Magazine article The Spectator

Music Codes of Conduct

Magazine article The Spectator

Music Codes of Conduct

Article excerpt

Not long ago the great conductors of classical music were general practitioners. They expected to give satisfactory interpretations of music written from the beginnings of symphonic composition to the present day, and audiences took it for granted that, if they knew what they were doing with Mozart and Beethoven, they could be trusted with Handel and Stravinsky. Their orchestras adopted the same approach and, within a narrow definition that bespeaks a more innocent age, everyone was content.

There was little concern that Handel would not have recognised the sound that the instruments of the modern orchestra was making; and no one was disturbed that the big hero figure out front with the histrionic gestures was an anachronism, liable to overblow the delicate textures of both Handel and Stravinsky.

Then came the Early Music revolution of the Seventies and Eighties - preceded by a similar kind of head-scratching in the performance of some contemporary music - and this cosy world was torn apart. Whole repertoires were taken away from the generalists, a new democratic spirit informed the management of the players, and the emperors of the podium found it much harder to convince the world that what they had to say should be listened to as if by divine right. This must have made conducting a Mahler symphony a much trickier task than it had been in the days of directing by imperial edict, and it made performing a Bach concerto effectively impossible.

Counterpoint does not react well to overromanticised grandstanding, and the likes of Toscanini had little option but to accept the fact.

This era effectively ended with the death of Herbert von Karajan in 1989. Although the appointment of Claudio Abbado, who died last month at the age of 80, to succeed him at the Berlin Philharmonic - the first non-German to hold the post - was a sign of the times, there was a lingering sense that what Abbado represented did not suit the great tradition of this orchestra. Of course they could have had a man like Lorin Maazel, whose autocratic style is old-fashioned by any reckoning; but they decided that, if they were to have a foreigner, they would have one they could sympathise with; and so a mould was broken. Abbado's rehearsals may have been the opposite of Karajan's: he said little and could seem unhelpfully introverted, but there was no doubting the power of his live performances. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.