With ancestry stretching back to late medieval times, the Staatskapelle Weimar has deeper roots than almost any other German musical ensemble. Like many other German orchestras active in the 18th and 19th centuries, it has been associated with a theater, the present-day Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar. The orchestra started life well before that, in 1482, as the Herzoglichen Hofkapelle or Ducal Court Ensemble. As Weimar evolved into the capital of an electorate of the Holy Roman Empire and then into a major cultural center, the ensemble was renamed the Weimar Staatskapelle (Weimar State Ensemble) and finally the Staatskapelle Weimar. Its membership roster down through the centuries includes perhaps a greater concentration of talent than any other ensemble: Hermann Schein was a member of the orchestra; Bach was its organist and Kapellmeister, as was Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Franz Liszt was Kapellmeister from 1842 to 1858, and his championing of Wagner and other progressive composers put the Staatskapelle at the center of European musical life. Richard Strauss was a vice-Kapellmeister in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
Holders of the title of Kapellmeister in the 20th century included Peter Raabe, Ernst Praetorius, who departed in 1933 because his wife was Jewish, and Paul Sixt, one of the performers in Hitler's concert of Entartete Kunst. After the war, the orchestra's music directors have included Hermann Abendroth, Gerhard Pflüger, Hans-Peter Frank, George Alexander Albrecht, Jac van Steen (the orchestra's first non-German conductor), Carl St. Clair (an American), Stefan Solyom from Sweden, and, since 2016, the Ukrainian Kirill Karabits.
The Staatskapelle Weimar continues to fulfill its role of accompanying dramatic productions; two operas, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Leonard Bernstein's Candide, were staged during its 2018 season. The orchestra continues to perform in the Main House (Großes Haus) of the Nationaltheater, adorned in the front by a monument showing Goethe and Schiller that inspired replicas and imitations throughout the German diaspora, including in several cities in the United States.