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As a child Karl Münchinger showed considerable musical talent, learning to play several instruments and going on to study composition and conducting first at the Music High School in Stuttgart and then at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he was a conducting pupil of Hermann Abendroth; he also came into contact with Clemens Krauss at Salzburg. After graduating from Leipzig he returned to Stuttgart where he worked as a choirmaster and organist. Between 1941 and 1943 he served as first conductor of the Hanover Symphony Orchestra, the only appointment which he held outside of Stuttgart during the whole of his career.

Following the end of World War II, in 1945 Münchinger founded the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, many of whose members had been his fellow students. Despite the modest resources available at that time he quickly established the orchestra, and by the end of the 1940s it was touring internationally: it made its debut in Paris in 1949, the first German ensemble to do so since the cessation of hostilities, and also appeared in England and Spain. In 1952, conductor and orchestra toured across Central and South America, and in the following year Münchinger made his independent American debut as a conductor, in San Francisco. The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and Münchinger made two further highly-applauded tours of the USA, in 1954 and 1977.

By the mid-1950s, aided by many successful recordings made for the Decca label, Münchinger had established a firm reputation as an outstanding interpreter of Bach, freeing the performance of his music from romantic interpretative accretions. Invitations for him and his orchestra to appear throughout Europe, the Soviet Union and Japan were successfully fulfilled, and together they appeared regularly at international festivals such as Edinburgh, Prague and Salzburg. His later stereophonic recordings for Decca included Bach’s St Matthew Passion, recorded in 1964, which was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque. Münchinger expanded the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra to form the Klassisches Philharmonie Stuttgart (Stuttgart Classical Philharmonic Orchestra) in 1966, with a membership of approximately forty-four musicians. With this group he performed and recorded items from the central Austro-German repertoire, such as symphonies by Mozart and Schubert. Münchinger remained active with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and in 1977 it was the first German ensemble to visit China. He retired in 1988, and died two years later.

Münchinger always looked the perfect maestro, with his rather formal bearing and imposing locks of white hair. On the podium his conducting was clear and undemonstrative. His interpretations represented a staging post between the subjectivity of the previous generation of conductors, such as Furtwängler and Mengelberg, and the objective vigour of the period performance school, represented by such musicians as Christopher Hogwood and Roger Norrington (who also works extensively in Stuttgart). The performances which he directed tended to be characterised by constant rhythm, a clear observance of dynamics, and straight-forward phrasing. His early recordings for Decca, which included Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagione, were best-sellers and ensured the fidelity of this record company for many years to come. Together they recorded Bach’s four Suites for Orchestra, Ein musikaliches Opfer, Die Kunst der Fuge and his major choral works including the Mass in B minor, the Magnificat, the Christmas Oratorio and the Easter Oratorio, as well as the St John Passion and the St Matthew Passion. Other repertoire included Handel’s Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music together with numerous shorter works such as Albinoni’s Adagio, Boccherini’s Minuet, and Pachelbel’s Canon, which were collectively to become known as ‘Baroque favourites’.

The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra was also led by Münchinger in pieces for string orchestra by later composers such as Grieg, Wolf, Suk, Hindemith and Frank Martin; and Münchinger also recorded with the Paris Conservatoire, Suisse Romande and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras for Decca. The repertoire for these recordings included a distinguished reading of Haydn’s oratorio Die Schöpfung as well as neatly-turned accounts of such Viennese music as symphonies by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. He was a sympathetic accompanist and made several concerto recordings, including Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos 20 and 25 with another Decca artist, Julius Katchen. His recordings with the Klassisches Philharmonie Stuttgart appeared on the Intercord label and included Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Great C major’. Münchinger and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (which was often led by the distinguished violinist Reinhold Barchet) were an early example of a combination which, through the power of international marketing, became an enduring and successful musical ‘brand’ which even to this day has managed to survive changes in musical fashion without actually being especially distinctive in purely musical terms.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).

Role: Conductor 
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