Lovro von Matacic was one of the great conductors who preserved the authentic late-Romantic tradition into the late-Romantic age.
He was a member of the Vienna Boys' Choir, then studied at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik. There he studied piano, organ, composition, and conducting. His teachers included Herbst and Nedbal. After graduation he obtained one of the typical entry-level job for young conductors in the Central European tradition, as an operatic chorus director. This was in the Cologne Opera, where he was considered promising enough that he was given a chance to conduct there in 1919, his conducting debut.
He worked at the Salzburg Festival on the music staff, and then returned to Yugoslavia, which at the end of World War I had finally obtained its independence from Austria.
He became the Music Director of the opera house in Osijek, continuing his career advancement through opera houses in the larger cities, Novi Sad, Ljubljana, Zagreb, and in 1938 the capital, Belgrade. In the same year he also became the conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra.
After the German invasion of 1941 he resigned his position at the Belgrade Opera (1942) and from 1942 to 1945 he was conductor of the Vienna Volksoper.
After the war, he became the General Music Director in Skopje. He organized the annual Dubrovnik and Split Festivals. He was permanent guest conductor at the opera houses of Munich and Vienna. From 1956 to 1958, he was General Music Director of the Dresden State Opera and Staatskapelle Orchestra and, with Franz Konwitschny, co-General Music Director of the (East) Berlin State Opera.
He appeared in America with the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1959.
In 1961, Matacic succeeded Georg Solti as General Music Director of the Frankfurt Opera and orchestra, remaining there through 1966. In 1965 he was appointed Honorary Chief Conductor of the NHK (Japanese Radio and Television) Orchestra in 1965. He was Music Director of the Zagreb Philharmonic from 1970 to 1980, and of the Monte Carlo Opera from 1974 to 1979. At the end of these tenures, he became honorary conductor for life of both organizations.
He guest conducted extensively and at various times was principal guest conductor or permanent guest conductor at various times of the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, and Prague Philharmonic. He began conducting orchestras in America frequently, and led opera performances at La Scala, the Bayreuth Festival, Opera di Roma, and various other European and Japanese venues.
He was best known for the late-Romantic repertory, particularly the symphonies of Bruckner and music of Wagner, as well as for music of Slavic composers. He received the Bruckner Medal of the International Bruckner Association, the Bruckner Ring of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Janacek Medal and the Smetana Medal (awarded by the government of Czechoslovakia), the Cross of the First Order for Arts and Sciences of the President of the Republic of Austria, and the Berlin Philharmonic's Hans von Bülow Medal.
He recorded frequently, and many "dall vivo" recordings of his live and broadcast performances exist. He was especially praised for his control over the immense formal structures of Bruckner's symphonies and his masterly control of phrasing. However, he also included in his favorite repertory music of the whole Romantic era and the music of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn. His reputation with the most serious music of the era did not preclude him from having a light touch where recalled; his recording of Léhar's The Merry Widow, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, is particularly prized.
As a composer, Matacic was not prolific, but his music was highly expressive in a highly chromatic post-Romantic style.