born in 1929 in Berlin, died 2016. In 1953, he founded his ensemble for old music, the Concentus Musicus. As a conductor, he won numerous international awards, including the Musikpreis of the Ernst von Siemens Foundation (2002) and the Kyoto Prize (2005).
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s childhood and youth was shaped by hardship and the after-effects of World War II, the parenting codex of the aristocracy to which his family belonged and the love for music. The world was in upheaval, it was a time of great political and societal change. To give his children and grandchildren a greater understanding of this era Harnoncourt wrote down his memories and reflections in a “family book”. How did his family deal with the economic and political shifts? What was life like when everything was no longer what it had been? And what traditions shaped the Harnoncourt family? Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s personal account is a fascinating record of the past.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt devoted himself to the study of early music, the way it is played and the sound of period instruments from an early age. In 1953 he founded the famous Concentus Musicus with his wife Alice and other musicians. This was to provide a forum for his work on period instruments and the historic performance practice of renaissance and baroque music. It was not until four years later that the Concentus Musicus first performed in public. Alice Harnoncourt has brought together the unpublished diary entries and notes of her husband, which recount his explorations on the trail of early musical sounds. It is a fascinating and entertaining journey, during which Harnoncourt had to accomplish much to listen his way towards the original period sound.
Music brings pleasure: Nikolaus Harnoncourt reflects persuasively and passionately on his metier. His texts, speeches and interviews reveal the vision of a great artist, looking back on his own influence and far beyond into musical history. He addresses subjects such as the urgency of art, Haydn, and “a crocodile called Mozart”, and considers romantic insight and baroque reminiscence. He gazes into the depths of an immoral world and shares anecdotes from the Vienna Music Society. He explains why artists cannot lie, why The Magic Flute remains an eternal mystery, and why great art ultimately arises from doubt.
One of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's great secrets is his talent for language, probably unparalleled within his fraternity – his ability to translate musical images into basic, humorous, precise verbal images. Sabine M. Gruber, a member of the Schoenberg Chorus since the early 1980s, has – as both participant and observer – kept a record of Harnoncourt's inspired linguistic innovations over the years. Linking these with comments of her own, she examines the personality of Harnoncourt, artist and man, and the nature of the musical and artistic process. Reflections and remarks on works by Bach, Beer, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Monteverdi, Mozart, Purcell, Schubert, Schumann and Strauss combine in this book, which affords a fascinating glimpse through the keyhole of rehearsal-rooms and concert-halls. These are exceptional and authentic insights into the working methods and the personality of one of the most unconventional musicians of our time – full of humour, musical truth and wisdom.