Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

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Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by smitty1931 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:35 pm

It was a time of musical giants. Who do you pick and why?

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Barry » Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:41 pm

We just (kind of) had this topic last week:

http://www.classicalmusicguide.com/view ... 10&t=33383

It's a five favorite conductors thread. I'm fairly sure everyone mentioned conducted in the 20th century.

I like Furtwangler most. I acknowledge that he had a relatively narrow repertoire, but he was SO good at the central 19th century Austro-German repertoire that still dominates concert programs.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by THEHORN » Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:21 pm

Furtwangler actually had a much wider repertoire than you might think, but much of what he performed, which included a considerable amount of then new music, was not recorded.
He performed music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and quite a few 20th century German composers who are now forgotten, as well as Debussy ,Ravel, and other French composers. He was also a friend of and champion of Hindemith.
And he even performed Nielsen's 5th symphony in the 20s when it was
new, at a contemporary music festival in Frankfurt. I would have loved to hear that !
I hesitate to call any 20th century conductor the greatest, but Furtwangler was certainly on the the greatest.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Barry » Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:33 pm

THEHORN wrote:Furtwangler actually had a much wider repertoire than you might think, but much of what he performed, which included a considerable amount of then new music, was not recorded.
He performed music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and quite a few 20th century German composers who are now forgotten, as well as Debussy ,Ravel, and other French composers. He was also a friend of and champion of Hindemith.
And he even performed Nielsen's 5th symphony in the 20s when it was
new, at a contemporary music festival in Frankfurt. I would have loved to hear that !
I hesitate to call any 20th century conductor the greatest, but Furtwangler was certainly on the the greatest.
Point taken. I can alter my statement to say his lofty reputation today is based almost entirely on his work with 19th century Austro-German repertoire, with a little Mozart thrown in, as well as sensational studio recordings of Tchaikovsky's 6th and the Moldau.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by stenka razin » Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:39 pm

Arturo Toscanini was the greatest conductor of the 20th century. His enormous influence on other great coductors and his luminous performances of the classics from Beethoven to Verdi are thankfully preserved for all eternity on RCA and independent labels. He adhered to the letter of the law, comnposer wise and made Classical music so exciting for me when I was learning the classics. His recordings are still a vital part of my lifetime collection. 8)


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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:51 pm

Carlos Kleiber, without a doubt... :wink:
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by josé echenique » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:23 pm

If I have to name only one, it´s Furtwängler, but the great Victor de Sabata, a true magician on the podium, runs a close second.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Carnivorous Sheep » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:44 pm

Mravinsky. The control and precision he exerted was just incredible. If only there were more recordings :(

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:44 pm

I'd say either Toscanini or Reiner -

the former for the huge influence he had on the entire discipline of conducting - he was the archtypical "Maestro" for so long...

the latter for his amazing consistency of excellence in a wide range of repertoire, and his outstanding record as an orchestra builder...

both for their long-term effect on conducting overall, and orchestra performance standard in general.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by piston » Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:05 pm

Martinon, Mravinsky and Reiner are all good choices. I won't vote for conductors who thought they knew better than the composers they performed! The power-hungry ones!!

How about good ol' Stokowsky? Is there any room for creative imagination in this question?
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by RebLem » Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:15 pm

On 15 MAY 2008, I wrote, in a thread called Your 10 favorite conductors, the following about my #1 favorite of all time:

1. George Szell--For me, Szell towers over everyone else. His signature qualities as a conductor were his attention to detail without sacrificing a sense of structure and the long line. He was peerless at bringing out the inner, quieter instrumental voices in a piece, and his sense of pulse and accent kept the music moving along. He was a superb orchestral trainer. He was one of the last of the great conductors whom one associates mostly with only one orchestra--in his case, Cleveland--whose music director he was from 1946 until his death in 1970. Even today, after many changes, and with perhaps not a soul remaining in that orchestra who worked under Szell, one can still hear his influence under good leadership. He worked extraordinarily well with piano soloists--Robert Casadesus, Leon Fleisher, Rudolf Serkin, and Gary Graffman. And finally, there is the extraordinary breadth of his "specialties," which included, first of all, the entire core classical and romantic German repertoire, Dvorak, and Strauss. Favorite recordings: the Casadesus Mozart piano concerto series, the Symphonies 35, 39, 40, and 41, the Posthorn Serenade, the Haydn Symphonies 93-99, the Beethoven and Brahms Piano Concerti with Leon Fleisher, the Beethoven symphonies, the Schubert Symphonies 8 and 9, the Mendelssohn Italian Symphony, the Schumann symphonies, the Brahms symphonies, the last three Dvorak symphonies and the Slavonic Dances, his two CDs of Wagner bleeding chunks, the Bartok Piano Concerto 1 with Serkin, and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 and Prokofiev Piano Concerti 1 and 3 with Gary Graffman.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:05 pm

piston wrote: How about good ol' Stokowsky? Is there any room for creative imagination in this question?
definitely an honorable mention- he epitomized, alog with Toscanin, the image of he Maestro - with th aura, the charisma.
but Stoki backed it up with great talent...he wasn't just glitz...

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Werner » Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:51 pm

I was waiting to see if anyone mentioned Furtwängler's Tchaikovsky "Pathetique" Symphony - and I note that Barry did. Yes, it's great, and quite outside the repertoire he's most famous for.

Lots of great names here, but I keep coming back to Furtwängler.

But if we are to mention the greats of a later period, let's not forget to include James Levine in a prominent spot.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Wallingford » Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:53 pm

I make it a tie between Beecham and Toscanini--and just to show I admire them equally, you'll notice I put Beecham first in this sentence (I let Toscanini have his turn in the "favorites" thread last week).
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by ContrapunctusIX » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:14 pm

For me it's Toscanini, if for no other reason than the enormous influence he had on Szell and Reiner (among others), who are two of my favorite stereo era conductors.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by 7flat5 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:02 pm

Mahler. It was all downhill from there.



How the #@%* can you say the best? Reminds me of those "Who's the best guitar player now that Jimi is dead?" arguments. There were a lot of great conductors, and of some of whom we have no recordings. For a lot of people, the conductor whose "special sauce" is most tasty is the one they pick. Then, there were the elegant and generally dependable Beechams and Bohms, and personalities whose music was lost in the politics of the bloodiest century in Europe since Agincourt. All in all, a horrible century to pick a favorite from.

Sorry. Grumpy evening.

I retract all the above. Sort of.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:30 pm

Furtwangler was known as a great conductor, but I find it difficult to regard him as the "greatest 20th century" conductor - since he was an exponent of an archaic style of ultra-romanticism that was already becoming obsolete in the first few decades of the century...

the "literalist" style of Toscanini and Weingartner soon surpassed it, and most of the great podium giants were followers of the new school...the Toscanini/Weingartner style most certainly has dominated most of the 20th century, and still persists very strongly today. very few conductors follow the Furtwangler model.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Barry » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:50 pm

If the question was which conductor had the most influence, then I'd agree with Toscanini.

Part of the mark of Furtwangler's greatness, IMO, is that he was so good at a style of conducting that so few conductors have been able to pull off successfully.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Lance » Wed Feb 03, 2010 11:54 pm

Of course, we all know that this is really an impossible question to answer. Our ideas about what constitutes the 'best' of anything depends on our knowledge of music (to a great degree), the pleasure/interest we derive from conductors' readings, and of course, on the one hand, their imagination in putting into effect what the composer wants from his printed pages. We all have certain conductors, however, who consistenly make come alive to us as individuals regardless of our backgrounds and/or education.

For me, I cannot select just one, but I have been personally influenced by at least two handfuls—figuring five fingers for each hand. I join the Furtwängler club instantly and right at the outset. I have garnered much knowledge about conducting, balance, sound, interpretation, colour, and so much more from this one man. Toscanini was always a close second but has faded for me a bit—for whatever reason—into the background over the last few years. Pierre Monteux is another master who makes music without a lot of fuss and it's great music ... music you remember. Koussevitzky gave me insights into French and Russian music as has Mravinsky. Stokowski also stands tall as among the most innovative conductors bringing to life the music of the great composers. We might even say "larger than life" in his case, but his points are well taken. Fritz Reiner is another top master for me, as is George Szell. But often times, I harken back to Felix Weingartner from the olden days whose footprint was indelible and long-lasting. I have, as most know, been a great fan of Dimitri Mitropoulos, who is only now getting his due. He was pre-Bernstein, but Bernstein admitted that Mitropoulos was one of HIS greatest sources of inspiration. Mitropoulos was a dynamo. A pity he doesn't have as great a commercial catalogue of recordings made in the best of the stereo era (same for Toscanini). While I never (or rarely) found Klemperer that interesting (there's always some things that any conductor did superbly well such as the Beethoven 6th Symphony), I did find Jean Martinon and Carlo Maria Giulini cuts above many of the others. Erich Kleiber and his son Carlos, were also in a special league. Sir Thomas Beecham opened many doors for me in Haydn and Mozart, as did Bruno Walter in Mozart. Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent also had a great effect on me in earlier years, which still is strong to this day. Clemens Krauss and Victor de Sabata should have recorded much more than they did, though there are some excellent live concert performances still around that were deeply impressionable.

Kueblik and Karajan come into the fold to some degree. Karajan recorded so much literature, opera and symphonic literature and everything else, he became somewhat of a superstar. I never fell totally under his baton, however, but certainly recognize some grand moments he left for posterity on disc.

So you see, we can all put out names that have had either a good- or bad effect on our likes and dislikes. All of the people we talk about on these boards have dedicated their lives to the art of making music. I hate to place myself into a position of making a decision as to who was good and who wasn't. Who are we to make such decisions about a person's life except to talk about what inspired us by there great music-makers.

Nuff said, eh?
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by John F » Thu Feb 04, 2010 6:55 am

Why pick anyone? Horses for courses.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Istvan » Thu Feb 04, 2010 7:34 am

Szell committed one unforgivable crime: he cut 100 bars from the Finale of Bartok's 'Concerto for Orchestra' because "he didn't think they were very good." Actually, his performance is straightforward and unevocative to a fault so perhaps he was doing the listener a favour after a fashion.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by josé echenique » Thu Feb 04, 2010 10:04 am

Wouldn´t it be easier this way? If we are talking German Romanticism, it´s Furtwängler and Klemperer, if it´s Verdi, then it´s de Sabata and Toscanini, if it´s Tchaikovsky, then it´s certainly Mravinsky, Ravel or Debussy? Pierre Monteaux, Rossini? Vittorio Gui and Claudio Abbado, Sibelius? Kajanus, And for J.S. Bach it´s Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. Though this of course doesn´t mean that Victor de Sabata couldn´t conduct one of the greatest Brahms´4ths ever put on disc (with the Berlin Philharmonic on DG) or Pierre Monteaux the finest of Enigma Variations with the London Symphony. And Bruno Walter? Well, Mozart was a specialty, but he mostly was excellent in everything he did.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by maestrob » Thu Feb 04, 2010 11:02 am

For me, it's Toscanini head & shoulders above the rest, not just for his music-making, but for his influence on other conductors of his and future generations.

Toscanini established a style & philosophy of music-making that suited the XXth Century, not only musically, but practically, as it cut down on the need for rehearsals because musicians came to repertoire with a certain discipline in mind, no matter who the conductor. Anticipating the culture of the jet-setting international guest-conductor was one of Toscanini's greatest visionary strokes.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Feb 04, 2010 11:40 am

The question can ONLY be answered subjectively. If there actually had been a "greatest conductor" of the 20th century, then he would have to have recorded soooo much of the repertoire that would prove his ability with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Bruckner, Brahms, Tschaikowsky and beyond---and these recordings must then universally be regarded as the most insightful and dynamic of all.

No, that conductor does not exist. Karajan recorded almost everything of the classical/romantic eras, much in modern times as well. A great deal of it is marvelous, but some of it misses the point. Nevertheless, I am not voting for him---or anyone else!

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by pizza » Thu Feb 04, 2010 12:48 pm

Of course, for many reasons already mentioned, it's impossible to pick a single "greatest". For one of the most versatile great conductors not yet mentioned, I'll say Horenstein. He had an extremely wide repertoire, was a great Mahlerian -- his Mahler 8 and 3 in my opinion, leave all others in the dust -- but perhaps his greatest asset was that he could coax 2nd and 3rd rate orchestras to play way beyond their normal skills and sound like the great ones. Too bad he never had a solid recording contract or post until his late years, when he had a working relationship with the LSO. Those recordings are absolutely superb.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Feb 04, 2010 2:28 pm

Even though i'm not a big fan of his, I think Toscanini must be the one with the Greatest influence and thus should be regarded as most important...Karajan recorded the largest repertoire and may be the one many people (ie the general public) think was the greatest, but, quantity does not beat out quality...
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by rogch » Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:43 pm

Pierre Monteux was an outstanding conductor, he might very well have been the best. He pioneered the music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky and his recordings of these composeres are still popular. But he was also flawless in the Austrian and German reportoire, his recordings of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms are also brilliant. His precision and energy reminds me of Toscanini and Toscanini was one of his admireres. But i think Monteux has a smoother and more transparent orchestral sound than Toscanini. If we should say something negative about Monteux it is perhaps that he was not among the most original of conductors. If i hear a recording without knowing who the conductor is i can seldom say "that is definitely Monteux".

The same can't be said about another favourite of mine, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. His personal style is evident on many recordings. Some of them are made in this century, but his accomplishments in the 20th century are most impressive. He started his own period instrument orchestra and changed the way baroque music was played. But he has done much more than that. His reportoire now reaches from Monteverdi to Bartok and Gershwin. He has conducted most of the big orchestras on the continent, not to mention his recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. His Beethoven-cycle is among his most popular and least controversial interpretations. And his Dvorak with the Concertgebouw orchestra, i never thought this music could sound that well. And all his controversial Mozart-interpretations! I don't like all of them (who does?). But he makes sure that Mozart is always a topic for discussion, not just an icon.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by stenka razin » Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:49 pm

rogch wrote:Pierre Monteux was an outstanding conductor, he might very well have been the best. He pioneered the music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky and his recordings of these composeres are still popular. But he was also flawless in the Austrian and German reportoire, his recordings of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms are also brilliant. His precision and energy reminds me of Toscanini and Toscanini was one of his admireres. But i think Monteux has a smoother and more transparent orchestral sound than Toscanini. If we should say something negative about Monteux it is perhaps that he was not among the most original of conductors. If i hear a recording without knowing who the conductor is i can seldom say "that is definitely Monteux".

The same can't be said about another favourite of mine, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. His personal style is evident on many recordings. Some of them are made in this century, but his accomplishments in the 20th century are most impressive. He started his own period instrument orchestra and changed the way baroque music was played. But he has done much more than that. His reportoire now reaches from Monteverdi to Bartok and Gershwin. He has conducted most of the big orchestras on the continent, not to mention his recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. His Beethoven-cycle is among his most popular and least controversial interpretations. And his Dvorak with the Concertgebouw orchestra, i never thought this music could sound that well. And all his controversial Mozart-interpretations! I don't like all of them (who does?). But he makes sure that Mozart is always a topic for discussion, not just an icon.

You mentioned the great Harnoncourt, so my question is does he 'swing' in Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess. mate?' :wink: 8)
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by smitty1931 » Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:57 pm

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. Now how about the greatest composer of the 20th century? My choice- Stravinsky, he brought music into the 20th century with The Rite of Spring.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by stenka razin » Thu Feb 04, 2010 4:37 pm

Prokofiev is my choice as greatest composer of the 20th century. His wide range of major and minor compositions shows incredible variety and great genius. I never get tired of listening to his music. 8)
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Barry » Thu Feb 04, 2010 4:41 pm

I'd go with Shostakovich for greatest 20th century composer. Again, as with my favorite conductor, I'm not arguing that he's the most influential; just the best, based mainly on the strength of his symphonies and string quartets.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:18 pm

smitty1931 wrote:Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. Now how about the greatest composer of the 20th century? My choice- Stravinsky, he brought music into the 20th century with The Rite of Spring.
Shostakovich, without question, he is (IMHO) the Greatest Composer since Bach, I could happily live without Prokofiev...
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:35 pm

Barry wrote:If the question was which conductor had the most influence, then I'd agree with Toscanini.

Part of the mark of Furtwangler's greatness, IMO, is that he was so good at a style of conducting that so few conductors have been able to pull off successfully.
that's because very few were inclined to take that approach into the 20th century. it was very much out of vogue...there are probably many who could have done so, but they chose a different route.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Barry » Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:42 pm

Heck148 wrote:
Barry wrote:If the question was which conductor had the most influence, then I'd agree with Toscanini.

Part of the mark of Furtwangler's greatness, IMO, is that he was so good at a style of conducting that so few conductors have been able to pull off successfully.
that's because very few were inclined to take that approach into the 20th century. it was very much out of vogue...there are probably many who could have done so, but they chose a different route.
Possibly. We'll never know how good a Reiner would have been at a style like Furtwangler's (or Knappertsbusch's or Mengelberg's) or for that matter, will we know how good Furtwangler could have been at the Toscanini style had he thought that was desirable. Although they do make a point of how he could conduct more precisely at times when he wanted to in the second Great Conductors video, I think using a video of him conducting Til Eulispiegel.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:53 pm

maestrob wrote:For me, it's Toscanini head & shoulders above the rest, not just for his music-making, but for his influence on other conductors of his and future generations.

Toscanini established a style & philosophy of music-making that suited the XXth Century, not only musically, but practically, as it cut down on the need for rehearsals because musicians came to repertoire with a certain discipline in mind, no matter who the conductor. Anticipating the culture of the jet-setting international guest-conductor was one of Toscanini's greatest visionary strokes.
This is very well said, Maestro :D

it is about performance practice, orchestral sound, orchestral performance standards, etc....not about who conducted the best Austro-German, Italian, Russian, etc...


what standards exist today because these conductors engraved them indelibly on the orchestral performance world?? who has had the greatest influence on orchestral performance -whose philosophy, approach has made the greatest impact in today's musical world??

Toscanini, and Reiner....their marks on orchestral performance practice, and standards of execution are everywhere prevalent.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Barry » Thu Feb 04, 2010 6:15 pm

Heck148 wrote: it is about performance practice, orchestral sound, orchestral performance standards, etc....not about who conducted the best Austro-German, Italian, Russian, etc...
Who is to say what it's not about? The question wasn't who the most influential was; it's who was the greatest. That's not to say that influence should be ignored or that you or anyone else is wrong to give it more emphasis than any other factor, but determining who was the "greatest" can certainly be done in more than one way. There is nothing objectively wrong with someone or a group of people thinking a conductor who had a unique gift for interpretive inspiration in the music of such titans as Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, and Schubert was the "greatest."

It can probably also be said that an orchestral musician and a listener who is not a musician are likely to look at different factors in determining greatness.

Finally, in terms of influence, while it's not the same kind of influence as we've discussed with regard to Toscanini and Reiner (and Szell can be thrown in there), I've seen several of the most prominent conductors of the past generation say in interviews that seeing Furtwangler live, either in concert or rehearsal, was the singular defining moment for them in terms of choosing their career path. That most of them didn't go on to conduct in the style of Furtwangler was a testament to Toscanini's influence, of course.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by 7flat5 » Thu Feb 04, 2010 6:32 pm

rogch wrote:If we should say something negative about Monteux it is perhaps that he was not among the most original of conductors. If i hear a recording without knowing who the conductor is i can seldom say "that is definitely Monteux".
This is an interesting and revealing comment. Does greatness as a conductor consist of distorting any music conducted until it is recognizable who the conductor is? This seems to be what so many here are holding up as a mark of "greatness." To me, a great conductor will bring to me the power of whatever piece is being presented, not as a "THIS IS ME" statement but as "this is what this piece of music has to say." Toscanini's sauce (his word) is strong enough to overpower the music at times for me. Same with many of the Personalities of the conducting universe in the mid-century. Am I celebrating mediocrity, as others have lamented in late-century conducting? No, but too much sauce ruins the fish, too.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Thu Feb 04, 2010 7:55 pm

Barry wrote: Who is to say what it's not about? The question wasn't who the most influential was; it's who was the greatest.
no the question is:


Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?
That's not to say that influence should be ignored or that you or anyone else is wrong to give it more emphasis than any other factor, but determining who was the "greatest" can certainly be done in more than one way.
but the question pertains to 20th century conductors, so 20th century performance practice and performance standards should be a large consideration...
Finally, in terms of influence, while it's not the same kind of influence as we've discussed with regard to Toscanini and Reiner (and Szell can be thrown in there), I've seen several of the most prominent conductors of the past generation say in interviews that seeing Furtwangler live, either in concert or rehearsal, was the singular defining moment for them in terms of choosing their career path. That most of them didn't go on to conduct in the style of Furtwangler was a testament to Toscanini's influence, of course.
right - the Furtwangler aesthetic had become archaic - those wishing to emulate his style, do so from the perspective of present day literalist approach...

if the question were -

-Who is the greatest conductor ever??

or

-Who was the greatest conductor of the 19th century Romantic style?? -

then Furtwangler would be a likely candidate.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Werner » Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:49 pm

The way I see it, great music making remains great music making. As performance practices evolve, new generationsnof musicians will adapt accordingly - or, indeed, be the pioneers of the movement. But this does not, as I see it, diminish the significance or the accomplishment of, say, a Furtwängler or the effect it has on listeners at a later time.

The great names and performers continue to appear, and there is something to the reaction to listening to a truly impressive musical experience to say that, for the present, "this is the greatest I've heard," only to be similarly convinced by another performance at another time.

This leads me to feel that any designation as "the greatest" - conductor, pianist, page turner, what have you - is futile. There arer lots of fine, good, imprresssive, and, yes, great artists. To select "the greatest" from among them is attempting too much.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Istvan » Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:49 am

"Does greatness as a conductor consist of distorting any music conducted until it is recognizable who the conductor is? This seems to be what so many here are holding up as a mark of "greatness." To me, a great conductor will bring to me the power of whatever piece is being presented, not as a "THIS IS ME" statement but as "this is what this piece of music has to say." Toscanini's sauce (his word) is strong enough to overpower the music at times for me. Same with many of the Personalities of the conducting universe in the mid-century. Am I celebrating mediocrity, as others have lamented in late-century conducting? No, but too much sauce ruins the fish, too."

I take your point, but I think every really good conductor or instrumentalist has his own particular voice or sound, which is one of the means by which he is able to shed new light on a composition. The neutral ones make up the ranks of kapellmeisters.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Jack Kelso » Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:46 am

How odd that so many folks here chose as "greatest" conductors who recorded so relatively little---Carlos Kleiber, Horenstein, Monteux, even Beecham, Furtwängler, Schuricht and Reiner. And much of it not even in hi-fi. It would be like choosing the greatest actor/actress of the last century from the "silent era".....there is simply too much missing.

As far as a "greatest" composer is concerned, the entire problem has at its roots which qualities one admires most. Even among musical historians and analysts there are no hard and fast rules for such an ambivilent assumption.

Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Hindemith are several of the biggest names, but any one of them---and a few others, perhaps---could be a candidate.

A serial-music fan could pick Schoenberg; the lover of Austro-German neo-classicism might well choose Hindemith; Bartok maybe for chamber music and originality......etc, etc.

Another "greatest" list----why this attraction to finding out how many and which people claim "the greatest"....?! :roll:

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Heck148 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 8:56 am

Jack Kelso wrote:How odd that so many folks here chose as "greatest" conductors who recorded so relatively little---Carlos Kleiber, Horenstein, Monteux, even Beecham, Furtwängler, Schuricht and Reiner.
Reiner recorded alot - and featured a very wide range of repertoire. and - these recordings, by and large, have remained commercially available for over 50 years, without interruption. that tells you something right there...
Toscanini recorded much also- most of it near the end of his career, but again, the representation is impressive.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by josé echenique » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:14 am

stenka razin wrote:
rogch wrote:Pierre Monteux was an outstanding conductor, he might very well have been the best. He pioneered the music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky and his recordings of these composeres are still popular. But he was also flawless in the Austrian and German reportoire, his recordings of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms are also brilliant. His precision and energy reminds me of Toscanini and Toscanini was one of his admireres. But i think Monteux has a smoother and more transparent orchestral sound than Toscanini. If we should say something negative about Monteux it is perhaps that he was not among the most original of conductors. If i hear a recording without knowing who the conductor is i can seldom say "that is definitely Monteux".

The same can't be said about another favourite of mine, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. His personal style is evident on many recordings. Some of them are made in this century, but his accomplishments in the 20th century are most impressive. He started his own period instrument orchestra and changed the way baroque music was played. But he has done much more than that. His reportoire now reaches from Monteverdi to Bartok and Gershwin. He has conducted most of the big orchestras on the continent, not to mention his recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. His Beethoven-cycle is among his most popular and least controversial interpretations. And his Dvorak with the Concertgebouw orchestra, i never thought this music could sound that well. And all his controversial Mozart-interpretations! I don't like all of them (who does?). But he makes sure that Mozart is always a topic for discussion, not just an icon.

You mentioned the great Harnoncourt, so my question is does he 'swing' in Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess. mate?' :wink: 8)
His Porgy & Bess swings big time. I think it´s the most exciting Porgy I have ever heard, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe play like gods for him. His cast is more problematic, no Leontyne Prices or William Warfields to be sure. But his conducting is A-1.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by maestrob » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:44 am

Greatest composer: I'll vote here for Stravinsky, even if he may not be the most popular, he was certainly the most inventive. He kept reinventing himself and stayed ahead of the crowd.

Most popular great composer would be Shostakovich, by far, IMHO.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Ken » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:24 pm

Do we measure greatness in terms of impact and influence? If so, then probably Furtwängler, Toscanini, and Karajan---not necessarily in that order.
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Chalkperson » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:39 pm

Ken wrote:Do we measure greatness in terms of impact and influence? If so, then probably Furtwängler, Toscanini, and Karajan---not necessarily in that order.
Turning your back on Christoph von Dohnányi I see... :wink:
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Wallingford » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:54 pm

Jack Kelso wrote:How odd that so many folks here chose as "greatest" conductors who recorded so relatively little---Carlos Kleiber, Horenstein, Monteux, even Beecham, Furtwängler, Schuricht and Reiner. And much of it not even in hi-fi. It would be like choosing the greatest actor/actress of the last century from the "silent era".....there is simply too much missing.
What standards are you using, Jack? Number of works, or number of recorded performances?
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by stenka razin » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:35 pm

josé echenique wrote:
stenka razin wrote:
rogch wrote:Pierre Monteux was an outstanding conductor, he might very well have been the best. He pioneered the music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky and his recordings of these composeres are still popular. But he was also flawless in the Austrian and German reportoire, his recordings of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms are also brilliant. His precision and energy reminds me of Toscanini and Toscanini was one of his admireres. But i think Monteux has a smoother and more transparent orchestral sound than Toscanini. If we should say something negative about Monteux it is perhaps that he was not among the most original of conductors. If i hear a recording without knowing who the conductor is i can seldom say "that is definitely Monteux".

The same can't be said about another favourite of mine, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. His personal style is evident on many recordings. Some of them are made in this century, but his accomplishments in the 20th century are most impressive. He started his own period instrument orchestra and changed the way baroque music was played. But he has done much more than that. His reportoire now reaches from Monteverdi to Bartok and Gershwin. He has conducted most of the big orchestras on the continent, not to mention his recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. His Beethoven-cycle is among his most popular and least controversial interpretations. And his Dvorak with the Concertgebouw orchestra, i never thought this music could sound that well. And all his controversial Mozart-interpretations! I don't like all of them (who does?). But he makes sure that Mozart is always a topic for discussion, not just an icon.

You mentioned the great Harnoncourt, so my question is does he 'swing' in Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess. mate?' :wink: 8)
His Porgy & Bess swings big time. I think it´s the most exciting Porgy I have ever heard, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe play like gods for him. His cast is more problematic, no Leontyne Prices or William Warfields to be sure. But his conducting is A-1.

After reading your rave and reading Gramophone, Harnoncourt's 'Porgy' will eventually be added to my collection. Thank you for the heads up, mate. 8)
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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by 7flat5 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:31 pm

Istvan wrote:I take your point, but I think every really good conductor or instrumentalist has his own particular voice or sound, which is one of the means by which he is able to shed new light on a composition. The neutral ones make up the ranks of kapellmeisters.
"Neutral" and "kapellmeister" are epithets which might be applied to all kinds of uninspired or mediocre conductors, but that is not what I am talking about. If you hear a performance and say "Wow, Toscanini" that's the one side. If you sit in silence and say "Wow. Who was that? That had the juice!" that's neither neutral nor uninspired, but neither is it the assertion of conducting personality/brand/sauce over musical communication. Ironic that Toscanini, our (perhaps unjustly) poster child for personality on the podium, asserted that his goal was to present the composer's music and to add nothing more.

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Re: Who was the greatest conductor of the 20th century?

Post by Lance » Sat Feb 06, 2010 1:07 am

Recorded too little? I just counted approximately 300 CDs with Monteux's participation. He recorded prolifically, as did Schuricht and Furtwängler, especially if you consider all the live recordings issued alongside the commercial discs which were often fewer in count than the live recordings. With Reiner, I have about 200 CDs of his work represented, including, of course, live performance and reissues, etc. Of course, I do get the drift of your comment nonetheless. On the other hand there are few (if any) of the silent era actors/actresses whose work I collect. (Probably I am missing something. The only exception to that is the silent films of Charlie Chaplin.
Wallingford wrote:
Jack Kelso wrote:How odd that so many folks here chose as "greatest" conductors who recorded so relatively little---Carlos Kleiber, Horenstein, Monteux, even Beecham, Furtwängler, Schuricht and Reiner. And much of it not even in hi-fi. It would be like choosing the greatest actor/actress of the last century from the "silent era".....there is simply too much missing.
What standards are you using, Jack? Number of works, or number of recorded performances?
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