In July 1980 Karl Richter, his Munich Bach-Choir and the Bach-Orchestra went to Ottobeuren for the last time.
I can remember Richter’s last Ottobeuren very well. On Sunday 20th July he conducted his last Mass in B-minor. At the traditional Organ concert the evening before, the Bach-Choir had in addition sung Motetten, including works from J .N. David and Z. Kodaly, which we had rehearsed together. I spent the whole day with him. It was a fantastic experience being able to eavesdrop while he played pieces from Reger and Messian on the two historical organs as well as on the big Marien-Organ.
Friedemann Winklhofer and Leonard Bernstein during the rehearsal for the Karl-Richter-Memorial concert
Prior P. Theodor Lutz
During the last years of his life Richter had repeatedly been preoccupied with presentiments of death. He had often spoken about these fears with a friend he stayed with during the Ottobeuren Concerts. His last concert in July 1980 was predominately made up of Organ music that had death as its theme. It is obvious that these forebodings that then became reality had long been present. I can remember Richter some time before this, having trouble with his eyes. After a successful eye-operation, he was so happy, that he came especially to Ottobeuren, to tell Abbot Vitalis, how grateful he was to be able to see properly again.
Prior P. Theodor during our interview on July 21, 2005 on the Dreifaltigkeits-Organ in Ottobeuren
A few days afterwards on 20th July in the Collegiate Church Karl Richter conducted his last Mass in B-Minor.
Claes H. Ahnsjoe
I don’t know, how many times I had sung the B-Minor Mass. It was the last performance in the summer of 1980. Many happy moments transpired there, the Benedictus or the Duet as well as all the other wonderful Arias that in his hands alone became formed and styled to an incredibly high standard.
Kieth Engen took part in the very last Christmas Oratorio, Part One, as he had done so often over the last 25 years.
Karl Richter’s dressing room was usually downstairs, because he always wanted to be the first to leave after the concert. And as fate would have it, at this last concert in the German Museum, for the first time I had to share this room with him. The very last Concert was the Christmas Oratorio. We hardly spoke a word to one another, after 25 years and he left so quickly that time. I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye.
Kieth Engen during our interview on June 10, 2004
I had the luck to be with him at the last concert of his life. We traveled as a Duo through many German towns. Frankfurt, Munich of course, Nuremberg, and in north Germany as well. The last Concert was in Wilhelmshafen. He was very tired. After the Concert I stayed in his room and ordered a beer. He said to me: "Aurèle, take a look in my suitcase, there is a piece of paper lying in there." And that piece of paper was a copy of Luther’s Testament. And we tried to translate it into French, and I can only remember the last sentence: 'We are all beggars'.
Aurèle Nicolet during our interview on March 3, 2005
Karl Richter died, aged 54, on Septuagesima Sunday. A sunny day but bitterly cold. It happened in Hotel Vierjahreszeiten in Munich. Next door in the 'Englische Garten' Dr. Weymar and his wife were taking a walk, they didn’t know he, was dying up there in his room. I was here, and when I heard, what had happened, I opened my motto book. These mottos and songs were always drawn up 3 years in advance. For 15th of February there was a song from Philipp Spitta: "On the day when he wants to speak, open your heart and be still. So that he with you his work can do, let the work of your hands rest so." For me that was somehow for Karl Richter. There was something eternal about his work and in his mastery and in what he had created with his Bach-Choir and the Bach Renaissance here in Munich; something unique, a magnificent period of time. We must, in spite of everything, get down on our knees and say thanks to the Lord, and to Karl Richter and to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Memorial tablet at the entrance of the Markus-Church in Munich
Karl Richter’s widow, Gladys Richter, a painter, in Erlenbach on Lake Zurich, where she and Richter had later bought a house, requested me, because I was nearby, if I would, as a Lutheran clergyman, conduct the burial service in lieu of the Pastor belonging to the established national church. I was more than happy to be able to render this last service to my master, and I must say audio tutor, because I had never attended any of his courses at the Academy.
I was understandably very nervous, at the idea of carrying out the funeral of this great man, which clergyman wouldn’t be. I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of special gesture I could make to mark the funeral of someone so special. It crossed my mind that I owned a copy of the Peters edition of the Bach-Motetten, which I had sometimes used in the past, when I had sung Motetten with Richter. Some of these Motetten were distinctly Motetten for the dead. I thought to myself, I would sacrifice this book by throwing it into the grave for all to see as a sign, that one of the last great musicians to have understood and interpreted Bach has gone forever.
Grave of Karl Richter's at the cemetery Enzenbuehl, Zuerich
At the funeral service held for Karl Richter in the Markus-Church in Munich, I looked down from above onto his coffin, and felt, that a part of my young life had, together with him, been taken away from me. On my way out of the church I heard one elderly lady say to another: "Richter impressed me so much so, that I started going to church again. Thanks to him and to Bach’s Music I have found my way back to God."
Inscriptions cut on Karl Richter’s Gravestone