The son of an organist and choirmaster, Fritz Lehmann studied at the Mannheim Conservatory and at the Universities of Göttingen and Heidelberg between 1918 and 1921. Having made his professional debut as a pianist in 1918 and subsequently worked as a choral coach in Heidelberg, between 1923 and 1927 he was engaged as a conductor at the Göttingen Theatre. Lehmann moved to Hildesheim in 1927 and to Hanover in 1929 as a conductor, before appointments as chief conductor at Bad Pyrmont in 1935, Wuppertal in 1938 and at Göttingen in 1946.
During the 1923–1924 winter semester of his time at Göttingen University Lehmann came into contact with Oskar Hagen, the professor of art history at the university, who had himself studied composition with Carl Schuricht and Engelbert Humperdinck and who in 1920 had founded the Göttingen Handel Festival, an event which was instrumental in reviving many Handel operas. Lehmann was appointed director of the Göttingen Handel Festival in 1934, holding the position until 1953 with a brief break between 1944 and 1946 following disagreement with the National Socialist authorities. During the post-war era he was instrumental in rebuilding the reputations of both the Göttingen Theatre and of the Handel Festival, as well as of music more generally in Germany. In addition he enjoyed an active career as a guest conductor, appearing in Austria, Belgium, France, Holland and Switzerland; he led a tour by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra to Spain, and also conducted in Argentina. From 1953 Lehmann directed the conducting class at the Munich Academy of Music. His sudden death was the result of a heart attack and occurred during the interval of a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion which he was conducting in Munich.
Lehmann was a most musical conductor, with a wide repertoire that stretched from the seventeenth century to the present day. With his experience at the Göttingen Handel Festival, he was an early exponent of period performance practice, relying upon a combination of modern scholarship and following the score as written to expunge extraneous Romantic ideas from the performance of Baroque music. He recorded extensively, although as a result of his death having occurred shortly before the large-scale commercial introduction of stereophonic recording, many of his records have subsequently vanished from sight: most of them were made for the Deutsche Grammophon label, with several different orchestras. Of particular interest are his readings of choral works: his accounts of Bach’s St Matthew Passion (which stands directly in the line of the Mendelssohn school of interpretation), B minor Mass and Christmas Oratorio, and Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, are notable. Beyond this repertoire he was a persuasive exponent of both operatic and symphonic works and was a sympathetic accompanist. Lehmann also recorded numerous shorter works and operatic aria accompaniments, which appeared as post-war releases in Deutsche Grammophon’s 78 and 45rpm formats as well as that of the long-playing record. Lehmann was a first-class Kapellmeister in the best sense of the word, whose recordings are unfailingly satisfying.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).