Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks - BRSO

musica viva

musica viva © LMN Berlin

Founded by the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann in 1945 in Munich, Bavarian Radio’s musica viva series is one of the world’s most famous forums for future-oriented and contemporary music, where many experimental works and performances for orchestra and chamber music receive their premiere.

The story of musica viva

The story of musica viva starts on October 7th, 1945 – a mere five months after the end of World War II. A handful of curious music lovers gather at Prinzregententheater – even though there is no heating – to listen to Debussy, Busoni and Mahler – music that couldn’t be heard under the Nazi regime because the composers were banned. These concert series are founded by the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann. His goal is to introduce contemporary music to the audience.

But Hartmann faces problems financing his concerts. Locations change continuously. In 1948, Bayerischer Rundfunk or “Radio München” as it still was called back then – takes over sponsorship of musica viva. Not only does this give musica viva secure financing, Hartmann now also has a professional choir and orchestra at his disposal. In 1953, the Herkulessaal in the Munich Residency becomes musica viva’s permanent concert location.

At first, Hartmann concentrates on showing his audience the developments in contemporary music that they had missed during twelve years of Nazi regime. Bit by bit he changes the programs’ focus to contemporary composition and world premieres. Quote: “The event’s duty is to provide the audience with an overview of the current intellectual and artistic development.” (Karl Amadeus Hartmann). Artists of international standing come to Munich: Stravinsky, Hindemith and Milhaud conduct concerts, aspiring young composers like Henze or Nono are presented. And to top it off, famous artists like Joan Miró design the title graphics for the concerts’ programmes.

The new focus

In 1963, Karl Amadeus Hartmann dies. His successor, the composer Wolfgang Fortner, continues to lead musica viva in the same direction as Hartmann and does this together with Ernst Thomas. However, the concept isn’t working as smoothly anymore as it did a few years before. Ernst Thomas, being the former head of the Darmstädter Ferienkurse, brings more and more topics and themes from Darmstadt to Munich, such as discussions about music and language. These soon become the new focus at musica viva. In addition to that, they also start a series of experimental studio concerts.

In 1978, editor Jürgen Meyer-Josten, head of Bayerischer Rundfunk’s music department, takes over musica viva. For the first time, the concert series’ art director is a member of the Bayerischer Rundfunk. He broadens the spectrum of music that is played at the concerts.

Meyer-Josten is later succeeded by Udo Zimmermann in 1997 and once again a composer runs musica viva. Zimmermann is aided by Josef Anton Riedl and Winrich Hopp. Together they bring new dynamics to the musica viva concerts by contracting young composers. Their program includes works by Stockhausen, Xenakis and Schnebel as well as experimental special events and studio concerts.

Winrich Hopp, who took over musica viva in 2011, didn’t only stick to this new concept but also expanded it. He conducts big projects like Stockhausen’s “Samstag aus Licht” (Saturday from Light) and connects musica viva with European event organizers. He also involves the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (BRSO) in musica viva concerts by including musicians when choosing different chamber formations. musica viva has changed considerably since its beginnings in 1945 – but it’s still as alive and future-oriented as it was when Hartmann started it.