started as a rehearser (repetitor) in Augsburg, Germany. Then followed posts of
principal conductor in Aachen, Wiesbaden and Cologne.
His international career
began in Bayreuth and Vienna and this led him to Berlin, Geneva, Munich and Philadelphia.
But before conducting
an unconventional Wagner in 1961 and 1962, and leading the 'Wiener Symphoniker'
from 1963 on, and making recordings with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
for Philips, he had made a few recordings with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra in
Berlin for Don Gabor's Remington label. That was in 1954, just one year after
he had made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and previously had followed
a course in conducting with Igor Markevitch in Salzburg.
Sawallisch belongs to the post war generation which reacted to the atmosphere
and mentality which had brought about the great disaster in Europe and in most
of the world. His was a generation which also encompassed the specific styles
and views of elder composers like Paul Hindemith, Boris Blacher, Gottfried Von
Einem, and Werner Egk.
Being educated in the classics, Sawallisch got acquainted
with the music and idioms of these composers only after the war. Although he conducted
many a modern composition, he deserved his place by interpreting Beethoven, Brahms
and foremost Wagner.
Nevertheless Sawallisch's style represents a "neue
Sachlichkeit", a precise and more intellectual approach which promised purity
of sound and originality of interpretation, close to the score. In fact this shows
a far less emotional involvement which is in strong contrast to the styles of
the older generation of great conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter,
Willem Mengelberg, the younger Herbert von Karajan, and foremost of Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Developing an individual style, a specific idiom, is not only dependent on
the new time frame, the historical context, but is inherently a result of the
character and the intellectual make-up of a conductor. The fact that Wolfgang
Sawallisch was a prisoner of war from 1942 till 1945 (he was captured by the British
army when he was serving in Italy), may have strengthened his approach, as may
have the influence of composer Joseph Haas (who was director of Munich's Musikakademie)
with whom Sawallisch studied very shortly.
His clean and distant approach
to the great classics, which can already be heard in the early Remington recordings,
became and remained Sawallisch's footprint.
About the same time when
Laszlo Halasz had invited Wolfgang Sawallisch to record for Remington, EMI became
aware of the young conductor who's star was rising quickly in the music capitals
of Europe after the war. The
first recording for EMI was of Antonin Dvorak's 4th (8th) Symphony (Columbia 33SX1034
- released in January of 1955). This debut was followed in 1957 by Carl Orff's
Carmina Burana (with Agnes Giebel, Marcel Cordes, Paul Kuen - Columbia 33CX1480),
Horn Concerti of Richard Strauss played by Dennis Brain (Columbia 33CX1491) and
Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 22 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with pianist Annie Fischer
(33CX1630). The Mozart recording was released in March 1959, yet no stereo edition
In the early Columbia SAX stereo series were released the Suites
from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker (Peter Tchaikovsky - SAX 2306 - 1959), and Carl
Orff's "Die Kluge" (with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and tenor Rudolf
Christ - Columbia SAX 2456 - 1962).
Sawallisch in 1962 as photographed by Arjé
edited by R.A.B., taken from the cover of Philips release 835 176 with the Fourth
Symphony of Johannes Brahms.
a good organizer and having experience with many different ensembles, he was invited
in 1957 to conduct "Tristan und Isolde" at Bayreuth, which could use
a new and young conductor. This performance drew the attention of the entire music
world and eventually led to signing up with the Philips label which released the
life performances of "Tannhäuser" (1962), "Der Fliegende Holländer"
(1962) and "Lohengrin" (1962), all done at Bayreuth. These performances
were regarded as rather controversial, especially "Tannhäuser",
not so much because of the young conductor, but because of the setting by Richard
Wagner's grandson Wieland. Wieland wanted to set his mark by combining the Paris
and the Bayreuth versions, and this was much against the taste of the serious
Soon other Philips recordings followed. Franz Schubert's "Unfinished"
and Felix Mendelssohn's "Italian" with the Wiener Symphoniker of which
ensemble he had become music director in 1958 and for which orchestra he had great
significance until he left in 1970.
With the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
he recorded Beethoven's 6th Symphony ("Pastoral"), and Beethoven's 7th
Symphony which was very well received. He also recorded Peter Tchaikovsky's 5th,
and a complete cycle of the Symphonies of Johannes Brahms, all released on the
Philips HiFi-Stereo label.
With his Vienna Symphony Orchestra he recorded
a complete cycle of the symphonies of Franz Schubert and with Staatskapelle Dresden
the complete Symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
(RCOA) is a very clean and precise performance. The Fifth of Tchaikovsky has beautiful
sound, is without sentiment and shows the extreme virtuosity of the Concertgebouw
Orchestra. Beethoven's 7th (Philips AY 835 124) was also well received because
of its correct and intelligent reading without romanticism. Sawallisch's is a
pure interpretation. The recording of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's "Elias"
(Elijah) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and singers Theo Adam, Elly Ameling,
Annelies Burmeister and Peter Schreier, is impressive. Many of his Concertgebouw
recordings were later re-released on the Philips Festivo series, still in the
wonderful early Philips sound.
his engagement with Philips had ended, Sawallisch returned eventually to EMI.
Recordings were made in cooperation with VEB (Volks-Eigene Vertrieb) Deutsche
Schallplatten when he was principal conductor of the Dresden State Orchestra in
the former German Democratic Republic. Lateron he also recorded for various other
labels too, like the Orfeo label. Although his interest encompasses all styles
and many composers, his love for Wagner seems to be prominent.
can be seen in a number of film and TV productions of a.o. The Firebird (Stravinsky),
Der Fliegende Holländer (Wagner), and Die Zauberflöte (Mozart).
are three recordings on the Remington label, all done with the
RIAS Symphony Orchestra. These recordings show
Sawallisch's clear approach. In Tchaikovsky he was in the company of pianist
Conrad Hansen who played
the concerto Op. 23 in a sober, refined style, almost Mozartian at times, perfectly
showing the structure. The Handel recording has a refreshing atmosphere.
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 (Bach), Concerto Grosso No. 5 (Handel) - Wolfgang Sawallisch,
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky) - Conrad Hansen, pianist and Wolfgang Sawallisch,
Variations on a Theme by Haydn (Brahms) - Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting. Coupled
with Tragic Overture (Brahms), Academic Festival Overture (Brahms) with conductor
recordings were made with Wolfgang Sawallisch but were not released by Remington.
These appeared on the Bertelsmann label and on Tefi Schallbänder in Germany:
Berlioz: Ballet Music
* Ponchielli: Danse of the Hours
* Tchaikovsky: Capricio Italien coupled with George Sebastian's Russian
Easter - Bertelsmann HIFI 13 134
Schallplattenring 8135 a variety of Remington artists can be heard:
Wolfgang Sawallisch, Alexander Jenner, Karl Rucht and Laszlo Halasz.
Wolfgang Sawallisch's Biography at the EMI page.
A. Bruil - March 4, 2004
signature of Wolfgang Sawallisch is from the scrapbook of Heinrich Köhler.
From 1949 till 1995 Heinrich Köhler was principal cellist of the RIAS Symphony
Orchestra, later to be named Radio Symphonie Orchester and Deutsches Symphony
On Sunday, February 24th, 2013, it was announced that Wolfgang
Swallisch had poassed away on Friday, 22 February, 2013 at the respectable age
of 89 years.