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Paul Sacher

Paul Sacher

Swiss conductor
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Swiss conductor
Countries Switzerland
Occupations Conductor Composer Music educator
Gender male
Birth 28 April 1906 (Basel, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland)
Death 26 May 1999 (Basel, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland)
Star sign Taurus
Spouse: Maja Sacher
The details

Paul Sacher (28 April 1906 – 26 May 1999) was a Swiss conductor, patron and impresario. He founded and conducted the Basler Kammerorchester (1926–1987). He commissioned notable works of composers of the 20th century and premiered them with the chamber orchestra.


Sacher studied under Felix Weingartner, among others. In 1926 he founded the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester, which specialized in both modern (twentieth-century) and pre-classical (mid-eighteenth-century) repertory. In 1928 he founded the Basel Chamber Choir. Both the orchestra and choir gave their last performance in 1987. In 1984, the Serenata Basel was formed, with no direct connection to Sacher. They later adopted the name Kammerorchester Basel.


Immensely wealthy, Sacher commissioned works from many well-known composers, including:

  • Igor Stravinsky (who provided him with the Concerto in D)
  • Béla Bartók (Divertimento for Strings, the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, the String Quartet No. 6 and the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta)
  • Bohuslav Martinů (many works including the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani, Concerto da camera, etc.)
  • Arthur Honegger (many works, including his Second and Fourth Symphony (Deliciae Basilienses)
  • Frank Martin (six works, including the Petite Symphonie Concertante)
  • Paul Hindemith
  • Hans Werner Henze
  • Richard Strauss
  • Elliott Carter
  • Witold Lutosławski (Sacher-Variationen, Double Concerto, Chain II)
  • Henri Dutilleux (Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher and Mystère de l'instant)
  • Harrison Birtwistle

Pierre Boulez wrote his Grawemeyer Award-winning work Sur Incises for Sacher's 90th birthday. Boulez bequeathed his entire catalogue (including drafts) to the Paul Sacher Foundation. Henze dedicated his Tenth Symphony to Sacher's memory, who had commissioned it but died before its completion.

In 1983, Sacher acquired the Stravinsky estate. The Paul Sacher Stiftung (Foundation) is located in the center of Basel (in Münsterplatz) and houses one of the world's most important musical-manuscript collections. Sacher bought most of these manuscripts himself, and they include complete collections by several important twentieth-century composers (including Lutosławski, Ligeti and Boulez). In 1997, he received an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Music in Kraków.

He was considered the world's third-richest man of the 1990s after marrying the heiress of the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche. At the time of his death, he was reputed in various publications to be the richest man in Europe. He died in 1999, aged 93.

Perhaps his finest recorded performance was preserved on mid-1950s late mono Columbia LP, Johann Christian Bach's Symphony in D major, Op. 18, No. 4, distinguished by its overall serenity, stylishness and smooth flow but also by his taking BOTH repeats (including the second long one, apparently never since taken in later recordings) of the rondo finale quintessentially representative of Johann Christian's serene melding of pre-classical galant (in the opening and closing rondo theme) and sensitive styles (in the canonic middle episode in D minor).


On the occasion of Sacher's 70th birthday, twelve composer-friends of his (Conrad Beck, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Wolfgang Fortner, Alberto Ginastera, Cristóbal Halffter, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Klaus Huber and Witold Lutosławski) were asked by Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to write compositions for cello solo using his name spelled out in musical notes (musical cryptogram) as the theme (eS, A, C, H, E, Re). Many of them were performed in a Zurich concert on 2 May 1976. The whole "eSACHERe" project was performed in its entirety for the first time by Czech cellist František Brikcius on 9 May 2011 in Prague.

Composer Composition
Conrad Beck Für Paul Sacher : Drei Epigramme für Violoncello solo
Luciano Berio Les Mots sont allés
Pierre Boulez Messagesquisse, pour 7 violoncelles
Benjamin Britten Tema "Sacher"
Henri Dutilleux Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher
Wolfgang Fortner Zum Spielen für den 70. Geburtstag : Thema und Variationen für Violoncello Solo
Alberto Ginastera Puneña n° 2, op. 45
Cristóbal Halffter Variationen über das Thema eSACHERe
Hans Werner Henze Capriccio per Paul Sacher
Heinz Holliger Chaconne, für Violoncello Solo
Klaus Huber Transpositio ad infinitum
Witold Lutosławski Sacher-Variationen
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