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Charles Lamoureux as a conductor

The conductor (from Latin dirigere , “align”, “to lead”) directs a music- making ensemble ( choir and / or orchestra ) by conducting .


The conductor prepares the work with the orchestra or choir musicians and performs it. To this end, he takes on the following tasks in particular:

  1. Technical and artistic coordination of the participating musicians: When conducting, he specifies the tempos that are binding for the musicians (see percussion figure ) and designs the musical expression (see description of the presentation ).
  2. Interpretative design sovereignty: The work should be developed and performed according to the conductor's concept .
  3. Choice of music and determination of the repertoire. As Artistic Director, he takes over the selection of the pieces and is responsible for running the practice and rehearsals. In the case of smaller orchestras, the conductor often takes on the planning of the orchestra's performances (“ tour ”) or is involved accordingly (keyword: acoustics of the venue, any sound technology required to achieve an optimal sound image, etc.).


Until the 18th century, ensembles were usually led by one of the active musicians (who was often also the composer of the work performed). In the 17th and 18th centuries, the thoroughbass age , the direction was usually taken from the harpsichord or a violin . In a courtly band, this was the function of the “ concert master ”, who often took turns with the band master in the rehearsal or performance. An example of how such an orchestral direction worked is described using the history of the Dresden court orchestra under its concertmaster Johann Georg Pisendel . In special cases the director stepped in front of the ensemble, for example often at the opera. In historical pictures he is sometimes shown conducting with a piano roll. At the court of Louis XIV he gave instructions not only with arm movements, but with the help of a baton , with which the beat was stamped on the floor. Jean-Baptiste Lully , court musician of King Ludwig XIV. , Who injured his foot so badly with his baton that he died of gangrene a few months later, became famous in this context .

The conductor in function and form or also as a job title as we know him today has only existed since the beginning of the 19th century. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy has been considered the first conductor in today's sense of the word since he led the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Increasingly large choirs and orchestras made conducting from the instrument impossible. Until the 20th century, most large orchestras were still conducted by Kapellmeister who routinely created their own compositions and music arrangements for their ensemble.

Simone Young has directed numerous renowned orchestras

The conductor unites and concentrates the power and (ideally) also the artistic competence of musical creative sovereignty in his person. It is the “eye of the needle” between the performing musician and what can be heard as a musical product. Making music together no longer works through decentralized communication structures among the musicians, but through “subordination”. Because of these skills, the conductor developed a strong social position that made the outstanding prominence of future star conductors possible.

The conductor's “power of interpretation”, similar to that of the theater director, only emerged at the end of the 19th century. It has to do with the fact that the repertoire has increasingly broadened stylistically and value was placed on individual interpretation even with large ensembles. The idea of ​​the Wilhelminian superior who is highly respected, even if he is just a performer, remained associated with the conducting profession in the 20th century.

From 1924 to 1930 Universal Edition in Vienna published a specialist magazine for conductors with the title Pult und Beatstock . It went up in the music magazine Anbruch .

When Nadia Boulanger conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1938 , she broke into a traditionally male domain. The first internationally known German conductor of symphony orchestras was Hortense von Gelmini in the 20th century . Today female conductors are becoming increasingly popular. One example is the Australian Simone Young , who was chief conductor of the Hamburg State Opera from 2005 to 2015 .


In principle, there are different ways of learning the “job” of a conductor. It is important to distinguish between full-time conductors (e.g. of large symphony orchestras ) and honorary conductors in music associations, brass bands, choirs, etc. The basis is the confident command of at least one musical instrument. Full-time conductors acquire their qualifications by studying at a music college . Part-time or honorary conductors generally acquire their qualifications by attending special training courses, e.g. B. in the brass music of the so-called C3 course. Often these are appropriately talented and experienced musicians who advance to conductors through a position as register manager and in some cases internal instructors (instrumental teachers in music associations). Depending on the regional association or organizational unit, it is usual that the corresponding subordinate courses ( D1 – D3 , C1 , C2) have been successfully attended.

See also


  • Arne Stollberg and Jana Weißenfeld (eds.): DirigentenBilder. Musical gestures - embodied music , Basel 2015, ISBN 978-3-7965-3478-2 .
  • Dietfried Bernet : Arguments for the gentleman in tails: Everything you always wanted to know about conducting ... Limbus Verlag (Austria) 2008 ( ISBN 978-3-902534-14-9 )
  • Julian Caskel - Hartmut Hein (Ed.): Handbook conductors. 250 portraits, Kassel 2015
  • Elke Mascha Blankenburg : Female conductors in the 20th century: portraits from Marin Alsop to Simone Young , Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-434-50536-9 .
  • Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich: The great conductors. The most important interpreters of the 20th century, Düsseldorf 1986
  • Norman Lebrecht: The Myth of the Maestro. The conductor. Typology of a profession , Atlantis Musikbuch 1993
  • Ilya Musin : The Technique of Conducting (Техника дирижирования), Muzyka Publishing House, Moscow 1967
  • Ennio Nicotra: Introduzione alla Tecnica della Direzione d'Orchestra Secondo il Sistema di Ilya Musin (Introduction to the orchestral conducting technique in accordance with the orchestral conducting school of Ilya Musin) . Book and DVD (text in Italian, English, German and Spanish). Edizioni Curci Milano, 2007.
  • Alain Pâris: Classical Music in the 20th Century. Instrumentalists, singers, conductors, orchestras, choirs , Munich: dtv 1997 ( ISBN 3-423-32501-1 ) [with a detailed, sometimes incorrect directory, which is, however, quite useful as a first orientation and introduction]
  • Wolfgang Schreiber: Great Conductors , Munich - Zurich 2005
  • Julia Spinola: The great conductors of our time . With a detailed encyclopedia, Berlin: Henschel 2005, ISBN 3-89487-480-5
  • Anke Steinbeck: Beyond the Maestro Myth: Female conductors for the 21st century. Dohr Cologne 2010, ISBN 978-3-936655-74-2

Web links

Wiktionary: Conductor  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Conductors  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
  • [1] - Woman Conductors: List and brief portraits of over 600 orchestra and choir conductors, which is updated regularly (as of August 2020).
  • : Brief portraits of over 90 (female) conductors. (Page not updated since 2003.)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Direction from the harpsichord: The Cleveland Orchestra with “La Folia” by Antonio Vivaldi on YouTube.
  2. See Kai Köpp: Johann Georg Pisendel (1687–1755) and the beginnings of modern orchestral conducting . Schneider, Tutzing 2005, ISBN 3-7952-1140-9 .
  3. ZDB -ID 717124-9 - desk and baton: trade journal for conductors in the journal database.
  4. David Mutch: “The Christian Science Monitor”, February 25, 1976, Boston USA: “The gathering critical judgment of Hortense von Gelmini, Germany's only woman conductor, is that she has not only the talent but the education, energy, and persistance to make her mark in this difficult and competitive profession "
  5. For Boulanger, Gelmini, Young and other European conductors, see short portraits in alphabetical order:
  6. How do you really become a conductor? Hamburger Abendblatt, September 10, 2008
  7. (PDF)
  9. Review by Silas Nathaniel Huff ( Memento from May 6, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) (English)