Karl Muck

Karl Muck

Darmstadt, Stadtkreis Darmstadt, Hessen, Germany
Death 3 Mar 1940 (aged 80)
Stuttgart, Stadtkreis Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Burial Graz, Graz Stadt, Styria (Steiermark), Austria
Memorial ID 70670883 · View Source
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Conductor. Though he had a long and distinguished career on both sides of the Atlantic, he is probably best remembered for his controversial tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) during World War I. Born to a distinguished family, he lived in Switzerland, where he became a citizen, from age eight. Muck played the piano from an early age, gave his first public recital at 11, was educated at Wurzburg, and spent time at the University of Heidelberg before receiving a Ph.D. in philology (languages) from the University of Leipzig in 1880. Having simultaneously trained at the Leipzig Conservatory, he began his professional piano career that same year then embarked on a succession of small conducting jobs. Known for a restrained manner on the podium, an unpleasant disposition, and a bit more literal attention to the score than was the norm for the time, he gradually built his reputation; appointed music director of Prague's Deutsches Landestheater in 1886, he earned praise as an operatic conductor, particularly of Wagnerian pieces. In 1892 Muck landed the top job with what is now the Berlin State Opera where he remained intermittently until 1912, conducting over 1,000 performances during his tenure. He was to appear in Wagnerian programs at London's Covent Garden in 1899, at all 14 Bayreuth Festivals held between 1901 and 1930, and serve as music director of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1903 to 1906 and of the Boston Symphony between 1906 and 1908, though he did turn down the podium of the Metropolitan Opera. Returning to Boston in 1912, he was much praised and produced the ensemble's first recordings. With the advent of World War I, however, problems were on the horizon as Muck was a good friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II and had a natural affinity for the land of his birth and its music. With the 1917 US entry into the conflict, Muck tendered his resignation but saw it rejected; in preparation for an October 30, 1917 concert at Infantry Hall in Providence, Rhode Island the "Providence Journal" intensified its ongoing campaign against Muck and Germanic music. Two separate requests were made to have the BSO play the National Anthem that evening but for unknown reasons the Symphony's managers did not pass these on to the maestro. In the days following the general public, the Archbishop of Boston, and Theodore Roosevelt denounced Muck; the "Star Spangled Banner" was presented at the November 2nd concert and again for the rest of the month, though critics denounced the arrangement used as "cheap", not realizing that it was by popular composer Victor Herbert. Eventually an arrangement by the BSO's openly pro-German concertmaster Anton Witek was found acceptable, but Muck's fate was already sealed. The final straw was added when his programing of Bach's "Saint Matthew Passion" was deemed "treasonous", with some even imagining 'spy code' hidden in his score markings; having already been tried and convicted by the press, he was arrested in a midnight raid on March 25, 1918 and transported to Fort Oglethorpe, an Army Post in northwest Georgia. At the facility, called in jest "Oglesdorf", there were numerous high ranking Germans including about 100 musicians whom Muck led in performances of such quality that US Government officials made sure to get front row seats. Released on August 21, 1919, he was immediately deported; thereafter, no amount of money could get him back across the ocean. After his departure it was revealed that he had often professed allegiance to America and that he considered his Boston years the happiest of his career, but it also became known that the 60 year old maestro was having an affair with a 20 year old high society girl and that he had called the BSO audiences "dogs and swine". Once back in Germany he found a much different land now that the Kaiser was gone. He conducted in Munich, Amsterdam, and Berlin, resigned from Bayreuth in 1930 rather than submit to Arturo Toscanini's dominating personality, and was music director in Hamburg from 1922 until 1933 when he quit due to reservations about the Nazi regime. Muck spent his final years in increasing ill health at the home of a friend's daughter and on the occasion of his 80th birthday was personally honored by Adolf Hitler. Though the 78 RPM format of the time did not lend itself to preserving long orchestral passages he nevertheless left a significant legacy of operatic and symphonic selections both from his Boston years and from the post-war period, much of which is available on CD. At the time of the National Anthem spat that for many defines his whole life he said: "Art is a thing by itself, and not related to any particular nation or group. Therefore, it would be a gross mistake, a violation of artistic taste and principles, for such an organization as ours to play patriotic airs. Does the public think that the Symphony Orchestra is a military band or a ballroom orchestra?".

Bio by: Bob Hufford

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bob Hufford
  • Added: 31 May 2011
  • Find a Grave Memorial 70670883
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Karl Muck (22 Oct 1859–3 Mar 1940), Find a Grave Memorial no. 70670883, citing Steinfeld Friedhof, Graz, Graz Stadt, Styria (Steiermark), Austria ; Maintained by Find A Grave .