Michael Gielen

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Michael Andreas Gielen (born July 20, 1927 in Dresden ; died March 8, 2019 in Mondsee ) was a German - Austrian conductor and composer .


After his sister Carola Stella (born 1925) Michael Gielen was the second child of the Austrian theater man and later director of the Burgtheater Josef Gielen and the actress Rosa Steuermann, sister of Salka Viertel , Eduard Steuermann and Zygmunt Steuermann .

At the age of eleven, Gielen was already studying the three piano pieces Opus 11 by Arnold Schönberg . Gielen's family, who had moved from Berlin to Vienna under pressure from the National Socialists in 1937 , had to emigrate to Argentina after the annexation of Austria in 1940 because their father was opposed to National Socialism and Gielen's mother, Rosa, a "Jew" according to National Socialist terminology, was at risk. to be arrested and deported. It was there that Michael Gielen met the conductor Fritz Busch at the age of thirteen , with whom he often practiced the piano four hands. From 1942 to 1949 he studied piano and music theory with Erwin Leuchter in Buenos Aires . In 1945 he began studying philosophy for three semesters and then played a lot of chamber music privately with his brother-in-law Ljerko Spiller and his violin students. Gielen studied Ernst Krenek's writing About New Music and composed. In 1946 his first work was a sonata for piano and violin.

He began his professional career in 1947 as a répétiteur at the Teatro Colón , where his father was chief director and the conductor Erich Kleiber had a decisive influence on him. Gielen became a pianist in the ensemble Agrupación Nueva Música of the Argentine Society for New Music, founded by the composer Juan Carlos Paz , where he also met Mauricio Kagel . In 1949 he performed Schönberg's piano works in a concert commented on by Paz .

In 1950 Gielen went to the Vienna State Opera , where he also worked as a répétiteur and met Herbert von Karajan , Karl Böhm , Clemens Krauss and Dimitri Mitropoulos , among others . From 1960 Gielen was music director of the Royal Opera in Stockholm for five years , in 1969 director of the Belgian National Orchestra in Brussels and in 1973 chief conductor of the Dutch Opera in Amsterdam . He made operatic history as the conductor of the world premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's opera The Soldiers on February 15, 1965 in Cologne . From 1977 to 1987 Gielen was general music director of the Frankfurt Opera , which under his leadership (in collaboration with Klaus Zehelein ) advanced to one of the most important opera houses in Europe, and also director of the museum concerts in Frankfurt am Main . At the same time he was Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London from 1978 to 1981 , of which he has been Honorary Conductor since then, and from 1980 to 1986 director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra .

In 1986 he took over the SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, which was renamed SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg in 1996 , and directed it until 1999. From 1999 to 2014 he was a permanent guest conductor, and since 2002 honorary conductor of this orchestra. He worked regularly with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin , first as principal guest conductor, later as guest conductor of honor.

The Staatskapelle Berlin conducted Michael Gielen for the first time in 1991 with a premiere of Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande in a legendary production of Ruth Berghaus . He fundamentally changed the orchestra's understanding of sound for the music of the 20th century. In 1995, Alban Berg's Lulu was named production of the year under his direction at the Salzburg Festival with a directorial work by Peter Mussbach . In 1997 the opera was first performed at the State Opera Unter den Linden and remained in the program for many years. From 1998 to 2012, concerts with the Staatskapelle Berlin followed every season, in which he dealt with works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and other composers mainly from the 20th century. In 2001 he led the premiere of Franz Schreker's Der ferne Klang - again with a directorial work by Peter Mussbach - to a success. Two years earlier he had turned to Italian opera with the premiere of Norma . In the following years Michael Gielen devoted himself more and more to this repertoire and, with his detoxified, unsentimental interpretation, created a new soundscape for this literature. Initially engaged as a guest conductor, later as Principal Guest Conductor , he was made an honorary member in recognition of his formative artistic work and collegial solidarity with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

Gielen's repertoire was broad - from Bach to modern times , symphonic literature and opera alike. The focal points of his work were on the one hand the great symphonic composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler , on the other hand the composers of the 20th century and here in particular the representatives of the New Vienna School .

He returned to his hometown only a few times: in the 1970s when conducting a Rosenkavalier performance, in 1992 he was a guest in exchange between the Dresden Philharmonic and the Südwestfunk Symphony Orchestra and in 2008 for the presentation of his book “Unbedingt Musik”.

At the end of October 2014, Gielen ended his conducting career for health reasons. He died on March 8, 2019 at the age of 91 in his house on Mondsee in the Austrian Salzkammergut as a result of pneumonia.


Works (selection)

Musical works

  • 1949: Variations for string quartet
  • 1954: Musica for baritone, strings, piano, timpani and trombone. Lyricist: Paul Claudel “The silk shoe”. First performance on March 5, 1956 in Cologne
  • 1955/1985: 4 poems for mixed choir and 19 instruments. Lyricist: Stefan George
  • 1959: Variations for 40 instruments, first performance: 1960
  • 1960–1963: A day emerges . Pentaphony for obbligato piano, five solo instruments and five groups of five musicians each with words by Pablo Neruda , first performance: 1966
  • 1967–1969: The bells are on the wrong track. With texts by Hans Arp .
    World premiere: May 31, 1970 as part of the SR Festival Music in the 20th Century. Contributors: Joan Carroll , Siegfried Palm , Aloys Kontarsky , Wilhelm Bruck, Christoph Caskel and Michael Gielen.
  • 1971–1974 participation model for orchestral musicians and three conductors . World premiere: June 1, 1975 as part of the SR Festival Music in the 20th Century. Participants: Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra , Hans Zender , Michael Gielen, Burkhard Rempe as conductors, Norbert Beilharz and Michael Gielen as speakers.
  • 1971/1975: Some difficulties in overcoming fear for orchestral musicians. World premiere: Munich, October 29, 1976
  • 1983–1985: String quartet Un vieux souvenir. Based on texts from Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal . First performance: 1985, LaSalle String Quartet , Cincinnati .
  • 1988: Duty and inclination for an ensemble of 22 musicians. WP: Bremen, October 1st, 1989
  • 1989: review . Serenade for 3 cellos
  • 1991: vision . Sonata for violoncello


  • Definitely music. Memories. Insel, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-458-17272-6 .
  • with Paul Fiebig: An interview with Mahler. The ten symphonies. Metzler, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-476-01933-0 .


Web links

Commons : Michael Gielen  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Stefan Arndt, Kerstin Leiße: Unimpeachable musical competence . In: Dresdner Latest News . March 11, 2019, p. 9 .
  2. Michael Gielen ends his conducting career. Klassik.com, Oct. 30, 2014.
  3. Wolfgang Schreiber: The love of truth in music. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . March 8, 2019, accessed the same day.
  4. List of all decorations awarded by the Federal President for services to the Republic of Austria from 1952 (PDF; 6.9 MB)
  5. Culture medal for "old" -Fadinger and OÖN bloggers. OÖN
  6. Wolfgang Korb, Friedrich Spangemacher (Ed.): Music in the 20th Century 1970–2000. A documentation. Pfau-Verlag, Saarbrücken 2001, ISBN 3-89727-144-3 .