Karl Ristenpart


Born: January 26, 1900 Died: December 24, 1967
This German conductor was heavily involved in creating three orchestras in his lifetime, most notably the Chamber Orchestra of the Saar. With this group he is often considered to have created one of the definitive recorded collections of Bach's orchestral music. These recordings originally saw the light of day in the early '60s as a Nonesuch release on both LP and cassette. Following an out of print period, it was cause for celebration among Bach lovers when the French Accord label released a six-CD set comprising the entire set of Ristenpart recordings of Bach orchestral works. The conductor and his colleagues from Saarbrucken have also recorded impressive performances of works by Mozart and Haydn, among others. The lasting fame he received for these interpretations of Baroque music and Mozart overshadowed the fact that as the head of the Saar orchestra he brought in works by approximately 250 composers, at least half of them considered modern or contemporary. A possible influence in this direction was Ristenpart's mother, Paula Schramm, later Pauline Rettig. (Her second marriage was to Hermann Scherchen, the politically active conductor responsible for the premiere performances of what were at the time controversial pieces by composers such Berg and Xenakis).

Ristenpart studied at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin and Vienna, the latter city exerting a strong musical influence. In 1932, he was chosen as a conductor of the Berlin Chamber Orchestra, which also came to be known as the Chamber Orchestra of Karl Ristenpart. He also led a series of concerts with the Berlin Radio Orchestra, but began to have great difficulty in his career as a young conductor in Germany when the Nazis came to power. Following World War II, with that city divided into several foreign sectors, he was named conductor for "Radio in the American Sector of Berlin" or the Chamber Orchestra of R.I.A.S., the second of his important periods of orchestra development. This was the beginning of his breakthrough to fame as a conductor, although the post-war political situation created many financial problems for German radio broadcasting in the early '50s.

He first began working as conductor with the Chamber Orchestra of the Saar in 1953, and the ensuing collaboration with Ristenpart was fruitful, leading to many tours, recordings and partnerships with premier soloists such as flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal. Approximately 170 albums featuring Ristenpart and this orchestra have been marketed all over the world. These include several albums of Bach vocal cantatas, including an Archiv production featuring baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Herman Totcher playing oboe and oboe da caccia. Ristenpart was later based in Portugal, where he died in the late '60s. Unfortunately, the Chamber Orchestra of the Saar was unable to survive the dimming of its guiding light. German author Charles W. Scheel has published a biography of Ristenpart, so far available only in German from the Saarbr├╝cker Druckerei und Verlag (printing and publishing house).