Horst Stein 1928-2008

Written by: Martin Anderson

Horst Stein

Horst Stein was one of the last conductors of the generation who learned
their craft in the opera houses of post-War Germany, working his way upwards
without flamboyance or the glare of publicity. For a musician who so rarely
made the headlines he leaves a surprisingly large recorded legacy. Perhaps
its most important feature is the complete orchestral music of Max Reger on
Koch Schwann – seven purely orchestral and two also with chorus – unavailable, sadly. Other Stein recordings have fared better, including
cycles of the complete Brahms and Schubert symphonies (both live) and the
Beethoven piano concertos with Friedrich Gulda and the VPO. With Stein being
so much at home in the opera house, at least in the first half of his
career, it is not surprising that his discography features so much opera: he
recorded Tristan no fewer four times, and a DVD of his Parsifal, recorded at
Bayreuth in 1981, was released recently.

Stein was born on May 2nd, 1928 in
Elberfeld (the home town, incidentally, also of Hans Knappertsbusch and
Günter Wand), the son of a mechanic. Having taken oboe, piano and singing
lessons at school, he then studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne,
taking composition classes with Philipp Jarnach and conducting with his
fellow Elberfelder Günter Wand. He was appointed to his first post, as
répétiteur at the municipal theatre in Wuppertal, in 1947. In 1951 a move to
Hamburg brought him into contact with Joseph Keilberth, who was to prove a
major influence on Stein’s conducting. As Keilberth’s assistant he went to
Bayreuth, where he rubbed shoulders also with Clemens Krauss and Karajan.
His rising star prompted Erich Kleiber, in 1955, to bring him to the
Staatsoper (Unter den Linden) in East Berlin, reopening after the war. When
Kleiber suddenly left, Stein – still only in his late twenties – found
himself assuming the chief conductorship; he remained until 1961.

erection of the Berlin Wall pushed him back into West Germany, and a steady
series of appointments saw him consolidate his reputation: first back in
Hamburg, he went on to Mannheim as Generalmusikdirektor and head of opera
from 1963 to 1970, when he was named Principal Conductor at the Vienna
Staatsoper, where he was to make over 500 appearances. He went back to
Hamburg yet again in 1972, as Generalmusikdirektor of the Staatsoper and
also conducted the Hamburg Philharmonic from 1973 to 1976; simultaneously,
he held a professorship in conducting at the Hochschule für Musik.

His other
orchestral posts included chief conductorships with the Orchestre de la
Suisse Romande (1980-85), the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (1985-97) and Basel
Symphony Orchestra (1987-94). He appeared regularly with the NHK Orchestra
in Japan, and conducted no fewer than 138 times at Bayreuth between 1969 and
1986, including the centenary production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
in 1983. Among his UK appearances were Lohengrin with the Hamburg Opera at
Sadler’s Wells in 1960 and a concert of Wagner excerpts with the Berlin
Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 1987.

Stein died at
home, at Vandoeuvres, in the canton of Geneva, on July 27th, a little over
two months after his eightieth birthday.

  • This article was written for International Record Review and published in the October 2008 issue
  • It is reproduced on The Classical Source with permission
  • International Record Review

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