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The Kapellmeister (not to be confused with the term concert master ) is the musical director of a choir or orchestra . The term is often used as a synonym for conductor or orchestra leader. Today it is still used in connection with the conductors who regularly lead the repertoire performances at the theater , more precisely the opera and operetta . Otherwise the term is rather out of date and can only be found in brass music etc., i.e. in ensembles that are still called bands .


The title of “Kapellmeister” can be verified for the first time around the middle of the 11th century as “Magister capellanorum” at the French royal court. Up until around 1300 he referred to the highest court chaplain. From 1341 the head of the "Capellani et cantores capellae" at the papal court in Avignon is called "Magister capellanorum". In the same sense, until around 1500, it was not a musician, but the clergyman who was called the “Kapellmeister”, who was responsible for supervising the service and thus also supervising the band singers and musicians. In Germany, the title of “Kapellmeister” was transferred to the director of court music for the first time in the 16th century.

Originally, the Kapellmeister is not only a conductor, but also a composer and arranger for the ensemble he presides over and has far-reaching organizational tasks. From the 15th to the 19th century he was the creative “head” of all polyphonic music making.

Court Kapellmeister were still Joseph Haydn or Antonio Salieri . As a result of the freedom of trade , which had gradually gained acceptance since around 1800, there were more and more private-sector bands, which mostly worked for dance and opera events. Mozart was already resisting the role of Kapellmeister as court official and remained freelance throughout his life. Since then there have been opposing views of the term Kapellmeister: It can be an officially (by the court or by the city) awarded honorary title for an official or employee or, on the contrary, a symbol for the independent entrepreneur in the musical world.

From the middle of the 18th to the middle of the 20th century there was the function of the theater music director, who was responsible for the music of stage productions and, in addition to rehearsing and performing existing pieces, had to ensure the constant renewal of the repertoire. Adolf Müller senior, for example, wrote largely new music for over 600 stage productions in the middle of the 19th century. Franz von Suppè had to rehearse demanding operas and at the same time compose circus music and later operettas .

In ensembles with string instruments, the concertmaster was often the conductor (or his deputy). This was especially common in dance music . Johann Strauss (father) and, in his early days, Johann Strauss (son) were the first violinists to lead their bands all night long, similar to today's DJs , and wrote new pieces of music during the day. In the so-called Ländlerkapellen, the Kapellmeister is usually still the founder and contact person of the formation.

In addition, there were (and still are occasionally today) church or cathedral musicians , military musicians or circus musicians. The military bands were the most common ensembles around 1900 and were also hired for dance and theater performances. Franz Lehár, for example, began his career as a military bandmaster.

Around 1900 the professions of conductor and composer separated more and more. Gustav Mahler, for example, who in the old tradition was both a conductor of foreign works as well as a composer and music processor, was no longer necessarily taken seriously as a composer. Some critics gave his music the derogatory term Kapellmeistermusik .


Kapellmeister is still a job title at larger opera houses that employ several conductors. The first Kapellmeister is subordinate to the most senior conductor, the general music director , and also acts as his representative.

In the Vienna Boys' Choir, the director of a choir is still called the Kapellmeister today. The artistic director is upstream of the choir masters.

At some music academies, such as the Robert Schumann University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf , there is still training to become a qualified Kapellmeister. Earlier, self-evident tasks of the Kapellmeister such as composing and arranging or cultural management have been shifted to other courses. Military music officers in the military music service of the Federal Armed Forces must be certified band masters according to the soldiers' career regulations.

In modern dance music and jazz , the term bandleader as the leader of a big band is common.

The chief conductor of the Gewandhausorchester traditionally bears the title of Gewandhauskapellmeister .

Input in other languages

The German word Kapellmeister can be found as a translation or loan word in various other languages, e.g. B.

English : chapel master , Finnish : kapellimestari , French : maître de chapelle , Italian : maestro di cappella , Dutch : kapelmeester , Polish : kapelmistrz , Portuguese : mestre de capela , Russian : капельме́йстер , Swedish : kapellmästare and Spanish : maestro de capilla .

Individual evidence

  1. Paragraph after article: Kapellmeister . In: Wilibald Gurlitt , Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (Ed.): Riemann Musiklexikon . 12th, completely revised edition. Tangible part: A-Z . Schott, Mainz 1967, p. 447 .