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Thread: Gustav Leonhardt: "Beethoven's Ninth is such a platitude, Karajan was mediocre""

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    Default Gustav Leonhardt: "Beethoven's Ninth is such a platitude, Karajan was mediocre""

    Ah, what a charming old man! Unfortunately, he only visited St-Petersburg, but not Moscow.

    Gustav Leonhard said in his interview some provokative things:

    a) "Ode to Joy" is a quintessence of platitude. And all XIX century music is very primitive. French revolution killed the great music.
    b) Karajan was a mediocre conductor, whose only advantage was a good viewside from the back
    c) Harnocourt decided to became a conductor, because literature for a period cello is very narrow, and to be a conductor is a money for old rope.
    d) He drives Alfa Romeo (founded in 1910) and hates BMW, because BWV was founded in 1913. So BWV is too modern.

    http://www.openspace.ru/music_classi...details/30265/

    What do you think of this thesises, esp. of "a"?

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    Senior Member Taneyev's Avatar
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    I agree with him about LvB and HvK. Can't stand the Ode nor the nazi Herbert.

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    Senior Member NightHawk's Avatar
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    Re the Harnoncourt: Leonardt and Harnoncourt collaborated on a complete recording of the extant Bach Sacred Cantatas (over a couple of years in the early 80's), anyway the difference between the two are pointed up constantly: Leonhardt's Bach is a dried prune and Harnoncourt's is a blooming Plum. Also, Harnoncourt, for some reason manages to get all the best boy sopranos and altos.

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    I like Beethoven's ninth a lot, especially the nazi recording of Furtwangler for Hitler's birthday.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Moscow-Mahler View Post
    Ah, what a charming old man! Unfortunately, he only visited St-Petersburg, but not Moscow.

    Gustav Leonhard said in his interview some provokative things:

    a) "Ode to Joy" is a quintessence of platitude. And all XIX century music is very primitive. French revolution killed the great music.
    b) Karajan was a mediocre conductor, whose only advantage was a good viewside from the back
    c) Harnocourt decided to became a conductor, because literature for a period cello is very narrow, and to be a conductor is a money for old rope.
    d) He drives Alfa Romeo (founded in 1910) and hates BMW, because BWV was founded in 1913. So BWV is too modern.

    http://www.openspace.ru/music_classi...details/30265/

    What do you think of this thesises, esp. of "a"?
    Please don't start that Karajan stuff again, apart from that very amusing. Sounds a bit Beechamesque'

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    Agree with him re: Alfa Romeos - they were selling grand tourers to celebrities and racing in F1 when BMW was making bubble cars

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    Senior Member Kontrapunctus's Avatar
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    I feel like running over his CDs with my BMW 328i.

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    There was another version of this thread HERE.

    Fact is, go out onto the streets, in your workplace, or at uni, or even in the concert halls. Mention Beethoven's name to most people, they'll know him to some degree, or his name at least. Mention Leonhardt and not many will know him. This is a superficial thing, but it's indicative how some people's egos obscure the bigger picture. Eg. their insecurity, which they are projecting (on a dead composer, how silly). Anyway, I'll stop here, I've made a point (of sorts?)...

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    There was another version of this thread HERE.

    Fact is, go out onto the streets, in your workplace, or at uni, or even in the concert halls. Mention Beethoven's name to most people, they'll know him to some degree, or his name at least. ...
    That is exactly the man's point! 19th century music left the circles of cognoscenti, really cultivated taste and craft, and became a commodity for the general public, if you will, the plebes and petit bourgeois....

    This included very influential critics, and the increasing de facto cartel of German music via publishing and placement of German conductors and performers in venues throughout Europe, all leading to a lessening of the quality of music, and an increasing sense, even among many of the greater composers of the era, that personal expression was the sine qua none goal of music, not a higher dialogue where the music was expressing itself. I don't care for the somewhat current EMO trend in pop music. The first as unattractive wave of EMO in classical WAS the Romantic era.

    Wagner is the apex of a kind of (maybe great but) bourgeois composer with that 'common taste,' and his audience - to this day - a perfect match. This is a far cry from a subscription audience for a Mozart concert comprised of those deeply knowledgeable about music.

    The height - nadir of this is the later 19th century, with all those second or third-tier gentlemen composers who were writing for lady and gentlemen audiences.

    IMO, classical music did not begin to right itself until the revolution marked by the arrival of Debussy.

    All you have to do to demonstrate the collective democratic taste of the average listener still dominates classical music and effects what is chosen for performance and recordings -- if not more now than in the 19th century -- is look at the composite lists and polls entries in this forum. That is proof enough that while there are masterpieces on there, those lists of 'who's the greatest' and so forth are a form of lowest common denominator.

    That mentality in the general public is one very big reason newer music since the 1900's is still 'struggling' to this day, and why more and more, Symphony programming and CD recording catalogues are mere museums of antique music, the majority of the masses still favoring that 'plebeian' Romantic era repertoire over classical from any other era.

    I just know this response is going to be Wildly Popular....
    Last edited by PetrB; Mar-16-2012 at 22:06.

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    ^^Well okay, we can say Romantic composers wrote for the emerging bourgeois, but so what? The era of aristocracy was over, or it was dying, even after the Napoleonic era when reactonaries like Metternich tried to restore the status quo.

    Things like that. Bottom line is that classical music is many things, yes it's art, but also a business. Did Mr. Leonhardt do concerts or cd's for free? I'd guess he made a living, and a good one, from his musical efforts.

    What the gist of his opinion is to me, it's highbrow mentality, elitism. Basically even mentioning bourgeois, the word is a Marxist term, from the 19th century, of little relevance now. The world has changed and keeps changing. Leonhardt was very old and now he's dead.

    Funny thing, I doubt Karl Marx would have liked Mozart? I don't know. As for Bach, he was religious, so no cigar there. What music can a hard core Marxist stuck in the 19th century like? Maybe songs of the Burschenschaften, the student revolutionaries of 1848, captured in Brahms' Academic Festival Overture? But wait, that's after 1789, so that's of course bourgeois rubbish.

    See how ideology muddies things?
    Last edited by Sid James; Mar-17-2012 at 01:32.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    ...What the gist of his opinion is to me, it's highbrow mentality, elitism. Basically even mentioning bourgeois.... // See how ideology muddies things?
    Of course, in the still current regular usage, bourgeois also is the average working / business middle class, collectively.

    Yes, Leonhardt sounded like a dried prune and a reactionary with that 'pronouncement.'

    What many overlook though, is there is and are 'an elite' everywhere, in every area.

    The leaders of every government, apart from whatever system it is, representative or a horrible dictator in place because of a Junta - are an elitist crop, not everyday, an exclusive few.

    So is every major league sports professional, part of an 'elite,' as are the more severely successful business people, and world-class artist / performers and writers - theater, dance, music, film.

    They are an elite because they have an extraordinary share of talent, years of having worked at it, and mountains of accumulated highly specialized expertise.

    The social evolution from the 19th century to present has truly changed an attitude toward, 'elitists;' a burgeoning middle class has changed that, and I believe that is at the core of my rather 'shocking' post. It seems more and more a public who knows but a bit or some more about whatever they are criticizing now think / feel their opinion has real pull.

    For example, to quote a statement from another forum, "If more people began to really like film scores they would then have to be recognized as 'classical' music."

    Perhaps it was in reaction to that kind of idea floating about in the collective ethos that inflected my answer. I truly adhere to much of what I said. Common / average taste is beginning to affect what is programmed, performed, and indeed, commissioned in the way of classical music. If that continues, it will be a 'common denominator' rule, and that would be a shame.

    As an aside, any governmental say in the arts is lethal - art and bureaucracy / bureaucrats Do Not Mix.

    As much as those public influences, audience, critics, the inception of classical music becoming truly commercial (how many copies of this sonata sold?) was really developing already during the time when Beethoven was in mid-career. (A point I think Leonhardt was trying to make).

    If that influence had as much sway as it seems to have today, a lot of later Beethoven may not have happened, or not survived so we have it in our time: his audiences were rapidly dwindling toward the end of his career, and if that public as consuming body in a more commercial atmosphere at that time, what we do have from Beethoven might be very different, or there would be less of the later works, which were only understood by a handful 'of elitists.'

    Although any art is 'a product,' and getting something performed or getting multiple performances and selling multiple copies of both score and recordings is a business, when it is thought of that first and foremost, it becomes more of a flat-out commercial product and much less 'fine art.'

    The vast majority of the great old repertoire much of us enjoy may have also been 'product' and from 'a business,' but that 19th century commercial environment did not have as much emphasis or ruthless drive of marketplace determining what is made and consumed as we have in place now.

    There is now a sort of marginal music user who cannot distinguish 'classical' from a John Williams film score. How much would you cede 'because it is a business' that John Williams film scores are on classical concert programming quite regularly, bumping off the list ______ (Your favorite composer, or modern or contemporary classical composers? That line started to shift in the 19th century....

    What I see now are people who not only think they should have an equal 'town hall meeting' say, but equal influence as well. No one should feel offended or belittled by the simple fact that no matter how much they may know as a dedicated follower of an art, that they are not an expert with a lifetime of training and experience -- in other words, leave some things to those elitist pros:-)

    Maybe when it comes to fine art one should leave the making, performing and programming of it 'to the elitists.'
    Last edited by PetrB; Mar-17-2012 at 09:53.

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    ^^You make many points there, but I think we've gone beyond the scope of this thread. In any case, I said music is many things including a business. So of course, there is a wide spectrum, from more commercial music to less popular, esoteric music or whatever labels we want to use. Thing is, you mention John Williams, I think he's a pretty good composer, not only his film music, but also his "purely" concert hall music, which I've heard on radio. I have been to concerts, esp. family concerts, where they play say a Beethoven symphony at the end, and then a suite from a John Williams film score as a kind of encore. I think it's good, people like it, same as they like the Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or whatever. One does not cancel the other out. There is room for variety.

    Let's face it, a lot of music before 1800 (more or less) was hidebound by convention. Eg. Mozart's Don Giovanni revolutionised opera and got rid of a lot of those cliches and "dried out prunes" to paraphrase your post. The aristocracy was presented in that opera as real people, with flaws, the opera commented on moral issues, and also it was the first time fear was conveyed in music (the scene with the commendatore). I mean real fear, not just as symbol or whatever of it, so everyone can understand it.

    So what I'm saying it was not all downhill from 1789, one can argue it was the opposite. The eventual decline and death of the ancien regime bought many positive changes in society, politics, etc. including the arts. It also bought over the top meglomaniacal things like I see some of Wagner's things as, but whatever one can criticise, he was at least not going by old forumulas and stock standard join the dots type conventions. He was following the beat of his own drum, so to speak. That's the positive bought by many changes coming after 1789, and that other big year of revolutions, 1848.

    We can't simplify this, so let's just leave it. To say things went downhill from a certain point, any point, speaks to a misunderstanding and distortion of history imo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Moscow-Mahler View Post
    Ah, what a charming old man! Unfortunately, he only visited St-Petersburg, but not Moscow.

    Gustav Leonhard said in his interview some provokative things:

    a) "Ode to Joy" is a quintessence of platitude. And all XIX century music is very primitive. French revolution killed the great music.
    b) Karajan was a mediocre conductor, whose only advantage was a good viewside from the back
    c) Harnocourt decided to became a conductor, because literature for a period cello is very narrow, and to be a conductor is a money for old rope.
    d) He drives Alfa Romeo (founded in 1910) and hates BMW, because BWV was founded in 1913. So BWV is too modern.

    http://www.openspace.ru/music_classi...details/30265/

    What do you think of this thesises, esp. of "a"?
    However distastefully expressed, these remarks do have a grain of truth, I believe.

    Ode to joy is just not Beethoven's greatest creation! And platitude is not too wide of the mark, at least regarding the sentiment. And the tune. Perhaps it's his 1812 overture.

    And compare C19 music (restrict it to choral to make the comparison easier) with that form C15. The later stuff does sound rather simplistic.

    I think Karajan did some great things (his Bruckner and Mahler, for example) but, outside a rather restricted repertoire, he often disappointed (eg Debussy Pelleas et Melisande).
    Last edited by Jeremy Marchant; Mar-20-2012 at 23:49.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post

    So what I'm saying it was not all downhill from 1789, one can argue it was the opposite. The eventual decline and death of the ancien regime bought many positive changes in society, politics, etc. including the arts.
    One of those positive changes was the interest in the antique arts. As far as I know, before the 19th, only the music composed at the time was performed. Would we know Bach without Mendelsohn?

    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/lo...6/default.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Marchant View Post
    Ode to joy is just not Beethoven's greatest creation! And platitude is not too wide of the mark, at least regarding the sentiment. And the tune. Perhaps it's his 1812 overture.
    Notice something about the Ode to Joy? It is played as often, if not more often, as other favourites including Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Pachelbel's Canon, Holst's Mars, and Orff's Carmina Burana. While one can easily get fatigued from listening to Four Seasons such that one never wants to listen to it again, the Ode to Joy maintains its expressive power when heard in context. To me that is a sign of its greatness as a composition.

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