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.
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 for EMI, and even earlier he conducted the RIAS Symphony
Orchestra in Berlin for recordings to be published on 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 exists.
the early Columbia SAX stereo series the Suites from Swan Lake and
The Nutcracker were released (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,
Sawallisch 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 Wagner-adepts.
other Philips recordings followed. Franz Schubert's "Unfinished"
Symphony 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
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
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.
"Pastoral" (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
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.
Sawallisch 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
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, conductor.
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky) - Conrad Hansen, pianist and Wolfgang
Variations on a Theme by Haydn (Brahms) - Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting.
Coupled with Tragic Overture (Brahms), Academic Festival Overture
(Brahms) with conductor Otto Matzerath.
recordings were made with Wolfgang Sawallisch but were not released
by Remington because of contractual issues between Bertelsmann and
Remington, and appeared solely on the Bertelsmann label and on Tefi
Schallbänder in Germany:
* Ponchielli: Danse of the Hours
* Tchaikovsky: Capricio Italien coupled with George Sebastian's Russian
Easter - Bertelsmann HIFI 13 134
Wolfgang Sawallisch's Biography at the EMI website.
Rudolf A. Bruil
- March 4, 2004
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 Symphonie-Orchester.
Sunday, February 24th, 2013, it was announced that Wolfgang Swallisch
had passed away on Friday, 22 February, 2013, at the respectable age
of 89 years.