Karl Münchinger was one of those rare conductors whose careers are largely tied to their native city, in his case, Stuttgart. He was also closely identified with Bach, having conducted and recorded many of the Baroque master's compositions, generally with high critical praise. Münchinger also conducted much music from the Classical and Romantic periods and, to a lesser extent, from the twentieth century. The majority of his numerous recordings were made for the Decca label. Münchinger showed musical talent as a child and later began studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart. He then studied conducting at the Leipzig Conservatory under Hermann Abendroth. After graduation, he returned to Stuttgart and freelanced as a conductor while primarily supporting himself as an organist and choir director. In 1941, he accepted the post of conductor of the Hanover Symphony Orchestra. This would be the only major appointment in his career outside of his native Stuttgart. He held no post from 1943 until the end of the war. In summer 1945, he founded the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the ensemble he became identified with in much the way Karajan would be with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He quickly built the orchestra up from modest resources in the postwar era, so that by the late-'40s, they were making their first important tours abroad. Münchinger and the SCO debuted in Paris in 1949, representing the first German ensemble to appear there since the prewar era. That same year, they made successful tours of England and Spain. In 1952, they toured Central and South America. The conductor himself made his American debut in 1953 (San Francisco) and took the SCO back to the U.S. the following year for a successful concert tour there. He would return with his ensemble in 1977, once more receiving generally favorable response from both critics and the public. By the mid-'50s, Münchinger had established a reputation as one of the finest Bach interpreters in Europe. His admirers will assert that he was instrumental in restoring Baroque traditions to Bach interpretation, filtering out errant Romantic elements that had crept in over the years. Also by this time, Münchinger and the SCO were receiving invitations from throughout Europe, Russia, and Japan, and appeared in these various locales over the next couple of decades, scoring particular triumphs at the yearly festivals in Edinburgh, Salzburg, Prague (Prague Spring), and Colmar. In the recording studio, Münchinger was scoring triumphs a well: in 1964, he led the SCO in a recording of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with soloists Peter Pears, Hermann Prey, and Elly Ameling for the Decca label, that was awarded a Grand Prix du Disque. He made numerous other notable recordings of choral works by Bach, as well as the Brandenburg Concertos; symphonies by Beethoven and Mozart; and even music by twentieth century Swiss composer Frank Martin. Münchinger founded the Klassiches Philharmonie Stuttgart in 1966, an offshoot ensemble of the SCO, expanding the membership to 45 musicians in order to accommodate performing larger compositions. Münchinger and the SCO continued a fairly heavy performance and recording schedule in the 1970s and '80s, with many tours abroad. In 1977, they became the first German ensemble to visit the People's Republic of China. Münchinger retired in 1988 and died two years later.
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