Perhaps no single musician ever achieved such high accomplishment across such a broad span of repertory as Nikolaus Harnoncourt. His first professional job was as cellist for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Almost immediately, however, Harnoncourt sought to specialize in performing music of the past upon historically correct instruments; he was one of the first professional musicians to do so. Over the course of a stunningly influential career, Harnoncourt gradually worked forward into more modern repertories. His many awards include repeated top recording medals from at least six European countries, and a Grammophone Award for Special Achievement in 1990. His decades of recordings on the Teldec label fully encompass seven centuries of music history. Harnoncourt considered his own life strongly influenced by an adolescence under the shadow of Nazism. He was born Nikolaus de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt in Berlin; his aristocratic family moved south to its ancestral mansion in Graz, Austria. After years of hardship under the Nazi regime, the Harnoncourt family fled to Salzburg in 1945. There he found his calling, and began studying the cello under Paul Grummer. No less a figure than Herbert von Karajan accepted Harnoncourt into the Vienna Symphony in 1952. However, his path was destined elsewhere. While in college, Harnoncourt became fascinated by the original Baroque instruments languishing in antique shops, and wondered why professional musicians didn't use these brilliant artifacts to produce the music of their time. In 1953, Harnoncourt and his wife Alice founded the Concentus Musicus Wien, the first professional Baroque orchestra. They took players from the symphony, trained collaboratively for four years on early instruments, and exploded onto the European scene in 1957. Their first recording project was the Purcell Viol Fantasias, followed by a series of highly acclaimed recordings of the major works of Bach. In the 1970s, Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt collaborated on a massive recording project of all Bach's cantatas. Meanwhile, Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus romped through much of the Baroque literature, including Monteverdi's operas, Telemann, Rameau, and Fux. Later, he broadened his repertory to include Haydn and Mozart with Concentus Musicus, as well as masterworks from the 19th century operatic and symphonic repertory (including a million-selling cycle of Beethoven symphonies) with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He taught as professor of performance practice at the Salzburg Mozarteum (1972-1993), and wrote three full-length books on the subject closest to his heart. He maintained a close relationship guest conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the years just before his retirement in late 2015 for health reasons. Harnoncourt passed away soon after, leaving behind a legacy as a widely knowledgable, collegial, and well-respected conductor.
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Sacred Vocal Music - Released October 15, 2010 | RCA Red Seal
Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Gramophone Editor's Choice - Choc de Classica - Choc Classica de l'année - Hi-Res Audio
Widely respected as a pioneer in the field of early music who employed original instruments in performances of Baroque and Classical music, Nikolaus Harnoncourt is also admired for his insightful interpretations of 19th century music. His 2007 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of Johannes Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem is characteristic of his handling of the Romantic repertoire, insofar as he clearly knows the best scholarship on performance style, yet neither makes authenticity a fetish nor lets expression suffer through an obsession with period practice. The sound of the orchestra is quite modern and full, and there is no attempt to make the strings play with minimal vibrato or to make the ensemble seem reduced in size or altered in the seating arrangement, unlike some historically informed performances. Furthermore, Harnoncourt's tempos are conventional, and the pacing is steady and even on the slow and reverent side, so his approach shows that he is far from doctrinaire in his choices and doesn't always follow a revisionist approach. The singing by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir is quite rich and smoothly blended, and the solos by soprano Genia Kühmeier and baritone Thomas Hampson are warm and expressive. Overall, the sound of the recording is fine, though RCA's microphone placement seems a little distant and soft-focused, so some of the details in the counterpoint seem hazy.
Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released June 3, 2016 | Sony Classical
Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - Gramophone Editor's Choice - 4 étoiles de Classica
In July 2015, just eight months before his death, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted spiritual opus of Beethoven, the enigmatic and titanic Missa Solemnis, for a final time. It was a work that he addressed very late in his career, with 1988 being the first time. At the head of his Concentus Musicus and the Arnold Schönberg Choir, he produces an uncluttered reading, stripped of all excess weight that has restricted so many conductors in the past, including the most famous. It’s almost like attending a huge Mass! Both the Piano and silence are key, allowing the monument to emerge in all its grandeur from the calm. Suddenly the lines become clear and intelligible, the "lengths" acquire their entire purpose... what we see from the old lion Harnoncourt here is most extraordinary, with his ability to allow the listener to peer into the soul of Beethoven. If there is only one record to keep... © SM / Qobuz
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Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the magazine