Conductors on Composers

Conductors on Composers

Conductors on Composers

Conductors on Composers

Synopsis

A lively commentary by 123 important conductors of the past and present on the music they perform, this work discloses fascinating insights on much of our classical concert and recorded repertoire. It reveals different approaches of these interpreters of great music and also sometimes surprising prejudices and enthusiasms. The material comes from hundreds of sources, mainly conductors' autobiographies and their critical writings, interviews with conductors, and biographical works, all interwoven into a cohesive narrative for each of the 71 composers covered. A companion to the author's Composers on Composers, this volume is similarly organized alphabetically by composer. Brief biographies are given of the conductors, and their remarks on the music can be traced via indexing.

Excerpt

Of all musicians, the conductor is supreme. No matter how excellent a violinist, pianist, cellist, or singer may be, his or her repertoire is limited, and he or she is responsible only for his or her own performance of the music. The conductor is different: he or she performs with the largest instrument, the orchestra, and no matter how good or bad the orchestra, in the end the quality of the interpretation depends on the musicianship and authority of the conductor.

The profession of conductor became established in the latter phases of the Classical era, in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The orchestra grew from the stable ensemble of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven to the much larger band of Berlioz and Wagner. The conductor changed from a mere time-beater to one who was required to mold and phrase the music of the new Romanticism; the moods and subjective expression of the new Romantic music called for an overriding interpreter who could direct all the musicians in the orchestra with his own unified conception of the score.

The Eroica Symphony of Beethoven can be played by an orchestra without a conductor--the recording by the Collegium Aureum has demonstrated this more or less convincingly. Probably the Berlin Philharmonic or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra--to name two among many--can perform the work without benefit of a conductor. But these performances can never be more than a run-through. To present the piece requires an overall conception of the work, an awareness of the feeling or emotion the music is expressing as it proceeds, an insight into what the composer had in mind when he wrote the work--in fact, what the music means. Considering all the music that followed Beethoven in the nineteenth century, to the great twentieth-century symphonic edifices of Mahler, Richard Strauss, Elgar, and Shostakovich, it would be inconceivable that they could be coherently performed without the guidance of one single musical intelligence, the conductor.

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