Franz Lachner

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Franz Lachner was an important conductor and well-known composer of the early half of the Romantic era. His music is well-crafted and enjoyable, though not highly original or important in the history…
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Artist Biography by

Franz Lachner was an important conductor and well-known composer of the early half of the Romantic era. His music is well-crafted and enjoyable, though not highly original or important in the history of musical evolution.

He was born to a musical family and his father, Anton, was the organist of the small city of Rain am Lech; his father died in 1822. At that point, the boy went to Munich and eked out a living playing in the orchestra of the Zisartor theater orchestra as an organist and even as a music teacher. In 1823, he became organist of the Lutheran church in Viennam, which enabled him to study with Simon Sechter and Abbé Stadler. Through them, he met Beethoven, but he mainly socialized with musicians his own generation, including Franz Schubert, who was a close friend. (As such, he was a valuable contributor of first-hand information to early biographies of the great composer.)

In 1825, he joined the staff of the Kartnerthor Theater as a coach. By 1828, he worked his way up to the post of music director. He made a bad career move when he went to Berlin to try to make his way there. He ended up on the conducting staff of the Mannheim Opera for a couple of years and returned to Munich in 1836, where he had success in the court opera of King Ludwig I. He became highly prominent in the musical world of that city, eventually becoming conductor of the court opera, director of the Musikalishe Akademie concerts, and often conducted at the Königliche Vokalkapelle. In 1862, he was named general music director of Munich.

Lachner built musical life in Munich into the most impressive in western Germany. Under his direction, the opera became the leading center of musical theater in Germany, with the possible exception of Berlin. Moreover, he exercised the power and influence of his position in a highly responsible and non-partisan way. For instance, he was not personally fond of Wagner's music but, recognizing its importance, he saw to it that Wagner's music got performed on his concert and operatic stages. It was the high standards to which he had drilled his opera theater and their familiarity with previous Wagnerian operas that made Munich the only possible place where Tristan und Isolde could be premiered. As often happened to Wagner's most honorable benefactors, Lachner was treated shabbily in return.

In the spring of 1864, the 18-year-old King Ludwig II ascended the throne of Bavaria. At that time, the premiere of Tristan was scheduled to occur under on May 15 under the baton of Hans Von Bülow. On April 30, Wagner received an unsolicited letter from the King, pledging undying devotion and inviting Wagner to settle in Bavaria, where every possible resource would be dedicated to realizing Wagner's theatrical dreams. By the time Tristan was staged (it was delayed a month due to the soprano's illness), Lachner had been effectively discarded as director of the opera in favor of the de facto leadership of Wagner's disciple Hans Von Bülow. Lachner had no choice but to apply for retirement. To save face, he accepted the fiction that he had been granted an extended vacation until his contract expired in 1868. He was kicked out of his other leadership positions as well, in favor of Von Bülow (whose own "repayment" by Wagner was that Wagner impregnated his wife, passed the child off as Von Bülow's for as long as he still needed the conductor's services, and then openly eloped with her.).

Lachner was given good terms as part of his retirement settlement and became a respected elder statesman of music by the time he died 23 years later. He refused to become bitter and even sought to defuse the critical battles between supporters of Brahms and Wagner as representatives of the right path in music by arranging that both of them would be presented the Royal Order of Maximilian in 1873.

Lachner wrote six operas between 1828 and 1852. Of them, Caterina Cornaro (1841) was especially successful in its time. Other examples of his best work are the Requiem, Op. 146, and Orchestral Suite No. 7 in D minor, Op. 190 (1881). His music is written with great skill and command of the orchestra or instruments. Much of it enjoyed considerable success but found no lasting place in the repertoire. The best music is still interesting as a representation of the above average but not great composers of its time.