Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Austrian conductor

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (born Berlin, 6 December 1929, died St. Georgen im Attergau, 5 March 2016) was an Austrian conductor. He was famous for his conducting music from many years ago using orchestras with period instruments.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Count de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt
Harnoncourt in 1980
Born(1929-12-06)6 December 1929
Died5 March 2016(2016-03-05) (aged 86)
Spouse(s)Alice Harnoncourt
(m. ?-2016, his death)
ChildrenElisabeth von Magnus and 3 sons

Harnoncourt was born in Berlin into a noble family who were related to the Holy Roman Emperors and other European royalties. His full name was Johann Nicolaus Graf de la Fontaine und d’Harnoncourt-Unverzag. He was brought up in Graz, Austria and studied music in Vienna.

From 1952 to 1969 he was a cellist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. He soon became interested in performing old music with period instruments. He started a group called Concentus Musicus Wien. They tried to make the music of composers from the Baroque period sound like it had done when it was written. Harnoncourt played the viola da gamba as well as the cello. In 1970 he conducted Monteverdi's opera Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria at La Scala, Milan.

In 1971, Harnoncourt started to work with the conductor Gustav Leonhardt. They recorded all of J.S. Bach's cantatas. This project took until 1990 to finish. He also recorded Bach's St. Matthew Passion. He performed with many other orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Often they were orchestras who used modern instruments, but he tried to make them play with an understanding of a historical style (bowing, phrasing etc). Like other musicians working with historical instruments, he gradually realized that music from later periods such as the Classical music period and even the Romantic period used to sound different from what we usually hear today. He recorded the symphonies and concertos of Beethoven. He received many awards for these recordings.

Harnoncourt was married to Alice until his death. The couple had a daughter, Elisabeth von Magnus, and three sons: Philipp, Franz and Eberhard (who died in 1990). Harnoncourt retired in December 2015 because of an illness. Harnoncourt died on 5 March 2016 from the illness. He was aged 86.


  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Frans Brüggen, Leopold Stastny, Herbert Tachezi. Johann Sebastian Bach: Gamba Sonatas — Trio Sonata in G major. Viola da gamba: Jacobus Stainer; Cello: Andrea Castagneri; Flute: A.Grenser; Harpsichord: a copy after Italian builders by Martin Skowroneck. Label: Telefunken.
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt, Leonhardt-Consort (Orchestra), Concentus musicus Wien (Orchestra), Alan Curtis, Anneke Ulttenbosch, Herbert Tachezi. Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1052, 1057, 1064. Violin, continuo, harpsichord. Label: Teldec
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Franz Schubert. Symphonies. Label: Ica Classics.
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Rudolf Buchbinder (fortepiano). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Piano concertos No. 23&25.  Played on a Walter fortepiano replica by Paul McNulty. Label: Sony.
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano). Ludwig van Beethoven. Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5. Played on a modern piano.  Label: Teldec Classics.
  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Gidon Kremer (violin), Martha Argerich (piano). Schumann: Piano Concerto and Violin Concerto. Played on a modern piano. Label: Teldec Classics


  1. Dirigent Nikolaus Harnoncourt 86-jährig gestorben. Austria Presse Agentur. 6 March 2016.

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