Pianist, Conductor. One of the principal musical figures of the 19th Century, he participated in several important world premieres. Raised in Dresden, he studied piano from age nine with Friedrich Wieck, the father of Clara Schumann. Sent by his parents to Leipzig to study law, he met Franz Liszt and was exposed to the operas of Wagner whose fan he quickly became. He studied piano at Weimar and in 1850, with Wagner's help, obtained his first conducting post in Zurich. Able to conduct without the score (as Arturo Toscanini was to do later), he earned high praise for his abilities, though his rude, abrasive manner made him enemies wherever he went. Von Bulow began training with Liszt in 1851 and was to form an attachment with the legendary pianist's illegitimate daughter Cosima. Through the 1850s his reputation as pianist, conductor, and music journalist increased and in 1857 he married Cosima. Fired from Zurich for abusing his musicians, he landed in Munich where the cycle of artistic success mixed with interpersonal problems continued. He led the world premieres of two of Wagner's works, "Tristan und Isolde" on June 10, 1865, and "Die Meistersinger" on June 21, 1868, and despite the open affair of Wagner and Cosima (who married after Cosima obtained a divorce in 1870) apparently never thought ill of the great operatic composer. In the late 1860s von Bulow taught piano at the Munich Conservatory and continued his performing, becoming a notable champion of Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and Brahms. He was piano soloist for the October 25, 1875, Boston world premiere of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor and from 1878 until 1880 was Music Director in Hanover. He got the bounce there for calling the tenor singing the Swan Knight in Wagner's "Lohengrin" the "Swine Knight" (von Bulow once said that "a tenor is not a man but a disease") and moved on to Meiningen before accepting his final post, which he held from 1887 until 1892, with the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1882 he had married actress Marie Schanzer (1857-1941), a friend of Tchaikovsky, and in 1885 he led the premiere of the Russian composer's Suite No. 3 at St. Petersburg. Also in 1885, on 25 October, he conducted in Meiningen the first absolute performance of Brahms' Fourth Symphony (op. 98). Late in his career he gave support to a young Richard Strauss and got him his first conducting job. While none can deny that von Bulow was a difficult and unpleasant man, neither can one gainsay his musical accomplishments. Perhaps the first "modern" conductor, he insisted that his players learn the music rather than rely on the score ("Always conduct with the score in your head, not your head in the score"), and indeed, some of his innovations, such as pedal tympani, remain in use today. Suffering from chronic headaches due to a tumor, his health and mental stability further deteriorated after 1890 causing him to abandon his home in Hamburg and seek the warmer climate of Egypt, though he did continue returning to Europe for performances. He died in a Cairo hotel. In a rather characteristic statement he said: "The three greatest composers are Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. All the others are cretins".
Bio by: Bob Hufford