The Music Treasury for 27 January 2018 — Wilhelm Furtwängler

by | Jan 26, 2019 | Streams and Podcasts | 0 comments

Conductor/Composer Wilhelm Furtwängler will be featured on The Music Treasury this week, hosted by Dr Gary Lemco.  Furtwängler needs little introduction, as he was one of the foremost conductors in the 1900s.  The show is in honor of Furtwängler’s birthday, exploring his musical legacy and style.

The show airs from its host station KZSU at Stanford University, with concurrent streaming at  The show time is from 19:00 to 21:00, PST.

Wilhelm Furtwängler birthday tribute:

Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin Wilhelm Furtwängler (January 25, 1886 – November 30, 1954) was a German conductor and composer. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest symphonic and operatic conductors of the 20th century.

Furtwängler was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic between 1922 and 1945, and from 1952 until 1954. He was also principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra (1922–26), and a guest conductor of other major orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic. He was the leading conductor to remain in Germany during the Second World War, although he was not an adherent of the Nazi regime. This decision caused lasting controversy, and the extent to which his presence lent prestige to the Third Reich is still debated.

During World War II

During the war, Furtwängler tried to avoid conducting in occupied Europe. He said: “I will never play in a country such as France, which I am so much attached to, considering myself a ‘vanquisher’. I will conduct there again only when the country has been liberated”. He refused to go to France during its occupation, although the Nazis tried to force him to conduct there. Since he had said that he would conduct there only at the invitation of the French, Goebbels forced the French conductor Charles Munch to send him a personal invitation. But Munch wrote in small characters at the bottom of his letter “in agreement with the German occupation authorities.” Furtwängler declined the invitation.

Furtwängler did conduct in Prague in November 1940 and March 1944. The 1940 program, chosen by Furtwängler, included Smetana’s Moldau. According to Prieberg, “This piece is part of the cycle in which the Czech master celebrated ‘Má vlast (My Country), and […] was intended to support his compatriots’ fight for the independence from Austrian domination […] When Furtwängler began with the ‘Moldau’ it was not a deliberate risk, but a statement of his stance towards the oppressed Czechs”. The 1944 concert marked the fifth anniversary of the German occupation and was the result of a deal between Furtwängler and Goebbels: Furtwängler did not want to perform in April for Hitler’s birthday in Berlin. He said to Goebbels in March (as he had in April 1943) that he was sick. Goebbels asked him to perform in Prague instead, where he conducted the Symphony No. 9 of Antonín Dvořák. He conducted in Oslo in 1943, where he helped the Jewish conductor Issay Dobrowen to flee to Sweden.

In April 1942, Furtwängler conducted a performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic for Hitler’s birthday. At least the final minutes of the performance were filmed and can be seen on YouTube. At the end, Goebbels came to the front of the stage to shake Furtwängler’s hand. This concert led to heavy criticism of Furtwängler after the war. In fact, Furtwängler had planned several concerts in Vienna during this period to avoid this celebration.] But after the defeat of the German army during the Battle of Moscow, Goebbels had decided to make a long speech on the eve of Hitler’s birthday to galvanize the German nation. The speech would be followed by Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Goebbels wanted Furtwängler to conduct the symphony by whatever means to give a transcendent dimension to the event. He called Furtwängler shortly before to ask him to agree to conduct the symphony but the latter refused arguing that he had no time to rehearse and that he had to perform several concerts in Vienna. But Goebbels forced the organizers in Vienna (by threatening them) to cancel the concerts and ordered Furtwängler to return to Berlin[110] In 1943 and 1944, Furtwängler provided false medical certificates in advance to be sure that such a situation would not happen again.

It is now known that Furtwängler continued to use his influence to help Jewish musicians and non-musicians escape the Third Reich. He managed to have Max Zweig, a nephew of conductor Fritz Zweig, released from Dachau concentration camp. Others, from an extensive list of Jews he helped, included Carl Flesch, Josef Krips and the composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Furtwängler refused to participate in the propaganda film Philharmoniker. Goebbels wanted Furtwängler to feature in it, but Furtwängler declined to take part. The film was finished in December 1943 showing many conductors connected with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, including  Eugen JochumKarl BöhmHans Knappertsbusch, and  Richard Strauss, but not Furtwängler. Goebbels also asked Furtwängler to direct the music in a film about Beethoven, again for propaganda purposes. They quarralled violently about this project. Furtwängler told him “You are wrong, Herr Minister, if you think you can exploit Beethoven in a film.” Goebbels gave up his plans for the film.

In April 1944, Goebbels wrote:

“Furtwängler has never been a National Socialist. Nor has he ever made any bones about it. Which Jews and emigrants thought was sufficient to consider him as one of them, a key representative of so-called ‘inner emigration’. Furtwängler[‘s] stance towards us has not changed in the least.”

Furtwängler’s conducting is well documented in commercial and broadcast recordings and has contributed to his lasting reputation. He had a major influence on many later conductors, and his name is often mentioned when discussing their interpretive styles.  This evening, The Music Treasury explores Furtwängler’s approach in music not often associated with his strict adherence to the Great German Tradition, including performances in venues other than Berlin and Vienna. [Adapted from Wikipedia. LK]

Handel: Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 10 (1954 Caracas)
Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice: Act III: Piu frenarti non posso; Che faro senza Euridice? (Milan)
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 (w/Kulenkampff, 1943)
Wagner: Lohengrin: “In fernem land” (w/Voelker, 1936 Bayreuth)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique” (1951 Cairo)

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