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Richter, Hans (Johann Baptist Isidor)

Richter, Hans (Johann Baptist Isidor)

Richter, Hans (Johann Baptist Isidor) , celebrated Austro- Hungarian conductor; b. Raab, Hungary, April 4, 1843; d. Bayreuth, Dec. 5, 1916. He was born into a musical family; his father, Anton Richter, was a composer and Kapellmeister at Raab Cathedral, and his mother, Josefine (née Czasensky) Richter, was an opera singer and vocal teacher. Richter was blessed with perfect pitch and was only 4 when he began piano lessons with his mother; he soon received instruction in organ and timpani, and also began to sing. In 1854 he was taken to Vienna to pursue academic studies at the Piaristengymnasium; he also was accepted as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, where he sang until 1858. He then studied at the Cons. of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (1858–62); his principal mentors there were Kleinecke (horn), Heissler (violin), Ramesch (piano), J. Hellmesberger (orchestral training), and Sechter (theory and composition). He continued his training with Kleinecke as an external student until 1865. In addition, he learned to play virtually every instrument in the orch., the harp excepted. While still attending to his studies, he gained experience as a player in various opera orchs. before serving as a horn player in the orch. of Vienna’s Kärrnerthortheater (1862–66). In the meantime, he made his professional debut as a conductor in a concert in Raab on Sept. 19, 1865. Upon the recommendation of Heinrich Esser, Wagner invited Richter to Tribschen in 1866 to prepare the fair copy of his score to the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner was so satisfied with Richter’s work that he secured the young musician’s appointment as chorus master and répétiteur at the Munich Court Opera. Richter prepared the chorus for the premiere of Die Meistersinger, which was conducted by Hans von Billow on June 21, 1868. Later that year he was appointed court music director in Munich, but was dismissed from his post the following year after a dispute with the royal authorities over aspects of the staging of the premiere of Das Rheingold. With Wagner’s approval, Richter conducted instead the Brussels premiere (in French) of Lohengrin on March 22, 1870, with notable success. In 1871 Richter became conductor of the Opera and Phil, concerts in Budapest, where he won distinction as both an operatic and symphonic conductor. In 1874 he was made the director of the Opera. In 1875 he was called to Vienna to assume the post of Ist Kapellmeister of the Court Opera, a position he retained until 1900. From 1875 to 1882, and again from 1883 to 1898, he was conductor of the Vienna Phil. At Wagner’s invitation, he went to Bayreuth in 1876 to conduct the first complete staging of the Ring cycle at the opening of the Festival: Das Rheingold on Aug. 13, Die Walküre on Aug. 14, Siegfried on Aug. 16, and Götterdammerung on Aug. 17. In May 1877 Wagner invited Richter to share his conducting duties at the Royal Albert Hall in London. That same year Richter was made Vize-Hofkapellmeister of the Court Chapel in Vienna. In 1879 he returned to London to conduct a series of Orchestral Festival Concerts, which he subsequently led as the annual Richter Concerts from 1880 to 1902. In 1882 Richter conducted the first British performances of Die Meistersinger (May 30) and Tristan und Isolde (June 20) at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. His debut at London’s Covent Garden followed on June 4, 1884, when he conducted Die Meistersinger. In 1884 he became conductor of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, a post he held until 1890. From 1885 to 1909 he was conductor of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival. In 1887 he returned to Bayreuth, and between 1892 and 1912 conducted notable performances at 11 festivals there. In 1893 Richter accepted the conductorship of the Boston Sym. Orch., but was compelled to withdraw his acceptance when he learned from the Viennese authorities that he would lose his pension. Instead, he was made Imperial Hofkapellmeister that year, a title he retained until 1900. In 1895 Richter made his first appearance as a guest conductor with the Hallé Orch. in Manchester, and subsequently served as its conductor from 1899 to 1911. From 1903 to 1910 he conducted seasons of German opera at Covent Garden, and in 1908 conducted the first English-language performances of the Ring cycle there. On June 9, 1904, he conducted the inaugural concert of the London Sym. Orch., and then served as its principal conductor until 1911. After making his home in Bayreuth, Richter conducted his farewell performance at the Festival there with Die Meistersinger on Aug. 19, 1912. In addition to the honors bestowed upon him in his homeland, he was also honored in England with honorary doctorates in music by the univs. of Oxford (1885) and Manchester (1902), and was made an Honorary Member, 4th class (1904) and Honorary Commander (1907) of the Royal Victorian Order. Richter’s unstinting devotion to the composer’s intentions, communicated via a flawless conducting technique, resulted in performances of great commitment and authority. He invariably conducted all his scores from memory. While his association with Wagner rendered his performances of the master of Bayreuth’s works as authoritative, he also won great renown for his interpretations of Beethoven. He further distinguished himself as an outstanding champion of Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Elgar.


C. Fifield, True Artist and True Friend: A Biography of H. R. (Oxford, 1993).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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