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Joseph Keilberth (Conductor)

Born: April 19, 1908 - Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Died: July 20, 1968 - Munich, Bavaria, Germany

The distinguished German conductor, Joseph [Josef] Keilberth, pursued a general education and musical training in Karlsruhe, where he became répétiteur (vocal coach a common starting place for European conductors) at age of 17, in 1925, then Generalmusikdirektor from 1935 to 1940.

In 1940 Joseph Keilberth became Director/Chief Conductor of the German Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague (1940-1945). Near the end of World War II, he was appointed Principal Conductor/Generalmusikdirektor of the venerable Dresden Staatskapelle (1945-1950). He was also Music Director of Staatskapelle Berlin (1948-1951). In 1949 he became Chief Conductor of the Bamberger Symphoniker (1949-1968), formed mainly of German musicians expelled from postwar Czechoslovakia under the Beneš decrees. With this orchestra he toured Europe in 1951 and the USA and Latin America in 1954. He was also Generalmusikdirektor of the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg (1950-1959). He frequently appeared as a guest conductor elsewhere in Germany, notably with the Berliner Philharmoniker, and appeared regularly at the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals. In 1952 he also led his first performance in the Edinburgh Festival with the Hamburg State Opera. He was a favored conductor for Der Ring des Nibelungen and other operas through 1956. In 1959 he succeeded Ferenc Fricay at the helm of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. (1959-1968) He died in Munich in 1968 after collapsing while conducting Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde in exactly the same place as Felix Mottl was similarly fatally stricken in 1911. His final recording, a Meistersinger, came a month before his death - at the Bavarian State Opera on June 21. He was particularly esteemed for his performances of works from the Classical (Mozart, Haydn) and Romantic Austro-German repertoiure, especially later German classics (Wagner, Pfitzner, Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Paul Hindemith).

Joseph Keilberth was a regular at Bayreuth in the early 1950s (1952-1956), with complete Der Ring des Nibelungen from 1952, 1953, and 1955, as well as a well-regarded recording of Die Walküre from 1954 (the whereabouts of rest of the cycle are unclear) in which Martha Mödl, perhaps the greatest Wagnerian actress and tragedian, performs her only recorded Sieglinde. He made the first stereo recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in 1955, as well as a so-called "second cycle" with Mödl, rather than Astrid Varnay, as Brünnhilde. Mödl's accounts of Brünnhilde, from the 1953 Der Ring des Nibelungen as well as the 1955 "second cycle," are her only recordings of the role other than Wilhelm Furtwängler's 1953 Rome Der Ring des Nibelungen. Among his other recordings, his interpretations of Wagner's Lohengrin at the 1953 Bayreuth Festival released on Decca-London, Weber's Der Freischütz made in 1958 for EMI, and a 'live' set of Richard Strauss's Arabella (featuring Lisa Della Casa and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) made in 1963 for DG are still considered among the best versions. He conducted the TV-broadcast German-translation performance of The Barber of Seville, featuring Fritz Wunderlich, Hermann Prey, and Hans Hotter. His recordings of Haydn's Symphony No. 85 and Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4 on Telefunken are no less distinguished. His classic recordings included P. Hindemith's opera Cardillac.

Decorations and awards: Title of Professor by the Saxon government (1945); National Prize of the German Democratic Republic, 1st class (1949); Commander's Cross of the Order of the Phoenix, Greece (1956); Bavarian Order of Merit (1961); Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class (1964); Culture Prize of Winterthur (1967); Honorary Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo (as second conductor in the history of the orchestra) (1967).

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website (June 2014); All Music Guide (Author: Joseph Stevenson)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2014)

Joseph Keilberth: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Joseph Keilberth (Wikipedia)
Joseph Keilberth - Biography (AMG)
Joseph Keilberth - Bio (Naxos)

Joseph Keilberth Discography

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