... Furtwängler, uno de los más grandes directores del siglo XX.
Record Review /
Ángel Carrascosa Almazán,
Ritmo (Madrid) / 01. March 2005
The Furtwängler ABC: A to E
A|rt and antiquity loomed large in Furtwängler's upbringing. His father Adolf, a famous authority on ancient Greek art, was recently called “the greatest classical archaeologist of all time". Wilhelm was educated privately by two of his father's students, and his earliest childhood interests, not surprisingly, were visual rather than musical.
B|ach, Beethoven and Brahms. The “Three B's" were cornerstones of Furtwängler's repertory. His large-scale 1930 recording of the Third Brandenburg Concerto (included here, CD 2 -) is performed in a Romantic style almost suggesting that Furtwängler regarded Bach as a contemporary of the other two “B's". But it was Brahms, another “B" - Bruckner - and above all Beethoven who figured most prominently in his programmes. The Fifth Symphony was the work most closely identified with Furtwängler - from 1915 performances in Mannheim to his emotional return to the Berlin Philharmonic podium in May 1947 (captured on DG 477 5030) and, finally, a Beethoven concert in Besançon in September 1954 with the French Radio Orchestra. He recorded the symphony in the studio three times, starting with the 1926 Berlin version whose opening movement is included here (CD 2 ).
C|omposer. By the time he was 17 Furtwängler had already written a dozen substantial works. Although he would turn to conducting after the death of his father in 1907, not least as a means of supporting himself and his mother, he never stopped composing in a highly personal late-Romantic idiom, clearly inspired by Bruckner and Brahms. One of his postwar studio recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic is of his Second Symphony (DG Originals DG 457 722-2), probably his best-known composition. The extraordinary grasp of organic structure that characterizes all his interpretations have led commentators to remark that Furtwängler brought a composer's mind and instincts to the conductor's podium.
D|eutsche Grammophon. In 1926, the previously sceptical Furtwängler agreed to record Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Weber's Freischütz Overture with the Berlin Philharmonic for DG's Polydor label. Many further recordings followed between 1929 and 1937, after which he was under contract to EMI. In 1951 he returned to DG to make four recordings that have become gramophone classics: Schubert's “Great" C major Symphony (CD 1 ) and Haydn's Symphony no. 88 (CD 1 ) (coupled complete on DG Originals 447 439-2), his own Second Symphony (CD 1 ) and Schumann's Fourth (CD 1 -) (coupled complete on DG Originals 457 722-2). Following his death in 1954, DG also began issuing selected live Furtwängler recordings, including the 1989 release of 19 wartime Berlin Philharmonic broadcasts (reissued on DG 471 289-2 and 471 294-2).
E|ngland. Furtwängler's British popularity was launched in 1935 when he made his acclaimed Covent Garden debut conducting Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and his long-awaited first UK tour with the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1937 he and his good friend Sir Thomas Beecham shared the direction of Covent Garden's Coronation season. In 1948 he returned to the English capital to conduct ten concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in the autumn he toured England with both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. His final London concert - with the Berlin Philharmonic - came in April 1953.
The Furtwängler ABC: F to J
F|rance. French audiences and critics also held Furtwängler in high esteem. He visited Paris with the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time in 1928. In 1932 he made his first appearance at the Paris Opéra, conducting Wagner's Tristan, and he returned there annually until 1938. In 1939, the French government cancelled his scheduled conducting visit but made a conspicuous effort to show that it distinguished Furtwängler from Germany's National Socialist regime by honouring him as a Commander of the Légion d'honneur. He received a warm welcome in Paris on his postwar return in 1948.
G|ewandhaus. In 1922 Furtwängler succeeded his idol Arthur Nikisch at the helm of two of the world's most illustrious orchestras, the relatively young Berlin Philharmonic and the centuries-old Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, of which Mendelssohn had once been music director. For most of his six-year Leipzig tenure, however, Furtwängler's relations with the orchestra were strained by his extensive touring with the Berlin Philharmonic and his numerous guest engagements in Vienna and Milan.
H|indemith was Germany's leading composer in 1934 when Furtwängler conducted the premiere of the symphony drawn from his new opera Mathis der Maler. Its theme, reflecting the composer's personal feelings about an artist's responsibilities in times of political upheaval, was hardly likely to go down well with the Nazi authorities. Following the concert, Hindemith was denounced in the press, and Furtwängler's attempt to defend him led to his also being attacked by Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. In the wake of the “Hindemith affair" Furtwängler resigned his conducting positions and, at least for a while, devoted himself to composing.
I|taly is another country where Furtwängler appeared frequently. He made his debut at La Scala, Milan in 1923. After the war it was in Rome and Florence that he gave his first concerts, in April 1947, and in subsequent years he often conducted the orchestras of Italian Radio (RAI) as well as opera at La Scala.
J|ewish musicians. Furtwängler resisted pressure exerted in 1933 by the new Nazi regime to dismiss the Berlin Philharmonic's Jewish members, and on 11 April he wrote an open letter of protest to Goebbels. Until he fled to Switzerland in 1945, the conductor repeatedly used his influence to save the lives of his musicians.
The Furtwängler ABC: K to O
K|arajan. Some causes of the bitter rivalry between Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan: Furtwängler's jealousy of the younger conductor and what he perceived as his willingness to be used by the Nazis; Furtwängler's agreeing, after the war, to conduct at the Salzburg Festival only on condition that Karajan was excluded; the manoeuvrings of the powerful and autocratic English record producer Walter Legge, who transferred his allegiance from Furtwängler to Karajan. Yet the younger man seems always to have admired Furtwängler's conducting and once, after being congratulated by his own orchestra after a sensational performance, retorted: “Rubbish! Furtwängler would not have liked it."
L|ucerne. The beautiful Swiss city and its famous festival became a haven for Furtwängler. He first conducted there in the summer of 1944, bringing along his family and afterwards leaving them to stay in Switzerland in the care of friends (he joined them in January 1945 after fleeing across the border). Every year from then until his death in 1954, Furtwängler returned to the Lucerne Festival, and he also made some famous recordings with its orchestra.
M|usic. “With music we enter a new world', said Wilhelm Furtwängler, “and are delivered from the other." But for Furtwängler, music was the real world. The English critic David Cairns has written (in The New Grove Dictionary) that “the freedom of tempo that he allowed himself was the opposite pole from Toscanini's insistence on the sanctity of the printed score as medium of the composer's intentions ... Furtwängler's fluctuations of tempo ... were an inevitable concomitant of ... his constant quest for music's inner meaning and hidden laws. He aimed at achieving, at the profoundest level, an organic unity which should be the result not of conformity to the exact letter of the law but of a concentration on each particular expressive moment within a deeply considered general idea of the work."
N|azis. Like many other German liberals, Furtwängler was slow to grasp the full, terrible reality of National Socialism, though in fact he continually opposed it in word and deed: for example, he refused to give the Nazi salute at concerts or to conduct in occupied countries during the war. However, as David Cairns has written, “for the vast majority of people outside Germany, Furtwängler, by continuing to live there and make public appearances, was identifying himself with the regime. There was, in the context of the time, a naivety in his attitude; his position was equivocal, and the Nazis were adept at taking advantage of it for propaganda purposes."
O|rchestras. “Why does the same orchestra sound full, rich and smooth under one conductor, and brittle, hard and angular under another," wrote Wilhelm Furtwängler in an essay on the conductor's handicraft that says much about his own conception of unforced sonorities, with warm, rich string tone, all built up from the foundation of a sturdy bass line and achieved with his notoriously imprecise beat.
The Furtwängler ABC: P to T
P|hilharmonia. In May 1950 Furtwängler made his first guest appearance in London with Walter Legge's new Philharmonia Orchestra. It was with this orchestra that he made his famous complete recording of Wagner's Tristan at Kingsway Hall, in June 1952, and performed Beethoven's Ninth for the last time, at the 1954 Lucerne Festival.
Q|uestioning. After the war Furtwängler was prohibited from conducting until his “denazification" by the American military authorities was ratified in April 1947. The story of his gruelling interrogation and eventual acquittal forms the basis of the play and film Taking Sides (soundtrack recording, including Furtwängler's 1942 performance of the Adagio from Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, available on DG 471 564-2).
R|ing (excerpt on CD 2 ). In 1937 Furtwängler and his friend Sir Thomas Beecham shared the direction of the Coronation season at Covent Garden, where Furtwängler conducted Wagner's Ring, and he returned for further performances of it in 1938. That year he also made his last appearance at the Paris Opéra conducting Siegfried. In 1950 he was in charge of a famous Ring at La Scala, and in 1953 he recorded the whole cycle with the RAI (Italian Radio) Orchestra of Rome. The last time he conducted, hardly more than a month before he died, was to complete a recording of Die Walküre in Vienna.
S|chenker. Furtwängler studied scores with the great Viennese musical theorist Heinrich Schenker from 1920 until the latter's death in 1935, and as a conductor he constantly attempted to put into practice Schenker's ideas about form, harmony and counterpoint.
T|oscanini. In 1936 Arturo Toscanini recommended the German maestro as his successor at the New York Philharmonic, but a huge storm of protest led Furtwängler to turn down the position. The crucial issue, which alienated the fiercely anti-fascist Toscanini as well, was Furtwängler's refusal to give up working in Nazi Germany, a decision which would surround him in controversy for the rest of his life.
The Furtwängler ABC: U to W
U|SA. From 1925 until 1927 Furtwängler was a guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Although highly regarded by the musicians, he did not endear himself to the orchestra's board, and some influential critics were offended by his highly individual interpretations. In 1949 a propaganda campaign involving certain prominent American musicians prevented Furtwängler from taking up an appointment as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and an invitation to conduct a new production of Wagner's Lohengrin to open the 1952 Metropolitan season in New York was also withdrawn for “political" reasons. His return to America, on tour with the Berlin Philharmonic, was still being planned for 1955 when Furtwängler died.
V|ienna. In 1922 Furtwängler first conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, initiating what would become a close and lasting connection with the orchestra and the Austrian capital.
W|orks of his contemporaries. The young Furtwängler was a fervent advocate of new works. In 1924, he accompanied Stravinsky playing his Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, in 1927 he accompanied Bartók in the solo part of his First Piano Concerto, in 1928 he conducted the première of Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra, and he also championed music by Hindemith, Prokofiev and Honegger.
eX|xile. Until he escaped to Switzerland in January 1945, crossing the Austrian border on foot just hours before he would have been arrested by the Gestapo, Furtwängler rejected the option of fleeing from the brutal dictatorship that had enslaved his homeland and much of the rest of Europe. Naively he held on to the belief that art and politics could be separated and that he had a moral responsibility to remain in Germany. In 1947, he settled permanently with his family in the Swiss village of Clarens, near Montreux.
Y|ehudi Menuhin. The American violinist was one of the first non-Germans to speak up in Furtwängler's defence after the war. The two performed and recorded together on a number of occasions, beginning in 1947 with the Brahms Concerto at Salzburg and Lucerne. Towards the end of his career Menuhin declared (in a 1989 conversation with the American Furtwängler biographer Sam H. Shirakawa): “Of all the great conductors I played with, only Furtwängler made one look into the music to search for a truth within it."
Z|urich. Furtwängler's first conducting post was in the Swiss city (1906-07). After that he moved quickly up the musical ladder, and by the time he took over the Mannheim Opera's musical directorship in 1915, he had become the leading young German conductor.