Hans von Bülow


Born: January 8, 1830; Dresden, Germany   Died: February 12, 1894; Cairo, Egypt  
Hans Guido von Bülow was one of the inventors of the archetype of the star conductor; he was probably the first to become a star musician interpreting the orchestral music of others. He had early piano and composition studies, numbering among his teachers Friedrich Wieck and Louis Plaidy, and consulted with Liszt. He was intended for a law career, but he heard Wagner conduct Lohengrin in 1850, making von Bülow determined to conduct even though he Read more realized he lacked the creative spark for composition. Wagner found in von Bülow a superior talent to Karl Ritter, who he had promoted into musical leadership in Zürich. von Bülow was also more in accord with Wagner's intentions, so Wagner backed von Bülow while undercutting Ritter, leading to von Bülow conducting his first opera, Il barbiere di seviglia, in 1850. He took the unprecedented step of memorizing entire scores of the works he conducted and led extended and painstaking rehearsals, which resulted in his dismissal.

In 1857, he married Cosima, daughter of Franz Liszt and the Countess d'Agoult, while subsisting as guest conductor and pianist. In 1864, the new King Ludwig II of Bavaria, passionately devoted to Wagner's music, summoned von Bülow to Munich to premiere the new opera Tristan und Isolde. The occasion was a musical triumph, but a personal disaster. Wagner repaid von Bülow's personal and musical devotion by seducing his wife. von Bülow was, as they say, "the last to know," as malicious cartoons appeared in the newspapers and gossip ran wild. Finally, Wagner and Cosima eloped, leaving von Bülow as music history's leading cuckold.

von Bülow did not work with Wagner again, although he still conducted his music. He became the conductor of the Court Theater in Hannover and conductor of the Court Orchestra of Meiningen in 1878, where he was a tireless supporter of Brahms. He only guest conducted after leaving Meiningen in 1885. Growing ill with a lung ailment, he retired to Cairo, where he hoped the dry climate would be good for his health. He used the occasion of his last concert with the Berlin Philharmonic to strenuously attack the militaristic policies of the Bismark government. Read less
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