Barth was born in Saxony and from 1863 to 1867 studied with the renowned violinistJoseph Joachim. Barth used his left hand for bowing and his right hand for fingering and so played the violin "in reverse." Nonetheless, he was successful as a violinist and served as concertmaster of orchestras in Munster,Krefeld and Marburg and headed a string quartet. He was also a successful music teacher. He was music director of the university in Marburg before he moved to Hamburg where he became conductor of the Philharmonie and the Singakademie and directed the Conservatory beginning in 1908.