Born: August 14, 1901 - Fulnek, Moravia (now in the Czech Republic)
Died: July 28, 1962 - Belgrade, Yugoslavia
The eminent German conductor and violist, Franz Konwitschny, was born to a family consisting of several members who were professional musicians. He tudied violin at the German Musikverein School in Brünn (Brno) and at the Leipzig Conservatory (1923-1925). While a student he played viola and violin at the theatre orchestra and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1925, he moved to Vienna, where he played the viola with the Fitzner Quartet. He also began teaching at the Wiener Volkskonservatorium. Within two years, he had decided to become a conductor.
Franz Konwitschny became répétetieur (assistant conductor) at the Stuttgart Opera in 1927, rising to Chief Conductor in 1930. After serving as Generalmusikdirektor in Freiburg and Breisgau (1933-1938), he assumed that position with the Frankfurt am Main Opera Museumgesellschaft concerts in 1938, and then with the Hannover Opera in 1945. From 1949 until his death he was Principal Conductor of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. From 1953 until 1955 he was also Principal Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle and from 1955 onward he led the (East) Berlin State Opera. His dual positions made him one of the Eastern bloc's most authoritative and celebrated musicians. In the years shortly before his death, Konwitschny appeared abroad in such venues as Salzburg and London and toured elsewhere in Austria, West Germany, Poland, Soviet Russia, and Japan. As an interpreter, he eschewed the precise attacks expected of Western conductors in favour of deeper tone coloring and a spontaneous search for meaning. Like Wilhelm Furtwängler, Konwitschny used "expansive gestures" and had a "dislike of an exact beat."
Franz Konwitschny was a yeoman conductor. Not a stellar podium personality, but a musician who respected the need for craftsmanship and still managed to probe deeply into the scores that held greatest meaning to him. While the music of his own time appealed to him less than the masterworks of the Classical and Romantic ages, he still made time for the works of such composers as Paul Dessau and Hanns Eisler. Although he held posts under both the Nazi and Communist regimes, he successfully avoided political encounters. He died while on tour and was given a state funeral by the German Democratic Republic. His request for a Requiem Mass was honoured, much to the chagrin of the authorities. Konwitschny's early death came as a blow to an art form that needed individuals of such gifts and such devotion to high purpose. His son Peter Konwitschny is a leading opera director in Germany.
Franz Konwitschny recorded a complete cycle of L.v. Beethoven symphonies. Other recordings: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde with Gewandhausorchester Leipzig (October 21-23, 1950; Walhall Eternity Series); Wagner: Tannhäuser with Staatskapelle Berlin, Chor der Berliner Staatsoper (recorded in October 1960); Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander with Staatskapelle Berlin, Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin (1960). For EMI, his recordings of Der fliegende Holländer and Tannhäuser are compelling, despite casting deficiencies in both title roles. The majority of his recordings were made for the East German branch of Philips, and the company's successor, Berlin Classics, honored his memory with the release of an 11-CD box set of his performances in 2001.