Carl Schuricht

Carl Schuricht was born into a family of organ builders. He commenced his musical studies with the violin and piano at the age of six, started to compose when he was eleven, and to conduct when he was fifteen. His first professional engagement, which he held during 1901 and 1902, was as a répétiteur at Mainz; but having won a composition prize from the Kuszynki Foundation in 1902, he was awarded a scholarship by Franz von Mendelssohn which enabled him to continue to study composition with Humperdinck and piano with Rudorff at the High School for Music in Berlin, followed by further composition study with Reger in Leipzig. Following the publication of several works in Berlin, Schuricht was appointed operetta conductor at Zwickau for the 1907–1908 season. He succeeded Siegfried Ochs as the conductor of the Rühlschen Oratorio Chorus of Frankfurt in 1909, and three years later was appointed as chief conductor at Wiesbaden, where he conducted Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in 1913.

Although he had been invited to conduct in London and at La Scala, Milan during 1914, Schuricht’s career appears to have been dormant for the years of World War I. It recommenced in 1921 when he directed a Brahms festival with Furtwängler. In 1923 he became chief conductor of the Wiesbaden Symphony Orchestra, a post which he retained until 1944. During the inter-war years he pursued an active career conducting in Germany and abroad, appearing at the first German Mahler Festival in Wiesbaden (1923), in St Louis (1927), in London (1931), and at the summer symphony concerts in Scheveningen in Holland (1930–1939). In 1933 he was appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Choir, conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in the following year, and served as principal guest conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1937 to 1944 and of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra during 1943 and 1944, followed by a short period as its chief conductor. However, as World War II drew to a close he left Germany during the autumn of 1944 and settled in Switzerland, where he began to work with the Suisse Romande Orchestra.

At the re-opening of the Salzburg Festival in 1946 Schuricht conducted the Vienna Philharmonic and ten years later he led the same orchestra in both the Furtwängler Memorial Concert in Vienna at the beginning of 1956 and in a concert during the January Mozart Week in Salzburg. With the unexpected death immediately afterwards of Erich Kleiber, Schuricht was invited by the orchestra to share the conducting of its forthcoming tour of America with André Cluytens, leading twelve concerts; and during the same year, 1956, he conducted all the Beethoven symphonies at the Lyons Festival. He was invited to conduct at the Chicago Symphony Festival at Ravinia in 1957, appearing also as a guest conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Berkshire Music Festival, Tanglewood. He conducted the Vienna Philharmonic on another tour, of Europe, in 1958, and on his eightieth birthday the orchestra conferred upon him honorary membership. During his final years he made guest appearances in London and Berlin, and continued to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic; he also participated in the Salzburg Festival, giving his last concert there in 1965.

Compared with his more famous contemporaries, such as Beecham, Furtwängler, and Toscanini, Schuricht’s style as a conductor was understated. He described his essentially instinctive approach to performance thus: ‘The interpretative artist should be endowed, first and foremost, with that kind of spiritual musical intuition which permits him to sense the original impulse of the work he is interpreting, and secondly, with the gift of making clear in his own presentation the essence of what he sees… If the interpretative artist is fortunate enough to touch the ‘active nucleus’ of the musical cell, whence stem all the forces which govern the work, this ‘nucleus’ will guide him even in the smallest details.’ When successful this approach to performance produced excellent results: for instance the British critic Colin Mason described Schuricht’s 1964 account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ with the London Symphony Orchestra as ‘an immensely dramatic and exciting performance’.

Schuricht’s recording career was extensive. Already established as a conductor of note during the acoustic era, he recorded Beethoven using this process with the Berlin Municipal Orchestra. His electrical 78rpm recordings, made with all the major orchestras of Berlin, included such large-scale works as Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos 3, 6, 7 and 9, Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos 7 and 9, and Richard Strauss’s Sinfonia Domestica and Tod und Verklärung, as well as many shorter pieces. After World War II, he recorded both 78rpm and long-playing records for Decca, working initially with Swiss orchestras and later with the Paris Conservatoire and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. Towards the end of his life Schuricht recorded for EMI, committing to disc once again his interpretations of Beethoven and Bruckner. A wide cross-section of repertoire was also recorded by the Concert Hall Record Club, including music by Bach and Handel as well as by Schumann, Brahms, Wagner and Johann Strauss II. In addition many of his radio recordings have been published. Schuricht’s interpretations at their best have an unforced, natural and deeply-felt quality that is most appealing. As he himself noted, he was ‘…essentially an exponent of the old tradition’.