A musician's musician, an occasional firebrand and a constant paradox -
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016) was one of the most profound and
intriguing conductors of our time. Considered one of the world's leading
specialists of Baroque music, he has long since turned his attention to
Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and even to Jacques Offenbach and Johann
Strauss. He spent many years as a cellist with the Wiener Symphoniker
before founding the "Concentus Musicus Wien" with his wife Alice in 1953.
It soon became one of the world's most respected ensembles specializing in
the performance of early music on original instruments. In the 1970s,
Harnoncourt joined forces with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle to stage a series of
Monteverdi operas at the Zurich Opera House. This universally acclaimed
cycle contributed to a renaissance of Monteverdi's music and set standards
for early Baroque performance practice.
Harnoncourt later began to turn his attention more and more to the music of
Mozart, whom he considers "the most romantic of all composers". His concept
of Mozart's music ran counter to the prevailing 20th-century views,
however. He sees Mozart's music as "dramatic, dynamic, often directly and
highly emotional." The Vienna Philharmonic, known for its suave and
gracious Mozartian interpretations, initially rebelled against
Harnoncourt's unconventional approach. Yet the compellingness of his vision
soon came to be accepted and shared by all members of the orchestra.