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Claudio Abbado

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Claudio Abbado

Claudio Abbado
Senator for Life
In office
30 August 2013 – 20 January 2014
Nominated by Giorgio Napolitano
Personal details
Born (1933-06-26)26 June 1933
Milan, Italy
Died 20 January 2014(2014-01-20) (aged 80)
Political party Independent

Claudio Abbado, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI[1] (Italian pronunciation: ; 26 June 1933 – 20 January 2014) was an Italian conductor. One of the most celebrated and respected conductors of the 20th century, particularly in the music of Gustav Mahler, he served as music director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra.


  • Family history and early life 1
  • Musical education and early engagements 2
  • Conducting career 3
    • Berlin Philharmonic 3.1
    • Other orchestras and post-Berlin work 3.2
  • Musical style 4
  • Selected honours and awards 5
    • Recordings and awards 5.1
  • Personal life 6
  • Death 7
  • References 8
  • Sources 9
  • External links 10

Family history and early life

The Abbado family is descended from a Moorish king, Abdul Abbad, who had fled Al-Andalus hundreds of years earlier and arrived in Piedmont, Italy. In time, Abdul married an Italian and created a family estate that eventually was given the name "Castello Abaddo".[2] The family changed their name to Abbado, and for several generations enjoyed both wealth and respect. Abbado's great-grandfather squandered the family fortune and reputation by gambling. His son, Abbado's grandfather, became a professor at the University of Turin.[2] His grandfather re-established the family's reputation and also showed talent as an amateur musician.

Born in Milan, Italy, Claudio Abbado was the son of violinist and composer Michelangelo Abbado,[3] and the brother of the musician Marcello Abbado (born 1926). His father, a professional violinist and a professor at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, was his first piano teacher. His mother also was an adept pianist. Marcello Abbado later became a concert pianist and teacher at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro. His sister also exhibited talent in music, but did not pursue a musical career after her marriage. His other brother later became a successful architect.[2][4]

Abbado's childhood encompassed the Nazi occupation of Milan. During that time, Abbado's mother spent time in prison for harbouring a Jewish child.[5] This period solidified his anti-fascist political sentiments.[4] However, his musical interests also developed, with attendance at performances at La Scala,[4] as well as orchestral rehearsals in Milan led by such conductors as Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler. He later recalled that Toscanini's periods of abusive behaviour to musicians in rehearsal repelled him.[5] Other conductors who influenced as a child were Victor de Sabata and Rafael Kubelík.[4] At age 15, he met Leonard Bernstein, who commented, "You have the eye to be a conductor."[4]

Musical education and early engagements

Abbado studied piano, composition, and conducting at the Milan Conservatory,[3][6] and graduated with a degree in piano in 1955.[2] The following year, he studied conducting with Hans Swarowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music,[3] on the recommendation of Zubin Mehta.[7] Abbado and Mehta both joined the Academy chorus to be able to watch such conductors as Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan in rehearsal.[2][4][5] He also spent time at the Chigiana Academy in Siena.[3]

In 1958, Abbado made his conducting debut in Trieste.[2] That summer, he won the international Serge Koussevitzky Competition for conductors[6] at the Tanglewood Music Festival,[2][3] which resulted in a number of operatic conducting engagements in Italy. In 1959, he conducted his first opera, The Love for Three Oranges, in Trieste. He made his La Scala conducting debut in 1960. In 1963, he won the Dimitri Mitropoulos Prize for conductors,[3][6] which allowed him to work for five months with the New York Philharmonic as an assistant conductor to Bernstein.[2] Abbado made his New York Philharmonic professional conducting debut on 7 April 1963. A 1965 appearance at the RIAS Festival in Berlin led to an invitation from Herbert von Karajan to the Salzburg Festival the following year to work with the Vienna Philharmonic. In 1965, Abbado made his British debut with the Halle Orchestra, followed in 1966 by his London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) debut.[3][5] Abbado taught chamber music for 3 years during the early 1960s in Parma.[8][9] His early advocacy of contemporary music included conducting the world premiere of Giacomo Manzoni's Atomtod, on 25 March 1965, in Milan.

Conducting career

In 1969, Abbado became principal conductor at Carlo Maria Badini, in 1976.[7] During his tenure, he extended the opera season to four months, and focused on giving inexpensive performances for the working class and students. In addition to the standard opera repertoire, he presented contemporary operas, including works of Luigi Dallapiccola and of Luigi Nono, in particular the world premiere of Nono's Al gran sole carico d'amore. In 1976, he brought the La Scala company to the USA for its American debut in Washington D.C. for the American Bicentennial.[10] In 1982, he founded the Filarmonica della Scala for the performance of orchestral repertoire by the house orchestra in concert. Abbado remained affiliated with La Scala until 1986.[1]

Outside of Italy, on 7 October 1968, Abbado made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera with Don Carlo. He began to work more extensively with the Vienna Philharmonic after 1971,[3] which included two engagements as conductor of the orchestras New Years Day concert, in 1988 and 1991. He was a recipient of both the Philharmonic Ring and the Golden Nicolai Medal from the Vienna Philharmonic.[11] He also served as principal guest conductor of the LSO,[12] from 1975 to 1979, and became its principal conductor in 1979.[1][3] He held the title of music director of the LSO for the final part of his tenure, from 1984 to 1987. From 1982 to 1985, he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). In 1986, Abbado became the Generalmusikdirector (GMD) of the city of Vienna, and in parallel, was music director of the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991.[1][3] During his tenure as GMD in Vienna, in 1988, he founded the music festival Wien Modern.

Berlin Philharmonic

Abbado first conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in December 1966. After 33 appearances as a guest conductor, in 1989, the Berlin Philharmonic elected him as its chief conductor and artistic director, in succession to Herbert von Karajan.[1][3][13] During his Berlin tenure, he oversaw an increased presence in contemporary music in the orchestra's programming. In 1992, he co-founded 'Berlin Encounters', a chamber music festival.[1] In 1994, he became artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival.[1] In 1998, he announced his departure from the Berlin Philharmonic after the expiration of his contract in 2002.[14] Prior to his departure, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000,[15] which led to his cancellation of a number of engagements with the orchestra. Subsequent medical treatment led to the removal of a portion of his digestive system,[8] and he cancelled his conducting activities for 3 months in 2001.[16]

In 2004, Abbado returned to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time since his departure as chief conductor, for concerts of Mahler's Symphony No. 6 recorded live for commercial release.[17] The resulting CD won Best Orchestral Recording and Record of the Year in Gramophone Magazine's 2006 awards. The Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic established the Claudio Abbado Kompositionspreis (Claudio Abbado Composition Prize) in his honour, which has since been awarded in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Other orchestras and post-Berlin work

In addition to his work with long-established ensembles, Abbado founded a number of new orchestras with younger musicians at their core. These included the European Community Youth Orchestra (later the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO)), in 1978, and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester (GMJO; Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra) in (1988).[1] In both instances, musicians from the respective youth orchestras founded spinoff orchestras, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (COE) and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, respectively. Abbado worked with both these ensembles regularly as well, and was artistic advisor to the COE, though he did not hold a formal title with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In turn, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra formed the core of the newest incarnation of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which Abbado and Michael Haefliger of the Lucerne Festival established in the early 2000s, and which featured musicians from various orchestras with which Abbado had long-standing artistic relationships.[8][18] The final new orchestra that Abbado helped to establish was the Orchestra Mozart, of Bologna, Italy, in 2004,[16] and he served as its founding music director until his death.

In addition to his work with the EUYO and the GMJO, Abbado worked with the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar of Venezuela.[19]

Musical style

Abbado performed and recorded a wide range of George Benjamin.

Abbado tended to speak very little in rehearsal, sometimes using the simple request to orchestras to "Listen".[5] This was a reflection of his own preference for communication as a conductor via physical gesture and the eyes, and his perception that orchestras did not like conductors who spoke a great deal in rehearsal.[11] Clive Gillinson characterised Abbado's style as follows:

"...he basically doesn't say anything in rehearsals, and speaks so quietly, because he's so shy, so people can get bored. But it works because everyone knows the performances are so great. I've never known anybody more compelling. He's the most natural conductor in the world. Some conductors need to verbally articulate what they want through words, but Claudio just shows it, just does it."[9]

In performance, Abbado often conducted from memory,[4] as he himself noted:

" is indispensable to know the score perfectly and be familiar with the life, the works and the entire era of the composer. I feel more secure without a score. Communication with the orchestra is easier." [11]

Selected honours and awards

Abbado received honorary doctorates from the universities of Ferrara (1990), Cambridge (1994), Aberdeen (1986)[1] and Havana.

On 30 August 2013, Senator for life, in honour of his "outstanding cultural achievements".

Recordings and awards

Abbado recorded extensively for a variety of labels, including Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Columbia (later Sony Classical), and EMI. He conducted many opera recordings which received various awards. Among these were the Diapason Award in 1966 and 1967; also in 1967 he received the Grand Prix du Disque.[20] In 1968 he was presented with the Deutscher Schallplattenpreis and also the Dutch Edison Award. In 1973, the Vienna Mozart Society awarded him the Mozart medal.[20] Abbado received the 1997 Grammy Award in the Best Small Ensemble Performance (with or without conductor) category for "Hindemith: Kammermusik No. 1 With Finale 1921, Op. 24 No. 1" and the 2005 Grammy Award in the Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra) category for "Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3" performed by Martha Argerich.

In 2012, Abbado was voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame that April, and in May, he received the conductor prize at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards.[21][22]

Personal life

Abbado's first marriage, in 1956, to singer Giovanna Cavazzoni produced two children, Daniele Abbado (born 1958), who became an opera director, and Alessandra (born 1959). His first marriage ended in divorce.[7][23] His second marriage, to Gabriella Cantalupi, produced a son, Sebastiano. His 4-year relationship with Viktoria Mullova produced Mullova's oldest child, Misha.[7][24] His nephew via his brother Marcello is the conductor Roberto Abbado.


Abbado died in Bologna on 20 January 2014 at the age of 80. One week later, in tribute to him, the Filarmonica della Scala performed the slow movement of Beethoven's Symphony No 3 to an empty theatre, with the performance relayed to a crowd in the plaza outside of the opera house and live-streamed via La Scala's website.[25] He is buried in Switzerland.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Europa Publications 1996, p. 2
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Ewen 1978, p. 1
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hoiberg 2010, p. 8
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Moritz et al. 1974, p. 1
  5. ^ a b c d e "Claudio Abbado - obituary". Telegraph. 2014-01-20. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  6. ^ a b c Randel 1996, p. 1
  7. ^ a b c d David Nice (2014-01-20). "Claudio Abbado obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  8. ^ a b c Tom Service (2007-08-22). "The Maestro". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  9. ^ a b Tom Service (2009-08-08). "A life in music: Claudio Abbado". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  10. ^ Ewen 1978, pp. 2–3
  11. ^ a b c Paul Hoffmann (1987-03-01). "How Claudio Abbado Wins Ovations in Vienna". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  12. ^ Allan Kozinn (2014-01-20). "Claudio Abbado, an Italian Conductor With a Global Reach, Is Dead at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  13. ^ Ross 2001
  14. ^ Alan Riding (1999-06-24). "Simon Rattle Will Direct The Berlin Philharmonic". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  15. ^ Daniel J Wakin (2007-09-07). "Abbado, Ill, Cancels Appearances". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  16. ^ a b "La morte di Claudio Abbado". Il Post. 2014-01-20. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  17. ^ David Gutman (2005). "Mahler Symphony No 6". Gramophone. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  18. ^ Andrew Clements (2007-08-24). "Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Abbado". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  19. ^ Charlotte Higgins (2006-11-24). "Land of hope and glory". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  20. ^ a b Ewen 1978, p. 3
  21. ^ "Claudio Abbado, Renowned Italian Conductor, Dies at 80". BBC News. 2014-01-20. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  22. ^ "Claudio Abbado awarded classical honour". BBC News. 2012-05-08. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  23. ^ Paolo di Stefano (2011-05-09). "Giovanna Cavazzoni". Corriere della Serra. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  24. ^ Tim Ashley (2011-02-02). "And This One's by the Bee Gees". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  25. ^ Lizzy Davies (2014-01-27). "Daniel Barenboim leads La Scala's last tribute to Claudio Abbado". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 


  • Ewen, David, ed. (1978). "Claudio Abbado". Musicians Since 1900: Performers in Concert and Opera. New York, NY: The H. W. Wilson Company. pp. 1–3.  
  • Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abbadio, Claudio". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-Ak – Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.  
  • Moritz, Charles; Lohr, Evelyn; Sloan, Henry; Dugan, Kieran, eds. (1974). "Abbado, Claudio". Current Biography Yearbook 1973. New York, NY: The H. W. Wilson Company. pp. 1–3.  
  • Randel, Don Michael (1996). "Claudio Abbado". The Harvard biographical dictionary of music. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.  
  • Ross, Alex (22 October 2001). "Beethoven Unbound". The New Yorker 77 (32): 83–85.  

External links

  • Claudio Abbado at AllMusic
  • Claudio Abbado at Deutsche Grammophon
  • Claudio Abbado at Sony BMG Masterworks
  • Claudio Abbado discography
  • Claudio Abbado at the Internet Movie Database
  • Works by or about Claudio Abbado in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 'Maestro With Cult Status', page on Claudio Abbado
  • artist page on Claudio AbbadoGramophone
  • Presidenza della Repubblica, Italian-language page on Claudio Abbado and state honours from Italy
  • , "ArtsBeat" blog, 27 January 2014New York TimesElisabetta Povoledo, "Thousands Pay Tribute to Abbado in Front of La Scala".
  • London Symphony Orchestra tribute page to Claudio Abbado
  • Interview with Claudio Abbado by Bruce Duffie, February 3, 1985
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Guido Cantelli
Music Director, La Scala, Milan
Succeeded by
Riccardo Muti
Preceded by
Egon Seefehlner
Music Director, Vienna State Opera
Succeeded by
Eberhard Wachter
Preceded by
(no predecessor)
Artistic & Musical Director, Orchestra Mozart
Succeeded by
(post vacant)
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