Hans von Bülow


Hans von Bülow

International Hans von Bülow Competition 2023 in Meiningen, Germany

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Hans von Bülow

Artist & Teacher

Hans von Bülow was a prominent figure in music history in the 2nd half of the 19th century and had close ties with the town of Meiningen.

As a pianist, he was part of the Franz Liszt tradition, while he had studied conducting with Richard Wagner. Bülow's contributions in both areas were as innovative as they were creative – he formed the paradigmatic image of the modern conductor. A central concern of Bülow's was the notion that the markings of composers are to be followed exactly. His performances of both the classical repertory and the works of his contemporaries set new standards. He was not only active as a conductor and solo pianist, but also had a passion for interpreting chamber and vocal music.

Bülow was an enthusiastic teacher, renowned not only for the masterclasses he famously gave at the height of his career. He held teaching positions at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin and the Munich Music School, and also gave private lessons to many young people, some of whom were not interested in making music their profession. Bülow worked with musically gifted amateurs, including instrumentalists and choir singers in Meiningen. He strived for excellent artistic results with all of his students.


Hans von Bülow, born Jan. 8, 1830 in Dresden, died Feb. 12, 1894 in Cairo, was a conductor, pianist and composer.

Bülow had piano lessons with Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann, and Ignaz Moscheles and experienced the music scene in Leipzig during his visits to the city. Influenced by the musical conservatism that was widespread at the time, his early adolescent interest in the works of Richard Wagner was to become a lasting influence.

In 1848 Bülow started studying law (first in Leipzig, then in Berlin), but continued his education in music. During the autumn of 1850, he followed Richard Wagner to Zurich and became a student of Franz Liszt in Weimar. Soon after, he accepted his first teaching position as a piano instructor at Berlin's Stern Conservatory.He also gave private lessons to Ellen Franz, future Helene Duchess of Heldburg, and Cosima Liszt, whom he married in 1857. In 1864, King Ludwig II of Bavaria called him to Munich, where he became Hofkapellmeister (Court Music Director) in 1867.

While Cosima was still married to Bülow, she gave birth to two daughters of Richard Wagner. Nonetheless, Bülow continued his tireless support of the composer. He conducted, among others, the premieres of Tristan (June 10, 1865) and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (June 21, 1868). After his divorce from Cosima, Bülow embarked upon a restless concert life, which he only temporarily put on hold after being offered the position of Hofkapellmeister in Hanover. In 1880 he was employed as director of the Meiningen Court Orchestra having been recommended by Helene, the Duchess of Heldburg. Subsequently, he led the orchestra to a position of excellence and international acclaim. Tours throughout Europe (Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, England, Bohemia) furthered the orchestra's fame, and helped set lasting performance standards.

Characteristic elements of these standards are the notion of the conductor as a central figure, approaches to interpretation and rehearsals, a set program structure, performances based on the composer's instructions, and extensive concert tours. Another great influence on Bülow was his close collaboration and friendship with Johannes Brahms starting in the autumn of 1881. Bülow promoted the composer's great instrumental and choral works and hugely contributed to them becoming more widely known. The standing of the Meiningen Court Orchestra was such that a guest performance in January 1882 inspired the founding of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Bülow's high profile decidedly influenced Meiningen's elevation to the most important cultural center between Weimar and Bayreuth under Duke Georg II.


Bülow's Meiningen years

In October of 1873, the Duchess of Heldburg, wife of Duke Georg II of Saxony-Meiningen, invited her former piano teacher Hans von Bülow to Meiningen to perform his famed interpretation of Beethoven's sonatas for her and the duke. Two months later, around Christmas 1873, Bülow was once again a guest at the Meiningen Castle and conducted the Court Orchestra for the first time.

After Hans von Bülow became Meiningen's Court Orchestra Director in 1880, the orchestra entered its most successful phase. Bülow's reform of the symphony concert led to the orchestra becoming one of Europe's leading ensembles. Together with Georg II, reigning Duke since 1866, Bülow brought influential composers such as Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms to the court for collaborative projects. The premiere of Brahms' 4th Symphony, for example, took place in Meiningen. From 1881, under Bülow's baton, the orchestra began traveling extensively, playing a total of 200 public concerts throughout Germany and in many other European countries. Brahms himself conducted the orchestra on several occasions during this time, as well as accompanying the ensemble on the Rhineland Tour of 1885.

In 1885, when Hans von Bülow accepted a position in Hamburg and simultaneously became chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 21-year old Richard Strauss took over the baton in Meiningen. He was to be followed by Fritz Steinbach (1886–1903), and Wilhelm Berger (1903-1911), who continued in Bülow's tradition, taking the orchestra on tours to Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, England, and Bohemia.


Intern. Hans von Bülow Society

In 1994, Meiningen celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of Hans von Bülow with a week-long state-wide music festival. This commemorative year lead to the founding of the International Hans von Bülow Society.

The society's commissions concerts, such as those featuring Bülow's vocal works (examples are concerts in Wiesbaden, Schloss Molsdorf, Bayreuth, Berlin), lectures, essays for academic journals, as well as having instigated the publication of an online bibliography. In March 2005, it organized a 3-day Bülow anniversary celebration that took place in Meiningen and commemorated the 175thbirthday and the 110th anniversary of the death of Hans von Bülow.

Additionally, the society contributed financially to the restoration of Bülow's gravesite, which is located at the Olsdorf graveyard in Hamburg. Mutual memberships link the International Hans von Bülow Society with the Brahms Society Hamburg, the Raff Society and the Friedrich Kiel Society. Since its inception, the International Hans von Bülow Society has worked to direct public attention towards Hans von Bülow and the cultural significance of the Southern Thuringia region, helping to promote the theater and music scene in Meiningen in particular.

The International Hans von Bülow Society e.V. were the organizers of the Hans von Bülow Piano Competition from 2012 until 2018. The Society has now passed the organization onto the Max Reger Conservatorium Meiningen, but remains closely connected to the competition.

The board of directors of the International Hans von Bülow Society is currently comprised of three persons.

Chair: Dr. Maren Goltz
Assistant Chair: Herta Müller
Company Secretary: Heiko Denner

The Society is accredited as non-profit and has been recorded in the registry of non-commercial associations at the Meiningen municipal court under the number VR 413. Donations to the Society are tax-deductible.

You may download the current by-laws of the society in pdf-format here (only available in German) [→ Satzung als PDF-Datei]

Our culture strives through volunteer commitment. The International Hans von Bülow Society is thus constantly searching for people who would like to contribute in accordance with our by-laws. Every contribution is welcome! We would like to cordially invite you to join us! A membership application form for our Society can be downloaded here (only available in German) [→ Antrag als PDF-Datei]