Franz Konwitschny

Franz Konwitschny

Conductor • Violin

• 1901 1962


Franz Konwitschny was born to a family consisting of several members who were professional musicians. He studied at Brno's German Musical Society and later at Leipzig Conservatory. While still a student, he was exposed to great conducting as a member of the viola section of the famous Gewandhausorchester Leipzig when he played under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1925, he moved to Vienna with the Fitzner Quartet and began teaching at the Vienna Volkskonservatorium. Within two years, he had decided to become a conductor. In 1927, he joined the Stuttgart Opera, first as an assistant conductor then winning promotion to chief conductor in 1930. Engagements at Freiburg, Frankfort, and Hanover occupied him until 1949 when he was awarded the helm of the venerable Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. From 1949 until his death on tour in 1962, he held that position even as opera house appointments (Dresden 1953 to 1955, and the Berliner Staatsoper from 1955 onward) occupied increasing amounts of time. His dual positions made him one of the Eastern bloc's most authoritative and celebrated musicians. In the years shortly before his death, Konwitschny appeared abroad in such venues as Salzburg and London and toured elsewhere in Austria, West Germany, Poland, Soviet Russia, and Japan. As an interpreter, he eschewed the precise attacks expected of Western conductors in favor of deeper tone coloring and a spontaneous search for meaning. For EMI, his recordings of Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser are compelling, despite casting deficiencies in both title roles.

Franz Konwitschny was a yeoman conductor. Not a stellar podium personality, but a musician who respected the need for craftsmanship and still managed to probe deeply into the scores that held greatest meaning to him. While the music of his own time appealed to him less than the masterworks of the Classical and Romantic ages, he still made time for the works of such composers as Dessau and Eisler. Konwitschny's early death came as a blow to an art form that needed individuals of such gifts and such devotion to high purpose. The majority of Konwitschny's recordings were made for the East German branch of Philips, and the company's successor, Berlin Classics, honored his memory with the release of an 11-CD box set of his performances in 2001.