Paul Sacher studied musicology at the University of Basle with Karl Nef and Jacques Handschin and conducting with Felix Weingartner. He formed the Basle Chamber Orchestra in 1926, to which was added the Basle Chamber Choir in 1928; the purpose of both was to perform music from the pre-Classical and modern epochs. In 1933 he became the director of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, a teaching and research institute for early music which he founded in Basle. As a result of his marriage the following year to Maja Hoffmann-Stehlin, a member of the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical family, from this time on Sacher had access to funds which he used with great wisdom to further the cause of contemporary music, frequently commissioning new works from leading composers.
During World War II Sacher extended his activities with the founding in 1941 of the Collegium Musicum Zürich, which gave the first performance of Honegger’s Symphony No. 2 in 1942. He was elected president of the Swiss Association of Musicians in 1946, and in 1954 the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis merged with the Conservatory and the School of Music to form the Basle Academy of Music, which Sacher led until his resignation in 1969. Here in 1960 he established a master-class in composition, headed by Pierre Boulez. In 1973 he created the Paul Sacher Foundation, to preserve his unique collection of scores of twentieth-century music. The Foundation acquired the complete archive of Stravinsky in 1983, and has since become a centre for international research. As old age approached Sacher scaled back his activities; the final concerts of the Basle Chamber Orchestra and Choir took place in 1987 and of the Collegium Musicum Zürich in 1992.
Sacher was an efficient if slightly reserved conductor, whose readings were nonetheless always stylish. As a guest conductor he appeared at the Aix-en-Provence, Edinburgh, Glyndebourne and Lucerne Festivals. His understanding of contemporary music was second to none, and the composers from whom he commissioned new works included virtually all of the major names of his lifetime, including Bartók, Berio, Britten, Carter, Dutilleux, Henze, Hindemith, Krenek, Lutosławski, Martin, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Tippett. His discography was not large and reflected his antipathy to nineteenth-century music, concentrating instead on the music of eighteenth- and twentieth-century composers.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).