Hans Knappertsbusch (1888 - 1965) was one of the most renowned and beloved conductors of the German Romantic repertoire in the mid-twentieth century. Although he grew up playing and loving music, his parents objected to the notion of a musical career. Consequently, Knappertsbusch studied philosophy at Bonn University; in 1908, however, he entered the Cologne Conservatory, where he studied conducting with Fritz Steinbach.
Knappertsbusch began his career as a staff conductor at the M++lheim-Ruhr Theater (1910 - 1912) and then as opera director in his home town (1913 - 1918). Equally important to his development were his summers as an assistant to director Siegfried Wagner and conductor Hans Richter at the Bayreuth Festival. Knappertsbusch's Bayreuth activities led to his taking part in the Netherlands Wagner Festivals in 1913 and 1914. In 1918 Knappertsbusch went to Leipzig and, in 1919, to Dessau, where he became music director in 1920. When Bruno Walter left Munich in 1922, Knappertsbusch was asked to assume the position as music director there.
Knappertsbusch's personality was easygoing; he was notably free of the restlessness and undue ambition that often attended a rising career such as his. He was content mainly to stay in Munich, with the result that he never became as well-known as many of his colleagues. In any case, Munich fully appreciated Knappertsbusch's talents, and he was named conductor for life. However, he refused several demands by the Nazis and was fired from his "lifetime" post in 1936. He conducted a memorable "Salome" in Covent Garden in 1936 and 1937 and guest conducted elsewhere in Germany, but was content to maintain a low profile during the Nazi regime. He left Germany after the Munich debacle, settling in Vienna where he frequently conducted the Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. Knappertsbusch's career was again impacted by the Nazis when Germany took over Austria over in 1938; however, he was mostly able to steer of trouble with the Nazis.
Knappertsbusch gained a reputation for broad, magisteral performances of Bruckner and, more and more, seemed to represent the traditional style of unhurried Wagner performances. He was famous for disliking rehearsals, often cutting them short; his orchestral players maintained that this was not the result of laziness, but of complete security in his interpretation and trust of the players. His performances were therefore not rigidly preconceived, but instead had a remarkable freshness and spontaneity.
When the Bayreuth Festivals reopened in 1951, Knappertsbusch worked closely with Wieland Wagner on orchestral matters (though the conductor was known to dislike Wagner's spare, revolutionary stage productions). Knappertsbusch's most outstanding recording is his stereo account of Wagner's "Parsifal" from the Bayreuth stage. ~ Joseph Stevenson
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