Concentus musicus Wien (= CMW), founded in 1953 by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is largely responsible for launching the authentic instrument movement and, forty-six years later, remains at the forefront of historical performing practice.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt drew the pioneering instrumentalists of Concentus musicus Wien from the ranks of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. They came together as a specialist ensemble to play early music on period instruments, "not for historical but for artistic reasons, since the music of every period can best be brought to life and is most convincingly realized using the resources of the time". Manuscripts were discovered and copied meticulously by hand and instruments secured. Intensive rehearsal and experimentation followed. The group gave its first public concert at the Schwarzenberg Palace in Vienna in 1957, an event that marked the start of an annual concert series.
Concentus musicus Wien made its first recordings for what was then called Telefunken in 1963. Around that same time, the ensemble made concert tours all over Western Europe, performing repertoire including Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and music from the Austrian Baroque. Their first tour of the USA and Canada took place in 1966.
In 1970 Concentus musicus Wien began recording the complete Bach cantatas for Teldec, an ambitious, long-term project completed in 1989 and one which to this day represents the only complete Bach cantata recordings on period instruments. At the same time, they continued to build up their own concert series at the Vienna Musikverein and to record works by Monteverdi, Purcell, J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel and Mozart. Their recordings of J.S. Bach's B minor Mass (BWV 232) and of Monteverdi's three operas and Vespro della Beata Virgine (1610) are universally regarded as milestones of early music performance.
Their recordings continue to win prizes on a regular basis: Mozart's Lucio Silla and G.F. Handel's Theodora, for example, were awarded the German Record Critics' Prize in 1990 and 1991 respectively. The complete Bach cantatas received a Gramophone Award for Special Achievement in 1990. More recent accolades include the 1995 Cannes Classical Award for J.S. Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245) and top awards from three different French music publications in 1996-97 for Mozart's Il re Pastore, Antonio Vivaldi concertos and J.S. Bach motets.
Concentus musicus Wien continues to appear regularly in Vienna and to undertake tours throughout Europe. The ensemble's 1999-2000 season features performances of works by Bach, Haydn and Mozart in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK with soloists Cecilia Bartoli, Marjana Lipovšek and Christoph Prégardien. The ensemble has performed at the Styriate Festival in Graz every year for the past fourteen years.
In 1998 Teldec Classics International celebrated the 40th anniversary of Das Alte Werk, in which recordings with Concentus musicus Wien play a central role. Concentus musicus Wien's most recent recording releases include Haydn's Harmoniemesse, Te Deum and Cantata Qual dubbio ormai and Schubert's Magnificat and Intende voci coupled with Haydn's Schöpfungsmesse.