Karl Böhm

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Karl Böhm

Karl August Leopold Böhm (28 August 1894 in Graz – 14 August 1981 in Salzburg) was an Austrian conductor. He was best known for his performances of the music of Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Graz Place in Styria, Austria

Graz is the capital of Styria and the second-largest city in Austria after Vienna. On 1 January 2019 it had a population of 328,276. In 2015, the population of the Graz larger urban zone who had principal residence status stood at 633,168.

Salzburg City in Austria

Salzburg, literally "salt castle", is the fourth-largest city in Austria and the capital of the Federal State of Salzburg.

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.


Life and career


The son of a lawyer, Karl Böhm studied law and earned a doctorate in this subject before entering the music conservatory in his home town of Graz, Austria. [1] He later enrolled at the Vienna Conservatory, where he studied under Eusebius Mandyczewski, a friend of Johannes Brahms. [1]

Eusebius Mandyczewski Austrian musician

Eusebius Mandyczewski was a Romanian musicologist, composer, conductor, and teacher. He was an author of numerous musical works and is highly regarded within Austrian, Romanian and Ukrainian music circles.

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is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.

Munich, Darmstadt, Hamburg

In 1917 Böhm became a rehearsal assistant in his home town, making his debut as a conductor in Viktor Nessler's Der Trompeter von Säckingen in 1917. [1] In 1919 he became the assistant director of music, and in 1920 the senior director. On the recommendation of Karl Muck, Bruno Walter engaged him at the Bavarian State Opera, Munich in 1921. [2] An early assignment here was Mozart's Entführung, with a cast including Maria Ivogun, Paul Bender and Richard Tauber [Source: Karl Böhm, Ich erinnere mich genau, Zurich, 1968]. In 1927 he was appointed as chief musical director in Darmstadt. From 1931 to 1934 he fulfilled the same function at the Hamburg State Opera. [2]

Viktor Nessler German composer

ViktorErnst Nessler was an Alsatian composer who worked mainly in Leipzig.

Karl Muck German-born Swiss conductor of classical music

Karl Muck was a German-born conductor of classical music. He based his activities principally in Europe and mostly in opera. His American career comprised two stints at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He endured a public outcry in 1917 that questioned whether his loyalties lay with Germany or the United States during World War I. Though he was a Swiss citizen, he was arrested and interned in a camp in Georgia from March 1918 until August 1919. His later career included notable engagements in Hamburg and at the Bayreuth Festival.

Bruno Walter German-born conductor, pianist, and composer

Bruno Walter was a German-born conductor, pianist and composer. Born in Berlin, he left Germany in 1933 to escape the Third Reich, was naturalized as a French citizen in 1938, and settled in the United States in 1939. He worked closely with Gustav Mahler, whose music he helped to establish in the repertory, held major positions with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Salzburg Festival, Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Staatsoper Unter den Linden and Deutsche Oper Berlin, among others, made recordings of historical and artistic significance, and is widely considered to be one of the great conductors of the 20th century.

Vienna, Dresden, Salzburg

External audio
Nuvola apps arts.svg You may hear Karl Böhm conducting Ludwig von Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 with Walter Gieseking and the Saxon State Orchestra in 1939 Here on archive.org

In 1933 Böhm conducted in Vienna for the first time, in Tristan and Isolde by Wagner. He succeeded Fritz Busch, who had gone into exile, as head of Dresden's Semper Opera in 1934, a position he held until 1942. This was an important period for him, in which he conducted the first performances of works by Richard Strauss: Die schweigsame Frau (1935) and Daphne (1938), which is dedicated to him. [2] He also conducted the first performances of Romeo und Julia (1940) and Die Zauberinsel (1942) by Heinrich Sutermeister, and Strauss's Horn Concerto No. 2 (1943).

Fritz Busch German conductor

Fritz Busch was a German conductor.

Richard Strauss German composer

Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; his tone poems, including Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Ein Heldenleben, Symphonia Domestica, and An Alpine Symphony; and other instrumental works such as Metamorphosen and his Oboe Concerto. Strauss was also a prominent conductor in Western Europe and the Americas, enjoying quasi-celebrity status as his compositions became standards of orchestral and operatic repertoire.

<i>Die schweigsame Frau</i> opera by Richard Strauss

Die schweigsame Frau, Op. 80, is a 1935 comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss with libretto by Stefan Zweig after Ben Jonson's Epicoene, or the Silent Woman.

In 1938 Böhm took part in the Salzburg Festival for the first time, [2] conducting Don Giovanni , and thereafter he became a permanent guest conductor. He secured a top post at the Vienna State Opera in 1943, eventually becoming music director. On the occasion of the 80th birthday of Richard Strauss, on 11 June 1944, he conducted the Vienna State Opera performance of Ariadne auf Naxos .

Salzburg Festival Festival of music and drama established in 1920

The Salzburg Festival is a prominent festival of music and drama established in 1920. It is held each summer in the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One highlight is the annual performance of the play Jedermann (Everyman) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

<i>Don Giovanni</i> opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It is based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer. It was premiered by the Prague Italian opera at the National Theater, now called the Estates Theatre, on 29 October 1787. Da Ponte's libretto was billed as a dramma giocoso, a common designation of its time that denotes a mixing of serious and comic action. Mozart entered the work into his catalogue as an opera buffa. Although sometimes classified as comic, it blends comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements.

Vienna State Opera Opera house in Vienna, Austria

The Vienna State Opera is an Austrian opera house and opera company based in Vienna, Austria. It was originally called the Vienna Court Opera. In 1920, with the replacement of the Habsburg Monarchy by the First Austrian Republic, it was renamed the Vienna State Opera. The members of the Vienna Philharmonic are recruited from its orchestra.

After World War II

Photo from the 1950s Karl Bohm (1894-1981) ~1950 OeNB 653942.jpg
Photo from the 1950s

After he had completed a two-year post-war denazification ban, Böhm led Don Giovanni at La Scala, Milan (1948) and gave a guest performance in Paris with the Vienna State Opera company (1949). From 1950 to 1953 he directed the German season at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, and he conducted the first performance in Spanish of Wozzeck by Alban Berg, translated for the occasion. In 1953 he was responsible for the first performance of Gottfried von Einem's work Der Prozess. From 1954 to 1956 he directed the Vienna State Opera at its reconstructed home. He additionally resumed ties post-war in Dresden, at the Staatskapelle.

Denazification process carried out after World War II

Denazification was an Allied initiative to rid German and Austrian society, culture, press, economy, judiciary, and politics of the National Socialist ideology (Nazism). It was carried out by removing those who had been Nazi Party or SS members from positions of power and influence and by disbanding or rendering impotent the organizations associated with Nazism. The program of denazification was launched after the end of the Second World War and was solidified by the Potsdam Agreement.

Teatro Colón opera house in Buenos Aires

The Teatro Colón is the main opera house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is considered one of the ten best opera houses in the world by National Geographic, and is acoustically considered to be amongst the five best concert venues in the world.

Buenos Aires Place in Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the South American continent's southeastern coast. "Buenos Aires" can be translated as "fair winds" or "good airs", but the former was the meaning intended by the founders in the 16th century, by the use of the original name "Real de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre". The Greater Buenos Aires conurbation, which also includes several Buenos Aires Province districts, constitutes the fourth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas, with a population of around 15.6 million.

Success in New York

In 1957 he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, conducting Don Giovanni, and quickly became one of the favorite conductors of the Rudolf Bing era, conducting 262 performances, including the house premieres of Wozzeck, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten , which was the first major success in the new house at Lincoln Center. Böhm led many other major new productions in New York, such as Fidelio for the Beethoven bicentennial, Tristan und Isolde (including the house debut performance of Birgit Nilsson in 1959), Lohengrin , Otello , Der Rosenkavalier , Salome , and Elektra . His repertoire there also included Le nozze di Figaro , Parsifal , The Flying Dutchman , Die Walküre , and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg .

Bayreuth and Wagner

Böhm made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival in 1962 with Tristan and Isolde, which he conducted until 1970. In 1964 he led Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg there, and from 1965 to 1967 the composer's Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle, which was the last production by Wieland Wagner. His Wagner conducting divided opinion; the recording producer John Culshaw wrote that Böhm's 1966 Walküre "was conducted with a stupefying indifference, as if the conductor could not wait to get back to Salzburg or wherever he was going for his next engagement, [3] but Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians praises Böhm 's Bayreuth performances for "finely display[ing] his qualities". [1] The Times took a middle view, finding his Wagner "light and positive" but "somewhat reluctant to let the drama find its full weight and depth". [2] Performances of the Ring and Tristan were recorded live and issued on record. In 1971 he conducted Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at Bayreuth.

Indian Summer in London

Late in life, he began a guest-conducting relationship with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in a 1973 appearance at the Salzburg Festival. [4] Several recordings were made with the orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon. Böhm was given the title of LSO President, which he held until his death. He twice conducted at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in the 1970s: Le nozze di Figaro in 1977 and Così fan tutte in 1979. [5]

Death, family, legacy

Böhm died in Salzburg, fourteen days before his 87th birthday. He conducted the premieres of Strauss's late works Die schweigsame Frau (1935) and Daphne (1938), of which he is the dedicatee, recorded all the major operas (but often made cuts to the scores), and regularly revived Strauss's operas with strong casts during his tenures in Vienna and Dresden, as well as at the Salzburg Festival.

Böhm was praised for his rhythmically robust interpretations of the operas and symphonies of Mozart, and in the 1960s he was entrusted with recording all the Mozart symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic. His brisk, straightforward way with Wagner won adherents, as did his readings of the symphonies of Brahms, Bruckner and Schubert. His 1971 complete recording of the Beethoven symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic was also highly regarded. On a less common front, he championed and recorded Alban Berg's avant-garde operas Wozzeck and Lulu before they gained a foothold in the standard repertory. Böhm mentioned in the notes to his recordings of these works that he and Berg discussed the orchestrations, leading to changes in the score (as he had similarly done, previously, with Richard Strauss). He was described by one critic as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century. [6] Grove says of him:

Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss are the composers with whom his name is most closely associated, followed by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Brahms and Berg. Böhm’s musical approach, expressed in strictly functional gestures, was direct, fresh, energetic and authoritative, avoiding touches of romantic sentimentality or self-indulgent virtuoso mannerisms ... He was widely admired for his skilful balance and blend of sound, his feeling for a stable tempo and his sense of dramatic tension. [1]

He received two exclusive titles: "Ehrendirigent" of the Vienna Philharmonic and Austrian "Generalmusikdirektor". [1] He was widely feted on his 80th birthday ten years later; his colleague Herbert von Karajan presented him with a clock to mark that occasion.

Böhm was married to the soprano Thea Linhard. [2] His son Karlheinz Böhm was a successful actor. [7]

Nazi sympathies

Although he never joined the Nazi party, in private and in public Böhm continually expressed strong support for Hitler and his regime. The extent to which this was a matter of conviction rather than careerism is debated. Böhm's son maintained that his father was warned that if he defected from Nazi Germany, every member of his family would be sent to a concentration camp, [8] but Böhm's support of the Nazis predated their rise to power. [9] The historian Michael H. Kater records that while Böhm was music director in Dresden (1934–43) he "poured forth rhetoric glorifying the Nazi regime and its cultural aims". [10] Kater ranks Böhm in that group of artists in whom "we also find conflicting elements of resistance, accommodation, and service to the regime, so that in the end they cannot be definitively painted as either Nazis or non-Nazis." [10] Kater argues that Böhm's 1934 move to the Dresden Opera to replace Fritz Busch after the latter's "politically motivated" dismissal by Nazi authorities showed Böhm's "extreme careerist opportunism at the expense of personal morality" and was facilitated directly by Hitler, who obtained for Böhm an early release from his previous contract. [10] Kater contrasts this conduct with Böhm's "aesthetically faultless and sometimes politically daring" choice of repertory, and his collaborations with some anti-Nazi directors and designers, which "could have been interpreted by enemies of the Nazi regime as a brave attempt to preserve the principle of artistic freedom". [10] In 2015 the Salzburg Festival announced that it would affix a plaque in its Karl Böhm refreshment lobby (Karl-Böhm-Saal) acknowledging the conductor's complicity with Nazi Germany: "Böhm was a beneficiary of the Third Reich and used its system to advance his career. His ascent was facilitated by the expulsion of Jewish and politically out-of-favor colleagues". [n 1]

Honours and awards

Böhm's awards include: 1943: War Merit Cross, 2nd class without swords (Kriegsverdienstkreuz II. Klasse ohne Schwerter); 1959: Grand Decoration of Honour in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria [12] ; 1960: Grand Merit Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany (Großes Verdienstkreuz); 1964: Honorary Ring of Vienna; 1967: Berlin Art Prize; 1970: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art [13] ; 1976: Commander of the Legion of Honour; Honorary Ring of Styria; and 2012: Gramophone Magazine Hall of Fame [14]

Notes and references


  1. "Böhm war ein Profiteur des Dritten Reichs und arrangierte sich für die Karriere mit dem System. Sein Aufstieg wurde durch die Vertreibung jüdischer und politisch missliebiger Kollegen begünstigt". [11]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Brunner, Gerhard, and José A. Bowen. "Böhm, Karl", Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2001, retrieved 2 September 2018 (subscription required)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Karl Böhm", The Times, 15 August 1981, p. 12
  3. Culshaw, John (1967). Ring Resounding. London: Secker & Warburg. p. 260. ISBN   0-436-11800-9.
  4. Stephen Everson (25 October 2003). "The lovable dictator". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-09-15.
  5. "Karl Böhm", Royal Opera House performance database. Retrieved 2 September 2018
  6. "Karl Böhm – Biography & History – AllMusic" . Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  7. Emily Langer "Karlheinz Böhm, actor in “Sissi” trilogy and thriller “Peeping Tom,” dies at 86", The Washington Post, 31 May 2014
  8. Duchen, Jessica. "Salzburg: A festival faces up to its past", The Independent , 2 June 2006
  9. Lebrecht, Norman (1991). The Maestro Myth: Great conductors in pursuit of power. Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group. pp. 109–110. ISBN   1-55972-108-1.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Kater, Michael H (1997). The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 63–65. ISBN   0-19-509620-7.
  11. Austrian Broadcasting, "NS-Vergangenheit: Erklärung im Karl-Böhm-Saal," December 28, 2015, URL=http://salzburg.orf.at/news/stories/2749666/
  12. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 58. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  13. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 282. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  14. "Gramophone Hall of Fame". www.gramophone.co.uk. Mark Allen Group. Retrieved 24 July 2014.

Further reading