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

is produced in the operatic world it is generally due to the
right instincts of the vocalists, just as in the orchestra the
merit lies almost entirely in the good sense of the musicians.
One has only to examine an orchestra part of "Norma," for
instance, to see what a curious musical changeling (Wechselbalg)
such innocent looking sheets of music paper can be turned into;
the mere succession of the transpositions--the Adagio of an Aria
in F sharp major, the Allegro in F, and between the two (for the
sake of the military band) a transition in E flat--offers a truly
horrifying picture of the music to which such an esteemed
conductor cheerfully beats time.

It was only at a suburban theatre at Turin (i.e., in Italy) that
I witnessed a correct and complete performance of the "Barber of
Seville;" for our conductors grudge the trouble it takes to do
justice even to a simple score such as "Il Barbiere." They have
no notion that a perfectly correct performance, be it of the most
insignificant opera can produce an excellent impression upon an
educated mind, simply by reason of its correctness. Even the
shallowest theatrical concoctions, at the smallest Parisian
theatres, can produce a pleasant aesthetical effect, since, as a
rule, they are carefully rehearsed, and correctly rendered. The
power of the artistic principle is, in fact, so great that an
aesthetic result is at once attained, if only some part of that
principle be properly applied, and its conditions fulfilled: and
such is true art, although it may be on a very low level. But we
do not get such aesthetic results in Germany, unless it be at
PERFORMANCES OF BALLETS, in Vienna, or Berlin. Here the whole
matter is in the hands of one man--the ballet-master--and that
man knows his business. Fortunately, he is in a position to
dictate the rate of movement to the orchestra, for the expression
as well as for the tempo, and he does so, not according to his
individual whim, like an operatic singer, but with a view to the
ensemble, the consensus of all the artistic factors; and now, of
a sudden, it comes to pass that the orchestra plays correctly! A
rare sense of satisfaction will be felt by everyone who, after
the tortures of an opera, witnesses a performance of one of those

In this way the stage manager might lend his aid to the ensemble
of the opera. But, singularly enough, the fiction that the opera
is a branch of absolute music is everywhere kept up; every
vocalist is aware of the musical director's ignorance of the
business of an opera; yet--if it should happen that the right
instincts of gifted singers, musicians and executants generally
are aroused by a fine work, and bring about a successful
performance--are we not accustomed to see the Herr Capellmeister
called to the front, and otherwise rewarded, as the
representative of the total artistic achievement? Ought he not
himself to be surprised at this? Is he not, in his turn, in a
position to pray, "Forgive them, they know not what they do?"

But as I wished to speak of Conducting proper, and do not want to
lose my way in the operatic wilderness, I have only to confess
that I have come to the end of this chapter. I cannot dispute
about the conducting of our capellmeisters at the theatres.
Singers may do so, when they have to complain that this conductor
is not accommodating enough, or that the other one does not give
them their cues properly: in short, from the stand-point of
vulgar journeyman-work, a discussion may be possible. BUT FROM
CANNOT BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT AT ALL. Among Germans, now living, I
am, perhaps, the only person who can venture openly to pronounce
so general a condemnation, and I maintain that I am not exceeding
the limits of my province when I do so.

If I try to sum up my experiences, regarding performances of my
own operas, I am at a loss to distinguish with which of the
qualities of our conductors I am concerned. Is it the spirit in
which they treat German music in the concert rooms, or the spirit
in which they deal with the opera at the theatres? I believe it
to be my particular and personal misfortune that the two spirits
meet in my operas, and mutually encourage one another in a rather
dubious kind of way. Whenever the former spirit, which practices
upon our classical concert music, gets a chance--as in the
instrumental introductions to my operas--I have invariably
discovered the disastrous consequences of the bad habits already
described at such length. I need only speak of the tempo, which
is either absurdly hurried (as, for instance, under Mendelssohn,
who, once upon a time, at a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert, produced
the overture to Tannhauser as an example and a warning), or
muddled (like the introduction to Lohengrin at Berlin, and almost
everywhere else), or both dragged and muddled (like the
introduction to "Die Meistersinger," lately, at Dresden and at
other places), yet never with those well-considered modifications
of the tempo, upon which I must count as much as upon the correct
intonation of the notes themselves, if an intelligible rendering
is to be obtained.

To convey some notion of faulty performances of the latter sort
it will suffice to point to the way in which the overture to "Die
Meistersinger" is usually given. The main tempo of this piece is
indicated as "sehr massig bewegt" (with very moderate movement);
according to the older method, it would have been marked Allegro
maestoso. Now, when this kind of tempo continues through a long
piece, particularly if the themes are treated episodically, it
demands modification as much as, or even more than any other kind
of tempo; it is frequently chosen to embody the manifold
combinations of distinct motives; and its broad divisions into
regular bars of four beats are found convenient, as these tend to
render modifications of movement both easy and simple. This
moderate 4/4 time can be interpreted in many and various ways; it
may consist of four vigorous crotchet-beats, and thus express a
true animated Allegro (this is the main tempo I intend, which
becomes most animated in those eight bars of transition

[2 measures of music are shown here]

which lead from the march proper to the theme in E major); or, it
may be taken to consist of a demi-period made up of two 2/4
beats; as when, at the entrance of the shortened theme,

[2 measures of music are shown here]

it assumes the character of a lively Scherzando; or, it may even
be interpreted as Alia breve (2/2 time) when it would represent
the older, easily moving Tempo andante (often employed in church
music) which is to be rendered with two moderately slow beats to
a bar. I have used it in the latter sense, beginning from the
eighth bar after the return to C major, in a combination of the
principal march theme, now allotted to the basses, with the
second main theme, now sung broadly and with commodious ease, in
rhythmical prolongation, by the violins and violoncellos:

[Three measures of music are shown here]

This second theme has previously been introduced in diminution,
and in common 4/4 time:

[Two measures of music are shown here]

Together with the greatest delicacy which the proper execution
demands, it here exhibits a passionate, almost hasty character
(something like a whispered declaration of love). Not to disturb
the main characteristic, delicacy, it is, therefore, necessary
slightly to hold back the tempo (the moving figuration
sufficiently expresses passionate haste), thus the extreme nuance
of the main tempo, in the direction of a somewhat grave 4/4 time,
should be adopted here, and, to do this without a wrench (i.e.,
without really disfiguring the general character of the main
tempo), a bar is marked poco rallentando, to introduce the
change. Through the more restless nuance of this theme:

[A musical score]

which, eventually, gets the upper hand, and which is indicated
with "leidenschaftlicher" (more passionate) it is easy to lead
the tempo back into the original quicker movement, in which,
finally, it will be found capable to serve in the above-mentioned
sense of an Andante alla breve, whereby it is only needful to
recur to a nuance of the main tempo, which has already been
developed in the exposition of the piece; namely, I have allowed
the final development of the pompous march theme to expand to a
lengthy coda of a cantabile character conceived in that tempo
Andante alia breve. As this full-toned cantabile

[A musical score]

is preceded by the weighty crochets of the fanfare the
modification of the tempo must obviously begin at the end of the
crochets, that is to say with the more sustained notes of the
chord on the dominant which introduces the cantabile. And, as
this broader movement in minims continues for some time with an
increase in power and modulation, I thought conductors could be
trusted to attain the proper increase of speed; the more so, as
such passages, when simply left to the natural impulse of the
executants always induce a more animated tempo. Being myself an
experienced conductor, I counted upon this as a matter of course,
and merely indicated the passage at which the tempo returns to
the original 4/4 time, which any musician will feel, at the
return of the crochets and in the changes of harmony.

At the conclusion of the overture the broader 4/4 time, quoted
above in the powerfully sustained march-like fanfare, returns
again; the quick figured embellishments are added, and the tempo
ends exactly as it began.

This overture was first performed at a concert at Leipzig, when I
conducted it as described above. It was so well played by the
orchestra that the small audience, consisting for the most part
of non-resident friends, demanded an immediate repetition, which
the musicians, who agreed with the audience, gladly accorded. The
favourable impression thus created was much talked of, and the
directors of the Gewandhaus Concerts decided to give the native
Leipzig public a chance to hear the new overture.

In this instance Herr Capellmeister Reinecke, who had heard the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: