Obituary: Hans-Hubert Schonzeler

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The Independent Online
The conductor and musicologist Hans-Hubert Schonzeler was an engagingly paradoxical man and he would have been tickled by the notion that an important Bruckner exponent and scholar was specially mourned among the membership of the Savage Club, that louche but friendly fraternity of musicians, actors and artists whose company he so much enjoyed. Indeed, I was to have been his guest at a dinner there six days before he died.

Schonzeler, who was an only child, was born in Leipzig to parents neither of whom was a professional musician. He took up the violin at the age of five and this instrument always had a prime place in his affections. Sent to Brussels by his father - who was not Jewish, but who strongly opposed the Nazi regime - so as to avoid contact with Hitler Youth, he returned to Germany in 1938. A year later, first his father, then he and his mother, emigrated to Australia where, on the outbreak of the Second World War, his father was interned.

Schonzeler went to Sydney Boys High School, but after two years - and quite irrationally - he and his mother were also interned. During the four years of his incarceration he continued to study the violin, music theory and, with a former director of the Vienna Boys Choir, conducting.

Released in 1946, he became a naturalised Australian - and hence a British subject - the following year. At the New South Wales State Conservatorium he studied with Eugene Goossens, a musician for whom he retained the warmest admiration, and began to direct student orchestras and choirs. But it was clear that he needed to be in Europe and so, with the help of Rafael Kubelik, he settled in London in 1950, securing a job with Eulenburg Edition, of which he later became a director. From 1957 to 1962 he led the 20th Century Ensemble.

Adrian Boult and Wilhelm Furtwangler - the 10th anniversary of whose death was marked by a concert which Schonzeler conducted at the Royal Albert Hall in 1964 - encouraged him and he was a successful participant in a number of important Conductor's Courses, among them the Paris Conservatoire and the Accademia Chigiana.

Schonzeler worked as a freelance all over the world and guested with a majority of the British orchestras. His repertoire was catholic (he premiered new works in Britain, Germany and Australia) but his special strengths lay in the German romantics, notably Bruckner. For the BBC he gave the world premiere of the first version of the Eighth Symphony (in 1973) and for the Adelaide Festival the world premiere of the authentic first version of the Third Symphony (in 1978). He had already in 1970 published an authoritative book on the composer and he was later honoured by the Bruckner Society of America and the International Bruckner Society, Vienna.

Another of Schonzeler's specialities was the music of Dvorak; he visited Prague both for research and for recordings of Janacek and Martinu. In 1974 he appeared at the Prague Spring Festival and, in 1975, was made an honorary member of the Antonin Dvorak Society.

Illness curtailed Schonzeler's career but he remained passionately interested in music and musicians; he was not above some cheerful gossip and a visit to his Chelsea home was always stimulating, occasionally bibulous. He was pugnaciously argumentative, but his sometimes outrageous dislikes were generally tempered with a beady humour. He idolised Furtwangler and it was hard work to persuade him to change his mind about one's own heroes. I failed lamentably where the admirable Gunter Wand was concerned. But we were generally of one mind about the charlatans and show-offs.

Schonzeler was hospitable and generous, as was his devoted wife, Wilhelmina ("Helmi"). For some years he had supported the Musicians Benevolent Fund in various ways, donating - for auction - his own violin and the complete Urtext of Hugo Wolf. He was a man of impressive musical and personal integrity. German by birth, he became an estimable Englishman; his last recording was of music by Edmund Rubbra.

Hans-Hubert Schonzeler, conductor and musicologist: born Leipzig 22 June 1925; married; died London 30 April 1997.