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Sad news: Nikolaus Harnoncourt is dead

March 6, 2016 by norman lebrecht

35 comments.


The Harnoncourt family has announced the death of the great conductor, cellist and period instruments pioneer at the age of 86.

He retired from performing in December after a period of illness.

‘An exemplary human being’: First appreciation here.

Harnoncourt’s place in music history here.

Harnoncourt and Lang Lang here.

Gidon Kremer on Harnoncourt here.

harnoncourt portrait


Comments (35)

  1. Eddie Mars says:

    A peerless performer, musician, and advocate for HIP practice has left us. Thankfully, in his case, we are liberally endowed with his recordings for posterity.

    Words cannot suffice to express our gratitude and humility.

    1. Saurumi says:

      Requiescat in pace

  2. Delphine1962 says:

    A great and extraordinary musician. It is Impossible to overstate his influence and invidious to single out any one of his achievements, although (for me) his pioneering recordings of the Bach complete Cantatas, the B minor Mass and the Passions remain peaks amongst so many. He made us all rethink- reevaluate the work of that genius.

    1. Novagerio says:

      I would also gladly add his equally pioneering and legendarian Monteverdi cycles with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and Pet Halmen from Zürich.

  3. Corrado Sevardi says:

    Un triste saluto dall’Italia a un grande maestro.

  4. jfw says:

    Un être exemplaire sur bien des plans ! Il nous manque déjà !

  5. Wolfie says:

    His brilliant masterpieces of bach, and mozart are legend and forever. Rest in Peace. Salva me.

  6. Carlos says:

    RIP, a true pioneer, my first HIP-recordings were his. His essays, his books, his music. So sad.

  7. Cubs Fan says:

    One of the greats. Not an attention seeker or celebrity conductor – but a genuine musician with deep understanding of traditions and style. Personally, I am grateful for the Beethoven symphony recordings and Schmidt’s Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln. RIP.

  8. Michael Cleaver says:

    Now Nicholas Harnoncourt has so sadly gone, how many truly great conductors are we left with?

    1. Pedro says:

      Haitink.

    2. Petros LInardos says:

      From the 1920s, Harnoncourt’s decade: Stanisław Skrowaczewski

    3. Daniel F. says:

      There are a few great, mostly unheralded conductors left who still perform with some frequency: Ivan Fischer, Daniel Harding, Osmo Vanska, and James Levine when in full command of his physical resources and, when he is fully engaged, Christoph von Dohnanyi. Haitink has great command but too many performances go on auto-pilot.

    4. Joel V. says:

      Leif Segerstam

  9. bluepumpkin says:

    Lang Lang and Harnoncourt collaborated on two Mozart piano concertos. In a piece in Gramophone, September 2014 Lang Lang said: ‘Nikolaus doesn’t know this, but when I was working with other conductors they all wanted to know what he thought about this or that passage…’

    I’ve always thought that’s a rather fine tribute to him.

  10. Sue says:

    A wonderful, wonderful musician and a first rate human being. I’m very upset because I’ve seen him so many times in Vienna!!

    Farewell Maestro. I have your books and CDs!!

  11. Pedro says:

    Marriner, Blomstedt, Previn, Dóhnanyi. Not of the same league.

  12. giordano bruno says:

    Maravilloso Harnon, explicando, dirigiendo… haciendo música. Un regalo para los oyentes.

  13. giordano bruno says:

    Maravilloso Harnon, explicando, dirigiendo… haciendo música. Un regalo para los oyentes.
    Yo pondría este regalo, esta lección excátedra como obligatoria en los conservatorios.

  14. John says:

    Oh gosh, Tommy, thanks for sharing that! So profound, so moving, so useless. Oh, and if Slipped Disc bores you, why are you here? My advice to you: Oh. Shut. Up.

  15. tommy imnoman says:

    The expression “sad news” has already been used 1,080 times here. Not very creative. I can see why classic music is in decline.

    1. Daniel F. says:

      Just suck it up and get over it, Tommy. Nobody is forcing you to read this blog.

    2. Eddie Mars says:

      Shut up.

    3. Bruce says:

      LOL. Go back under your bridge.

    4. Matthew B. Tepper says:

      It is in fact sad news, so why not call it that?

  16. Craig Curtis says:

    In addition to recordings already mentioned, I also love the late 70s Concentus Musicus Vivaldi “Four Seasons” with Alice Harnoncourt. Many original instrument groups claimed to strip away the romantic varnish that dulled baroque music, but that record really did. It was the first time I heard Vivaldi as aggressive, even mean. (Although varnished Vivaldi still has its place.)

  17. Robert Holmén says:

    It’s our sadness, Tommy, we can dispense it as we choose and it inconveniences you not one bit.

  18. Peter says:

    Great Haydn conductor. He will be missed.

  19. anne karraj says:

    In that age-bracket : von Dohnanyi, Haitink and Blomstedt !!!!
    Georges Prêtre too ?

    1. Pedro says:

      Gielen too. i also enjoyed performances by Bernhard Klee and Alberto Zedda which were both born in 1928.

  20. ted sanders says:

    Wonderful and accomplished man… thank you for a lifetime of music rewards, for your elevation of period instruments and for Idomeneo at StaatsOper.. gift to humanity… jeanne and ted sanders melbourne australia

  21. I still listen to his Bach Cantatas on Telefunken vinyls…lots of moments of ecstasy on them…

  22. Gerhard says:

    In a recorded rehearsal NH once said to the orchestra: “Bitte glauben Sie mir, gleiche Noten sind der Tod jeder Musik.” To me that puts it in a nutshell what he stood for, and how his musicmaking differed from the mainstream of the times when he began his conducting carreer. I think it is hard to overestimate his influence on the orchestra culture at least in Europe. Anyone who doubts this may just compare recordings of any classical piece before and after NH’s influence. The way orchestras like BPO play Mozart today goes directly back to him. RIP.


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