Karl Richter (conductor)

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Karl Richter
Richter conducting the Münchener Bach-Orchester
Background information
Born (1926-10-15)October 15, 1926
Plauen, Germany
Died February 15, 1981(1981-02-15) (aged 54)
Munich, Germany
Notable instruments

Karl Richter (15 October 1926 – 15 February 1981) was a German conductor, choirmaster, organist, and harpsichordist.


Karl Richter was born in Plauen and studied first in Dresden, where he was a member of the Dresdner Kreuzchor and later in Leipzig, where he received his degree in 1949. He studied with Günther Ramin, Karl Straube and Rudolf Mauersberger. In the same year, he became organist at St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, where Johann Sebastian Bach was the Musical Director for 27 years. While organist at the St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, he was witness to the inauguration of Johann Sebastian Bach's new grave and he prepared a special performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E-flat for the reception.[1]

In 1951 Richter moved to Munich, where he taught at the conservatory and was cantor and organist at St. Mark's Church. He also conducted the Münchener Bach-Chor starting in 1954 and the Münchener Bach-Orchester. In the 1960s and 1970s he recorded often and toured Japan, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Richter played and conducted a wide range of music (sacred works from Heinrich Schütz to Max Reger, as well as the symphonic and concerto repertoire of the Classical and Romantic periods - even including Bruckner's symphonies), but is best remembered for his interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach and Handel. Richter's performances were known for their soulsearching, intense and festive manner. He avoided the fluctuations in tempi that were then characteristic of the prevailing Romantic manner of conducting Bach, and devoted much attention to the woodwinds and to balance. His recordings from 1958-70 are notable for "discipline, rhythmic tautness and expressive intensity.".[2]

Richter viewed Baroque music as fundamentally impromptu and subjective in nature, explaining in an interview that he had been told his performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion sounded different than the one he had performed last year. He viewed this observation in a positive light, stating "Its bad if you play a work with disdainful routine because you have to, and if you no longer have any thoughts or ideas about it." This was one of Richters strengths, because each concert he conducted was a unique, irreplaceable event, and even though two performances could sound slightly different, both were just right in the moment he was playing them. Musicians who played with him acknowledged this and analogized that performing Baroque music with Richter was like playing ping pong, because the back and forth is what directed the piece.[3]

As well as a conductor, Richter is also remembered as a virtuoso harpsichordist and organist. His performances of Bach's organ works are known for their imposing registrations and favorable pace.[citation needed] For many years Richter practiced on the local church's organ every day.

In 1971 Richter suffered a heart attack, almost 10 years before his death. In the mid nineteen seventies he suffered increasing problems with his vision. Richter had a fantastic memory, and began to memorize as many works as he could before his vision would leave him. Eventually he had eye surgery, which he was initially skeptical of, that worked well. [3]

When asked about the energy-draining self-imposed burden of work he set himself, he would reply “My time is now”, or even “We Richters don’t grow old”. [1]

In the 1970s, according to Nicholas Anderson, "with the growing interest in historically aware performance... Richter's values were questioned"; in 1981, "a victim of passing fashion and changing taste, he died an embittered man.[4]" While staying in a hotel in Munich in 1981, he suffered a fatal heart attack, and was buried in the Enzenbühl cemetery in Zurich eight days later.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Wörner, Roland (2006). "Karl Richter 1921 – 1981 / His Life and Work" (PDF). Conventus Musicus. Conventus Musicus. Retrieved 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Nicholas Anderson, "Karl Richter," in Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 420
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lindemann, Klaus. "The Legacy of Karl Richter", Deutsche Grammophon. April 11, 2006.
  4. Nicholas Anderson, "Karl Richter," in Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 420


  • Martin, Johannes (2005). Karl Richter in München, 1951-1981: Zeitzeugen erinnern sich: eine Dokumentation (in German). Dettelbach: Conventus Musicus. ISBN 9783000168642. OCLC 70677090.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links