Karl Münchinger was born in Stuttgart on 29 May 1915. As a child he showed great musical talent and began his studies at Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart. He then advanced to conductorial studies at the Leipzig Conservatory under Hermann Abendroth and later with Clemens Krauss. His musical career began modestly. It was not easy for an aspiring conductor to progress in the then troubled Germany that was moving inevitably towards war. It seems that his talents were recognised however, because in 1941 he was appointed to the position of principal conductor of the Hanover Symphony Orchestra. This fruitful beginning to his career came to an end late in 1943 – the time of the notorious bombing raids when the greater part of Hanover was destroyed.
There is no further record of Münchinger’s musical activities until 1945 when the occupation authorities allowed him to resume his career. For some time he had nurtured the ambition to create an ensemble which would perform baroque and early classical music and in this he was supported by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Münchinger founded the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra) in the summer of 1945 and he ensured that his instrumentalists received a fixed salary, underpinning this by creating a series of concerts by subscription. The orchestra’s first appearance was on 18 September 1945 in Stuttgart’s Furtbachhaus – the only suitable location to have survived wartime bombing. In the late 1940s, having established itself, the orchestra began making foreign tours, initially to France, then expanding to England, Spain and South America. Concerts were also given in Germany and central Europe.
His name came to the attention of music lovers, through his many recordings dating from the very beginning of the long-playing record era. In 1966 he also formed the 45-strong Stuttgart Klassische Philharmonie which supplemented the existing members of the Chamber Orchestra so that larger works could be performed.
Münchinger directed the players in his home town of Stuttgart for over forty years before finally retiring in 1988. He was one of the first to strip away the influence of romantic performance style popular earlier in the twentieth century and was praised in the press for his refreshing approach. Readings of Baroque music were thought immensely stylish with attention paid to ornamentation, use of continuo and clarity of wind parts; these details were often submerged in other performances because it was the fashion to use a large body of strings in early music. No less astute were his readings of 18th and 19th century repertoire.