Hans Richter was one of the greatest German conductors of the Romantic era and among Richard Wagner's greatest champions.
His father was the Kapellmeister of the local Cathedral and his mother, Josephine Csazinsky, was a soprano who sang the role of Venus in the first production of Wagner's Tannhäuser in Vienna (1857). At ten years old he became a chorister at the Vienna Court Chapel. He studied violin, horn, and theory at Vienna Conservatory while playing horn at the Kärtnerthorn Theater from 1862 to 1864.
Wagner hired him for the job of preparing a fair copy manuscript of his latest opera, Die Meistersinger. After that Wagner recommended him to Hans von Bülow to be a chorus master at the Munich Court Opera (1867). The next year, Bülow made him his assistant conductor. Richter answered Wagner's request to put conducting aside and work on finishing the copying of the scores to the Ring operas. As trumpeter, he participated in the first performance of Wagner's Siegfried Idyl, and played in the foyer of Wagner's house in Tribschen as a surprise for Wagner's future wife.
Richter became chief conductor in Pest (1871 - 1875) and in 1875 debuted in Vienna with such huge success that he became conductor of the Hofoper there. In 1876 he conducted the premiere performance of the entire Ring cycle to inaugurate the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
The Hofoper orchestra elected him to be their chief conductor in their alter ego as the Vienna Philharmonic. He remained with then until 1898. From 1880 to 1890 he was also conductor of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
He made his debut in England in 1877 and became a popular favorite there, holding an annual series of Orchestral Festival Concerts from 1879 to 1897. (These became known as the "Richter Concerts.") He was director of the triennial Birmingham Music Festival from 1885 to 1905. In 1897 he accepted the position of music director of the Hallé Orchestra, arriving there in 1899 to take the position.
The delay was caused by his remaining in Vienna to be sure of his pension. While he was absent, Frederic Cowen had been conducting the orchestra and became popular enough that a faction of the audience resisted Richter, and were thereafter apt to complain over Richter's highly predominant German repertory. However, Richter made a great contribution to English musical culture when he became the first to recognize the greatness of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, premiered it with the Hallé, and played it to great acclaim in Germany. He left the Hallé in 1911 and retired in 1912.