The Austrian conductor - one of the towering figures in the post-war early music revival – has announced his retirement. In a handwritten letter, placed in the programme at a Vienna Concentus Musicus concert on the weekend he marked his 86th birthday.
Harnoncourt started his career as a cellist, playing in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra before deciding that he would like to explore a way of making music more closely aligned with the style of the composers’ own time. In 1953 he founded the Concentus Musicus Wien, an ensemble he conducted right up until his retirement, making numerous recordings with them including the pioneering Bach cantata series he co-directed with Gustav Leonhardt, Mozart and Haydn symphonies, Bach Passions and a vast swathe of Baroque and Classical repertoire, much of it for Teldec and later for RCA.
Later working with modern orchestras, Harnoncourt became a pioneer in introducing a more historically aware approach to performance of the Baroque and Classial repertoires. His 1992 Beethoven symphony cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was named Gramophone’s Recording of the Year. He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by this magazine in 2009.