Austrian violinist and sometime conductor Wolfgang Schneiderhan (born 1915) is a highly versatile artist, just as much at home in the music of Hans Werner Henze as he is in Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert, even if he is best known for his playing of the last-named group of composers. Never a major European star, he was nevertheless active in every aspect of Austria's music scene and was widely admired for the depth of his interpretive abilities. He was married for 40 years to the legendary German soprano Irmgard Seefried.
Born in Vienna, Schneiderhan was taught violin by his mother from age 3 and gave his first concert at 5. In 1926 in Copenhagen he played Mendelssohn's violin concerto, and he subsequently toured Europe, hailed as a prodigy. But the fast-money life of a touring virtuoso demoralized the young violinist, and he turned his career in a new direction: with the help of a recommendation from an aristocratic patroness, he became, at 17, concertmaster of the new Vienna Symphony. Four years later he moved on to the same post with the Vienna Philharmonic, where he served under the great conductors Wilhelm Furtwängler and Hans Knappertsbusch. That year he also formed the Schneiderhan Quartett. In the 1940s he performed duo sonatas with Wilhelm Backhaus and other top-rank soloists, and he formed a trio with pianist Edwin Fischer and cellist Enrico Mainardi in 1948. He married Seefried that year and often performed with her as well.
Schneiderhan's solo career took off once again when he resigned his Philharmonic concertmaster post in 1949, at age 34. For many years he ruled the roost among Deutsche Grammophon's stable of violin soloists, At first he was identified with the core Viennese Classical repertoire, but he later became interested in contemporary music and explored the works of Henze, Stravinsky, and other composers. He co-founded the Lucerne Festival Strings in 1956 and also taught at the Lucerne Music Academy. In the 1970s Schneiderhan undertook yet another new career: after studying with Hans Swarowsky, he became active as a conductor. In 1975 he led a performance of Franz Schmidt's Notre Dame at the Vienna Volksoper. Much in demand as a teacher in his later years, Schneiderhan continued to live in Vienna.