Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

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Belle
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Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by Belle » Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:14 pm

I've just pinched this from another music board and it's interesting. Thoughts?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjct5M8JzL4

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Oct 29, 2017 7:38 pm

Maximillian Schell was Austrian born and of Swiss citizenship. He was not German. I have seen that thing between him and Bernstein, and I agree that for once Bernstein gets almost everything wrong. Beethoven wrote several very great fugues and was probably the greatest orchestrator of all time. Saying that the next note is always the right one is foolish, as several other composers can lay claim to that fame.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by Belle » Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:04 pm

As soon as I heard that fellow say the drop-dead gorgeous Max Schell (born in Vienna) was a "German actor" I worried about his credibility, but I believe you're right. He does make a compelling case against Bernstein. What remains enigmatic is why Bernstein persisted with this thinking, as I've seen it also expressed elsewhere. And, to be honest, I'm not sure what Bernstein means by "the next right note.....phoned in from heaven" - in particular how that relates to form.

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by John F » Mon Oct 30, 2017 6:32 am

Typical Bernstein, who was a great talker but not a great thinker and certainly no scholar. He also had the habit of talking when he should have been listening.

When approached by Harvard to deliver the prestigious Norton Lectures (formally, the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry), he spent a year at Harvard shmoozing with the students when he should have been preparing the six lectures, and his own daughter admits that Bernstein was in over his head and knew it. So the lectures had to be postponed until the following academic year. While in Cambridge he went down Massachussetts Avenue to MIT and audited Noam Chomsky's course in linguistics. Chomsky had turned that discipline on its head with his theory of transformational/generative grammar. Obviously the formidable intellectual level and not least the trendiness of that theory impressed Bernstein and he used a simplistic parody of it to argue in his lectures that tonality is musically grammatical and atonality is not. Not only did he have his lectures published as a book but he had them filmed and the video published as well. The man had his nerve.

Ordinarily, Harvard University Press publishes the text of the Norton Lectures, but Bernstein wanted a major commercial publisher with international distribution. Several were approached, including W.W. Norton (no relation) where I was working at the time, but they turned it down; Claire Brook, their music editor, said she would not edit it. Finally Harvard University Press brought it out - they were hardly in a position to refuse.
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:12 am

It is my understanding that "schmoozing" is a kind way to refer to what went on.

Interesting thing about Chomsky. When I was getting certified to teach, I had to endure education classes. Chomsky had/has a very interesting theory that many of our evolved mental faculties are analogous to bodily organs. One of the textbooks, which spent pages on arbitrary nonsense like Bloom's Taxonomy and Gagne's nine stages of learning, dismissed this pregnant notion of Chomsky in a single sentence

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by maestrob » Mon Oct 30, 2017 11:58 am

Bernstein's lectures on the Young People's Concerts on TV were interesting: he knew how to hold an audience. OTOH, I have the Harvard lectures on VHS and watched most of them years ago. They were entertaining, but when Bernstein started grunting and groaning his way through Webern and Schoenberg, I just laughed and gave up.

Bernstein had the habit of thinking about music instead of just letting go and feeling it. No question he was a great conductor/composer, but he was fallible. His Mahler II never did gel for me (I prefer Solti/London or Abbado/Lucerne), but that's just me. Bernstein's Beethoven symphonies with New York are just fine.

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by John F » Mon Oct 30, 2017 12:46 pm

I'd say that as a performer, Bernstein did just let go and feel it. He was the opposite of an intellectual musician. And he was an effective popularizer of classical music, especially to young people. It's when he sought to present himself as a thinker that he ran into shallow water.
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by maestrob » Mon Oct 30, 2017 1:08 pm

From where I sit, I half-way agree with you, but I have to say that Bernstein's interpretations were very carefully thought through, with deep introspection and careful attention to detail, at least while he was in NY. Also, watching him conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in Mahler's Symphonies during the 1970's (originally issued on Pioneer's 12" videodiscs) I notice again and again carefully thought about details in the score, especially in tempo variations, which he indicates in precisely measured movements which the orchestra follows with amazing accuracy.

It was only during the later 1980's that his music-making sounds sometimes tired and overblown. MHO, of course.

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by Lance » Mon Oct 30, 2017 9:36 pm

Frankly, I was astonished at Bernstein's remarks in this interview. For me, he was way off base. Max, too, seemed to have a look of astonishment on his face.
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by maestrob » Tue Oct 31, 2017 2:14 pm

Belle wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 8:04 pm
As soon as I heard that fellow say the drop-dead gorgeous Max Schell (born in Vienna) was a "German actor" I worried about his credibility, but I believe you're right. He does make a compelling case against Bernstein. What remains enigmatic is why Bernstein persisted with this thinking, as I've seen it also expressed elsewhere. And, to be honest, I'm not sure what Bernstein means by "the next right note.....phoned in from heaven" - in particular how that relates to form.
One thing we need to remember is that when Bernstein made those remarks, Toscanini was considered HIP, and the idea of Beethoven's balances being "off" was, of course, based on the sounds of modern instruments. Thus, Bernstein's remarks are not informed by the wealth of information that we have today about HIP performance practices. He's still off-base, IMHO, but so were the texts he was studying at the time.

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by John F » Tue Oct 31, 2017 5:36 pm

maestrob wrote:when Bernstein made those remarks, Toscanini was considered HIP
Not at the time, for sure, though in retrospect some may believe so. There was no such thing as HIP for music later than the Baroque, and Toscanini conducted very little Baroque music and that not idiomatically by today's standards.
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by maestrob » Tue Oct 31, 2017 11:11 pm

That's my point, though I stated it in a foggy way. There was such a thing as "the composer's original intention," which was what Toscanini was aiming for. The term HIP didn't come into common use until after that Bernstein interview, but, in retrospect, I perceive Toscanini as the godfather of the movement, particularly in Beethoven. That said, Toscanini believed that the tempo marking for the last movement of Symphony VIII was wrong (too fast), and some HIP performers I've heard agree. In fact, of those that I've heard, I've not heard a single orchestra that could pull it off well as marked, although many have tried! :)

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by John F » Wed Nov 01, 2017 6:56 am

I'm afraid you still haven't got it right about HIP or about Toscanini. Historically Informed Performance is musicology-driven, based on documentary research and statistics. It's not about the composer's intention, which as I've said here time and again is unknowable beyond what he wrote in the score. Nor is it about strict literal adherence to the score - it includes unwritten conventions such as appoggiatura and improvised or quasi-improvised ornaments, about which Toscanini neither knew nor cared. HIP is really about reproducing typical performance practices, including technique and instruments, in use at the time a work was composed, regardless of what the specific composer's intentions or even his own performances may have been.

Toscanini was in no way "informed" by history; he made history. He attended the Parma conservatory in the 1880s and after that showed no interest in musicologists, scholarly editions, or academia. He was at times informed by the composers themselves, notably Verdi, who incidentally said he didn't write all of his wishes into his score, but that wasn't history, it was contemporary musical life. And when so informed, he had no scruples about changing the score when he thought he knew better. I'm not talking just about his occasional reorchestrations of Beethoven and others; he made cuts in the operas of Catalani, the contemporary composer who after Verdi he admired and personally liked the most.

Indeed, Toscanini was the epitome of the modern conductor. It's not just that he adhered so closely to the musical text; he rejected performance practices of his own time, such as interpolated high notes, cadenzas, and encores of numbers within operas. Not all the time, just most of the time. These are often dismised today as "merely" traditional, but many composers including the sainted Verdi allowed them in performances of their own works. Toscanini, and such followers in this practice or non-practice as Riccardo Muti, have been more royalist than the king.

The godfather of the HIP movement, if there was one, was Carl Dolmetsch, who not only played original instruments but built them. Or perhaps even earlier, Vincent d'Indy, who founded the Schola Cantorum in the 1890s to perform early music in what was then considered authentic style. (The concept of "Werktreue," fidelity to the musical work, goes back to the 19th century.) The revival of the harpsichord, brought back from the dead by the likes of Wanda Landowska, was the first return of original instruments to modern music-making; it happened at the beginning of the 20th century. Even Mahler had a piano rigged with a device to make it sound like a harpsichord, which he played as continuo in his performances of Bach. The present-day form of HIP is only one of several that have succeeded each other for a century and more, and in turn will very likely itself be superseded by something else. All this had nothing to do with Toscanini, who went his own influential way for 70 years more or less oblivious to such matters.
Last edited by John F on Wed Nov 01, 2017 11:34 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by lennygoran » Wed Nov 01, 2017 9:33 am

Belle wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:14 pm
I've just pinched this from another music board and it's interesting. Thoughts?
Belle thanks so much for this-I had no idea there are those who question Bernstein's credentials on thought-I'm going down soon to watch that clip on my big TV screen. Ironically in todays mail a flyer came from Glimmerglass Festival inviting people to Dance At The Gym to celebrate Bernstein's centenary and the Glimmerglass presentation of West Side Story next summer-it's being held Wed April 4 at the Metropolitan Club, 1 East 60th st, nyc. Regards, Len

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by lennygoran » Wed Nov 01, 2017 1:22 pm

Belle wrote:
Sun Oct 29, 2017 5:14 pm
I've just pinched this from another music board and it's interesting. Thoughts?
Belle a follow up-I just watched that and it was terrific-I know nothing about orchestration but sure know Beethoven is great-so glad Willems blew Bernstein's comments right out of the water. I hadn't realized Bernstein did a whole series of discussions that are available on/line at youtube on Beethoven's symphonies. Hope he doesn't criticize Beethoven in those as well-it's even worse than how he treated Carreras for West Side Story. Wonder if there are similar discussions on operas? As the clip on Beethoven finished the next one that came up automatically was a discussion of Mahler's 5th symphony and how brilliant the adagio is-gotta listen to that work sometime. Regards, Len :D

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by maestrob » Thu Nov 02, 2017 11:41 am

As usual, JohnF, you got me wrong. You're not a musician, you're an intellectual, so you don't understand the connection between Toscanini and today's HIP practices. I was talking about tempo, and Toscanini was the pioneer in going back to the original tempo in Beethoven and other composers (Brahms, for example). He famously wrestled with the first movement of Brahms I, and came up with a unique solution, which was copied by, among others, Charles Mackerras on Telarc.

In fact, today's HIP practices in regard to tempo echo what Toscanini was trying to accomplish nearly 75-100 years ago.

As usual, I appreciate your depth of knowledge and of course your ability to research your posts, which I do not possess.

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by Belle » Thu Nov 02, 2017 3:44 pm

Well this is very interesting; I did not know this maestrob. I have a book by Thurston Dart ("The Interpretation of Music") who was among the earlier practitioners of HIP back in the 1940s. And I expect a full head of steam was developed once the harpsichord was replicated to sound more like it did originally rather than Beecham's "skeletons copulating on a tin roof"!! I know nothing about Toscanini except that his Mercury recordings are somewhat legendary.

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by John F » Fri Nov 03, 2017 3:11 am

maestrob wrote:
Thu Nov 02, 2017 11:41 am
As usual, JohnF, you got me wrong. You're not a musician, you're an intellectual, so you don't understand the connection between Toscanini and today's HIP practices. I was talking about tempo, and Toscanini was the pioneer in going back to the original tempo in Beethoven and other composers (Brahms, for example). He famously wrestled with the first movement of Brahms I, and came up with a unique solution, which was copied by, among others, Charles Mackerras on Telarc.
Trying to disqualify me is playing foul, maestrob. Please don't do that. Besides, today's HIP is first and foremost an intellectual movement, originating in musicology and the study of historical documents and statistics, which some musicians have found attractive and have picked up on. So perhaps it takes an "intellectual" to understand what's actually going on.

Regarding Brahms, I have information that perhaps you don't. From Harvey Sachs's new Toscanini biography: "In September [1909] he went to Munich to attend a Brahms festival under the direction of Fritz Steinbach, a conductor greatly admired by Brahms himself. Steinbach's programs included all four symphonies, the 'Haydn' variations, the violin concerto, the German Requiem, and other choral-orchestral pieces. 'I have enjoyed myself beyond words,' he wrote to [Enrico] Polo. 'Brahms is great - Steinbach marvelous.' He fixed Steinbach's Brahms interpretations in his memory and thereafter made abundant use of his recollections." This was not "historical information," which in today's HIP is obtained from documents and statistics; it was a directly conveyed aural tradition, to which HIP is actively hostile. (If you doubt that, see Richard Taruskin's essay "Tradition and Authority" in "Text and Act.")

Charles Mackerras's recordings of Brahms with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were explicitly based on a 1933 typescript by Walter Blume, a Steinbach pupil, which allegedly comprises that conductor’s notes on how to interpret the four symphonies plus the Haydn Variations. That's a true example of today's HIP based on no tradition but rather source documents. I no longer have my copy of the Mackerras set, but as I remember, there was no mention in the notes of Toscanini's influence. Mackerras had no need of Toscanini, since (as he believed) he was going directly to the historical documentary source. That his interpretations were like Toscanini's is essentially coincidence; if Toscanini hadn't gone to Munich that summer and heard Steinbach, his Brahms would undoubtedly have been very different.

As for Toscanini's Beethoven, he considered the letter of the score to include the metronome marks mostly added by Beethoven long after composing the symphonies. Again, this is not "historically informed performance" but literalistic adherence to what's been in all the published scores for two centuries up to the present day, with no need to consult other historical documentary sources. No musicologists needed.

I do indeed "understand the connection between Toscanini and today's HIP practices," having studied both in depth. There is none. Those practices have not been influenced by Toscanini, nor were his artistic objectives anything like those of HIP. He did not seek to replicate the sound of the original performances; to the contrary, his style was quite new, unlike any others'. Nor do any of today's HIP conductors replicate Toscanini's interpretations or want to. Toscanini's influence is far greater and deeper than that. He began a new tradition which is still going strong; in the generations of mainstream conductors since his ascendance, there are hardly any whose style does not bear a family resemblance to Toscanini's. That's not historically informed, it's modernism, of which Toscanini, despite his conservative repertoire, was the first great exemplar.

Consequently, generations of musicians and listeners have condemned tempo variation as a "distortion" of the music - you're one of them - despite the fact that the composers themselves, definitely including Beethoven and Brahms, are known to have performed their own music with great freedom of tempo. Truly historically informed performances of Beethoven would be more like Mengelberg's than Toscanini's. And you wouldn't like them. :)
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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Nov 03, 2017 3:40 pm

This was not "historical information," which in today's HIP is obtained from documents and statistics
I adore your post, John, which exceeds even your usual erudition, but as a math teacher, let me ask you to be careful about how you use the word statistics. I know of no legitimate use of it in HIP. Also, HIP is not based entirely on documentation. There is physical evidence from existing older instruments, and everybody always knew that even a Stradivarius had been built up for modern performance, when originally the bridge was shorter and the strings were made of catgut. I say this knowing that you and I agree that HIP has taken over perhaps more than it should have.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bernstein challenged on Beethoven

Post by maestrob » Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:39 pm

As you say, JohnF, the congruence between HIP tempi in Beethoven & Brahms and Toscanini's interpretation may be mere coincidence, but I still say Toscanini started the whole evolution of musical thought that manifests itself in today's modern performances. We'll just have to agree to disagree on how we got here, as usual. The coincidence, as you put it, is stunning to my ears. :)

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