He could have been the next Karajan

He could have been the next Karajan


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2015

A memorial concert at Berlin’s Haus des Rundfunks on Sunday will mark what would have been the 80th birthday year of Peter Ronnefeld, one of the most dazzling musical talents of his time. Peter was just 30 when he died of cancer in August 1965.

His ascent had been dazzling. Chief conductor in Bonn at 26 and Generalmusikdirektor in Kiel two years later, he was getting offers from all the best orchestras. Herbert von Karajan had been among the first to spot his gift, engaging him as repetiteur at the Vienna Opera in 1958. Nikolaus Harnoncourt employed him as harpsichordist in the Concentus Musicus Wien.

An avid composer, Ronnefeld premiered works by Zimmermann, Isang Yun and other trailblazers. He conducted a Mozart evening with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Karl Böhm said: ‘this young man could be the next Karajan.’

peter ronnefeld

photo: Minna Ronnefeld

In the summer of 1965, Ronnefeld was rehearsing a new work by Aribert Reimann when cancer was diagnosed; he was dead within weeks, leaving a widow and six year-old son.

A selection of Ronnefeld’s works, published by Ricordi and UE, will be performed on Sunday by a youth orchestra, the veteran Berlin Philharmonic cellist Wolfgang Böttcher and the singer Anne Steffens.



  • Simon S. says:

    Thank you for posting this. Never heard of him before, I must admit. German Wikipedia says his son Matthias became a composer, too, and died at 27. Tragic.

    What strikes me: He was being promoted by both Karajan and Harnoncourt?!? He must have been a really interesting artist indeed.

  • Pianoronald says:

    I remember a performance of “Cenerentola” at Vienna State Opera with Christa Ludwig, conducted (very well) by Peter Ronnefeld.

  • Hilary says:

    He even looks like Karajan in that photo!

  • geoff radnor says:

    There must be other artists of great promise that died early, Guido Cantelli being one. I too had never heard of Peter Ronnefeld.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    This is one a few audio clips of Ronnefeld’s work on YouTube https://youtu.be/cdaC0vHD8_c

    • norman lebrecht says:



      Re Robert Kenchington’s link to Ronnefeld on YouTube … when I click, what comes up isn’t Ronnefeld. It’s a maestro called Carl A. Bünte who (to me) is equally obscure:

      Published on 28 Feb 2015
      Bizet Petite Suite, C. A. Bünte, Berlin 1958
      Georges Bizet Petite Suite, op. 22
      No.1 Marche, Allegretto moderato
      No.2 Berceuse, Andantino
      No.3 Impromtu, Allegro vivo
      No.4 Duo, Andantino
      No.5 Galop, Presto
      Berlin Symphonic Orchestra
      Conductor Carl A. Bünte
      Concert Hall Berlin
      June 7. & 14. / 1958

  • Michael Endres says:

    Here is a link to the conductor Ronnefeld https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tlvn81pIuts

    There is also a video with him as a formidable pianist at 17 :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELbZKD-W4S4 ( 3rd mvt of Beethoven’s 1st piano concerto )

    Unfortunately that’s all I could find on the net.

  • Novagerio says:

    Carl August Bünte is a completely different conductor born in Berlin in 1925 and still alive.
    By the way, here is another homage from Ronnefeld’s hometown Dresden:

  • Nick says:

    With the anniversary of the births and deaths of various prominent personalities in the world of music rightly being celebrated here, it is sad that no thread was given (as far as I can recall) to the 100th anniversary of the birth of another conductor who made a huge impact on musical life in Europe and especially in Berlin. He had appeared, said Yehudi Menuhin, “like a comet on the horizon . . . certainly no conductor had greater talent.”

    Ferenc Fricsay died at the tragically early age of 48. He would have been 100 on August 9th last year. He had studied with both Bartók and Kodály. Thankfully he left a large and extraordinary recorded legacy much of which has now been re-released.