The son of Count de la Fontaine-d'Harcourt-Unverzagt of Luxembourg-Lorraine and a granddaughter of Archduke Johann, Nikolaus Harnoncourt was born on 6 December 1929 in Berlin and grew up in Graz.
Following his training as a cellist he joined the Wiener Symphoniker with whom he played from 1952 to 1969.
One year later, in 1953, he founded the ensemble "Concentus Musicus Wien" together with his wife, the violinist Alice Harnoncourt. The purpose of this specialist ensemble was, and remains, to revive and promote early music, from Medieval compositions to Renaissance and Baroque works, played, wherever possible, on period instruments and in the authentic style of the time. Harnoncourt collects historical instruments and alongside his work as a musician he has written papers on the philosophy of music which are regarded today as definitive works on the art of performing historical works, rarely played pieces and forgotten "sound experiences". In 1972 he began teaching as a professor at the Salzburg Mozarteum whilst at the same time his reputation as a respected conductor both of the symphony repertoire and the musical theatre continued to grow.
In 1985 the "styriarte" was founded in Graz. Nikolaus Harnoncourt was installed as its key figure in order to re-establish closer ties between him and Graz, his childhood home, to honour him and at the same time to set his musical insight as the benchmark for the city's music festival.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt - cellist, director, specialist in early music, is without doubt one of the "greats" in the contemporary world of music.