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1958
1949 – 1958: New Beginnings
…Harnoncourt was already captivated by early music when in 1949, while still studying cello at the Wiener Musikakademie, he founded the Vienna Viola da Gamba Quartet with Alice Hoffelner, his future wife, and Eduard Melkus and Alfred Altenburger. His fascination with early music may have been unusual, but it is not wholly unheard of. In fact, musicians in many European countries have been exploring older pieces since the early twentieth century, pieces which have long since disappeared from the standard repertoire. However, in the German speaking world they were doing it for very different reasons. Before the war, in the spirit of “national consciousness”, some German exponents of early music had tried to find and prove the roots of the superiority of the “Germanic race” in the old scores. It is therefore no wonder that after the war some continued to cultivate their views under the guise of accepted conventions in performance practice. However, it was some of the composers “unmasked” and ostracised by the Nazis who actually saw in early music a proximity to their own, new creations, and who were searching for authentic music not distorted by Romanticism and pompous zeitgeist. Even before the war, Avant-garde composers like Ravel and Stravinsky had occupied themselves with Renaissance and Baroque music, which had inspired them to free themselves from traditional Romantic music, seen as emotional kitsch, by developing rhytmical skills. Paul Hindemith, returned from exile, played an important role in the promotion of early music. Hindemith supported the performance of early music as much as he could and encouraged a new generation of students to seek new impulses in the past. He and his students wanted to search the archives for something fresh and unencumbered, something not poisoned, and make new use of it in their own art. This spirit shaped Harnoncourt’s time as a student. Harnoncourt left the music academy in 1952 before his final exam and took up a position as a cellist in the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan, which was the beginning of an antipodal relationship that would last for decades. During this time Harnoncourt continued to develop his knowledge of early music and in 1953, he married Alice, his partner in music, and they began to look for sheet music and period instruments together. In 1954 Harnoncourt and his wife formed a nameless ensemble that performed Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” in the Konzerthaus in Vienna under Paul Hindemith. In 1957 the ensemble performed as Concentus Musicus Wien at the inauguration of the re-opened Palais Schwarzenberg. It was a new beginning that would affect music history …
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