Hans von Bülow

Hans von Bülow

Hans Guido Freiherr von Bülow [German title|Freiherr] (January 8, 1830 – February 12, 1894) was a German conductor, virtuoso pianist, and composer of the Romantic era. He was one of the most famous conductors of the 19th century, and his activity was critical for establishing the successes of several major composers of the time, including Richard Wagner.


Bülow was born in Dresden, and from the age of nine he was a student of Friedrich Wieck (the father of Clara Schumann). However, his parents insisted that he study law instead of music, and sent him to Leipzig.

At Leipzig he met Franz Liszt, and on hearing some music of Richard Wagner—specifically, the premiere of "Lohengrin" in 1850—he decided to ignore the dictates of his parents and make himself a career in music instead. He obtained his first conducting job in Zürich, on Wagner's recommendation, in 1850.

Notoriously tactless, Bülow alienated many musicians with whom he worked. He was dismissed from his Zürich job for this reason, but at the same time he was beginning to win renown for his ability to conduct new and complex works without a score. In 1851 he became a student of Liszt, marrying Liszt's daughter Cosima in 1857. They had two daughters: Daniela, born in 1860 and Blandine, born in 1863.

During the 1850s and early 1860s he was active as a piano recitalist, conductor, and writer, and became well-known throughout Germany as well as Russia.

In 1864 he became the Hofkapellmeister in Munich, and it was at this post he achieved his principal renown. He conducted the premieres of two Wagner operas, "Tristan und Isolde" and "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg", in 1865 and 1868 respectively; both were immensely successful. However, his wife Cosima, who had been carrying on an extramarital affair with Richard Wagner for some time, left him in 1868, taking with her two of their four daughters, Isolde and Eva—the two whom Richard Wagner had fathered—and in 1870 divorced Bülow. In spite of this, Bülow remained a disciple of Wagner, and never seemed to hold a grudge;Fact|date=October 2007 indeed he mourned the death of Wagner, and continued to conduct his work.

In 1867 von Bülow became director of the newly reopened Königliche Musikschule in Munich. He taught piano there in the manner of Liszt. He remained as director of the Conservatory until 1869.

In addition to championing the music of Wagner, von Bülow was a supporter of the music of both Brahms and Tchaikovsky. He gave the world premiere of the Tchaikovsky "Piano Concerto No. 1" in Boston in 1875.

From 1878 to 1880 he was Hofkapellmeister in Hanover, but was forced to leave after fighting with a tenor singing the "Knight of the Swan" role in "Lohengrin" (von Bülow had called him the "Knight of the Swine"). In 1880 he moved to Meiningen where he took the equivalent post, and where he built the orchestra into one of the finest in Germany; among his other demands, he insisted that the musicians learn to play all their parts from memory.

It was during his five years in Meiningen that he met Richard Strauss (though the meeting actually took place in Berlin). His first opinion of the young composer was not favorable, but he changed his mind when he was confronted with a sample of Strauss's "Serenade." Later on, he used his influence to give Strauss his first regular employment as a conductor. [cite book | last=Marek | first=George R. | pages=page 52 | title=Richard Strauss - The Life of a Non-Hero | location=London | publisher=Gollancz | year=1967 | isbn=057501069X ] Like Strauss, Bülow was attracted to the ideas of Max Stirner, whom he reputedly had known personally. In April of 1892 Bülow closed his final performance with the Berlin Philharmonic with a speech "exalting" the ideas of Stirner. Together with John Henry Mackay, Stirner's biographer, he placed a memorial plaque at Stirner's last residence in Berlin. [Charles Dowell Youmans, "Richard Strauss's Orchestral Music and the German Intellectual Tradition", Indiana University Press, 2005, p 91; The story of Bülow discussing Stirner from the conductor's podium is also described by Alex Ross, music critic for "The New Yorker" in "Beethoven Unbound", by Alex Ross, "The New Yorker", Oct. 22, 2001; Hans von Bülow's participation in placing a memorial plaque on Stirner's last residence is reported in a "New York Times Saturday Review of Books" article on Stirner, "Ideas of Max Stirner", by James Huneker, "New York Times Saturday Review of Books", April, 1907]

Some of his orchestral innovations included the addition of the five-string bass and the pedal timpani; the pedal timpani have since become standard instruments in the symphony orchestra. His accurate, sensitive, and profoundly musical interpretations, established him as the prototype of the virtuoso conductors who flourished at a later date. He was also an astute and witty musical journalist.

In the late 1880s he settled in Hamburg, but continued to tour, both conducting and performing on the piano. Bülow suffered from chronic neuralgiforme headaches, which were caused by a tumor of the cervical radicular nerves. [Wöhrle J, Haas F, "Hans von Bülow: Creativity and Neurological Disease in a Famous Pianist and Conductor", in Bogousslavsky J, Hennerici MG (eds): "Neurological Disorders in Famous Artists - Part 2. Front Neurol Neurosci". Basel, Karger, 2007, vol 22, pp 193-205] After about 1890 his mental and physical health began to fail, and he sought a warmer, drier climate for recovery; he died in a hotel in Cairo, Egypt only ten months after his last concert performance.


* "A tenor is not a man but a disease". Walker, [http://books.google.com/books?id=yNhQhSgRlWIC&pg=PA174&vq=%22a+tenor+is+not+a+man+but+a+disease%22&dq=%22Franz+Liszt:+The+Weimar+Years,+1848-1861%22&as_brr=3&sig=eSg0ZYG10ROiJhvRsW7DLpKBNyw p. 174] ]
* To a trombonist: "Your tone sounds like roast-beef gravy running through a sewer".
* Upon being awarded a laurel wreath: "I am not a vegetarian".
* "Always conduct with the score in your head, not your head in the score".Walker, [http://books.google.com/books?id=yNhQhSgRlWIC&pg=PA175&vq=%22Always+conduct+with+the+score+in+your+head,+not+your+head+in+the+score%22&dq=%22Franz+Liszt:+The+Weimar+Years,+1848-1861%22&as_brr=3&sig=0-FoONmXIKbeIv5YlGRDzxQ5MOw p. 175] ]
* "Bach is the Old Testament and Beethoven the New Testament of music".
* "In the beginning was rhythm".

Notable premieres

As conductor

* Wagner, "Tristan und Isolde", Munich, June 10, 1865
* Wagner, "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg", Hofoper, Munich, June 21, 1868

As pianist

* Liszt, "Sonata in B minor", Berlin, January 27, 1857
* Tchaikovsky, "First Piano Concerto", Boston, October 25, 1875



*cite book | last=Holden | first=Raymond | coauthors= | title=The Virtuoso Conductors: The Central European Tradition from Wagner to Karajan | location=New Haven, CT | publisher=Yale University Press | year=2005 | isbn=0300093268
*cite book | author=Fifield, Christopher |authorlink=Christopher Fifield| coauthors=Macy, L. ed. | title=Hans von Bülow | publisher=Grove Music Online | date= | accessdate=2005-10-28
*cite book
title=Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848-1861
location=Ithaca, NY
publisher=Cornell University Press

*cite book | last=Warrack | first=John | coauthor=Sadie, Stanley ed. | Chapter=Hans von Bülow | title=The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 20| location=London | publisher=Macmillan Publishers Ltd. | year=1980 | isbn=1561591742

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