2005 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Arts and Philosophy


Nikolaus Harnoncourt

/  Musician

1929 - 2016

Commemorative Lectures

From Marionettes to the Great Orchestras


11 /11 Fri

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center


Harnoncourt in Kyoto


11 /12 Sat

13:00 - 17:00

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center

Achievement Digest

A musician of exceptional creativity who has contributed to the establishment of the historically informed performance of European early music, and who has extended his principles and interpretation to modern music

Mr. Harnoncourt is a musician who actively seeks to elucidate the cultural facets of European music by studying authentic materials to create the original sound, and who continuously introduces the new interpretation to such early music. He has extended his principles of performing early music further to modern orchestra, and has also been a leading innovator of music filled with energy through his broad repertoire.


Mr. Nikolaus Harnoncourt is a musician who actively seeks to elucidate the cultural facets of European music by studying authentic materials to create the original sound, and who continuously introduces the new interpretation to such early music.

Mr. Harnoncourt, who started his career as a viol (viola da gamba) player, continues his musical activities of unveiling what the composer intended, by studying the historical context of a given piece of music, and not just restoring its original instruments but also investigating the original score and period practice, including performing methods, the customs and musical principles of that period. He interprets that music created prior to the 18th century functioned as a part of live “language” (Klangrede) or as a form of communication in the cultural environment, and he seriously concerned the status of music, such that over time music performance changed in style and lost its former meanings since the public came to prefer superficially beautiful sounds and/or flamboyant techniques. He therefore has endeavored to restore music to the celebrated cultural position it once held through his conducting activities.

Besides being a cellist in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, he devoted himself to the study of early music and the original instruments. In 1953, Mr. Harnoncourt, with his wife Alice, organized the Concentus Musicus Wien (CMW) to perform early music using original instruments. The CMW originally concentrated on the pieces for ensembles of the Baroque and the Renaissance era. They eventually expanded their repertoire to include the Viennese classics and the Romantics, both choral and orchestral, and recorded numerous works. In 1971, he began recording all of Bach’s cantatas with Mr. Gustav Leonhardt, that was widely accepted as the monumental work in the history of the early music performing movement which began in the early 1960s. As his selected works, we also introduce his opera performances of the triptych operas by Monteverdi being partnered with Mr. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, a director, in mid 1970s, and his interpretation of Mozart’s and Haydn’s orchestral music cycles with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

After 1980s, through close works with Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, he has applied his methods of performing early music to modern orchestra, and created music filled with energy, by which he has been highly praised as an outstanding conductor. Moreover, Mr. Harnoncourt performs music not with totally being constrained by the historical context, but with his original vision. Apart from his performing, he is also involved in a broad range of activities, including presenting a lecture series at the Mozarteum University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Salzburg, writing books, and is the founding president of the styriarte — Die steirischen Festspiele.

In summary, Mr. Harnoncourt is a musician who interprets music with broad viewpoints both from its theory and practice, and from its historical context, and a pioneer who has broadened the boundary of music.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2005 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Mr. Nikolaus Harnoncourt.


Born in Berlin, Germany
Vienna Academy of Music
Member, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Married Alice Hoffelner
Founder, the Concentus Musicus Wien ensemble
Professor, the Mozarteum University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Salzburg
Founder, the styriarte Festival
Conducting performance including Zurich Opera House, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras; worldwide activities including international festivals, tours; quite many recordings.
Selected Awards and Honors
Erasmus Prize, the Netherlands
Grand Prix du Disque, Académie Charles Cros, France
Polar Music Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music
Hanseatic Goethe Prize, the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung FVS in Hamburg, Germany
Robert Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau, Germany
Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, Germany
Member of the order "Pour le Mérite" of the Sciences and the Arts
Honorary Doctor
Doctor of Music, University Edinburgh (1987)
Honorary members
the Vienna Concert House Society (1988)
the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna (1992)
the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (2004)
Selected Works
Musik am Mannheimer Hof (by J.C. Bach, Holzbauer, Stamitz and Richter), 1963
all the J.S. Bach Cantatas, 1970-1990
L'Orfeo, L'incoronazione di Poppea, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (by Monteverdi, works with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle), 1975-1977
Die Fledermaus (by J. Strauss II), 1988
Beethoven's Symphonies, 1991
Der Freischutz (by von Weber), 1996
Matthäus-Passion (by J.S. Bach), 2001
Don Giovanni, La Clemenza di Tito (by Mozart), 2002
Musik als Klangrede — Wege zu einem neuen Musikverständnis (Residenz Verlag, Salzburg und Wien, 1982)
Der Musikalische Dialog (Residenz Verlag, Salzburg und Wien, 1984)

Profile is at the time of the award.