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Thread: Furtwangler.....what made him so great?

  1. #16
    Senior Member moody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mephistopheles View Post
    I didn't say Furtwangler wasn't great, I was making a general statement about how we perceive artists of the past. Don't get your knickers in a twist. Jeez.
    The thread is actually about Furtwaengler and you just said that you suspect he's been dead long enough to become a myth. Also his achievements have become inflated out of all proportion.
    That's not what I call informed opinion ,particularly as you don't apparently know his recordings. What made you jump into things head first without at least knowing something of the man?
    Fools talk because they have to say something, wise men talk because they have something to say.

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    Senior Member Mephistopheles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moody View Post
    The thread is actually about Furtwaengler and you just said that you suspect he's been dead long enough to become a myth. Also his achievements have become inflated out of all proportion.
    That's not what I call informed opinion ,particularly as you don't apparently know his recordings. What made you jump into things head first without at least knowing something of the man?
    Your knickers are still in a twist - you might wish to try reading my comments once again after you've straightened them out. If, upon doing so, you find that they get all in a bunch again, then I think our exchange can come to an end.

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    Senior Member Vaneyes's Avatar
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    His presence, loudness, strong attacks, quick tempi. Toscanini, much the same. Strength separated from the norm, which was more inclined to follow the score, and accentuate detail.
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  4. #19
    Senior Member moody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mephistopheles View Post
    Your knickers are still in a twist - you might wish to try reading my comments once again after you've straightened them out. If, upon doing so, you find that they get all in a bunch again, then I think our exchange can come to an end.
    I suggest you try to be polite at least before you get into trouble with the powers that be.
    But in any case I appear to be having an argument with some one about a subject that he's already told everyone he knows nothing about!
    I find that somewhat surreal but of course I can go down to a local bar and find plenty of people like that to talk to.
    I would say that the last part of your post was the best part so as far as I'm concerned this has come to an end.
    Last edited by moody; Sep-19-2012 at 22:38.
    Fools talk because they have to say something, wise men talk because they have something to say.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    That 9th is powerful and poignant to be sure, but I think the interpretation had more to do with what was going on in the audience than it did what was going on in the music. Historically, it's important, but it isn't a definitive 9th.

    Historically, i think Bernstein's upon the reunification of Germany is the most important. You can't get anything better than that. More than fusion of music and words, music and words were united with people. Perhaps this moment was Schiller's dream. And the replacement of the word "Freude" with "Freiheit" had also a significant contribution to it.


    I don't know all 9th's. For a long time HvK's last recording was cannon law (Some HvK's recordings are, to me, cannon laws as his Verdi's Requiem and Puccini's Turandot). Normally when i hear other conductors i tend to compare with what i've heard. When i heard Furtwangler's for the first time i was blown away. His interpretation (as Toscanini's) are totally different from today's (and probably were also different from past conductors). The first movement gave to me the "real" beethovian strength. After that performance even i would go out rapidly to war for Germany. It's slower but far away from dull. It has a spinal tap harder than any other.

    However there are other composers wich Furtwangler isn't my greatest influence. Wagner for example, from what i have heard from the ring (although i've not yet heard it all, and there my judgment is falible), Furtwangler isn't for me.

    Nevertheless Toscanini and Furtwangler were huge giants. I respect each one and i respect (above all) their views/thoughts about music according to their time in History.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    That 9th is powerful and poignant to be sure, but I think the interpretation had more to do with what was going on in the audience than it did what was going on in the music. Historically, it's important, but it isn't a definitive 9th.
    In every sense, Furtwangler's Choral of Beethoven is definitive. It is pure passion unleashed in its primate form!
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    Quote Originally Posted by moody View Post
    Pity about your last sentence--and I was agreeing with you up till then ,a pointless remark!
    Perhaps pointless but earlier in this thread a comparison was called for between Furtwangler and Toscanini and you can pick up Choral performances and discern yourself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tahnak View Post
    Perhaps pointless but earlier in this thread a comparison was called for between Furtwangler and Toscanini and you can pick up Choral performances and discern yourself.
    They surely represented fundamentally different approaches. Furtwängler took extreme liberties with tempi and dynamics and produced highly subjective interpretations. He did, after all, consider himself primarily a composer, not a conductor.

    When I listen to my Furtwängler recordings, I feel that there's something terrifcally erratic and violent about them. They draw you in, no doubt. They keep you on your toes, you don't know what's around the corner. The dramatic shifts in tempi and dynamics almost make you feel like your flipping channels on a TV.

    It seems a bit ironic that of the two great conductors from Italy and Germany, Furtwängler was in fact the exalted romantic and Toscanini the no-nonsense objectivist.

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    CONDUCTING IS NOT COLLAGE MAKING

    http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/2008/0...ahms-thoughts/

    "Of all the pieces in my repertoire, I would say Brahms 1 is near the top of the list of pieces I would be happy to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in with no warning or prep time (a level of familiarity and comfort I’m sure I share with most conductors). Given how busy I find myself these days, it may seem like a glorious time waster that I am trying to listen attentively to every recording I have (and several new ones I’ve recently discovered). At 40-50 minutes per recording, that is a huge job, and one I won’t manage to finish this week.

    Now, I’m 100% against learning pieces from recordings, or even learning interpretations from recordings- one can’t simply take Furtwangler’s tempo in the introduction and Gunter Wand’s in the Allegro and have something make any sense. This is not collage making. However, I don’t want to be limited to only the boundaries of my own intellect and imagination, so I am studying the art of performance and interpretation in this piece, as well as, and separately from, studying the piece itself. All this while trying to avoid getting hung up on “ooh, isn’t it cool the way he brought out the 3rd horn there,” and instead trying to understand the cause and effect relationships that make performances happen or not.


    I want to be careful not to turn this post into a ranking of recordings or a catalog of criticisms, but I think it might be interesting, if I can mange to nuance this carefully enough, to try to chart some of the more interesting reactions I’ve had to the dozens of recordings I’ve listened to lately. My challenge is this exercise has been to listen in an engaged but dispationate way- to try and keep my own prejudices and preferences to the side. Also, I’m trying to be an observer, not a judge- I’m looking for tempos, but especially tempo relationships, ways of responding to (or not responding to) dynamics and articulations, different kinds of rubato and other tempo manipulations, sound quality, balance, phrasing. Along the way, I might find that this or that moment really affected me, and then I can try to ask myself why.

    Take one performance I tracked down on DVD (DVD is far more interesting and instructive- it’s great to be able to see what bowings were used, when woodwinds are doubled, what the conductor is beating and who he or she is looking at and so on). Of all the gazillion recordings I’ve heard it seemed to have really well chosen tempos and immaculate balances, lovely dynamics, beautiful and confident solo playing. However, forgive me if I sound like one of “those” kind of critics- although the performance filled me with admiration, it didn’t leave my inspired or moved, even though it was not cold music making. Why? I’m not sure, but I think Brahms somehow has to sound challenging, pure mastery is not the thing in this music.

    Then there is a DVD of Takashi Asahina. I’ve only become aware of him in the last few years, as he has become something of a cult figure. This DVD, like others I’ve seen, only serves to increase the mystery around his craft- even as a professional conductor (and conductor evaluator), I can’t begin to figure out how it is all working. Yes, orchestras can play perfectly with almost anything in front of them, but, in spite of his rather non-dynamic-specific way of beating it is such an astoundingly moving performance, and has an electricity in the playing in almost every bar. I’d love to talk to some of his colleagues (any out there among our readers?) and find out where that all-encompassing energy comes from. (This recording also has one of the best wrong notes I’ve heard in years, where the oboist repeatedly plays B natural instead of B sharp in the 2nd mvt solo at letter B- maybe the publisher should have labled that letter B#)

    The best Brahms performances (the best performances of anything, but especially Brahms) are those that arrive, where all that has happened expresses its meaning in a point of total culmination. As a result, you have to commit to hearing the whole thing or you are wasting your time. A performance may be full of perplexing or even frustrating turns, and yet culminate in something totally shattering, or be politically correct at every moment, yet leave one cold.

    The Brahms symphonies are at the top of the list of works we expect any decent orchestra to be able to play well, but, boy oh boy, have I heard some turds among the performances I’ve been to over the years. In fact, the worst live performance of anything I’ve ever heard by any classical ensemble or performer at any level, was of Brahms 1, and this was in spite of the fact that the orchestra (the Pittsburgh Symphony) played pretty much technically beyond reproach. Lest you think that’s just me being bitter about not getting to conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony, you should have heard the players sat next to me and my colleagues in our trio at the bar afterwards… The capacity of an egomaniacal conductor to violate and deform a piece of music is pretty terrifying. I still get mad when I think of it.

    There are also performances that stick in the mind for the wrong reasons- the SLOW performance, the NERVOUS HORN PLAYER, the FLUTE VIBRATO FROM HELL, or the BAD EDIT all come to mind, even though each of those recordings have wonderful, wonderful qualities.

    Then there are incredibly well-intentioned efforts that just don’t quite seem to work. There is a famous recent recording that is modeled on the performance history at the Meiningen Orchestra, which worked regularly with Brahms during his lifetime when Hans von Bulow was the conductor. This “Meiningen” tradition was handed down from generation to generation from Bulow, to his successor Steinbach and then on to Abendroth. Steinbach left something of a musical will in the form of a detailed essay dictated to his colleague Walter Blume (some of which is available in Performing Brahms ed. Bernard Sherman and Michael Musgrave).

    On this famous cd set, I almost get the feeling of listening to two performances inter-cut—one naturally flowing for the musical instincts of the (very good) conductor, and then these moments where he seems to be saying “ah yes, Blume says to take time here.” The effect can be jarring, like the transition to the recap of the first movement (around bars 333-4) where I must admit I laughed out loud at the lumpy and awkward tempo shift, when everything before seemed to be going so well. It just goes to show you that good research does not always make for good performance. Again, you can’t just add someone else’s idea to your clipboard and paste it into to your performance. The end result betrays you every time.

    In any case, I am skeptical of the Meiningen approach. I feel that Brahms affinity for von Bulow’s orchestra stemmed from his respect for the uncommonly high standard than a sympathy for Bulow’s rather Wagnerian attitude to rubato, or a preference for small groups. Brahms at one point rather caustically commented after playing one of his piano concertos with Bulow that he (Brahms) couldn’t seem to slow down and speed up enough to satisfy the conductor. Also, the notion that Brahms wanted, rather than accepted, a smaller orchestra is belied by his asking a friend what he thought people would make of “von Bulow’s little string quartet.” Ouch.

    Yes, he worked a lot with Meiningen, but he also worked a lot with the Vienna Philharmonic, which played his symphonies with groups of 100+ players. Like Beethoven, I think Brahms wanted his music to be accessible to as many sizes of orchestra, from 100 piece groups with doubled winds, down to 45 member chamber orchestras. Of course, one never hears large orchestra performances use half vs full string sections, something we know Beethoven asked for in large scale performances of his music, and that Brahms would have almost certainly expected in his time.

    Brahms was a rubato player, and someone who expected flexibility, but he also was an architectural thinker, and this is the key for me in developing this performance- flexibility, but in proportion. No lurches. Nothing so big that it would really deserve something like “meno mosso” or “accelerando” in the score, but never falling into predictability or binding the music in a straight jacket. Those kind of very obvious tempo manipulations seem to just obliterate the sense of cumulative energy that this piece thrives on, so one just needs to stir the soup from time to time.

    Anyway, I’m working on it….

    ====

    http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/2006/1...understanding/

    Just before he died, Solti remarked that he was finally starting to understand the Marriage of Figaro, even though he had conducted the piece hundreds of times throughout his career. Our modern attitude to life values opinion above enlightenment, belief over understanding- if I say to a young musician that as he or she matures, they will get make fewer and fewer choices, they might think that is a bad thing. “Give up my interpolated rit at bar 187??? Never, you fascist!” However, the very word “understand” is so simple we often forget what it means. If I say to an English speaker “faster” it is pretty obvious that they will know to get faster, if I say it in another language, they might not understand, if I write it in non-Latin characters, most of them will be confounded. Once they understand it, though, they know slower is not an option. I now feel that I understand why Beethoven gave the tempo and metronome markings he did for the slow movement of the Eroica, because I have seen someone do a traditional Austro-German funeral march and tried to learn the step myself. I’ve learned and conducted several other examples of funeral marches from the same culture and tradition. I don’t have to decide how fast to take it- I understand how fast it should go (at least better than I did ten years ago).

    When a seasoned, thoughtful musician says they’re starting to understand something, what they mean is that they’ve come closer to being able to understand all that is in the score. The how’s become what’s. Our modern world would tell us that this is a loss of freedom, because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that all opinions are equally valid. In fact, our opinions of today might be more valid than our opinions of yesterday. In fact, this is where freedom begins- the freedom to learn, the freedom to advance, the freedom to develop.

    And finally, you have to remember that even Gunter Wand in his 90s had to live with the fact that one day he might learn something about Bruckner that would mean he had to start all over with a whole new approach. The question that destroys everything you know is also the question that gives you new life as an artist. No interpreter can ever know that their view of the piece is “right” or that they really do understand the essence of the music. They can only take comfort in the rigor of the process of questioning and study that got them to where they are today, knowing full well that they will eveuntually know better the truth of the music than they do now. A real artist has to know that the insight that destroys certainty is a gift, because understanding is a greater thing than certainty.

    *I’m quite sure LB would not do the fast ending today. His performances of the piece were always amazingly true to the score up until the coda of the last movement (his first three movements are more faithful to the written page, especially in terms of tempi, than Mravrinsky, for instance), which he did fast because he didn’t know what question to ask Shostakovich when the two met. Had he said “is this metronome marking more or less right at the end” instead of “do you like the ending like this (when I do it twice as fast as written)” forty years of confusion could have been avoided. He didn’t understand that both the composer’s personality and the political situation meant there was no way he could get an honest answer to the second question because it would have meant DDS had to disagree with Bernstein."

    http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/2006/1...understanding/

    #######

    These questions and answers are fruitless; the evaluative descriptions of Furtwangler's recordings is on a completely different plane from the technical skills and knowledge and craft that allowed him to conduct how he conducted.

    "What" made him so great? People are still trying to figure it out. Barenboim is still imitating Furtwangler, after all these years, but he's no Furtwangler. Conducting isn't a simple business of mastering a set of mannerisms and stamping them on the work. When that does happen the result is epic failure; late Karajan, late Bernstein, and early Solti are all examples of this. "Formulaic" is an insult, and asking the "what" of Furtwangler's art is asking for the formula to Furtwangler, which doesn't exist. We can never know "what" made Furtwangler great. Furtwangler was a great conductor. If someone managed to truly "know" the "what" of "what made Furtwangler a great conductor", he would be a better conductor than Furtwangler.
    Last edited by brianwalker; Oct-21-2012 at 17:30.
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