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Bülow, Hans (Guido) Von

piano music wagner pianist

Bülow, Hans (Guido) Von, celebrated German pianist and conductor of high attainment; b. Dresden, Jan. 8, 1830; d. Cairo, Feb. 12, 1894. At the age of 9 he began to study piano with Friedrich Wieck and theory with Max Eberwein; then went to Leipzig, where he studied law at the univ. and took a music course with Moritz Hauptmann; he also studied piano with Plaidy. From 1846 to 1848 he lived in Stuttgart, where he made his debut as a pianist. In 1849 he attended the Univ. of Berlin; there he joined radical social groups; shortly afterward he went to Zurich and met Wagner, who was there in exile. After a year in Switzerland, where he conducted theater music, Bülow proceeded to Weimar, where he began to study with Liszt. In 1853 he made a tour through Germany and Austria as a pianist. In 1855 he was appointed head of the piano dept. at the Stern Cons, in Berlin, retaining this post until 1864. He married Liszt’s natural daughter, Cosima, in 1857. In 1864 he was called by Ludwig II to Munich as court pianist and conductor; the King, who was a great admirer of Wagner, summoned Wagner to Munich from exile. Bülow himself became Wagner’s ardent champion; on June 10, 1865, he conducted at the Court Opera in Munich the first performance of Tristan una Isolde, and on June 21, 1868, he led the premiere of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg . It was about this time that Wagner became intimate with Cosima; after her divorce she married Wagner, in 1870. Despite this betrayal, Bülow continued to conduct Wagner’s music; his growing admiration for Brahms cannot be construed as his pique against Wagner. It was Bülow who dubbed Brahms “the third B of music,” the first being Bach, and the second Beethoven. In fact, the context of this nomination was more complex than a mere alphabetical adumbration; according to reports, Bülow was asked to name his favorite key; he replied that it was E-flat major, the key signature of the Eroica, with the 3 B’s (German colloquialism for flats) signifying Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Then he was asked why he did not instead nominate Bruckner for the third B, and he is supposed to have replied that Bruckner was too much of a Wagnerian for him. Bülow was indeed renowned for his wit and his aptitude for alliterative punning; his writings are of elevated literary quality. In 1872 Bülow lived in Florence; then resumed his career as a pianist, winning triumphant successes in England and Russia; during his American tour in 1875–76 he gave 139 concerts; he revisited America in 1889 and 1890. An important chapter in his career was his conductorship in Meinin-gen (1880–85). In 1882 he married a Meiningen actress, Marie Schanzer. He was conductor of the Berlin Phil, from 1887 to 1893, when a lung ailment forced him to seek a cure in Egypt. He died shortly after his arrival in Cairo.

As a conductor, Bülow was an uncompromising disciplinarian; he insisted on perfection of detail, and he was also able to project considerable emotional power on the music. He was one of the first conductors to dispense with the use of the score. His memory was fabulous; it was said that he could memorize a piano concerto by just reading the score, sometimes while riding in a train. The mainstay of his repertoire was Classical and Romantic music, but he was also receptive toward composers of the new school. When Tchaikovsky, unable to secure a performance of his First Piano Concerto in Russia, offered the score to Bülow, he accepted it, and gave its world premiere as soloist with a pickup orch. in Boston, on Oct. 25, 1875; however, the music was too new and too strange to American ears of the time, and the critical reactions were ambiguous. Biilow encouraged the young Richard Strauss, and gave him his first position as conductor. Bülow was a composer himself, but his works belong to the category of “Kapellmeister Musik,” competent, well structured, but devoid of originality. Among his compositions was incidental music to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar . He made masterly transcriptions of the prelude to Wagner’s Meistersinger and the entire opera Tristan una Isolde; also arranged for piano the overtures to Le Corsaire and Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz. He annotated and edited Beethoven’s piano sonatas; these eds. were widely used by piano teachers, even though criticism was voiced against his cavalier treatment of some passages and his occasional alterations of Beethoven’s original to enhance the resonance. His writings were publ. by his widow, Marie von Bülow, under the title low, under the title Briefe und Schriften H. v.B.s (8 vols., Leipzig, 1895–1908; vol. III, republ. separately in 1936, contains selected essays, while the other vols. contain letters); selected letters in Eng. tr. were publ. by C. Bache, The Early Correspondence of H. v.B .(London, 1896).

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