Karl Böhm

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Karl Böhm (born Graz, 28 August 1894; died Salzburg, 14 August 1981) was an Austrian conductor. He was one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, especially famous for his conducting of the music of Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Life[change | edit source]

Böhm was born in Graz, Austria. He wanted to be a musician, but his father said that he should study law first, because musicians did not make much money, and if he was not successful as a musician he could then always have a job in law.[1] So he studied law at the university of Graz, and got a doctorate on this subject. He also studied music privately in Graz, and then in Vienna with Eusebius Mandyczewski and Guido Adler. Although he learned to play the piano and to compose, he just wanted to be a conductor. He started his career by helping singers at the Graz Opera to learn their roles. Böhm became very interested in the operas of Wagner and Mozart and learned a lot from great conductors like Carl Muck and Bruno Walter who invited him to the Bavarian State Opera in 1921. In 1927 he became Generalmusikdirektor (music director) at Darmstadt. He often conducted modern operas, including Berg’s Wozzeck. In 1931 he moved to Hamburg. In 1933 he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, both in opera and concert performances. He became conductor at the opera house in Dresden when Fritz Busch lost that job because he said he did not like the Nazis. Böhm worked there for nine years. He became a great friend of the composer Richard Strauss and conducted the first performances of two of his operas there: Die schweigsame Frau and Daphne. In 1943 got the very important job of conductor at the Vienna State Opera eventually becoming music director. He also conducted the German seasons at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires from 1950 to 1953.

In his later years Böhm spent his time as guest conductor. He was invited to conduct many of the leading world orchestras. He often performed at Salzburg, Bayreuth, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Milan, Paris and New York. In 1957, he made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducting Don Giovanni. He was very popular there and conducted many operas, especially those by Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Late in life, he was a regular guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra. He was given the title of LSO President for the rest of his life.

During his last years his sight was not very good. He died in Salzburg in 1981.

His reputation[change | edit source]

Böhm was praised for his clear, energetic conducting. He did not have exaggerated mannerisms but got his orchestras to play with a warm, romantic sound which was never sentimental. Besides his favourite Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss he conducted many works by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Brahms and Berg.

He was given many honours, including first Austrian Generalmusikdirektor. On his 80th birthday a big party was held, at which Herbert von Karajan gave him a clock.

Bibliography[change | edit source]

  • New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2

References[change | edit source]

  1. Karl Böhm: “Ich erinnere mich ganz genau – Autobiographie” dtv 1973 ISBN 3-423-00916-0 p.7