Peter Gülke was born in Weimar in 1934, where he now lives again. He studied the cello, musicology, German and Romance languages and literature, and philosophy at the Liszt School of Music in Weimar at the universities of Jena and Leipzig. He completed his doctorate in philosophy in Leipzig in 1958, followed in 1985 by his professorial thesis at the Technical University of Berlin. He started to give concerts of mediaeval and renaissance music while he was a student.
Peter Gülke has written musicological works about the music of these periods as well as about the theory of musical interpretation and performance, about Bach, the aesthetics of the Enlightenment in France, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Debussy, Janácek, Schönberg, Berg, Lutoslavsky, Petterson and numerous other topics and composers. His more recent publications include books about Mozart’s late symphonies (1998), Beethoven (2000), a collection of essays (Die Sprache der Musik. Von Bach bis Holliger (The Language of Music. From Bach to Holliger), 2001) a book about 15th century music (2003), Auftakte – Nachspiele. Studien zur musikalischen Interpretation (Preludes – Closing Sections. Studies concerning Musical Interpretation), 2006) and Robert Schumann. Glanz und Elend der Romantik (Robert Schumann. The Splendour and Misery of Romanticism), 2010); the third edition of his book on Schubert has just been published.
From 1959 onwards, Gülke also worked as a conductor at various theatres. He was principal conductor in Stendal, Potsdam and Stralsund, among other cities; in 1976 he became conductor at the Dresden State Opera, at the same time teaching conducting and running the symphony orchestra at the College of Music there. In 1981 he was appointed Principal Conductor in Weimar. In 1983 Gülke left the German Democratic Republic, as it then was. From 1986 to 1996 he was Principal Conductor in the City of Wuppertal and subsequently ran the course for conducting at the Freiburg Conservatory of Music. Since 1992 he has been active in the Conducting Forum of the German Music Council, from 1996 to 2007 he was the Chairman of the Principal Commission and gave courses in conducting in Germany, Austria, Finland, France, England and the USA.
Gülke has been guest conductor for opera performances in Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Paris, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Munich, Rome, Genoa, Kassel (“The Ring”), Graz (“The Ring”), and Frankfurt among other cities and has conducted concerts in practically all parts of Europe as well as in Japan and the USA – amongst others with the German Symphony Orchestra Berlin, the Sächsische Staatskapelle (Saxon State Orchestra) Dresden, the Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg, with almost all Radio Symphony Orchestras in Germany, the Residence Orchestra in The Hague, the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, the NHK Orchestra Tokyo, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (regularly as part of the series Musik zum Kennenlernen (Music to Discover)) and the ensemble recherche Freiburg.
His recordings on LP and CD include Schubert’s Symphonic Fragments, which Gülke has also made available as the editor of a critical edition, works by Schönberg, Berg and Webern (with the Chamber Orchestra of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (Young German Philharmonia)), as well as works by Beethoven, Britten, Baird, Benda, Carl Eberwein, Glasunow, Haydn, Kirchner, Leyendecker, Ravel, Schumann, Tcherepnin, Schreker, Zemlinsky and composers from Goethe’s circle in Weimar. He has conducted numerous world premières and has brought several forgotten works to the attention of the public, including Zemlinsky’s symphonic poem Die Seejungfrau (The Little Mermaid).
Gülke has been a member of the Saxon Academy of Arts since 1995 and its President since 2011. In addition he has been a member of the German Academy for Language and Literature since 1997 and of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts since 2005. In 1995 he received the Edison Gramophone Prize for his complete recording of Schreker’s Irrelohe and the Sigmund Freud Prize of the German Academy for Language and Literature; in 1996 he was awarded the Van der Heydt Prize of the City of Wuppertal, and in 1998 the Karl Vosseler Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. In 2003 the Liszt School of Music in Dresden appointed him an honorary senator, and in 2003 they conferred an honorary doctorate on him. In addition, he has also been granted honorary doctorates by the University of Berne in 2004 and by the Carl Maria von Weber School of Music in Dresden in 2007.