Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of On Conducting
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

simply played through under the leadership of Conzertmeister
[Footnote: i.e., the leader of the first violins.] Mathai, like
overtures and entr'actes at a theatre. At least there was no
"disturbing individuality," in the shape of a conductor! The
principal classical pieces which presented no particular
technical difficulties were regularly given every winter; the
execution was smooth and precise; and the members of the
orchestra evidently enjoyed the annual recurrence of their
familiar favourites.

With Beethoven's Ninth Symphony alone they could not get on,
though it was considered a point of honour to give that work
every year. I had copied the score for myself, and made a
pianoforte arrangement for two hands; but I was so much
astonished at the utterly confused and bewildering effect of the
Gewandhaus performance that I lost courage, and gave up the study
of Beethoven for some time. Later, I found it instructive to note
how I came to take true delight in performances of Mozart's
instrumental works: it was when I had a chance to conduct them
myself, and when I could indulge my feelings as to the expressive
rendering of Mozart's cantilena.

I received a good lesson at Paris in 1839, when I heard the
orchestra of the Conservatoire rehearse the enigmatical Ninth
Symphony. The scales fell from my eyes; I came to understand the
value of CORRECT execution, and the secret of a good performance.
The orchestra had learnt to look for Beethoven's MELODY in every
bar--that melody which the worthy Leipzig musicians had failed to
discover; and the orchestra SANG that melody. THIS WAS THE
SECRET.

Habeneck, who solved the difficulty, and to whom the great credit
for this performance is due, was not a conductor of special
genius. Whilst rehearsing the symphony, during an entire winter
season, he had felt it to be incomprehensible and ineffective
(would German conductors have confessed as much?), but he
persisted throughout a second and a third season! until
Beethoven's new melos [Footnote: Melody in all its aspects.] was
understood and correctly rendered by each member of the
orchestra. Habeneck was a conductor of the old stamp; HE was the
master--and everyone obeyed him. I cannot attempt to describe the
beauty of this performance. However, to give an idea of it, I
will select a passage by the aid of which I shall endeavour to
shew the reason why Beethoven is so difficult to render, as well
as the reason for the indifferent success of German orchestras
when confronted by such difficulties. Even with first class
orchestras I have never been able to get the passage in the first
movement

[Figure: musical example]

performed with such equable perfection as I then (thirty years
ago) heard it played by the musicians of the Paris "Orchestre du
Conservatoire." [Footnote: Wagner, however, subsequently admitted
that the passage was rendered to his satisfaction at the
memorable performance of the Ninth Symphony, given May 22nd,
1872, to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone of the
theatre at Bayreuth.] Often in later life have I recalled this
passage, and tried by its aid to enumerate the desiderata in the
execution of orchestral music: it comprises MOVEMENT and
SUSTAINED tone, with a DEFINITE DEGREE OF POWER. [Footnote: ("An
dieser Stelle ist es mir, bei oft in meinem spateren Leben
erneueter Erinnerung, recht klar geworden, worauf es beim
Orchestervortrag ankommt, weil sie die BEWEGUNG und den
GEHALTENEN TON, zugleich mit dem Gesetz der DYNAMIK in sich
schliesst.")] The masterly execution of this passage by the Paris
orchestra consisted in the fact that they played it EXACTLY as it
is written. Neither at Dresden, nor in London [Footnote: Concert
of the Philharmonic Society, 26th March, 1855.] when, in after
years, I had occasion to prepare a performance of the symphony,
did I succeed in getting rid of the annoying irregularity which
arises from the change of bow and change of strings. Still less
could I suppress an involuntary accentuation as the passage
ascends; musicians, as a rule, are tempted to play an ascending
passage with an increase of tone, and a descending one with a
decrease. With the fourth bar of the above passage we invariably
got into a crescendo so that the sustained G flat of the fifth
bar was given with an involuntary yet vehement accent, enough to
spoil the peculiar tonal significance of that note. The
composer's intention is clearly indicated; but it remains
difficult to prove to a person whose musical feelings are not of
a refined sort, that there is a great gap between a commonplace
reading, and the reading meant by the composer: no doubt both
readings convey a sense of dissatisfaction, unrest, longing--but
the quality of these, the true sense of the passage, cannot be
conveyed unless it is played as the master imagined it, and as I
have not hitherto heard it given except by the Parisian musicians
in 1839. In connection with this I am conscious that the
impression of dynamical monotony [Footnote: i.e., a power of tone
the degree of which remains unchanged.]  (if I may risk such an
apparently senseless expression for a difficult phenomenon)
together with the unusually varied and ever irregular movement of
intervals in the ascending figure entering on the prolonged G
flat to be sung with such infinite delicacy, to which the G
natural answers with equal delicacy, initiated me as by magic to
the incomparable mystery of the spirit. Keeping my further
practical experience in view, I would ask how did the musicians
of Paris arrive at so perfect a solution of the difficult
problem? By the most conscientious diligence. They were not
content with mutual admiration and congratulation (sich
gegenseitig Complimente zu machen) nor did they assume that
difficulties must disappear before them as a matter of course.
French musicians in the main belong to the Italian school; its
influence upon them has been beneficial in as much as they have
thus been taught to approach music mainly through the medium of
the human voice. The French idea of playing an instrument well is
to be able to SING well upon it. And (as already said) that
superb orchestra SANG the symphony. The possibility of its being
well sung implies that the TRUE TEMPO had been found: and this is
the second point which impressed me at the time. Old Habeneck was
not the medium of any abstract aesthetical inspiration--he was
devoid of "genius:" BUT HE FOUND THE RIGHT TEMPO WHILE
PERSISTENTLY FIXING THE ATTENTION OF HIS ORCHESTRA UPON THE MELOS
[Footnote: MELODY in all its aspects.] OF THE SYMPHONY.

THE RIGHT COMPREHENSION OF THE MELOS IS THE SOLE GUIDE TO THE
RIGHT TEMPO; these two things are inseparable: the one implies
and qualifies the other. As a proof of my assertion that the
majority of performances of instrumental music with us are faulty
it is sufficient to point out that OUR CONDUCTORS SO FREQUENTLY
FAIL TO FIND THE TRUE TEMPO BECAUSE THEY ARE IGNORANT OF SINGING.
I have not yet met with a German Capellmeister or Musik-director
who, be it with good or bad voice, can really sing a melody.
These people look upon music as a singularly abstract sort of
thing, an amalgam of grammar, arithmetic, and digital
gymnastics;--to be an adept in which may fit a man for a
mastership at a conservatory or a musical gymnasium; but it does
not follow from this that he will be able to put life and soul
into a musical performance. The whole duty of a conductor is
comprised in his ability always to indicate the right TEMPO. His
choice of tempi will show whether he understands the piece or
not. With good players again the true tempo induces correct
phrasing and expression, and conversely, with a conductor, the
idea of appropriate phrasing and expression will induce the
conception of the true tempo.

This, however, is by no means so simple a matter as it appears.
Older composers probably felt so, for they are content with the
simplest general indications. Haydn and Mozart made use of the
term "Andante" as the mean between "Allegro" and "Adagio," and
thought it sufficient to indicate a few gradations and
modifications of these terms.

Sebastian Bach, as a rule, does not indicate tempo at all, which
in a truly musical sense is perhaps best. He may have said to
himself: whoever does not understand my themes and figures, and
does not feel their character and expression, will not be much
the wiser for an Italian indication of tempo.

Let me be permitted to mention a few facts which concern me
personally. In my earlier operas I gave detailed directions as to
the tempi, and indicated them (as I thought) accurately, by means
of the Metronome. Subsequently, whenever I had occasion to
protest against a particularly absurd tempo, in "Tannhauser" for
instance, I was assured that the Metronome had been consulted and
carefully followed. In my later works I omitted the metronome and
merely described the main tempi in general terms, paying,
however, particular attention to the various modifications of
tempo. It would appear that general directions also tend to vex
and confuse Capellmeisters, especially when they are expressed in
plain German words. Accustomed to the conventional Italian terms
these gentlemen are apt to lose their wits when, for instance, I
write "moderate." Not long ago a Capellmeister complained of that
term (massig) which I employed in the score of "Das Rheingold";
the music, (it was reported) lasted exactly two hours and a half
at rehearsals under a conductor whom I had personally instructed;
whereas, at the performances and under the beat of the official
Capellmeister, it lasted fully three hours! (according to the
report of the "Allgemeine Zeitung"). Wherefore, indeed, did I
write "Massig"? To match this I have been informed that the
overture to "Tannhauser," which, when I conducted it at Dresden,
used to last twelve minutes, now lasts twenty. No doubt I am here
alluding to thoroughly incompetent persons who are particularly
shy of Alla breve time, and who stick to their correct and normal
crotchet beats, four in a bar, merely to shew they are present

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com