The son of a Viennese large-scale industrialist, he studied art history and philosophy at the University of Vienna. From 1920, he studied with Arnold Schönberg and then with Anton Webern in music theory and conducting. After working as a pianist, he worked as a Kapellmeister at the Vienna Volksoper and then at the Stuttgart Opera House. Subsequently, he was the first Kapellmeister and opera conductor conductor at the Reußisches Theater in Gera, before he became a Kapellmeister to the Hamburg State Opera in 1934 and to the Staatsoper in Berlin in 1935. Swarowsky worked at the Zurich Opera House from 1937 to 1940, after reportedly being forced out of his position in Berlin - however, he returned to Germany after this period. At the invitation of Richard Strauss and Clemens Krauss, Swarowsky collaborated on the libretto of the opera Capriccio, and also worked at reanslating numerous older operatic texts into German.
From 1940 to 1944 he also acted as a dramaturge at the Salzburg Festival. From 1944 until his last concert on 9 January 1945, he worked in occupied Poland, as chief conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the General Government in Krakow. The premiere of Pfitzner's composition "Krakauer Begrüßung" was dedicated to Hans Frank, later hanged by the Allies as a war criminal.
After the end of the Second World War, Swarowsky, who was at that time in Stuttgart, stood briefly on the "gray list" of the US military government. From 1946 to 1947, he was chief conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker, from 1947 to 1950 director of the Graz Opera. Subsequently, he devoted himself above all to his teaching activities. Many of the most famous conductors of the last decades are from his school, such as Claudio Abbado, Paul Angerer, Rudolf Bibl, Miltiades Caridis, Gabriel Chmura, Jesús López Cobos, Yoram David, Jacques Delacote, Adam and Iván Fischer, James Allen Gähres, Theodor Guschlbauer, Erwin Ortner, Christoph Haas, Raimund Hug, Manfred Huss, Mariss Jansons, Augustin Kubizek, Miguel Gómez Martínez, Zubin Mehta, Roberto Paternostro, Heinrich Schiff, Peter Schneider, Karl Sollak, Mario Venzago, Bruno Weil and Hans Zanotelli. Thanks to his lectures and essays, he remains an authority on questions of interpretation and performance practice. Via the Forschungsprojekt Hans Swarowsky at Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien (link below), his works continue to be researched.
From 1946 to 1975, he taught conducting at the Viennese Music Academy (lecturer from 1947, professor from 1961), a very successful and influential class internationally. From 1957 to 1959, he was chief director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Edinburgh (as successor of Karl Rankl). From 1959, he was the permanent conductor at the Vienna State Opera. He travelled extensively, and made many recordings for radio and commercial release.
N.B. One of his students, Alfred Scholz, issued numerous sound recordings with the so-called Süddeutsche Philharmonie ("South German Philharmonic"), using the names of various conductors, including Hans Swarowsky. It is likely that hardly any of these recordings were actually conducted by Swarowsky. For these releases, Hans Swarowsky (2) should be credited.