Thielemann studied viola and piano at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and took private lessons in composition and conducting before becoming répétiteur aged 19 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with Heinrich Hollreiser and working as Herbert von Karajan's assistant. He worked at a number of smaller German theatres including the Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen, in Karlsruhe, Hanover, at Düsseldorf's Deutsche Oper am Rhein as First Kapellmeister and in Nürnberg as Generalmusikdirektor before returning to the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1991 to conduct Wagner's Lohengrin. During this time he also assisted Daniel Barenboim at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
His 1991/92 season debut in the United States, conducting a new production of Strauss' Elektra in San Francisco was soon followed by engagements at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1997, he became Generalmusikdirektor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. A report in 2000 stated that Thielemann was to leave the Deutsche Oper in 2001 over artistic conflicts with the then-incoming artistic director Udo Zimmermann. Thielemann remained with the company until 2004, when he resigned over conflicts regarding Berlin city funding between the Deutsche Oper and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.
Thielemann became principal conductor and music director of the Munich Philharmonic in September 2004. He stepped down from his Munich post in 2011, after disputes with orchestra management over final approval of selection of guest conductors and programs for the orchestra. In October 2009, the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden announced the appointment of Thielemann as its next chief conductor, effective with the 2012/13 season. His current contract with Dresden is through 2019.
Thielemann is a regular conductor at the Bayreuth Festival, following his début in 2000 with Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and at the Salzburg Festival. With the decision in September 2008 of the Richard Wagner Festival Foundation to appoint Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier to succeed Wolfgang Wagner as directors of the Bayreuth Festival, Thielemann was named Musical Advisor. In June 2015, the Bayreuth Festival formally announced the appointment of Thielemann as its music director.
Controversy has attended to Thielemann after attribution of anti-semitic remarks to him in 2000, regarding Daniel Barenboim, which Thielemann subsequently denied. Other controversy has related to Thielemann's publication of opinions in sympathy to the Pegida movement.
In 2003, Thielemann was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz). In October 2011, he received honorary membership of the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2015, Thielemann won the Richard Wagner Award (Richard-Wagner-Preis) of Leipzig. He served as the Humanitas Visiting Professor in Opera Studies at Oxford University in January 2016.
For Sony Music
For Opus Arte
- Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen with Michelle Breedt, Albert Dohmen, Stephen Gould, Hans-Peter König, Linda Watson and Eva-Maria Westbroek, Bayreuth Festival orchestra, recorded live during the 2008 Festival, November 2009
- Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Wagner, Pelleas und Melisande and Siegfried Idyll, Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, November 2009
- Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier DVD with Renée Fleming, Sophie Koch, Diana Damrau, Franz Hawlata and Jonas Kaufmann, Munich Philharmonic, October 2009
- Der kleine Hörsaal, Dirigieren mit Christian Thielemann, July 2007
- Ludwig van Beethoven, Overture "Egmont" and Johannes Brahms, Symphony No.1, Munich Philharmonic, April 2007
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Requiem, Munich Philharmonic and Choir of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, November 2006
- Richard Wagner, Parsifal, Choir and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, April 2006
- Anton Bruckner, Symphony No.5, Munich Philharmonic, March 2005
- Heinrich Marschner, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Otto Nicolai, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Overtures, Vienna Philharmonic, October 2004
- Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, May 2004
- Richard Strauss, Ein Heldenleben and Symphonic Fantasy of Die Frau ohne Schatten, Vienna Philharmonic, August 2003
- Albert Lortzing, Richard Strauss, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Deutsche Opernarien with Thomas Quasthoff and the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, April 2002
- Robert Schumann, Symphonies No.1 and No.4, Philharmonia Orchestra, 2001
- Richard Strauss, Arabella with Kiri Te Kanawa and the Orchestra and Choir of the Metropolitan Opera, March 2001
- Richard Strauss, Eine Alpensinfonie and Suite of Der Rosenkavalier, Vienna Philharmonic, March 2001
- Arnold Schoenberg, Pelleas und Melisande and Richard Wagner, Siegfried Idyll, June 1999
- Carl Orff, Carmina Burana, Choir and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, May 1999
- Robert Schumann, Symphony No.3 "Rheinische", Overture "Genoveva", Op. 81, Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52, Philharmonia Orchestra, 1999
- Richard Wagner, Orchestra Music (Lohengrin, Parsifal, Tristan und Isolde), Philadelphia Orchestra, February 1998
- Robert Schumann, Symphony No.2, Overture Manfred, Concert for 4 Horns, Op. 86, Philharmonia Orchestra, September 1997
- Ludwig van Beethoven, Funeral Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II, Robert Schumann, Konzertstück, Op. 86, for 4 Horns and Orchestra, Hans Pfitzner, Palestrina (Preludes to acts 1 and 2), 1997
- Hans Pfitzner, Music from Palestrina; Das Käthchen von Heilbronn; Richard Strauss, Guntram (prelude), Capriccio (prelude), Feuersnot (love scene), Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1996
For EMI Classics
- Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, Arias by René Kollo, Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1992
For Unitel Classica
- Richard Strauss, Arabella. Live recording of Salzburg Easter Festival 2014. DVD and Blue Ray with Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, Daniel Behle. Stage director: Florentine Klepper, Sächsischer Staatsopernchor and Staatskapelle Dresden. Unitel Classica, September 2014.
TV and film productions
Productions about Thielemann
- Christian Thielemann, documentary film, Germany, 2012, directed by Mathias Siebert, produced by Bremedia Produktion, Radio Bremen, MDR, in the serial Deutschland, deine Künstler. Information by ARD, Online-Video
- Christian Thielemann – Romantischer Querkopf, documentary film by Felix Schmidt, 2007, produced by FTS Media and Unitel, coproduced by Classica
- Through the Night with Christoph Schlingensief and Christian Thielemann (Durch die Nacht mit ...), documentary film, Germany, 2002, directed by: Edda Baumann-von Broen and Daniel Finkernagel, produced by: avanti media, ZDF and arte. Information by avanti media
Productions with Thielemann
- Frederick the Great Remix (Der Große Friedrich Remix - Musik um den Preußenkönig), directed by Friederike Schlumbom, Oktober 18, 2012, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg
- Discovering Beethoven (Beethoven entdecken), dokumentary TV serial, Germany, Austria, 2011, directed by Christoph Engel and Anca-Monica Pandelea, produced by: Unitel Classica, ORF, ZDF, 3sat
Joachim Kaiser and Christian Thielemann talk about the nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven. Information and video by sky arts
Concert records on TV
- The Vienna Philharmonic in Beijing (Die Wiener Philharmoniker in Beijing). National Centre for the Performing Arts of Beijing, recording of 3 November 2013, 3sat
- Wagner Birthday Concert: Thielemann conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden (Wagner-Geburtstagskonzert: Thielemann dirigiert die Sächsische Staatskapelle), recording of Mai 21, 2013, directed by: Michael Beyer, ZDF
- Thielemann conducts Strauß (Thielemann dirigiert Strauß), Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic, Salzburg Festival 2011, Great Festival Hall, Salzburg, directed by Michael Beyer, 3sat
- Summer Night Music with Christian Thielemann (Sommernachtsmusik mit Christian Thielemann), Christian Thielemann conducts the Munich Philharmonic, Herrenchiemsee Palace, 31 August 2010, directed by Henning Kasten, ZDF and Arte
- 2003: Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverdienstkreuz)
- 2011: Honorary doctorate from Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar
- 2011: Inclusion in the Royal Academy of Music, London
- 2012: Honorary doctorate from der Old University of Leuven, Belgium
- 2015: Richard Wagner Award (Richard-Wagner-Preis)
- Christian Thielemann. Ein Portrait – Warnecke, Kläre (2003), Henschel, Berlin. ISBN 3-89487-465-1
- Mein Leben mit Wagner – Thielemann, Christian (2012), Beck, Munich. ISBN 978-3-406-63446-8
- Friedrichstein. Das Schloss der Grafen von Dönhoff in Ostpreußen – Heck, Kilian and Thielemann, Christian (2006), Deutscher Kunstverlag, Munich/ Berlin. ISBN 3-422-06593-8
- "Obituary for Heinrich Hollreiser". The Times. 28 August 2006. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
- Warnecke (2003)
- Denis Staunton (29 October 2000). "Berlin's maestros out of tune in race rown". The Observer. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
- Kate Connolly (18 May 2004). "Berlin opera chief quits in cash row". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
- ""Intrigantenstadel" – Philharmoniker ausgebuht". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 16 October 2009. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
- "Christian Thielemann Chefdirigent ab 2012" (Press release). Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. 9 October 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
- "Bei der Staatskapelle Dresden beginnt die Thielemann-Ära". Die Zeit. 27 August 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
- Moss, Stephen (20 July 2006). "'The only star here is dead'". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
- "Looking back and looking forward". Bayreuther Festspiele. 28 August 2010. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
- "Christian Thielemann wird Musikdirektor in Bayreuth". Der Tagesspiegel. 29 June 2015. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
- "A comment from Bayreuth on Barenboim's surprise" by Dalia Shehori, Haaretz (15 August 2001)
- Stephen Moss (3 January 2001). "'What has C sharp minor got to do with fascism?'". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
- Christian Thielemann (24 January 2015). "Ohren auf!". Sächsische Zeitung. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
- Senatskanzlei (25 September 2003). "Wowereit überreicht Generalmusikdirektor Thielemann Bundesverdienstkreuz". Press release by the State of Berlin. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
- Richard Wagner Award for conductor Thielemann, News Directory, March 4, 2015.
- Arte, August 2010.
- Christian Thielemann by KlassikAkzente
- Christian Thielemann Biography in cosmopolis.ch
- Interview with Christian Thielemann by Bruce Duffie, 12 March 1993
- Tom Service, "Christian Thielemann – the power and the politics". The Guardian, "Tom Service on Classical" blog, 15 October 2009
- James Jolly, "Christian Thielemann citation". Royal Academy of Music, 14 October 2011
- Oxford University, "A Conductor's Point of View", 21 January 2016 programme