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The man who cleaned up Salzburg…. and was wiped from its slate

We are saddened by the death of Hans Landesmann, a man who did more than most to rid classical music of corruption. He was 81.

Vienna born, Hans was hidden in Hungary during the Holocaust. After the War, he grew the family agri-business in Austria and lived a parallel life as a music organiser. In the late 1970s, he took charge of the Vienna Concerts Society, then of the Konzerthaus. He planned Claudio Abbado’s 1984 Mahler and the 20th century cycle and, with him, founded the Gustav  Mahler Youth Orchestra.

In January 1989 Hans was appointed to the board of directors of the Salzburg Festival. When Herbert von Karajan died six months later, he stepped up as its commercial director – a white knight who aimed to rid the festival of decades of insider deals, nepotism and somambulism.



It was through Hans’s efforts and recommendation that the Beglian radical Gerard Mortier was appointed artistic director. Together, they rejuvenated the Salzburg programming and engaged with the modern era. Hans took charge of the concerts side. He also restored the festival’s finances with major consumer corporate sponsorship, reducing the role of the music business in Salzburg’s programming. In a time of great turbulence, he was unfailingly polite.

But the ruling pair soon fell out. Hans accused Gerard of double-dealing and, in 2001, left Salzburg embittered. He remained engaged with music, but never in a high profile. When I ran into him in recent years, he wore an air of defeat. In Salzburg, his name is hardly mentioned.

Hans was a decent man, a Mensch, and his legacy is a cleaner music world. We shall miss him.


landesmann brendel

with Alfred Brendel

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  1. A very nice man, who was so kind to me when I lived and studied conducting in Vienna during the mid 80′s, a hero really!

  2. It’s always the quieter souls, the ones that put in the real slog, that get forgotten.

  3. Hans Landesmann was indeed a significant force in music in Europe and an unfailingly courteous man. It would be a better service and tribute to have left out the dubious comments and insinuations like ‘decades of insider deals, nepotism and somnolence’.

  4. Humphrey Burton says:

    I worked with Hans at the Barbican for several years at the end of the 1980s. HIs Schumann Mendelssohn season with Abbado and the LSO was typical of his thoughtfulness and gentle authority

  5. Nicholas Kenyon says:

    Hans was a really important force in our musical life. As a long-time friend and associate of Claudio Abbado, he worked closely with him on a range of his programming, especially in this country the LSO’s Mahler, Vienna and the 20th century series at the Barbican –a forerunner of many such thematic seasons, brilliantly planned by Hans and conducted by Abbado. And the Mortier/Landesman period at Salzburg now looks like a golden age of adventure and committment to contemporary composers. Such a gentleman: quiet, elegant, but passionate about music.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I remember going to some of the Mahler, Vienna and the 20th century concerts at the Barbican when I was visiting London in – was it 1985? That was such a long time ago…

  6. Like Humphrey I worked with Hans at the Barbican and he was a man of exemplary good taste and personal charm, who was always a pleasure to collaborate with.

  7. Harold Clarkson says:

    Hans Landesmann was one of the most principled, decent and knowledgeable people I ever worked with. His knowledge of contemporaray music was extraordinary and his taste and creativity in programming exemplary. He was an early riser, and we often had meetings at the Salzburg Festival at 0730 am, when he fascinated me with his fresh ideas and energy despite having been to conerts and events the night beofre. It should be noted that he also personally helped many artists develop their careers. After his departure from the festival he was instrumental in creating a ccontemporaray music festival in Salzburg. I last met him 3 years ago, and he was still most interested to hear from me what I could tell him about the current music business. Our musical world has lost one of the best.

  8. May I also endorse Harold Clarkson’s comments? Hans Landesmann’s role as concerts director at Salzburg from 1992 through 2001 was extraordinary, including his launch there of the “Zeitfluss” festival within a festival directed by the then very young Markus Hinterhäuser and Tomas Zierhofer-Kin. A memoir/interview book was published in 2011 by Zsolnay Verlag, to date, I believe, in German only. An extremely special man who was loved and respected and will be missed by many.

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