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Thread: Explain fascination with Furtwängler

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Default Explain fascination with Furtwängler

    I have been wanting to start this thread for some time now but have been concerned that it would start a firestorm * however interest has gotten the better of me so...

    I have long been wondering what it is about Wilhelm Furtwängler that so many people continue to find his performances to be so much better than most of what has come since. Yes I can understand that he was one of the top conductors of the first half of the 20th century but that doesn't explain why he is seen as THE interpretive icon. Perhaps some can offer insights into the matter.

    I should note that while I do have some favourite conductors, there are things that I both like and dislike about all of them so I don't see any as rising above the others.

    * In the event that it does start a firestorm, I have arranged for this to be on standby...
    twitter-image-drop-in-chile5*1024xx968-545-32-24.jpg
    Last edited by Becca; May-16-2020 at 18:41.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    ...and yes, I have listened to some of what is available, both recorded and video.

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Why should any topic on this forum be a firestorm? We’re just expressing opinions about a fun subject.

    Furtwängler was the greatest genius I have heard on record at pacing a piece just right so that the intended effect reaches me the listener. He knew just where to speed up or slow down. But even more importantly, he intuitively felt the music in the moment so that nothing ever sounded stale. I also believe from his recordings that he had a superior understanding of the architecture of German repertoire and the harmonic language, so that you are not just hearing pretty sounds, precise attacks, etc. but instead you are hearing story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. For this reason it is impossible merely to sample a Furtwängler recording. You need to take in the whole thing, which is the point of symphonic structure and composition.

    Finally, he had a gift for unleashing orchestras to do amazing things together, whether it was producing an overwhelming crescendo or playing with an intensely felt, soft legato line. And the music was never stale in his hands. It was always breathing, always going somewhere.

    I could probably say more, but that’s enough for now.

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    To put it cerebrally, the choice of tempi and dynamics is a delicate art, and his decisions were excellent. He was an interpretative "risk-taker", but one whose pay-offs were consistent enough to result in unforgettable musical experiences for many who come across his recordings.
    To put it emotionally, https://youtu.be/IgwRtknwI8k?t=3819

    I know many recordings of the 9th, old and new, but no memory of alternatives remains when I hear that presto.
    Last edited by Fabulin; May-16-2020 at 19:04.

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Also, “fascination” makes it sound like there is some reason beyond the music itself for responding to him. For most of us “Furtwängler fans” it is a simple matter of preferring his recordings to most others.

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fabulin View Post
    To put it cerebrally, the choice of tempi and dynamics is a delicate art, and his decisions were excellent. He was an interpretative "risk-taker", but one whose pay-offs were consistent enough to result in unforgettable musical experiences for many who come across his recordings.
    To put it emotionally, https://youtu.be/IgwRtknwI8k?t=3819

    I know many recordings of the 9th, old and new, but no memory of alternatives remains when I hear that presto.
    There are some who accuse Furtwängler of “messing” with the tempo by not being strictly metronomical. The point is that it’s an art, as you say. There are some conductors who try to be flexible with tempo and it simply doesn’t work. It either works naturally and organically with the music or it doesn’t.

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    Senior Member SONNET CLV's Avatar
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    As I type this I am looking at the big box set that sits on a top shelf of one of the CD shelves I built. It's a great collection …

    avFurt.jpg

    A pretty nice shelf, too.

    Though the recorded sound of this particular conductor's offerings is seldom ideal (if ever!), the interpretations rise above. And so often, on a well-known work, something rises out of the interpretation that speaks (in that musical way that remains beyond words) of a profound beauty and/or meaning that no other conductor has ever realized in my ears.

    A case in point is a particular Beethoven Ninth recorded by the man (and he recorded several). I thought I had heard the Beethoven before, a hundred times. Then I heard this one, and Wow! Something was just different that made the piece addictively compelling in a way that this addictively compelling work of art had never before been to me. That's how it is with this conductor.

    And … he has a great name, too: Furtwangler. (Maybe it's the umlaut.)

    -- By the way, if you noticed I didn't reveal which recording of the Ninth I have in mind, you didn't miss anything. Perhaps you should explore Furtwängler for yourself.

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    The ideal starting places for Furtwängler are:

    1) 1954 Lucerne Beethoven 9th on Audite

    2) Schumann 4th on DG

    3) three Music & Arts box sets:

    - wartime Beethoven symphonies 4-7 & 9
    - Brahms symphonies 1-4
    - Bruckner symphonies 4-9

    4) EMI Tristan und Isolde

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    In Furtwangler there's this sense of ebb and flow, a natural rubato that just sounds so right. I am not a WF fanatic - the sound is too dated for my taste, but I have enough to make me sorry I didn't ever hear him live. That EMI Tristan is just incredible. No one today conducts Brahms the way he did. As a composer...he was terrible.

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    Senior Member Fabulin's Avatar
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    It’s an interesting question that Becca raised. My first exposure to both Furtwangler and Beethoven’s Eroica was on a budget lap that my sister bought in 1972. It was a live Concert from Vienna towards the end of the War and no other recording has ever gripped me so. I became an instant convert. His Bruckner Eigth and his Tristan have also seemed sui genereis as well, but lately I seemed to have lost some of the reverence that formerly had. More modern versions of most of his repertoire have supplanted many of his recordings for me

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    I'm with Becca. I don't feel there is anything I heard from Furtwangler that I didn't have a stronger preference for another performance. When they both did the same work, I always preferred Solti. Is there a connection between the 2? I just read Furtwangler was impressed by Solti.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member Brahmsianhorn's Avatar
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    ^

    I’m the opposite. I see Solti as superficial sounding next to Furtwängler. But I find him that way compared to most conductors. His Mahler blazes and impresses technically, but it doesn’t move me like Barbirolli, Horenstein, Klemperer, Walter, or Bernstein.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Furtwängler is my favorite conductor because his name is fun to say (FOORT-vengler). All jesting aside, I connect with pretty much everything he did because his focus was on interpreting the score to fit his highly personal visions and the idea of music as a spiritual, dynamic force for good in the world. He was often criticized for this “naive" view (which provided the rationale for him staying in Germany during the war - he wanted to “evangelize” for German music, hoping it would salve the evil of the regime) but it’s a view that I wholeheartedly share. You do have to put aside all preconceptions about how the music should go when you listen to him - if you require perfect playing, good sound quality, all markings in the score observed, metronomic tempi - then he’s not for you. But for those who want to hear a deeply distinctive passion and relevance behind every note of a score, then Furtwängler has never been topped. I had never liked Beethoven’s 9th all that much until I heard his ’52 Bayreuth recording. I sat spellbound on the verge of tears. It sounded as if the musicians were engaging in a sacred, spontaneous communal experience. Finally I understood the incredible power and significance of Beethoven’s vision and its ability to inspire. This long but worthwhile article does a great job at attempting to tackle what exactly his art was all about and why it is so significant: http://www.classicalnotes.net/features/furtwangler.html
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; May-17-2020 at 00:24.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    what it is about Wilhelm Furtwängler that so many people continue to find his performances to be so much better than most of what has come since.
    maybe they have been told do so?

    i for one have certain reservations about his approach...

    it appears as if he, at times, would rather see a music piece as a landscape than emotional outbursts.

    and here is an example of that, Tristan und Isolde -


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