Franz Leopold Maria Möst was born in Linz, Austria, and later studied under the composer Balduin Sulzer. As a youth in Linz, he studied the violin and had developed an interest in conducting. After suffering injuries in a car crash that led to nerve damage, he stopped his violin studies and shifted full-time to conducting studies.
In 1985, Möst assumed the stage name Welser-Möst on suggestion of his mentor, Baron Andreas von Bennigsen of Liechtenstein, thus paying homage to the city of Wels where he grew up. In 1986, he was adopted by von Bennigsen. In 1992, Welser-Möst married von Bennigsen's former wife, Angelika. His first major debuts were at the Salzburg Festival in 1985, followed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1986 and the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur in 1988.
Between 1986 and 1991 Welser-Möst served as the principal conductor of Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Sweden, and in 1990 he became principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). His LPO tenure was controversial, with London critics giving him the nickname "Frankly Worse than Most". He concluded his LPO tenure in 1996.
From 1995 to 2000, he was music director with the Zürich Opera House. He became general music director of the Zurich Opera in September 2005, with an original commitment to the Opera through 2011. However, he stood down from the Zurich post in July 2008, after having agreed to serve in the same capacity at Vienna's Staatsoper.
In the USA, Welser-Möst made his American conducting debut with the St. Louis Symphony in 1989. He first guest-conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in February 1993. Welser-Möst became music director of the Cleveland Orchestra with the 2002/2003 season, for an initial contract of five years. At the end of his first season, his contract was extended for another five years. In June 2008, the orchestra announced a further extension of his contract with the Cleveland Orchestra through the 2017/2018 season. In October 2014, the orchestra announced an additional extension of his Cleveland Orchestra contract through the 2021-2022 season.
Welser-Möst first conducted at the Vienna State Opera in 1987, as a substitute for Claudio Abbado in a production of Gioachino Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri. On June 6, 2007, the Austrian government announced the appointment of Welser-Möst as Generalmusikdirektor of the Vienna State Opera, effective September 2010, alongside Dominique Meyer as director (Staatsoperndirektor). In September 2014, he announced his resignation from the Vienna State Opera, effective immediately.
During his tenure with the LPO, Welser-Möst had established an exclusive recording contract with EMI. His 1996 recording of Franz Schmidt's Symphony No. 4 received the Gramophone Award for Best Orchestral Conducting. The CDs of Anton Bruckner's Mass No. 3 and Te Deum and works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold both received Grammy Award nominations for "Best Classical Album." EMI struck a similar deal with Welser-Möst to record performances at the Zurich Opera and has released a number of DVD's of his Zurich opera productions. In 2008 EMI reissued many of Welser-Möst's earlier recordings in an eight CD set. In October 2007, Deutsche Grammophon released the first commercial recording featuring Welser-Möst with The Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 including German bass René Pape among the soloists. This recording was soon followed by a disc of Richard Wagner Lieder performed by the orchestra and soloist Measha Brueggergosman. Several DVDs have been issued as well, including Bruckner's 7th and 8th symphonies, at Severance Hall, and the 5th and 4th at the St. Florian Monastery near Linz where Anton Bruckner is buried.
- Ivan Hewett (18 August 2005). "Why all those insults made me stronger". Telegraph. Retrieved 5 October 2008.
- ""Was glauben Sie?" – Der Dirigent Franz Welser-Möst" (in German). ORF Religion. 25 February 2006. Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- "Der Auslandsösterreicher des Jahres 2001–Franz Welser-Möst" (PDF). RotWeissRot (in German). Auslandsösterreicher-Weltbund. January 2003. Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- Lebrecht, Norman (12 February 2004). "Franz Welser-Möst — The conductor they loved to hate". La Scena Musicale. Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- Lebrecht, Norman (16 August 2000). "He might be smiling now… — Franz Welser-Möst Returns to Conduct the Proms". La Scena Musicale. Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- Naredi-Rainer, Ernst (27 June 2006). "Schwierige Annäherung an Wien". NEUE Vorarlberger Tageszeitung (in German). Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- Nicholas Kenyon (15 March 1992). "A Young Conductor Starts at the Top". New York Times. Retrieved 3 November 2007.
- "Cleveland Hails New Conductor". Sun-Sentinel. 2012-09-16. Retrieved 2014-10-03.
- Donald Rosenberg and Zachary Lewis (6 June 2008). "Cleveland Orchestra extends Welser-Most's contract until 2018, plans staged operas". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 7 June 2008.
- James R. Oestreich (2008-06-07). "Cleveland Orchestra Extends Music Director's Contract". New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2008.
- Zachary Lewis (2014-10-02). "Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most signs four-year contract extension". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 2014-10-03.
- Pelinka, Nikolaus (6 June 2007). "Kulturministerin Claudia Schmied: "Dominique Meyer wird 2010 Direktor der Wiener Staatsoper"" (in German). Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur. Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- Westphal, Matthew (6 June 2007). "Vienna State Opera Appoints Dominique Meyer Its Next Director, with Franz Welser-Möst as Music Director". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 16 July 2007.
- Zachary Lewis (2014-09-05). "Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most resigns from Vienna State Opera". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 2014-10-03.
- Dr. Reiber. "Wiener Singverein" (Microsoft Word) (in German). Wiener Singverein. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
- "New Year's Concert 2011 with Franz Welser-Möst", Vienna Philharmonic, retrieved 1 Jan 2011.
- Tsioulcas, Anastasia (6 March 2007). "Cleveland Orchestra partners with DG". The Gramophone. Archived from the original on 25 March 2007. Retrieved 4 September 2007.
- Rosenberg, Donald (2000). The Cleveland Orchestra Story. Cleveland: Gray & Company. ISBN 1-886228-24-8.