Eugen Jochum

Eugen Jochum was born into a family with a strong musical and Catholic tradition: his father was both an organist and an active local conductor, directing a wide variety of music. He later recalled: ‘We would perform a Palestrina mass in the morning and The Merry Widow in the afternoon… such were my first musical experiences.’ The young Jochum participated in these activities, discovering early that he had perfect pitch, and by the age of eight he was playing the organ in the magnificent Baroque basilica of Ottobeuren. He enrolled simultaneously in 1914 at the Academy of Music in Augsburg, to study piano and organ, and at the local gymnasium or high school. During this period Jochum discovered the music of Bach, and in 1918, after playing through a vocal score of Tristan und Isolde given to him by a friend, realised that his future life could only be as a musician. Having heard Bruno Walter conduct Tristan and Parsifal in Munich in 1920, two years later Jochum enrolled in the Munich Academy of Music to study organ and composition. While at the Academy he conducted a student orchestra, and so came to the notice of Siegmund von Hausegger, who invited him to join his conducting class: ‘Hausegger taught me everything about musical structure and the key to unlock a symphony.’

After leaving the Academy in 1925, Jochum began work in the autumn of that year as a répétiteur at Mönchen-Gladbach, both rehearsing the chorus and conducting the orchestra. The following year he appeared with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, and as a result of the excellent reviews for this concert was invited to join the Kiel Opera, where he built up a repertoire of over fifty operas. For his final year at Kiel, 1928–1929, Jochum accepted in addition the post of conductor of the orchestral concerts at Lübeck, in succession to Edwin Fischer: previous conductors of these concerts had included Abendroth and Furtwängler. On the recommendation of the latter he was offered the post of first conductor at the National Theatre Mannheim for the 1929–1930 season, remaining there for only one year before moving to Duisburg as chief conductor in 1930, where he stayed for two seasons until 1932. In the autumn of that year Jochum moved to Berlin as chief conductor of the Berlin Radio: this involved conducting both the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which had been contracted for several concerts and recordings. While in Berlin he was also invited to appear at the Städtische Oper (Municipal Opera), by its intendant, Carl Ebert; in 1936 he conducted there the world première of Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s original orchestration.

With the rise to power in 1933 of the National Socialist Party, and its impact upon the Berlin Radio as an important political institution, Jochum decided to leave Berlin; and at the beginning of 1934 he accepted the offer to take over the opera and concerts in Hamburg from Karl Böhm and Karl Muck respectively. Jochum remained in Hamburg until 1949, and was clear about the importance of this period in his career: ‘I stayed fifteen and a half years in Hamburg, for the entire Nazi period, the war and the defeat. This was only possible because of the open-mindedness that has always been a characteristic of this city. My personal and political opinions would have surely made it impossible for me to live in Berlin, Dresden or Munich. This was also when I first felt musically mature.’ During this period he conducted music by Bartók, Hindemith and Stravinsky which was banned elsewhere, and also appeared abroad, conducting in Russia, Poland and Greece. Most importantly he held the position of principal guest conductor with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra between 1941 and 1944, and so started a long and fruitful association with this orchestra. After the war, in 1947 Jochum conducted for the first time the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, which was made up of former players of the German Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague, and in the following year he shared a concert with Furtwängler in Hamburg.

As he approached his fiftieth birthday Jochum felt the urge ‘…to make a new step’ in his career, and so in 1949 he gladly accepted the offer from Bavarian Radio to form and conduct the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO), a new orchestra of international quality. ‘I managed to do it very quickly thanks to the unlimited number of rehearsals and large financial means that were made available to me.’ While working for Bavarian Radio, he also appeared regularly at the Munich State Opera as a guest conductor, and for the only time at the Vienna State Opera in 1950 conducting Bach’s St John Passion. Jochum stayed as chief conductor of the BRSO until 1960, and during this period developed his activities extensively. He appeared for the first time at the Bayreuth Festival in 1953, conducting Tristan und Isolde, and at the Lucerne Festival in the same year. He also took a chamber orchestra drawn from the BRSO to the summer music festival held in the beautiful Baroque buildings at Würzburg, and conducted large-scale choral works by Monteverdi, Bach, and Verdi at Ottobeuren. Together with the BRSO he enjoyed a major success in 1957 at the Edinburgh Festival, and appeared in America for the first time during 1958.

Following the unexpected death of Eduard van Beinum in 1959, the Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Jochum to share its chief conductorship with the young Bernard Haitink. This he did between 1961 and 1963, and after Haitink took over the role of chief conductor, Jochum maintained regular contact with the orchestra as its principal guest conductor, a position he retained until 1974. Throughout the 1960s he continued to appear regularly in the USA, conducted in Japan, and made frequent appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Deutsche Oper, also in Berlin. He made his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1968, and between 1969 and 1973 was chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.

The final years of Jochum’s career consisted predominantly of concerts, tours and recordings with several orchestras, notably the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Dresden Staatskapelle, Vienna Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic, as well as the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he was conductor laureate between 1975 and 1978. Jochum liked to tour; he would say that such work was basically a permanent rehearsal, a point of view that explained his enthusiasm for conducting right up to the end of his life. His very last concerts took place in December 1986 with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and at the beginning of 1987 with the Munich Philharmonic in Munich. He died peacefully in his sleep on 26 March 1987.

Jochum was not a personally ambitious musician. A devout Catholic, he took his moral responsibilities as an individual seriously, being strongly influenced by the spiritual leader of the Catholic movement in Bavaria, the Italian theologian and writer Romano Guardini, with whom he formed a close friendship that lasted until Guardini’s death in 1968. His approach to conducting was highly instinctive, and reflected his admiration for Furtwängler, of whom he wrote, ‘I admired his way of conducting: the tempi, his way of handling transitions, his sense of sound. With him I discovered for the first time that the interpreter can become a kind of medium for the music. In other words, the work to be interpreted becomes an underground river flowing through the interpreter’s body.’ Like Furtwängler, Jochum did not see himself as a dictator on the podium. ‘The collective instrument that is an orchestra is composed of human beings, each of whom is gifted with his or her own artistic talent, comprehension, and will. My task is not to suffocate these artistic personalities and temperaments in a despotic way but to gather them up into a whole, to meld them together and to draw from this unit the best possible artistic performance. The ideal is when the musician feels that he is carried by his conductor.’

Jochum was active in the recording studio right from the start of his career: before World War II, when he recorded for the number two German label Telefunken; after the war, when he featured on the Deutsche Grammophon label; and during his later years when he recorded for several labels including Philips, EMI and Ariola as well as Deutsche Grammophon. Recently the French label Tahra has published many of his broadcast and studio recordings. The cornerstones of Jochum’s repertoire were Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner, all of whom he recorded extensively. Of particular interest in his vast discography are his recordings of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra made during the 1950s and 1960s for Deutsche Grammophon (Beethoven featured most in his commercial discography, accounting for over twenty per cent of his recordings).

Among individual recordings of especial interest are the Philips recording of Jochum’s account of Bach’s St Matthew Passion with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, which continued the tradition of annual performance of this work instituted by Mengelberg; Haydn’s ‘London’ symphonies, recorded during his later years with the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the Symphonies Nos 33 and 36 by Mozart, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; his various recordings of the Symphony No. 5 of Bruckner with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, all of which are of outstanding quality; both the Brahms piano concertos recorded with Emil Gilels and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which he considered to be his finest studio recordings; and his brilliant account of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan, recorded with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. His operatic recordings are also extraordinarily fine, and include notable accounts of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Weber’s Der Freischütz, and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

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