Wilhelm Furtwängler

The work of the controversial conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler

Younger readers will be less familiar with this conductor who died in 1954.  Part of the problem is that he was not keen on studio recordings so those recordings that survive are concert performances.  The other problems are his involvement with the Nazi regime and that he was admired by Hitler.

The Society was delighted to welcome Dr Roger Allen who has written a book on this controversial conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler: Art and the Politics of the Unpolitical (Boydell Press 2018).   Roger is a fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford.  The conductor left a legacy of recordings made during the turbulent period of the early part of the 20th century culminating in the Third Reich.

The first piece was the third movement of JS Bach’s Bradenburg Concerto No. 3 made in 1930.  It had an unusually large number of players, compared that is with today’s pared down recordings made with period instruments.  Yet the sound was not ‘mushy’ and the parts could be heard distinctly despite it being a mono recording.

Roger then went on to discuss the different approaches between Toscanini

Wilhelm Furtwangler. Pic: larouchepac.com

and Furtwangler illustrated with the first movement of the Eroica Symphony.  Toscanini came to Berlin in 1930 and his arrival was not welcomed by the German.  Beethoven was seen as ‘home territory’ and Toscanini was criticised for not recognising the ‘organic growth’ of the work – a theory propounded by Heinrich Schenker.    I am not sure any of us fully grasped the full import of Schenker’s theory as it applied here, but we were able to distinguish the different approach between the two conductors.  As Roger explained it, Toscanini played what was in the score – seen as being rather un-German – whereas there was a distinct sense of being ‘ushered in’ to the symphony by Furtwangler.

At Bayreuth he performed a production of Lohengrin in the presence of Hitler a keen Wagner fan.   During the war he became a kind of figurehead for the Nazi regime which led to problems when the war ended.  He was part of the denazification programme after the war and did not perform for two years.

Other pieces Roger played included part of Bruckner’s 8th and the whole of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 solo stringsAnton Bruckner was also popular with Hitler and he had a bust made and exhibited in Walhalla.  Again, Bruckner was much admired by the Third Reich as being an example of ‘blood and soil’ as well as being an Austrian.

Furtwängler poses difficult questions for listeners, similar to those with Wagner, an avid anti-Semite.  His close association with, and support for, the Nazis makes uncomfortable listening.  Many artists had to flee Germany and the occupied lands because of persecution so it was not some kind of passive thing.

The presentation was extremely interesting going beyond the normal music centred evenings we usually enjoy.  In two hours there was not time to explore all aspects and unfortunately we were unable to get the screen to link to his laptop.  Nevertheless, the considerable contribution Furtwangler made to the musical world was well explained.  His legacy of recordings is revered by many.  Peter Horwood, the chair of SRMS, said it had been a ‘fantastic evening’.

This was the last evening before the Christmas break and we shall be back for the second half of the season on 4 February 2019.  We wish all our supporters and members a happy Christmas and we look forward to seeing you again in the new year.

Peter Curbishley

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Meeting on 26 November

The next meeting of the Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held on Monday 26th November 2018 at 7.30pm in our usual venue, when we will be very pleased to welcome Dr Roger Allen, Fellow and Tutor in Music at Oxford University who will talk on the work of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

In May 2018 Dr Allen published his book on Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) who has entered the historical memory as a renowned interpreter of the canon of Austro-German musical masterworks and was for many years principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Furtwangler also left a substantial legacy of recordings which even today are regarded by many as unique and inspirational.

I hope you will be able to come on Monday, the last before our Christmas break, will be well supported.

Elgar

The next meeting of the Society on 12 November, is about the great British composer, Elgar

We shall be very pleased to welcome Duncan Eves from the Elgar Society, who will be presenting: Elgar – Orchestral Genius.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday.  If you are not a member, the entrance fee is £3 for the evening.  Parking is right outside and is free.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Society is on Monday 29 October at 7:30 as usual and will be a presentation by Ian Lace on Debussy and Ravel – two great French composers.  We look forward to seeing you there.  It is GDP3 for non-members.  Parking is outside the door and is free.  Appropriate venue for people with mobility difficulties.

Member’s Evening

Member’s Evening on 15 October 2018

We held our first member’s evening this season and it turned out to be excellent.  A small, but perfectly formed selection of music was put forward and we heard a mixture of old favourites and some completely new pieces.

We started with a concerto in D by Johann Fasch a contemporary of Bach and Telemann.  Not a composer we have heard played before I think so it was interesting to hear this.

This was followed by the familiar K393 Solfeggio and the Great Mass in c minor by Mozart.  This was followed by some extracts from Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

A surprise addition was John Downland’s songs Go Crystal Tears, Mrs Winter’s Jump and I saw my Lady Weep.  Forward in time to the romance from Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust which resulted in a considerable financial loss for the composer.

Finally, and perhaps to shake everyone up, we heard the Drunkard from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. A rumbustious piece to finish the first half.  This composition was banned from performance in Russia and led the composer to live in fear of his freedom.

After the break it was Darius Milhaud’s suite for alto sax Scaramouche.

This was followed by some songs which may have been played in Shakespeare’s plays presented from his own disc by Jeremy Barlow.  This will merit a fuller presentation in future.

We finished with a live recording of Mahler’s symphony No 8 (final two sections) which rounded the meeting off wonderfully.

So we spanned the centuries and the styles and heard the new and the familiar.

Peter Curbishley


Next meeting on 29th October

In Central Asia

The last meeting of the Society focused on the music of Central Asia.  The area includes such countries as Dagestan, Armenia, Georgia and Chechnya.  It has had a troubled history.  There were the Armenian massacres after the Great War and recently there has been fighting in Chechnya.

The music from this area is a little overlooked as attention is normally paid to the big Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov.  Robin Lim’s presentation was a welcome peak into this area and an introduction to some overlooked composers.

The first is a composer not overlooked, namely Borodin and his lovely ‘In Central Asia’ which captures beautifully the expansive nature of the country.  In addition to being a composer, Borodin was a chemist and made contributions to organic chemistry working on aldehydes.

Back in time to an Armenian composer from the 5th century, Stephanos Syunets with a performance of ‘Pharaoh with his Chariots.’

Khachaturian is of course famous and was the first composer to successfully fuse western and Armenian music and to make it accessible to the rest of the world.  He was one of those who suffered during the time of Stalin, his music being deemed ‘unpatriotic’.  One of his pieces Spartacus, featured in the ‘Onedin Line’ older readers may remember.

Alexander Arutiunian is not a name which comes readily to the lips but his allegro from Concertina for Piano and Orchestra composed in 1951 was quite unusual.  We heard a version played by his daughter Narine.

Then on the Georgia to hear David Oistrakh play part of Taktakishvili’s Concerino for violin and small orchestra.

This was followed by pieces by Kancheli, Niyazi, Hajibeyov, Gliere and Amirov.  Names almost unknown outside their countries.

The meeting took place on the day of Charles Aznavour’s sad death in Paris.  Aznavour, originally, Aznavourian, was from Armenia.

Members thanked Robin for his hard work in ferreting out some most unusual items, pieces that are rarely played by composers who do not deserve to be forgotten.  Once again the Society was successful in introducing members to lesser known works.

Peter Curbishley


While you’re here, members might like to see a video I made at a concert in Montpellier, France.  It was probably unique in that the audience sat among the orchestra while it played.  You can see it on YouTube.  There were large numbers of children who despite fidgeting a lot, were quiet and absorbed with what was going on.  They played Elgar amongst other composers and the event was called Au Coeur de l’orchestrePC

New season kicks off

The new season of the Recorded Music Society kicked off with a flying start with a presentation by Tony Powell entitled One Composer’s journey into silence and then resignation.  He was of course referring to Beethoven who, as is well known, became progressively deaf starting at quite a young age in his 20’s.  By 1816 he had lost nearly all his hearing and visitors had to write down what they wanted to say.

This clearly had a traumatic effect on his musical life.  He was a fine pianist and conductor so he was no longer able to do these things.  Even though the music was in his imagination, not to be able to hear what he had composed was a heavy burden to bear.

Tony attempted to take us through his musical life, starting with the youthful compositions and ending with some of the last completed pieces.  It might be tempting to use the major pieces – the symphonies or concertos for example – but instead he chose the smaller scaled compositions: piano trios; ‘cello sonatas; string quartets and piano sonatas.  These are often give a truer insight into a composer’s ‘soul’ if you will, and are harder to compose.  Some may be surprised at this but even composers like Mozart, who could dash off pieces seemingly at will, found the shorter forms harder to complete sometimes taking months.

The big change in the piano trios Tony explained, between Beethoven and the earlier composers, was the role played by the other two instruments.  With Haydn, they were in support of the piano, in the Beethoven’s work, they played an equal role.  This was particularly evident with Op 1 in G Major composed in 1795 when he was in his 20’s.

The style changed and in Op 70 No 2 composed in 1808 we see a greater intensity.  Events in Europe would no doubt had a role to play, in particular the French Revolution and the increase in enlightenment thinking.

He only wrote 5 ‘cello sonatas and we heard extracts from Op 5; Op 69 and Op 102, again a spread through his lifetime showing stylistic changes between 1797 and 1815.

Next to the string quartets and if you were not a Beethoven scholar and heard string quartet No 6 in B flat Op 18, you might be forgiven in thinking it was a piece by Haydn.  The jaunty theme and structure of the quartet typical of that composer.  You would not make that mistake with the last completed quartet (by Beethoven) No 16 Op 135 composed in 1826 the year before he died.

The piano sonatas were a compositional form Beethoven was most comfortable with, possibly because of his piano playing background.  We heard extracts from three: No 1; No 23 (Appassionata) and No 32.  The increase in intensity and complexity was most marked.

This was a most interesting presentation, showing the changing style of Beethoven’s work over his life.  No doubt events in his life – revolution, the Napoleonic wars for example played their part – but his retreat into an inner life would also have been a powerful influence.

Peter Curbishley


Next meeting 1 October at 7:30 as usual