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Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Johann Nikolaus Harnoncourt, nobility historically Johann Nikolaus Graf de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt;[a] 6 December 1929 - 5 March 2016) was an Austrian conductor, particularly known for his historically informed performances of music from the Classical era and earlier. Starting out as a classical cellist, he founded his own period instrument ensemble, Concentus Musicus Wien, in the 1950s, and became a pioneer of the Early Music movement. Around 1970, Harnoncourt started to conduct opera and concert performances, soon leading renowned international symphony orchestras, and appearing at leading concert halls, operatic venues and festivals. His repertoire then widened to include composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 2001 and 2003, he conducted the Vienna New Year's Concert. Harnoncourt was also the author of several books, mostly on subjects of performance history and musical aesthetics.
Johann Nikolaus Harnoncourt was born 1929 as Austrian citizen in Berlin, Germany. His Austrian mother, Ladislaja, born Gräfin von Meran, Freiin von Brandhoven, was the great-granddaughter of the HabsburgArchduke Johann, the 13th child of Emperor Leopold II, making him a descendant of various Holy Roman Emperors and other European royalty. His father, Eberhard Harnoncourt, born de la Fontaine Graf d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt, was an Austrian engineer working in Berlin who had two children from a previous marriage. Two years after Nikolaus's birth, his brother Philipp was born. The family eventually moved to Graz, where Eberhard had obtained a post in the state government (Landesregierung) of Styria.
Harnoncourt was raised in Graz, Austria, and studied music in Vienna. During his youth, he served in the Hitler Youth under duress, where, as he noted:
If you didn't go there every Wednesday and Saturday, the Hitler Youth police would come, fetch you, cut your hair and toss you into a group with other difficult ones who were treated terribly.
Harnoncourt made his guest-conducting debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, in 1975. He continued as a guest conductor with the orchestra, including in several opera productions and recordings. In October 2000, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (KCO) named him their Honorair gastdirigent (Honorary Guest Conductor). His final appearance with the KCO was in October 2013, leading Bruckner's Symphony No. 5.
Other recordings outside of the baroque and classical era repertoire included his 2002 recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 with the Vienna Philharmonic. An accompanying second CD contained a lecture by Harnoncourt about the symphony with musical examples, including the rarely heard fragments from the unfinished finale. In 2009, Harnoncourt recorded Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, taken from live performances at Graz.
On 5 December 2015, one day before his 86th birthday, Harnoncourt announced his retirement via his website. "My bodily strength requires me to cancel my future plans," he wrote in a hand-written letter inserted into the program on his 86th birthday of a concert by the Concentus Musicus Wien.
Harnoncourt was the focus of the annual festival of classical music Styriarte, founded in 1985 to tie him closer to his hometown, Graz. He programmed the festival for 31 years. Events have been held at different venues in Graz and in the surrounding region.
Harnoncourt died on 5 March 2016 in the village of Sankt Georgen im Attergau, north east of Salzburg. His widow Alice, their three adult children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren survive him.
Harnoncourt, Nikolaus (1983). Musik als Klangrede: Wege zu einem neuen Musikverständnis. Salzburg: Residenz Verlag. ISBN978-3-7017-0315-9.
Harnoncourt, Nikolaus (1993). Die Macht der Musik: Zwei Reden. Salzburg: Residenz Verlag. ISBN978-3-7017-0827-7.
Harnoncourt, Nikolaus; Pauly, Reinhard G. (1988). Baroque Music Today: Music As Speech. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press. ISBN978-0-931340-91-8.
Harnoncourt, Nikolaus (1997). The Musical Dialogue: Thoughts on Monteverdi, Bach, and Mozart. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press. ISBN1-57467-023-9.
^Regarding personal names and titles: Until 1919, Graf was a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form was Gräfin. In Austria since the ?Adelsaufhebungsgesetz? of 3 April 1919, both, the nobility itself and all nobility titles/attributes are abolished. Different than in Germany noble titles in Austria were not part of the name.
^Registration information from the Austrian central registration register (Meldeauskunft aus dem Zentralen Melderegister gemäß § 18 Abs. 1 Meldegesetz ): Familienname oder Nachname: Harnoncourt / Vorname: Johann Nikolaus / Geburtsdatum: 06.12.1929. Retrieved on 7 March 2016
^ abcMunzinger-Archiv GmbH, Ravensburg. "Nikolaus Harnoncourt". Retrieved 2020. (Johann Nikolaus Harnoncourt (adelshistorisch: Johann Nikolaus Graf de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt) wurde am 6. Dez. 1929 in Berlin geboren. Die Familie seines Vaters stammt aus luxemburgisch-lothringischem Uradel und führte bis zum Adelsaufhebungsgesetz den Grafen-Titel.)