Hans von Bülow

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Hans von Bulow Hans von Bulow.jpg
Hans von Bülow

Hans Guido Freiherr [1] von Bülow (January 8, 1830 February 12, 1894) was a German conductor, virtuoso pianist, and composer of the Romantic era. As one of the most distinguished conductors of the 19th century, his activity was critical for establishing the successes of several major composers of the time, especially Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms. Alongside Carl Tausig, Bülow was perhaps the most prominent of the early students of Hungarian virtuoso pianist, conductor and composer Franz Liszt—therein performed the first public performance of Liszt's Sonata in B minor in 1857. He became acquainted with, fell in love and eventually married Liszt's daughter Cosima, who later left him for Wagner. Noted for his interpretation of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, he was one of the earliest European musicians to tour the United States.

Conducting directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures

Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance, such as an orchestral or choral concert. It has been defined as "the art of directing the simultaneous performance of several players or singers by the use of gesture." The primary duties of the conductor are to interpret the score in a way which reflects the specific indications in that score, set the tempo, ensure correct entries by ensemble members, and "shape" the phrasing where appropriate. Conductors communicate with their musicians primarily through hand gestures, usually with the aid of a baton, and may use other gestures or signals such as eye contact. A conductor usually supplements their direction with verbal instructions to their musicians in rehearsal.

A virtuoso is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in a particular art or field such as fine arts, music, singing, playing a musical instrument, or composition. This word also refers to a person who has cultivated appreciation of artistic excellence, either as a connoisseur or collector. The plural form of virtuoso is either virtuosi or the Anglicisation, virtuosos, and the feminine forms are virtuosa and virtuose.

Pianist musician who plays the piano

A pianist is an individual musician who plays the piano. Since most forms of Western music can make use of the piano, pianists have a wide repertoire and a wide variety of styles to choose from, among them traditional classical music, jazz, blues, and all sorts of popular music, including rock and roll. Most pianists can, to an extent, easily play other keyboard-related instruments such as the synthesizer, harpsichord, celesta, and the organ.


Life and career

Hans von Bulow portrait (10134416244) Hans von Bulow portrait (10134416244).jpg
Hans von Bülow portrait (10134416244)

Bülow was born in Dresden, to members of the prominent Bülow family. From the age of nine, he was a student of Friedrich Wieck (the father of Clara Schumann). However, his parents insisted that he study law instead of music, and they sent him to Leipzig. There he met Franz Liszt, and on hearing some music of Richard Wagner specifically, the premiere of Lohengrin in 1850he decided to ignore the dictates of his parents and make himself a career in music instead. He studied the piano in Leipzig with the famous pedagogue Louis Plaidy. He obtained his first conducting job in Zurich, on Wagner's recommendation, in 1850.

Dresden Place in Saxony, Germany

Dresden is the capital city of Saxony, Germany, on the River Elbe near the Czech border.

Bülow family

Bülow is the name of a German and Danish noble family of Mecklenburg origin, members of which have borne the title of Baron (Freiherr), Count (Graf) or Prince (Fürst).

Friedrich Wieck German pianist

Johann Gottlob Friedrich Wieck was a noted German piano teacher, voice teacher, owner of a piano store, and author of essays and music reviews. He is remembered as the teacher of his daughter, Clara, a child prodigy who was undertaking international concert tours by age eleven and who later married her father's pupil Robert Schumann, in defiance of her father's extreme objections. As Clara Schumann, she became one of the most famous pianists of her time. Another of Wieck's daughters, Marie Wieck, also had a career in music, although not nearly so illustrious as Clara's. Other pupils included Hans von Bülow.

Hans Guido von Bulow ca. 1889 Hans von buelow.jpg
Hans Guido von Bülow ca. 1889

Bülow had a strongly acerbic personality and a loose tongue; this alienated many musicians whom he worked with. He was dismissed from his Zurich job for this reason, but at the same time he was beginning to win renown for his ability to conduct new and complex works without a score. In 1851, he became a student of Liszt, marrying his daughter Cosima in 1857. They had two daughters: Daniela, born in 1860 and Blandina, born in 1863. During the 1850s and early 1860s he was active as a pianist, conductor, and writer, and became well known throughout Germany as well as Russia. In 1857, he premiered Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor in Berlin.

Cosima Wagner daughter of the Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt

Cosima Wagner was the illegitimate daughter of the Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt and Marie d'Agoult. She became the second wife of the German composer Richard Wagner, and with him founded the Bayreuth Festival as a showcase for his stage works; after his death she devoted the rest of her life to the promotion of his music and philosophy. Commentators have recognised Cosima as the principal inspiration for Wagner's later works, particularly Parsifal.

Piano Sonata in B minor (Liszt) composition for piano by Franz Liszt

The Piano Sonata in B minor, S.178, is a sonata for solo piano by Franz Liszt. It was completed in 1853 and published in 1854 with a dedication to Robert Schumann.

In 1864 he became the Hofkapellmeister in Munich, and it was at this post he achieved his principal renown. He conducted the premieres of two Wagner operas, Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg , in 1865 and 1868 respectively; both were immensely successful. Meanwhile, however, Cosima had been carrying on an affair with Richard Wagner and gave birth to their daughter Isolde in 1865. Two years later, they had another daughter, Eva. Although Cosima and Wagner's affair was now open knowledge, Bülow still refused to grant his wife a divorce. Finally, she gave birth to one final child––a son, Siegfried––and it was only then that the conductor at last relented. Their divorce was finalized in 1870, after which Cosima and Wagner married. Bülow never spoke to Wagner again and he did not see his former wife for 11 years afterwards, although he apparently continued to respect the composer on a professional level, as he still conducted his works and mourned Wagner's death in 1883. In July 1882 he married the actress Marie Schanzer.[ citation needed ]

<i>Tristan und Isolde</i> opera by Richard Wagner

Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90, is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the 12th-century romance Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered at the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting. Wagner referred to the work not as an opera, but called it "eine Handlung", which was the equivalent of the term used by the Spanish playwright Calderón for his dramas.

<i>Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg</i> opera by Richard Wagner

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, WWV 96, is a music drama in three acts, written and composed by Richard Wagner. It is among the longest operas commonly performed, usually taking around four and a half hours. It was first performed at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater, today the home of the Bavarian State Opera, in Munich, on 21 June 1868. The conductor at the premiere was Hans von Bülow.

Marie Schanzer von Bülow (1857–1941) was an Austrian-German stage and film actress. In July 1882, she married the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow.

In 1867 Bülow became director of the newly reopened Königliche Musikschule in Munich. He taught piano there in the manner of Liszt. He remained as director of the Conservatory until 1869. Bülow's students in Berlin included Asger Hamerik and Joseph Pache.

Asger Hamerik Danish composer

Asger Hamerik (Hammerich), was a Danish composer of classical music.

Joseph Pache (1861–1926) was a composer, teacher, and director of the Baltimore Oratorio society from 1892 to 1924 when the society disbanded.

In addition to championing the music of Wagner, Bülow was a supporter of the music of both Brahms and Tchaikovsky. He was the soloist in the world premiere of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor in Boston in 1875. He was also a devotee of Frédéric Chopin's music; he came up with epithets for all of Chopin's Opus 28 Preludes, [2] but these have generally fallen into disuse. On the other hand, the D-flat major Prelude No. 15 is widely known by his title, the "Raindrop." [3]

Johannes Brahms German composer and pianist

Johannes Brahms was a German composer, pianist, and conductor of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. His reputation and status as a composer are such that he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Russian composer

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the romantic period, whose works are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. He was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension.

Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky) composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B minor, Op. 23, was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky between November 1874 and February 1875. It was revised in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888. The first version received heavy criticism from Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky's desired pianist. Rubinstein later repudiated his previous accusations and became a fervent champion of the work. It is one of the most popular of Tchaikovsky's compositions and among the best known of all piano concertos.

He was the first to perform (from memory) the complete cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas, [4] and with Sigmund Lebert, he co-produced an edition of the sonatas.

For the winter season of 1877–1878 he was appointed as conductor of the orchestral subscription concerts presented at the newly opened St Andrew's Hall in Glasgow by Glasgow Choral Union, touring with their orchestra to repeat these programmes in other Scottish cities. Among the works he conducted there was the recently revised version of Brahms Symphony No 1.

From 1878 to 1880 he was Hofkapellmeister in Hanover but was forced to leave after fighting with a tenor singing the "Knight of the Swan [Schwan]" role in Lohengrin ; Bülow had called him the "Knight of the Swine [Schwein]". In 1880 he moved to Meiningen where he took the equivalent post, and where he built the Meiningen Court Orchestra into one of the finest in Germany; among his other demands, he insisted that the musicians learn to play all their parts from memory.

It was during his five years in Meiningen that he met Richard Strauss (though the meeting actually took place in Berlin). His first opinion of the young composer was not favorable, but he changed his mind when he was confronted with a sample of Strauss's "Serenade". Later on, he used his influence to give Strauss his first regular employment as a conductor. [5] Like Strauss, Bülow was attracted to the ideas of Max Stirner, whom he reputedly had known personally. In April 1892 Bülow closed his final performance with the Berlin Philharmonic (where he had been serving as Principal Conductor since 1887) with a speech "exalting" the ideas of Stirner. Together with John Henry Mackay, Stirner's biographer, he placed a memorial plaque at Stirner's last residence in Berlin. [6]

Some of his orchestral innovations included the addition of the five-string bass and the pedal timpani; the pedal timpani have since become standard instruments in the symphony orchestra. His accurate, sensitive, and profoundly musical interpretations established him as the prototype of the virtuoso conductors who flourished at a later date. He was also an astute and witty musical journalist.

In the late 1880s he settled in Hamburg, but continued to tour, both conducting and performing on the piano.

Bülow suffered from chronic neuralgiforme headaches, which were caused by a tumor of the cervical radicular nerves. [7] After about 1890 his mental and physical health began to fail, and he sought a warmer, drier climate for recovery; he died in a hotel in Cairo, Egypt at the age of 64, only ten months after his final concert performance.


Notable premieres

As conductor

As pianist


Piano transcriptions


  1. Regarding personal names: Freiherr was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Baron . Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. The feminine forms are Freifrau and Freiin .
  2. ChopinMusic.net
  3. The complete list of titles is given in Schonberg 1987, pp. 136–37
  4. Carnegie Room Concerts; the next pianist to do so would be Artur Schnabel in 1927. Naxos Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Marek, George R. (1967). Richard Strauss – The Life of a Non-Hero. London: Gollancz. p. 52. ISBN   0-575-01069-X.
  6. Charles Dowell Youmans, Richard Strauss's Orchestral Music and the German Intellectual Tradition, Indiana University Press, 2005, p. 91; The story of Bülow discussing Stirner from the conductor's podium is also described by Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker in "Beethoven Unbound", by Alex Ross, The New Yorker, Oct. 22, 2001; Hans von Bülow's participation in placing a memorial plaque on Stirner's last residence is reported in a New York Times Saturday Review of Books article on Stirner, "Ideas of Max Stirner", by James Huneker, New York Times Saturday Review of Books, April 1907
  7. Wöhrle J, Haas F, "Hans von Bülow: Creativity and Neurological Disease in a Famous Pianist and Conductor", in Bogousslavsky J, Hennerici MG (eds): Neurological Disorders in Famous Artists – Part 2. Front Neurol Neurosci. Basel, Karger, 2007, vol. 22, pp. 193–205
  8. 1 2 3 Walker, p. 174
  9. 1 2 3 Walker, p. 175
  10. The quotation is out of context. Walker p. 175 wrote "To pianists he said 'Bach is the Old Testament and Beethoven the New Testament of music'". Walker gives no further reference for this, but as von Bülow had done an edition of Beethoven's piano sonatas which remains in print even now, it is not surprising in context. Large domains of music, such as opera, which might seem to be neglected by the out-of-context quote, are not relevant in advice to pianists.

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