Böhm, Karl, renowned Austrian conductor; b. Graz, Aug. 28, 1894; d. Salzburg, Aug. 14, 1981. He studied law before enrolling at the Graz Cons., where he took lessons in piano and theory; subsequently he studied musicology with Mandyczewski at the the Univ. of Vienna. After service in the Austrian Army during World War I, he made his debut as a conductor at the Graz Opera in 1917. He then completed his training in law at the Univ. of Graz (Dr.Jur., 1919). In 1920 he was appointed first conductor at the Graz Opera. Although he never took formal lessons in conducting, he soon acquired sufficient technique to be engaged at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich (1921). In 1927 he was appointed Generalmusikdirektor in Darmstadt; having already mastered a number of works by Mozart, Wagner, and Richard Strauss, he included in his repertoire modern operas by Krenek and Hindemith. In 1931 he conducted Wozzeck by Berg, a performance which Berg himself warmly praised. From 1931 to 1933 Böhm held the post of Generalmusikdirektor of the Hamburg Opera; from 1934 to 1943 he was music director of the Dresden State Opera, where he gave the first performances of Die Schweigsame Frau (June 24, 1935) and Daphne (Oct. 15, 1938), which Strauss dedicated to him. In 1943 he became director of the Vienna State Opera, but his tenure was a brief one due to its closure by the Nazis in 1944 and by its destruction by Allied bombing during the closing weeks of World War II in 1945. The rumors were rife of his at least passive adherence to the Nazis, although he categorically denied that he was ever a member of the party. After the War, he was not allowed by the Allied authorities to give performances pending an investigation of his political past; he was cleared and resumed his career in 1947. From 1950 to 1953 he conducted the German repertoire at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. He then served again as director of the Vienna State Opera from 1954 to 1956. On Nov. 5, 1955, he conducted Beethoven’s Fidelio at the opening of the reconstructed Vienna State Opera House. He made his first appearance in the U.S. with the Chicago Sym. Orch. on Feb. 9, 1956; on Oct. 31, 1957, he made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He continued to conduct occasional performances at the Metropolitan until 1978. In 1961 he took the Berlin Phil, to the U.S., and in 1963-64 he made a tour in Japan with it. In 1975 he conducted an American tour with the Deutsche Oper of Berlin. In 1979 he took the Vienna State Opera on its first U.S. tour. He also conducted radio and television performances. Bôhm received numerous honors and tokens of distinction, among them the Golden Mozart Memorial Medal from the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, the Brahms Medal from Hamburg, and the Bruckner Ring from the Vienna Sym. Orch. On his 70th birthday, a Bòhm Day was celebrated in Vienna, and he was granted the rare honorary title of Generalmusikdirektor of Austria; both his 80th and 85th birthdays were observed in Salzburg and Vienna. In 1977 he was elected president of the London Sym. Orch. Bôhm was admired for his impeccable rendition of classical opera scores, particularly those of Mozart, in which he scrupulously avoided any suggestion of improper romanti-cization; he was equally extolled for his productions of the operas of Wagner and Richard Strauss, and he earned additional respect for his authoritative performances of the Austro-German orch. repertoire. He publ. Begegnung mit Richard Strauss (Munich, 1964) and a personal memoir, Ich erinnere mich ganz genau (Zürich, 1968; Eng. tr., 1992, as A Life Remembered: Memoirs).
F. Endler, K. B.: Ein Dirigentenleben (Hamburg, 1981); H. Hoyer, K. B. an der Wiener Staatsoper: Eine Dokumentation (Vienna, 1981).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire