensual as ever.
More information on Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Monteverdi trilogy here.