Conductor Karl Böhm marked the twentieth century with his interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. Following in the footsteps of Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwängler, Karl Böhm conducted the great masters with grandeur and simplicity, serving them with humility and precision.
Karl Böhm was the son of a lawyer and studied law himself before studying music at the conservatoire in Graz (piano) then Vienna (music theory) with Eusebius Mandyczewski, who was a friend of Brahms. During World War I, he was called up to serve in the Austrian army. His gained his first conducting experience in his home town, Graz, where, between 1917 and 1920, he was initially rehearsal conductor, then assistant conductor, then finally principal conductor. Bruno Walter summoned him to Munich in 1921. His career progressed rapidly. He was successively musical director in Darmstadt, Hamburg, the Dresden opera house and the Vienna opera house.
While at the Dresden opera house, he conducted the world premieres of works by Richard Strauss: Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman) in 1935, Daphne in 1938 and the Horn Concerto No. 2 in 1943. On 11 June 1944, he conducted Ariadne auf Naxos (Ariadne on Naxos) at the 80th birthday concert for his friend Richard Strauss.
From 1938 onwards, he conducted every year at the Salzburg Festival.
After World War II, when he was falsely accused of passively supporting the Nazi regime, his career was put on hold until his name was cleared in 1947.
In 1948, he made his debut at La Scala in Milan with Mozart's Don Giovanni.
He left for Argentina in 1950 and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, where he conducted German opera repertoire; his interpretation of Berg's Wozzeck created a sensation in the press.
On his return to Europe in 1954, he once again became principal conductor at the Vienna State Opera. On 5 November 1955, he conducted Fidelio for the reopening of the opera house after reconstruction work.
He gave his first concert in the United States in 1956 at the head of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1957, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera (the Met) in New York.
In 1962, he debuted at the Bayreuth Festival. On his tour of Japan in 1965 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, he conducted Fidelio in Tokyo.
In France, during the 1970s, he conducted Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), Elektra and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the Paris opera. During the Chorégies d'Orange festival, he conducted the Orchestre National de Radio France in his favourite repertoire, Tristan und Isolde.
Karl Böhm received numerous honours and distinctions in the course of his long career, including the Mozart Gold Medal, the Brahms Medal and the Bruckner Ring. In 1974, the cities of Salzburg and Vienna held special events to pay tribute to Böhm on his ninetieth birthday.
Six landmark dates in the life of Karl Böhm:
• 1919: obtained his doctorate in law.
• 1938: conducted for the first time in Salzburg (Don Giovanni).
• 1944: conducted Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss for the composer's 80th birthday
• 1962: made his debut at Bayreuth with Tristan und Isolde
• 1964: on 26 January 1964, conducted the Olympic Hymn by Richard Strauss to open the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck.
• 1973: Tristan und Isolde at the Chorégies d'Orange with the Orchestre National de France
Biography compiled from Radio France Musical Documentation, February 2016