The unique rationale behind Nikolaus Harnoncourt's practice of music brought him fame across the entire musical world. With his ensemble Concentus Musicus he broke established traditions and opened up new approaches to interpreting old music. This was in part the result of his intensive research into the sound produced by original period instruments, but more significantly came about as a consequence of questioning conventional hearing habits. What exactly is music? What effect does it have? And what were the intentions of its creators? Harnoncourt's writing on performance practices, baroque music and instruments such as the harpsichord reads like eloquent music making. A wondrous journey through the history of music.
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 Alice Harnoncourt has brought together the unpublished diary entries and notes of her husband, which recount his explorations on the trail of early musical sounds.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.
The art form of opera is more than 400 years old, but it has maged to stay young and fresh thanks to artists such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his unfailing endeavor to continuously renew this art form and our understanding of it. His 80th birthday serves as the perfect opportunity to revisit his life in the colorful world of opera. Numerous examples, from Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo“ and Mozart’s “Figaro“ to Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress“ illustrate how vivid and lively opera can be.
Opera is a theater for all senses, not a dusty relic from the past, a hallow traditon or elitist vanity fair. Text, music, drama and an image of the world portrayed on stage all come together in the unique cosmos of opera, with the purpose of reflecting our human nature. And thus opera is a necessity, like all forms of art. This is what Nikolaus Harnoncourt demonstrates once more with great passion, intelligence and conviction in this enthralling book.