The German conductor, Helmuth Rilling, comes from a musical family. He received his earliest musical training at the Protestant theological seminaries Schöntal an der Jagst and Urach in Württemberg. He then studied organ with Karl Gerock, composition with Johann Nepomuk David and choral direction with Hans Grischkat at the Stuttgart College of Music from 1952 to 1955. He completed his studies under Fernando Germani in Rome and at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena.
In 1954, while still a student, Helmuth Rilling founded his first choir, the 40-member Gächinger Kantorei, with which he gained an international reputation. From 1957 he was organist and choirmaster at the Stuttgart Gedächtniskirche. From 1963 to 1966 he built up the Spandau Choir while teaching choral direction and organ at the Spandau sacred music school. In 1969 he took over as conductor of the Frankfurt Choir from Kurt Thomas, remaining there until 1981. From 1966 he was lecturer in choral direction at the Frankfurt Music College where he was appointed as professor in 1969 (until 1986). Since 1965 he has also been conductor of the Stuttgart Bach Collegium which frequently performs with the Gächinger Kantorei. Guest tours with both ensembles have taken him around the world.
From 1972, Helmuth Rilling has worked on a recording of all of J.S. Bach's cantatas. In 1981 he founded the Stuttgart Bach Academy which he also conducts himself. Other Bach Academies have been set up along similar lines in Japan (1983), Argentina, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and Hungary. In 1988 he conducted the first performance of the Messa per Rossini written by 13 Italian composers (the most prominent being Verdi) and the first performance of which was supposed to have been given on the first anniversary of the composer's death. In 1990 he was appointed as the President of the New Bach Society.