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1939 – 1948: Childhood During the War
…Nikolaus Harnoncourt was not yet ten years old when Adolf Hitler visited Graz, but even today he can still remember, filled with dismay, the state of emergency, the hysteria or the silent horror that visit evoked, depending on the individual stance of the person in question. It is surely not too much to assume that that day was not only the end of a carefree childhood, but also the moment when he first started to take a conscious interest in the political happenings of his time. Nikolaus Harnoncourt has always said that even as a child he was filled with a spirit of opposition. The onset of National Socialism, however, had a very different quality to what he was used to, one that could not be defeated with his usual tactics. In a very private statement, he gives some insight into the situation: “I have to say that for me personally, the Nazi period was the trauma, the most traumatic experience, of my life, which time and again has influenced me and cast a shadow on my attitudes and actions.” In order for us to gain insight into his life before he started to express himself through his work, Harnoncourt must be allowed to tell his own story. He has written his own short love letter to the city of Graz, in which he tells us a great deal about the time in which he grew up. His story deals with the Nazi threat, without either playing it down or building it up. Instead, it remains a parallel story, as is often the case in life, with the terrible and the wonderful existing and being perceived simultaneously on different levels. “The cultural atmosphere in Graz is something that one likely ceases to notice when one is here all the time. The Old Town, the wonderful symbiosis of nature, architecture and people, the vitality of this city. A stroll up to the Schlossberg will calm the nerves. All this has certainly had a great influence on my view of culture and my purpose here, which I see as fighting for culture to be an essential, central point of human life. Because I see how much it seems to be becoming less important due to short-sightedness and sometimes unreasonableness on the part of those with power.” Harnoncourt started taking cello lessons in primary school from Graz music teacher Hans Kortschak. However, the air raids on Graz were becoming more intense, so in 1944 the family moved to the Salzkammergut region and it was there that he met prominent Viennese cellist, Paul Grümmer, who started giving the boy lessons. However at that point Harnoncourt had not yet begun to dream of making a living as a cellist. He was much more interested in puppetry, and after the war was over and he was back in Graz, he outfitted, organised, and directed puppetry pieces. However, a radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in 1947 inspired him to dedicate himself to music. To this end he moved to Vienna in 1948 to study the cello with Emanuel Brabec, a cello soloist in the Vienna Philharmonic …
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