Alex Ross on Furtwangler

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maestrob
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by maestrob » Sat May 18, 2019 10:45 am

Toscanini promulgated his ideas of minimalist intervention for very practical reasons, I was taught at Juiliard. One of these, and the most important in my view, was that if there were a universal understanding of how the music should go among musicians (both singers and instrumentalists), then this would minimalize preparation time for a performance of any work on the program. Toscanini recognized that the age of jet-setting conductors was coming, and that given international standards, this would make life easier for everyone concerned. I agree with his very practical reasoning. Today's music-making, for the most part, is not unlike the discipline of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter: tempi are steady with a few ritards at appropriate moments, while shading and color are applied while keeping the forward momentum steady. Ornamentation is back in style (see Murray Perahia's Mozart Concerti or Levine's Nabucco (the repeat in the confrontation scene between Abigaile and Nabucco: "Deh, perdona ad un padre....")).

I just happen to like music done this way, when it's done with energy and depth of feeling.

The extreme of this "movement" would be Chailly's Brahms Symphonies, which sold well on disc and received excellent reviews. I don't care for them, precisely because there IS no flexibility: I find them frigid and rigid like a marble statue, rather than living and breathing, like Solti/Chicago.

Your example of Prokofiev's playing and the anecdote of the music teacher (It's wrong!") gave me a belly laugh: how could a composer's own rendition of his own work be wrong? :oops: :lol: Yet that's what we say to students today, over and over, because style and taste have changed for now.

I'm glad you have such depth of knowledge of older recordings. I'm here to learn as well as to share my own opinions, and appreciate your willingness to do the same.

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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Sat May 18, 2019 1:02 pm

Taruskin told the Prokofiev story in a lecture published as "Tradition and Authority" in the book "Text and Act," which is rewarding reading for those who like to read about music and performance. After describing the special features of Prokofiev's recording of the gavotte, he says:

Richard Taruskin wrote:These features are completely absent in other recordings, for example, the recent one by Boris Berman, an established Prokofiev specialist who has recorded the composer's complete works for piano on Chandos. To hear it is to be finally convinced that, since texts outrank performers even when the performer is the composer, texts outrank composers too. Of the oral traditions in which the composer participated so conspicuously, the younger pianist is oblivious. One can even imagine him setting the composer straight on the matter of tempo: "It says here Allegro non troppo, Seryozha, non troppo!" For him dots and slurs are just dots and slurs, not tempo indications; he plays "just what's written," assuming the adequacy of what's written to the definition of the music as played even in the face of audible evidence to the contrary. He has accepted the notion...that to imitate the composer's rendition would be a "meaningless distortion."..

Sometimes one hears it said that deviant authorial performances like Prokofiev's of Prokofiev or Debussy's of Debussy are valuable because they establish or clarify the limits of acceptability. But that is no help. I still wonder why we are so obsessed with setting those limits. What makes the matter doubly ironic is that study of Prokofiev's performance in conjunction with the score shows his licenses to be perfectly consistent - that is, rule-bound - readings of the notation... No, I do not mean that we are to accept Prokofiev's performance of his own piece because it is corroborated by [this], only that the blind modernist prejudice against the unwritten is also deaf.
I've given myself away: my comments in the previous message are a paraphrase of what Taruskin has written. It's because I couldn't have put it better myself. :) Taruskin continues:
Richard Taruskin wrote:As a thought experiment, let's imagine for a moment that Prokofiev's version was played by Berman, and Berman's by Prokofiev. Would not "Berman" be dismissed out of hand as "mannered"? But more to the point, would not "Prokofiev's" literalistic rendition assume immense authority, because it could now be used to bolster notions of Werktreue? It would now simplify rather than complicate our notion of what, exactly, defines or constitutes "the piece."
Taruskin develops this in a discussion of recordings of a Schubert piece, and I'll put that in a message following this one.
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Sat May 18, 2019 1:53 pm

More.

Richard Taruskin wrote:Sometimes I wish we could somehow abolish scores without abolishing pieces - that is, return music to a fully oral tradition, but with our cherished repertory intact. At the very least, I think we would pay more attention, as listeners, to the kinds of things that make individual performances treasurable, and as performers, we would be more inclined to emulate their charisma...

Consider another case of "mannerism," one that resonates curiously with Prokofiev's way of doing his gavotte. Artur Schnabel's recording of the Schubert Moment Musical in F minor used to be controversial. The slurred pairs of sixteenths (often slurred onto the following eighth) are given a little push by the venerable Viennese pianist, who studied, like Prokofiev's teacher, with Leschetizky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLzv1xFGXQQ
Richard Taruskin wrote:I remember being exhorted as an adolescent by another of my own teachers, "If Schubert had wanted that, he would have written that," to which I would now answer "How?" Also unexpected and unnotated are the little Luftpausen that come before the cadences on A flat... A recording by a younger Viennese, Paul Badura-Skoda, resembles Schnabel's a great deal. He, too, indulges in that unwritten lilt on the paired sixteenths.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InAs5Q8S70M

(This is essentially the same as in Badura-Skoda's recording for Westminster made 45 years earlier. It's not a whim of the moment thing.)
Richard Taruskin wrote:Is he merely imitating the great man's invention? Was Schnabel imitating Leschetizky's? Or are we dealing, in effect, with two artists who know how to say Zwirnkäulen? It's a Viennese thing. Sviatoslav Richter or Emil Gilels wouldn't understand, as we may hear in their recordings.
And so on. I'll stop here, though there's much more that's worth reading, and add my two cents.

I second what maestrob says about the practical advantages of strict fidelity to the score. Literalism arose concurrently with the unionization of some orchestras and the self-governance of others, which set and enforced limits on rehearsal time. In addition, the performer has fewer interpretive decisions to make and the critic has a clear-cut basis for judging the performance. But practicality aside, is this good for the art? We're talking about an artistic issue, or at least I am. By definition, literalism enforces a sameness on all performances of the work, with only the slightest differences allowed.

The Historically Informed Performance movement broke out of the monotony of late 20th century performance by offering something radically different and, to our ears, something new. I expect that's why it has become so popular with audiences with no musicological knowledge or axes to grind. But throughout music history there have been other options for individual, "different" performances that often go back to the composers (e.g. Beethoven). And even without that kind of authority, which should be unquestionable though the examples of Prokofiev and Debussy show that it isn't, I see no reason why musicians shouldn't play the music as they understand and feel it, however that turns out, and at the risk of imprecisions that bother Heck148 more than they do me. After all, the performance will be over soon, the recording can be taken off, and we can go back to our favorite way of hearing the piece, whether by Toscanini, Furtwängler, or whoever.
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by Heck148 » Mon May 20, 2019 7:08 pm

I believe Toscanini, Weingartner's motivation for "going by the score" was primarily a reaction to the perceived excesses, and mannerisms that had developed during the Romantic Era - the so-called Austro-German [Liszt-Wagner-Bulow] tradition....in which the conductors sought to insert themselves into the score, on a subjective, personal level....Toscanini and Weingartner developed the "literal 'style, objectively trying to adhere to the score, without the personal interjections, and massive fluctuations of tempo....
This does not mean that Toscanini and Weingartner were mechanically rigid time-beaters, their interpretations flow beautifully, with tremendous suppleness and flexibility...esp with Toscanini there is an elasticity to the phrasing and nuance that was most effective....
I don't think Toscanini, or Weingartner were motivated in the least by unionization of orchestras, potentially less rehearsal time, or a desire to establish a standard model for all interpretations to be followed by other conductors....the unionization of orchestras came much after Toscanini and Weingartner would have formulated their ideas about conducting and music-making...

Regarding composers performances of their own works - I'm sure we'd hear a huge variety of interpretations...Prokofieff might have wildly "Romantic" and free with his piano works....but OTOH, we have Mahler's piano roll renditions of Sym #5/I - which is quite straight ahead, very much like we heard from Bruno Walter, or Solti or Abbado....there is nothing, IIRC, particularly jarring, ultra-distorted, or "Furtwanglerian" about it.
Score indications, tempo markings are by nature, a bit ambiguous, and subject to different interpretations with each individual - ie - there is no set metronome marking for "Allegro", or "Andante", or "Adagio" - they are relative terms. then, on top of this with have, poco, meno Allegro, piu Allegro, Prestissimo, poco piu, poco meno etc, etc....a little more, a little less - quite, intentionally, vague and open to interpretation....
Further - performance accuracy and proficiency can affect tempo considerably - prestissimo, played ultra-fast, but sloppy, hashy, not together simply sounds sloppy and hashy - too fast for the performers....prestissimo, played a couple of clicks slower, but cracklingly clean and precise, sounds "faster" than the sloppy hashy version....I prefer Reiner or Toscanini bringing Beethoven 9 to a rousing conclusion with ripping fast tempo, clean, together, and precise, to Furtwangler's mad dash, that leaves the orchestra strewn crazily all over the final measures of the work....yes, spirit counts, but so does execution....
same with Adagio - a slow, logy tempo, played behind the beat, with no forward momentum or inertia is deadly, soporific - it may actually be faster than a slow movement played with rhythmic propulsion, forward movement, and momentum....I realize that categorical statements are dangerous, and usually too inclusive, but I find so many of the Teutonic conductors are simply too slow, ponderous, portentous, in Wagner, Bruckner, even Mahler...they are trying too hard to pound it into our ears how profound the music is, at least, that's my impression....I like the Italians [Toscanini], and Hungarians [Reiner, Solti] better....again, my opinion, which I understand, may not be shared by others.... :)

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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Tue May 21, 2019 3:39 am

Heck148 wrote:I don't think Toscanini, or Weingartner were motivated in the least by unionization of orchestras, potentially less rehearsal time
maestrob raised that point, and as he is a professional musician while I'm not a musician at all, I take it seriously. My comment did not say that this was cause and effect but noted an interesting coincidence.

It is a huge overstatement to say of Weingartner's and Toscanini's recordings that they were tremendously flexible. The most you can say is that they were not totally inflexible. After he left the New York PHilharmonic, and except in operas in which the singers have to be accommodated, his tempo changes in the course of a movement, if any, were so tiny as to be impreceptible unless you were listening for them, which you would only do if you were trying to make a case.

Incidentally, as I've said elsewhere, Toscanini considered Furtwängler an outstanding conductor (and not just in Wagner), recommending him as the New York Philharmonic's next music director. The break between them was because of politics, not art. This is clear evidence that Toscanini was not dogmatic about how others should interpret music, however dogmatic he was about how orchestras played for him.

For tremendous flexibility, Mengelberg's your man. It's astonishing how his orchestras, the New York Philharmonic and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, managed to stay together through thick and thin, the thick including rallentandos and accelerandos that make no musical sense. It could surely only have been attained by exhaustive rehearsal, which Mengelberg was noted for (and which was no longer available in unionized orchestras). In certain repertoire, notably Richard Strauss and Mahler, this was idiomatic, and those composers endorsed Mengelberg's interpretations of their music.

The public performance of Mahler's 4th symphony, fortunately broadcast and preserved, and the acoustic recording of the 2nd symphony conducted by Oskar Fried some years after he was personally instructed by Mahler in how it should go, are the most idiomatic I know; the other conductors associated with Mahler, such as Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, had fallen under the influence of the modern, literal school of interpretation by the time they recorded any Mahler.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J18wFaVjbPw&t=1129s


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

As for Mahler's piano rolls, his tempos in three of the four selections are quite flexible compared with Walter's or Klemperer's. Members can listen for themselves:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PScJkkQPwwE&t=15s

Mahler was far from a virtuoso pianist, and the rushing ahead of the beat in "Ging heut' Morgen" (for example) may not correspond with how he conducted the music; we can't know. The first movement of the 5th symphony is steadier in tempo, as you say (until about 19:00 when he's all over the place), but of course it has to be - it's a march! I'm not saying that Mahler's piano roll recordings are never in tempo, that's not so, and some of the tempo changes may result less from interpretive intent than from his technical limitations as a pianist, but they're what we have for better or worse.
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maestrob
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by maestrob » Tue May 21, 2019 11:46 am

Gentlemen-----

What I DID say is that Toscanini anticipated the age of the international travelling conductor. I did not mention unionization. My point is that Toscanini wanted to establish a universal understanding for how music should go, i. e. basic rules of the road, which most conductors use today: assumptions such as "Tempo doesn't change until such change is marked in the score," or "All eighth notes are equal in length and must be fulfilled," or "Dynamics should be performed as marked," etc. "Any contradiction of these dictums should be considered "'wrong.'" These rules, once established, would and have minimalized rehearsal time with orchestras, leaving time to explore subtle shifts from one musical idea to the next, how to color individual passages, balance the instruments in different sections, etc.

Like you, Heck, I find Toscanini's tempi quite flexible within these limits: certainly his passionate Nimrod from 1935 with the BBC exceeds the speed limit! His 1948 Aida telecast makes all the rather light voices of the cast quite comfortable in the smaller space of Studio 8H: there's plenty of subtle flexibility in his conducting.

Certainly Toscanini's POV was a reaction to ultra-romanticism in regards to tempo fluctuations. However, I respectfully suggest that he had all these other considerations in mind as well. If one listens to the singers Toscanini prepared for the premiere of La Boheme in 1898 who were recorded in 1900, one hears exactly how modern singers shape "Che gelida manina..." or "Mi chiamano Mimi..." today.

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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Tue May 21, 2019 3:18 pm

maestrob wrote:My point is that Toscanini wanted to establish a universal understanding for how music should go, i. e. basic rules of the road
No he didn't! He established the rules of his road, and other conductors (except for WF) submitted to the powerful influence of his music-making as they heard it. A turning point was the New York Philharmonic tour of Europe in 1930. Until then, Toscanini was known there chiefly as an opera conductor. The tour was both a showcase for the Philharmonic, whose virtuosity was unheard of over there, and for Toscanini, who with such an instrument at his disposal could show what he was made of and put it across with unequaled power.

Once again I have to say that Toscanini never found fault with Furtwängler's conducting, only with his politics. If he was on the kind of crusade you speak of, you would find evidence of it in his letters and the exhausive new biography by Harvey Sachs. It just isn't there. What is there is incidents like this: in 1923 Toscanini "invited a 37-year-old German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, to make his La Scala debut with a pair of concerts. During one rehearsal, Toscanini, who had been sitting unnoticed at the back, suddenly rushed forward and shook him warmly by the hand."

And then there is Kurt Weill's observation about a Toscanini/La Scala performance of Charpentier's "Louise": "I never knew that one could play 'on' an orchestra with such freedom, such willful rubati." Sachs says, "In Berlin, where [Weill] lived, he was accustomed to hearing such outstanding German-school conductors as Arthur Nikisch, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, and Wilhelm Furtwängler - yet he found Toscanini's conducting freer than any he had previously observed."

From these and other anecdotes in Sachs's biograqphy it appears that as late as the 1920s, Toscanini's interpretations may have been more like Furtwängler's than Toscanini's. During the 1930s Toscanini ceased to make extreme rubatos as in the 1929 recording of the Haffner Symphony that I've posted here, and grew into his later, definitive manner, as in his last Philharmonic recordings of 1936 and the NBC Symphony from its beginning in 1938. These are the performances we know, and it's easy to suppose that Toscanini always conducted the music in that literalistic way. The fact, inconvenient as it may feel, is that he didn't. Knowing this helps us understand his approval of Furtwängler's conducting, to the extent of recommending him to take over the New York Philharmonic in 1936.
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by Heck148 » Tue May 21, 2019 3:47 pm

John F wrote:
Tue May 21, 2019 3:18 pm
maestrob wrote:My point is that Toscanini wanted to establish a universal understanding for how music should go, i. e. basic rules of the road
No he didn't! He established the rules of his road, and other conductors (except for WF) submitted to the powerful influence of his music-making as they heard it.
Yes, John, I agree with you - Toscanini decided what he was going to do, and such was the force of his musical power and influence, that many other conductors sought that same style...
I don't think that available rehearsal time figured into it at all...orchestras can very quickly adapt to quirky, idiosyncratic interpretations - just listen to some of Stokowski's ventures - his NBC Tchaikovsky #4, or any of his "Firebird" Suite renditions....geezus, he's all over the place....the orchestras follow him quite magnificently, which is amazing.....NBC, Berlin, RCA VictorSO....I'm positive there was nothing close to extra rehearsal time for these performances...He had to get the results on short notice, and great orchestras can accommodate most capably.
Alan Ostrander, who played bass trombone for a time in NBC [went later to NYPO] stressed how much attention Toscanini paid to orchestral balance, and detail...he devoted lots of rehearsal time to getting these things just as he wanted - with maximum clarity and correct balance and dynamics between, and within the sections. brass chords, woodwind ensemble, string section balance - all got maximum attention.
I don't think it an overstatement at all to claim that Toscanini's conducting showed great flexibility, and suppleness....in recording after recording we can hear the phrases, "breathe", stretch a little, contract a little...this was his stated style and intent....tempo is always "surrounding" a particular beat or pulse. not rigid, not inflexible....true, we don't hear the huge fluctuations of the Germanic- Wagner-Liszt-Bulow style, but this is what he resisted, and sought to change....Toscanini did respect Furtwangler, but he disdained Mengelberg, had little complimentary to say about him...Mengelberg told him that he had studied Beethoven "Coriolan" with somebody who had studied with somebody else, who had studied with Beethoven....."Bah!!...I got it straight from Beethoven himself....from the score"...

I've not heard Mahler's song recordings. but his Mahler 5 piano roll performance is pretty straight ahead, not rigid, but certainly none of the extreme taffy-pulling that we might hear from Mengelberg or Furtwangler...perhaps Mahler's skills as a pianist limited this, but it is what it is...pretty straight-forward.

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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Wed May 22, 2019 7:12 am

I've looked a little further to find out which conductors Toscanini did criticize, if not Furtwängler. "He calls Stokowski and Mengelberg 'clowns' because of their thirst for publicity" - note, not because of Mengelberg's performing style - "and refers to the former [Stokowski] as a 'gangster' because Toscanini believed he was intentionally distorting certain pieces of music." (Harvey Sachs, introduction to "The Letters of Arturo Toscanini." Toscanini "did not approve of Victor De Sabata's conducting style, which he considered visully oveactive, or of many of his interpretations." ("Letters," p. 127.)
Heck148 wrote:'ve not heard Mahler's song recordings. but his Mahler 5 piano roll performance is pretty straight ahead,
As I said yesterday, the first movement of the 5th symphony is a march, which does not permit of any deviation from a strict march rhythm. The rest of Mahler's piano rolls are anything but "straight ahead."
Heck148 wrote:"Bah!!...I got it straight from Beethoven himself....from the score"...
Toscanini really did think that the relation of the written score to the music is this simple. Forgive me, but I think that's simple-minded. I discuss why the issue is more complicated than that in my post of last Saturday, with reference to Schubert and an acknowledged assist from Richard Taruskin. Another example is that the scores of Johann Strauss's waltzes do not show the characteristic Viennese rhythm, as here:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU5JtTAV2bc

The second beat of the bar, in the accompaniment but not the melodic line, is slightly early. French waltzes, Chopin, etc. aren't played this way, but Viennese waltzes should be. Naturally, Toscanini will have none of it - it's not in the score - and conducts the waltz 1-2-3 1-2-3. Even Mortimer Frank, that tireless keeper of the Toscanini flame, admits that this isn't right.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vvjlaIFC-4
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by maestrob » Wed May 22, 2019 11:26 am

Holy cow! I wasn't talking about Toscanini's early interpretations! I was talking about technical aspects of his preparation of singers when I referred to the 1900 recordings. Of course Toscanini evolved as a musician, same as any other great artist. I even mentioned his passionate Elgar from 1935, which is later in his chronology, and still quite free with tempo.

I still feel that the Maestro evolved his way of making music knowing his influence would spread his ideas and make music-making easier for those of us who followed. He was a visionary. That we're still talking about this today is a reminder of his great influence in the world of music. Toscanini, whatever his flaws, was not a selfish man; he knew his place in history, and was quite conscious of his influence. I also suspect that when he recommended Furtwangler to the NY Phil., he was trying to help get Furtwangler out of Germany for political reasons, no? Help me on this, John, please.

You once questioned whether Toscanini's literal interpretation style helped the art of music-making. I say it has, but I'm prejudiced, having been taught his ways at Juilliard. Just wanted to make that clear. I was taught that the emotional contet of, say, Tchaikovsky VI comes across very well by following the tempo markings in the score, which is quite true, so it doesn't need, say, Mravinsky's wild tempo interpolations to be effective music. That audiences applaud both performances enthusiastically just shows that both ideas work for the public: therefore it comes down to a philosophical difference between styles of music-making. By now, you know well where I stand. :mrgreen:

Anyway, this topic has gone on far too long, and it's been a fascinating conversation! :D

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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Wed May 22, 2019 3:04 pm

maestrob wrote:If one listens to the singers Toscanini prepared for the premiere of La Boheme in 1898 who were recorded in 1900, one hears exactly how modern singers shape "Che gelida manina..." or "Mi chiamano Mimi..." today.
I've already said that Toscanini was more flexible in opera, at least partly because the singers too have a say in the tempo. Meant to ask you what you mean by this comment, which I don't understand.

The cast of the premiere of La Bohème was:

Mimì: Cesira Ferrani
Rodolfo: Evan Gorga
Musetta: Camilla Pasini
Marcello: Tieste Wilmant
Schaunard: Antonio Pini-Corsi
Colline: Michele Mazzara
Benoît & Alcindoro: Alessandro Polonini
Parpignol: Dante Zucchi
Sergeant: Felice Foglia

Of these, Gorga made no recordings of anything so we can't hear his "Che gelida manina." Ferrani recorded a couple of selections from "La Bohème" but none of the other principals recorded anything from that opera and except for Pini-Corsi, a prolific recording artist, little or nothing else. They were all members of the Teatro Regio Turin ensemble and except for Ferrani and Pini-Corsi were little known elsewhere.

As for whether Ferrani sang those selections the same in the recording studio in 1902 as under Toscanini in 1896 (not 1898) or whether her departures from Puccini's score if any were her own or his, or whether all "modern singers" shape the music as in her recordings, perhaps you can tell me more, because I find both assumptions very doubtful. It's just as likely that recording in Milan, liberated from Toscanini and with only HMV's tame pianist to work with, she did as she pleased. Few modern singers can have heard Ferrani's very rare record in the pre-YouTube days, and fewer still would have emulated her instead of singing their own way or as wanted by their conductor. If all follow the score closely, then it's not Ferrani or Toscanini but Puccini who shaped their interpretations.
maestrob wrote:I still feel that the Maestro evolved his way of making music knowing his influence would spread his ideas and make music-making easier for those of us who followed.
Believe whatever you like, but there's no evidence at all that Toscanini himself actually thought that way. He certainly never said any such thing, if Harvey Sachs's biography and edition of Toscanini's letters are to be trusted - and why shouldn't they? That would have been uncharacteristically vain of him.

Of course I'm interested in whatever you may want to say, but I'm also interested in getting at the truth of the matter, and in this thread I'm having a hard time getting you and others onto that wave length. We not only don't agree, which is fine, we seem not to be speaking the same language. Still, it's educational for me if nothing else.
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by Heck148 » Wed May 22, 2019 10:18 pm

John F wrote:
Wed May 22, 2019 7:12 am
I've looked a little further to find out which conductors Toscanini did criticize, if not Furtwängler. "He calls Stokowski and Mengelberg 'clowns' because of their thirst for publicity" - note, not because of Mengelberg's performing style
Toscanini thought Mengelberg talked too much on the podium. He was not alone in that criticism.
"and refers to the former [Stokowski] as a 'gangster' because Toscanini believed he was intentionally distorting certain pieces of music."
He had a point - check out Stoki's many weird versions of Stravinsky's "Firebird" - the horn glissandi in the Finale are enough, right there!!

Heck148 wrote:'ve not heard Mahler's song recordings. but his Mahler 5 piano roll performance is pretty straight ahead,
As I said yesterday, the first movement of the 5th symphony is a march, which does not permit of any deviation from a strict march rhythm. The rest of Mahler's piano rolls are anything but "straight ahead."
The Marsch from Mahler 5/I has plenty of room for rubato and tempo fluctuation, should one choose to do it...Mahler apparently didn't choose to do so.
Heck148 wrote:"Bah!!...I got it straight from Beethoven himself....from the score"...
Toscanini really did think that the relation of the written score to the music is this simple. Forgive me, but I think that's simple-minded.
No, to think that Toscanini was a rigid, inflexible time-beater, totally enslaved by the written score is simple-minded, and incorrect..Toscanini knew that music need to breathe, to expand, to be alive, his interpretations are lyrical, they sing, there is splendid melodic line......he was very flexible, would sometimes alter scores, make editions, etc. He did not mechanically adhere to a rigid, unchanging tempo, that had no flexibility, that is simply an incorrect premise, not supported by Toscanini's recorded discography. He did object to the repeated mannerisms and exaggerations of the Wagner-Bulow-Liszt school, which had become almost standard procedure....he did not believe that the scores supported such distortion or excessive liberties. He demanded precision, attention to dynamics, and balances among sections.
Another example is that the scores of Johann Strauss's waltzes do not show the characteristic Viennese rhythm.....
The second beat of the bar, in the accompaniment but not the melodic line, is slightly early. French waltzes, Chopin, etc. aren't played this way, but Viennese waltzes should be. Naturally, Toscanini will have none of it - it's not in the score - and conducts the waltz 1-2-3 1-2-3.
Correct, the Viennese waltz rhythm calls for the 2nd beat to be played early, the third beat in time, which gives it the characteristic "lift"....
Such unwritten nuance is standard for these works - a similar case can be made for "swinging" eighth notes in jazz pieces, even tho the eighth notes are written strictly in straight time...in fact, the entire idiom of jazz/written notation is an interesting subject. Clearly, as in the Viennese waltz, standard notation does not convey, or indicate the appropriate style for performance of the music....various prominent composers, Stravinsky. Hindemith, Schuller among them, have tried to notate jazz, with intricate, minutely detailed notations...but these by and large fail - it's more effective, IME, to simply write the straight out value notes with instructions such as "play swing style" or "low down blues style"

I think we can all agree that a score is a "blueprint", a basic plan of the work to be performed - just as a the script of a play provides the plan of what will be spoken, by whom, in what order, etc....
Nobody, including Toscanini, believes that the score by itself IS the actual music to be performed....it must be interpreted by the performer...his belief was that the performers had gotten very far from what the scores actually indicated, and performers were adding in large quantities of personal involvement that were not really indicated.

John F
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by John F » Thu May 23, 2019 3:59 am

Heck148 wrote:The Marsch from Mahler 5/I has plenty of room for rubato and tempo fluctuation, should one choose to do it...
But one would be wrong. You try marching in step to a band playing Sousa with "rubato and tempo fluctuation," especially if you're in a marching band! If "march" means anything, it's keeping strictly in tempo, and indeed there are prescribed tempos for quick march, slow march, and for all I know, funeral march aka dead march, to be played during a funeral procession to a burial ground. If John Brosseau were wtill with us he could set us straight on this.
Heck148 wrote:I think we can all agree that a score is a "blueprint", a basic plan of the work to be performed - just as a the script of a play provides the plan of what will be spoken, by whom, in what order, etc.... Nobody, including Toscanini, believes that the score by itself IS the actual music to be performed....it must be interpreted by the performer...his belief was that the performers had gotten very far from what the scores actually indicated, and performers were adding in large quantities of personal involvement that were not really indicated.
I agree with everything you say except for two words: "except Toscanini." Time after time he demanded that his musicians play the music come è scritto, as written. He was famous for that and praised for it by his enthusiasts. His claim to have learned the Coriolan overture "straight from Beethoven himself....from the score," as you quote him, can only mean that the score equals the music and is sufficient for its performance. And who would claim that Toscanini didn't mean what he said?

What Toscanini was opposing (and what Mengelberg was speaking of) is tradition, which he famously dismissed as "the last bad performance." Instead of going over old ground yet again trying to get straight what I believe are misstatements of my position, I'll go into this matter of tradition, the aural/oral transmission of performance styles and practices through the generations.

Mahler too is notorious for saying that "Tradition ist Schlamperei" - tradition is sloppiness. When he asked for something from an orchestra they might say they are playing it as they always have, and that can be infuriating to a conductor with ideas of his own, especially unconventional ideas as Mahler the conductor is said to have had. Yet his music and his way of performing it were infused with tradition. Mengelberg attended Mahler's rehearsals of the 4th symphony in Amsterdam and wrote in his own score, below the 4th bar of the first movement, "Mahler sagte in der Probe: Bitte spielen Sie das rallentando so, als ob wir in Wien eine Wienerwalzer anfangen!" Please play the rallentando as we in Vienna begin a Viennese waltz. A facsimile is here:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/555842778999491091/

The traditional Viennese way of beginning a Viennese waltz is not written in the score of any Strauss waltz, and Mahler didn't write it in his own score. But when he gave a Dutch orchestra that verbal instruction he must have assumed that they would understand what he meant and would play accordingly - meaning that he and they knew the tradition. We today have lost touch with that tradition (except the Viennese in Vienna - listen to Robert Stolz begin the waltz proper in the "Blue Danube"), no doubt partly due to Toscanini's powerful anti-traditional influence, but we can recover it by listening to old recordings - among them Mengelberg's performance of Mahler's 4th. I've linked to this before but I'll do it again so you can hear for yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J18wFaVjbPw&t=2906s

No doubt Mengelberg exaggerates - that was his way - but lacking a recording by Mahler himself (he only made a piano roll of the finale), it's what we have.

The HIP movement has no use for oral/aural traditions. Its notion of "tradition" is documentary descriptions and prescriptions from the period itself, such as Leopold Mozart's textbook on violin playing, bypassing the human chain by which traditions are transmitted between generations, whether from teacher to student or because they are "in the air," until/unless they fall out of use by musicians wanting to "clean up" the music. This isn't tradition at all, it's musicology, with which few musicians and composers have anything to do and indeed have tended to mock - until recently.

One of the reasons I listen to older recordings as much as I can is to hear how the music of the past was performed before the modernist "clean-up," exemplified by Toscanini, changed everything. There were babies in that bathwater - though it seems that few here and indeed anywhere, other than Lance and me, pay attention to them.
John Francis

Heck148
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Re: Alex Ross on Furtwangler

Post by Heck148 » Thu May 23, 2019 10:00 pm

John F wrote:
Thu May 23, 2019 3:59 am

I agree with everything you say except for two words: "except Toscanini." Time after time he demanded that his musicians play the music come è scritto, as written. He was famous for that and praised for it by his enthusiasts.
but Toscanini was not a rigid purist, enslaved to merely the notes on the page of the score....he would alter orchestrations, on occasion, and again, his performances are not rigid, metronomic tick-tocky run-thrus.....[leave that to Stravinsky].
His claim to have learned the Coriolan overture "straight from Beethoven himself....from the score," as you quote him, can only mean that the score equals the music and is sufficient for its performance.
No, it means that Toscanini would consult the score as the primary source of how to perform a work - not the accrued traditions of previous generations. That is what he sought to change...
I'll go into this matter of tradition, the aural/oral transmission of performance styles and practices through the generations.
but this is venturing into a different topic - as I stated, jazz notation/performance is much the same as the Viennese waltz rhythm tradition. Standard written music does not convey the accepted way of performing these styles of music...those styles are passed on by oral tradition- and they affect the basic rhythmic pulse, and note values - for virtually every measure of the work. Some composers have tried to accurately notate jazz rhythms, but the results are not satisfactory, and the notation fails to indicate the swing style of playing...this must be passed on orally, same as the Viennese waltz tradition....this could be notated as well, but it's doubtful the proper lift, the proper feel of the waltz is reproduced..it is passed on orally....if Toscanini performed Strauss without the usual Viennese lift, I would say he was wrong...whether intentional or not...
but I don't see or hear these oral traditions applied to the music of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert,etc....TMK, there are no such oral traditions that affect the entire rhythmic pulse, or indicated note values for the works of these composers...
My own personal experience with this is perhaps best demonstrated when we worked on Gunther Schuller's Suite for Woodwind 5tet - the middle movement of which is marked "Blues" - and indeed it is a neat blues tune, with the characteristic melodic and harmonic content of that form....Now - Schuller, who could be a real character. and author of some rather questionable opinions and practices - chose to minutely and precisely write out the rhythms to be played, with lots of rests, ties, subdivisions, etc, rather complex - with the rather unusual instructions to the musicians - do not apply any jazz feeling, or swing style into the music, play the rhythms exactly as written!! Well, it sounded like total crap!! awful....like a bunch of lame honkies trying to play the blues....we quickly remedied the situation - <<get low-down, dirty, this is the blues, like John Lee Hooker or Jimmy Cotton, etc>> the piece immediately took on the correct jazzy, bluesy style, and it is a great audience favorite. IMO. Schuller could have simply written the parts out in straight eighth notes and instructed the players to perform in swing, blues style....skip all of the micro-precision of his rhythmic notation...a waste of time...maybe Schuller wanted it to sound awkward, mechanical and clunky?? possibly, I don't know... but as the performers, we chose to NOT do it that way. the oral tradition was, for us, most effective.
These oral traditions - which affect the basic rhythms, and note values of every measure of the works involved are not at all comparable with the interpretive traditions applied by the Wagner-Bulow-Liszt school of conducting...these practices of extreme tempo fluctuation, luftpause, ritardando, accelerando etc are in no way the same as the oral traditions of jazz or Viennese waltz....

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