Muck, Karl

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Muck, Karl

Muck, Karl, eminent German conductor; b. Darmstadt, Oct. 22, 1859; d. Stuttgart, March 3, 1940. He received his first musical instruction from his father, then studied piano with Kissner in Würzburg. He later pursued academic studies (classical philology) at the univs. of Heidelberg and Leipzig (Ph.D., 1880). He also attended the Leipzig Cons., and shortly before graduation made a successful debut as pianist with the Gewandhaus Orch. However, he did not choose to continue a pianistic career, but obtained a position as chorus master at the municipal opera in Zürich; his ability soon secured him the post of conductor there. In subsequent years, he was a theater conductor in Salzburg, Brunn, and Graz; there Angelo Neumann, impresario of a traveling opera company, heard him, and engaged him as conductor for the Landestheater in Prague (1886), and then as Seidl’s successor for his traveling Wagner Co. It was during those years that Muck developed his extraordinary qualities as a masterful disciplinarian and faithful interpreter possessing impeccable taste. In 1889 he conducted the Wagner tetralogy in St. Petersburg, and in 1891, in Moscow. In 1892 he was engaged as first conductor at the Berlin Royal Opera, and also frequently conducted sym. concerts of the Royal Chapel there. From 1894 to 1911 he led the Silesian Music Festivals; in 1899 he conducted the Wagner repertoire at London’s Covent Garden. He also appeared, with outstanding success, in Paris, Rome, Brussels, Madrid, Copenhagen, and other European centers. In 1901 he was selected to conduct the performances of Parsifal at Bayreuth; appeared there regularly until 1930. Muck was one of the conductors of the Vienna Phil. (1904–06); then was conductor of the Boston Sym. Orch. (1906–08) before returning to Berlin as Generalmusikdirektor. He returned to America in 1912 and again assumed the post of conductor of the Boston Sym. Orch.; held that post with the greatest distinction until the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Muck’s position then became controversial; a friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II, he saw no reason to temper his ardent German nationalism, nor was he inclined to alter certain aspects of his private life. Protests were made against his retention as conductor, but despite the efforts to defend him by Major Higginson, the founder of the Boston Sym. Orch., Muck’s case proved hopeless. In order to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act, he subsequently submitted to being arrested at his home on March 25,1918, as an enemy alien and was interned until the end of the war. In 1919 he returned to Germany; conducted the Hamburg Phil, from 1922 until his retirement in 1933. Muck was one of the foremost conductors of his era. A consummate musician, endowed with a masterful technique, he was renowned for his authoritative performances of the revered Austro-German repertoire. His sympathies were wide, however, and he programmed such contemporary musicians as Mahler, Debussy, Sibelius, and even Schoen-berg and Webern at his concerts. His penchant for stern disciplinarianism and biting sarcasm made him a feared podium figure for the musicians who played under him, but the results he obtained were exemplary.


N. Stücker, K. M.(Graz, 1939).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis Mclntire

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