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The Impossible Legacy of a Conductor

We live in a time of intense scrutiny of the moral failings of artists—even, or perhaps especially, those whose creations we admire. And few classical composers have greater the gap between sublime works and shameful works than conductor Wilhelm Furtwngler.

Consumed by an outstanding belief in the power of music, and able to convince listeners of that power, Furtwngler held Beethoven And brahmus, brukner And wagner, with possessive authority, as if he alone could reveal their deepest psychological, even spiritual, secrets.

Sometimes it seems like he could. With his expressive, flexible approach to tempo and dynamics, Furtwngler breathed the structure of an entire piece into each of his measurements, while making each measure sound improvised. Ask me to show you what a conductor’s point is – what a conductor can accomplish – and I will Point You To a furtwangler Recording.

The problem is that even Adolf Hitler would point to them. For Hitler, Furtwngler was the supreme exponent of sacred German art; It was to the satisfaction of the Nazis that he served as the main conductor of the Third Reich – indeed if not in title.

The complications are many. Furtwngler never joined the Nazi Party, and after his initial protests over the expulsion of Jewish musicians and the erosion of their artistic control resolved in 1935 in favor of the Nazis, he found ways to distance himself from the regime, at least No less on its racial policies. His performances at the Berlin Philharmonic and Bayreuth Festival once served the Reich and helped those who sought to survive it, even opposed it.

“At Furtwngler’s concerts, we all become a family of resistance fighters,” An opponent of the Nazis said.

Joseph Goebbels nevertheless had no doubt that Furtwngler was, as he said, “worth the trouble”. Furtwngler avoided organizing in the occupied countries, but, for example, led the Berlin Philharmonic in Oslo a week before the German invasion of Norway in April 1940. In 1938, with the forces of the Vienna State Opera, soon after Relation.

Whatever considerable aid Furtwngler may have offered to the few in need, it was tainted. Looking at the cover that he offered to “devil’s rule”, expatriate conductor Bruno Walter asked him after World War II, “What is the value of your assistance to some Jews in the isolated cases?”

Quite acrimonious in Furtwngler’s lifetime – when protests forced him to withdraw from positions offered at the New York Philharmonic, in 1936, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in 1949 – Debate broke out after that Death, in 1954.

Time brought distance, reconciliation and research. The musicians took up the issue of Furtwngler, with Daniel Barenboim in the lead. The books rehabilitated the then colleague. One, by Fred Preberg, declares Furtwngler a “double agent”; one more, by Sam Shirakawa, he was described, absurdly, as having failed the Nazis more than anyone else, as if he were Dietrich Bonhoeffer with a stick.

Recording after recording emerged – mostly archived radio broadcasts, some of exceptional quality. Tragically, Furtwangler turns out to be his most profound visionary during the war, performing to an Aryanized audience on top of a pure Berlin Philharmonic.

However, those wartime tapes only added to the Furtwngler puzzle. was frenzied Beethoven Ninth He gave an act of resistance in Berlin in March 1942, which was scorched by sound? Or was it more proof that the “destiny of the Germans” was to unite things that seemed impossible to unite, as he kept it in 1937?

“German music proves,” he continued, “that the Germans have won such victories before.” Hitler clearly thought so. A month later, Furtwngler was filmed shaking Goebbels’s hand after he interfered with a rendition of the symphony for the Führer’s birthday.

Despite our current environment, the temptation remains to move on from these difficulties, rather than face them again. It looks like that’s the thinking behind a new set of Warner Classics, 55 CDs that announce themselves as “The whole Wilhelm Furtwngler on record.”

compiled with the aid Stephen Topakian, former Vice President of Wilhelm Furtwngler Company, a French organization founded in 1969, represents the rare sharing of Box Warner and Universal’s back catalogues. It takes listeners through classic accounts such as Weber and Beethoven’s first, sneaky recordings in 1926, their Tchaikovsky VI from 1938 and their Beethoven Ninth from 1951, to the massive “Die Wakure” taped a month before his death. .

Listen to the box, and if you’re left wondering whether microphones ever captured the Furtwangler’s meticulously calibrated dynamics and his-if-more-than-depth sound, you’ll still be surprised at his famously long line, his ability There is enough, great evidence to be found. Make the score consistent. You also find that he was not at all the slow, monumental conductor that is often remembered. she has a heart touching warmth “Siegfried Ideal” Humility and charm in his Haydn, dignity in his lively Mozart.

Throughout, there is a sense of hearing a lost world, of an operatic style by Richard Wagner, which, with its deliberate inaccuracies and privilege over its textual description of the perceived emotion behind the music, is somewhat different than that of the maestro. Today.

However, Warner’s box record is not a complete furtwangler. His discography has always been the subject of debate, as has his contrarian attitude towards the medium, but Warner has limited himself to live recordings made with a clear vision for his studio efforts and commercial sales.

Oddly, those criteria have led to the inclusion of recordings that Furtwngler chose not to release, such as “Valkure” and “Götterdamrung” from “Ring” he led in London in 1937. And innumerable live recordings have been released, even those that have previously appeared on the Warner and Universal labels, including Strauss through His Wrath. “Transform” in 1947; his astonishing “ring” for Italian radio in 1953; His Disastrous, Distraught Accounts of the Brahmins third And fourth; and almost all its mysterious brukner.

Perhaps this decision isn’t so shocking when you consider that all but a few live tapes have to dedicate less than two discs to the war, The Defining Period of Furtwngler’s Life. The timeline provided in the notes, in the present tense, states that he “limits his activities” during the war years, although finds himself “obliged to participate”. some official events. “ Box’s curator Topakian writes that the post-war Beethoven VII in Vienna depicts Furtwngler “in its purest form”, while the intensity of his Berlin account 1942 “It had nothing to do with work.” There’s some amnesia going on here.

But although often Furtwngler declared himself a non-political artist, his conservative, nationalist worldview could not be separated from his demeanor, as did composer Roger Allen. Has shown – Not even after 1945, when most of the recording was done at Warner Box.

Born in 1886 to an archeology professor and a painter, Furtwngler grew up in Waiting, thinking of himself as Beethoven. But reviews of his early works were barbaric; Historian Chris Walton did not return to compose in earnest. Have got, until the mid-1930s, when Nazi cultural policy destroyed modernism and made room for infinite, Half-Brucknerian wanderings.

Furtwngler found no such resistance as a conductor. After a series of short positions, notably in Mannheim, he became chief conductor of both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1922, later leaving the Leipzig position with the Vienna Philharmonic for one.

During this period, Furtwngler established an aesthetic that has uneasy resonance today. His promotion of the indomitable supremacy of German art was a major part of this – even as he conducted Schönberg despite his hatred of postmodernism. But his method of analyzing scores and even his principle of operation was expressed in chaotic language. He wrote that the music should not be banned—that is, “unless it is a clear case of either nonsense or kitsch or anti-state cultural Bolshevism.”

The rise of operatic styles that challenged the all-literary literaryism of his rival, Arturo Toscanini – confirmed to him that the Weimar Republic was Germany in crisis. Despite his differences with the Nazis, it seems that he, like most conservatives, welcomed his takeover as a return to an authoritarian, Wilhelmine past – a process through which he came to be regarded as less of an art. will be produced.

[AfterthewarningofthedangertohisownsafetybyAlbertSpeerevenafterFurtwangerfledfromGermanyinearly1945andthen[1945कीशुरुआतमेंफर्टवांगलरकेजर्मनीसेभागजानेकेबादभीअल्बर्टस्पीयरद्वाराअपनीसुरक्षाकेलिएखतरेकीचेतावनीकेबादऔरउसकेबादHas agreed to In a denazification test in 1946, this worldview persisted. By the end of 1947, he was still praising the “organic superiority” of the German symphonists; Two years later, he denounced the “biological inadequacy” of loneliness.

Nor did Furtwngler hold back from grandiose claims about the power of music and his role as its savior. Astonishingly, he thought it wise to write to colleagues in 1947 that “a solo performance of a truly great German musical composition was by its nature a more powerful, more necessary negation of the spirit of Buchenwald and Auschwitz than all words.” could.”

Warner’s box clarifies that he did wonders in the post-war years, including his painful formality Gluck Initiative; his full revelation schumann fourth; A heaven-storming “Fidelio”; And a “Tristan and Isolde” Which has been unsurpassed since its recording in 1953.

But just as Furtwngler was nave to claim toward the end of the war that there was evidence that a “perfectly monolithic nation” was still alive and well, that he had met Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner through conflict. did, so it would be naive to think of later interpretations that were somehow different from the first.

And the dangers of Furtwngler’s legacy still exist in classical music today: the myth he perpetuated with prodigious genius; the idea that Beethoven or Brahman is frictionless “universal” in his art and influence; It is a false ideal that music floats above politics, forever immaculate. As for the man himself, it speaks to the enduring power of Furtwngler’s artistry that we still morally demand so much from him – for example, more than him. Herbert von Karajani, who joined the Nazi Party, or Karl Boehmi, who cheered Hitler from the podium.

Historian Chris Walton suggested That, given all his intellectual and aesthetic ties to the Nazis, it is probably not a question to ask why he stayed in Germany. Instead, it may be that this man who “was ‘predestined’ to be a model Nazi,” as Walton writes, was not – not at all. There remains a ray of light in him, for him and for us.

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