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.
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)
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.
I was so lucky to grow up in an extremely musical family. My father was almost a musician – my doing and my thinking is formed by this model in a pro and anti way: never to give up – and take nothing for granted; I had to question everything. My way of thinking was then (1942/43) greatly influenced by the books of Egon Fridell.
As a child I was interested in many things. My greatest experience was to make Sculptures out of wood and Marionettes to play them in public. This gave me a lot experience to work with other persons and to find out how to move an audience.
A great musical experience changed my life while I was sick: I heard the VII Symphony of Beethoven in the radio and decided to become a musician.
The time as a student in Vienna 1948 to 1952 brought rich experiences in discussions about music making and in studying old music and the special sounds of ancient instruments. In this analytic thinking I found my “theory of perfection”, which later turned out to be a general theory of life.
You can’t have beauty and security.
As an additional to all those problems you also have to regard the listener as a person of our time, with the experience of our time! So, the projection of old music is not only a technical but even more a philosophical problem, if you want to transmit the message of the music.
In 1953 we founded the Concentus Musicus – From 1952 on I earned our life as orchestra-musician. The work with C.M. was never full time and we didn’t want to become “old music specialists”.
We collected a unique repertoire for the C.M.; we played many works from the 16th to the 18th century the first time since then. An important step was the instrumentation and performance of Monteverdi’s operas. This led me to the music theater as a whole.
A very important part of my professional life was teaching “performance practice” at the “Musikhochschule Mozarteum” in Salzburg. So, I had to prove all my decisions in front of all the students.
In 1986 I gave up to play Cello because I didn’t have enough time to practice. Since then I am so lucky to work with the best musicians and I have the privilege to perform the greatest music existing. I am very thankful.