Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back Home

Joshua and I are back home.

Our trip was a long one, but we had a good time, and we very much enjoyed our brief visits to Oklahoma and Denver.

The high school graduation in Oklahoma on Friday night was a major affair. It seemed as if the whole town had turned out. There was an enormous crowd, and the ceremony was very dignified and very moving. It was reassuring to see so many wholesome young men and women mark the official end of the first twelve years of their formal education in what will be the last time they will ever congregate as a group. From this point, over 75 per cent of the class will matriculate to various colleges and universities, in Oklahoma and elsewhere—and, if statistics hold true to form, over 50 per cent will seek their fortunes outside of Oklahoma once they graduate from college. These young men and women will disperse south to Texas, north to Chicago, east to New York or Washington, and west to Southern California, and most of them will never again return home other than for seasonal visits. This occasion, therefore, was both a happy event for the students and their families as well as a sad one—it marked the beginning of the process by which over half of these young men and women will say farewell to their native soil.

It was good to visit my brother in Denver, too, if only for a short time. We only stayed in Denver for one day and two nights, because we accomplished everything we set out to do on Sunday. Josh and I helped my brother with some cleaning, and we helped him pack a few boxes for shipping things home. We also packed boxes for Josh and me to bring back home with us. Other than cleaning and packing, we did not do much—I cooked a few things for my brother to eat over the coming week—but we had a good visit. He is very much looking forward to getting out of Denver. In another month or so, he will be home for good.

The road part of our trip was not too bad, all things considered, because we had our own food with us and because we had good music to listen to. During each leg of the trip, we listened to “The Magic Flute”, “Fidelio” and “Der Freischutz”, in sequence.

The recording of “The Magic Flute” we took with us was the legendary Otto Klemperer recording from 1964 on EMI, one of the greatest opera recordings ever made.

This was the final opera recording produced by Walter Legge, and the microphones captured a great, great performance. It is hard to believe that shortly after this recording was completed, Legge retired from EMI, disbanded the Philharmonia Orchestra, and abruptly and rancorously ended his decade-long professional association with Klemperer (the two never spoke again, although Legge did maintain contact with Klemperer’s daughter, Lotte).

Much of the credit for the success of the venture must go to Klemperer, a great Mozart conductor still in full command of his artistry at age 79. In Mozart, Klemperer always emphasized the writing for woodwinds, and the playing of the winds of the Philharmonia Orchestra is one of the special glories of this set.

Klemperer also possessed a remarkable command of rhythm and pulse, which served him well in practically everything he conducted. Here, he chose mostly leisurely tempi, which he then invested with great rhythmic definition, vigor and spring, allowing him both to emphasize interesting orchestral detail and to propel the music-making (and the story) forward.

More than any other conductor, Klemperer understood that “The Magic Flute” is a deeply serious, noble and spiritual work. Today “The Magic Flute” is generally treated as frivolous comedy, musically and dramatically, but Klemperer understood that the essence of the work was the profound spirituality of the music, not the veneer of Viennese singspiel that serves as skeleton of the plot.

Klemperer rightly sees the lengthy tenor recitative with chorus, “Die Weisheitslehre Diese Knaben”, as the turning point of the drama, and his sovereign handling of this number, given perfunctory treatment in almost every other recording of the score, is one of the greatest moments in the entire recording. He also understands, better than any other conductor who recorded the opera, the Bachian counterpoint of so much of Act II of the score.

The large cast assembled by Legge is probably the starriest cast in the history of the gramophone, with so many legendary singers that it is almost impossible to count them.

The women are the attractions among the singers more than the men. A very young Gundula Janowitz and a very young Lucia Popp, both making their recording debuts, give the finest recorded performances of their roles on disc. Janowitz’s Pamina carries the set—justifiably so, since Pamina is the central character—with a voice of unparalleled purity, creaminess and freshness. Janowitz is as delightful in the lighter moments of the score as in the most profound. Popp’s performances of the two arias of the Queen Of The Night are, simply, nonpareil.

Producer Legge was as good a talent spotter as ever lived, and he was fearless in assigning major roles in important projects to unknown young artists if they possessed the talent. Janowitz and Popp were only 27 and 25 years old, respectively, at the time this recording was made, and both were virtually unknown—but both immediately became major international stars upon the release of this recording.

The Three Ladies (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Marga Hoffgen) are the finest on disc, voices well-matched and full of character, and the Three Boys (Agnes Giebel, Anna Reynolds, Josephine Veasey) are finer than the Three Ladies on any competing set.

The men are excellent, too, but their work is not quite as memorable as the remarkable work of the women. If any of the men is disappointing, it is Nicolai Gedda, who sings cleanly and with the appropriate sense of style for Mozart, but whose Tamino is bland, almost faceless, in comparison to his fellow cast members. Given that, however, music-lovers of today would kill for a Mozart tenor of similar accomplishment.

I have known the Klemperer “Magic Flute” for years—since I was eight years old, in fact. I know the set so well, and I love the set so much, that I can hardly listen to any other conductor in the work, on disc or in the theater. Even the recordings conducted by Thomas Beecham, Ferenc Fricsay and Karl Bohm, all excellent in their own ways, fail to move me as Klemperer does.

Josh loved “The Magic Flute”. He fell in love with the opera, and the recording, on the very first listen, as I suspected he would.

On the other hand, “Fidelio” did not move Josh the first couple of times we listened to it. Josh thought the work lacked drama and theatricality, and he thought the music was absolute music and, as such, unsuited for the stage. However, Josh is in the process of changing his mind about this, I believe.

Klemperer recorded his “Fidelio” set in 1962, Legge again serving as producer. Just as Klemperer’s “Magic Flute” recording is the standard version of that work, Klemperer’s “Fidelio” is the classic account among “Fidelio” recordings. By comparison, Arturo Toscanini in “Fidelio” sounds positively lightweight, Herbert Von Karajan is stiff, and Fricsay lacks spirituality and his reading is bereft of philosophical qualities.

It is, again, Klemperer’s powerful rhythmic thrust that propels the drama forward. Even in the curtain-raising singspiel, Klemperer’s rhythmic definition is like granite—and his rugged approach works splendidly. By springing rhythms so effectively, he satisfies the domestic, human-scale concerns of the work’s early moments before more dramatic—and universal—themes begin to emerge midway through Act I. Klemperer manages this transition more successfully than any other conductor who recorded the opera. Only Karajan came remotely close.

Klemperer is also up to the work’s great final scene, which in other hands comes across as little more than a run-through of Beethoven’s unremarkable “Choral Fantasia”. There is power and majesty, rejoicing and emotional release in Klemperer’s treatment of the finale. In other recordings, the finale is a conventional symphonic finale tacked on, somewhat lamely, to a stage work.

The cast members have come to exemplify their roles for most listeners. The Leonore—Ludwig, again—is a mezzo soprano, but she has the high notes not only to handle but also to triumph in the “Abscheulicher”. Jon Vickers is a peerless Florestan, and much more convincing than he was to be ten years later for Karajan. Walter Berry is a frightening Pizarro, Gottlob Frick an understanding and fatherly Rocco, Gerhard Unger a youthful, impetuous Jaquino and Ingeborg Hallstein an echt “keck” Marzelline. Never was a recording producer better at gramophone casting than Legge.

There is one peculiarity about EMI’s reissue of this recording: EMI has appended Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 at the end of Act II, borrowing a performance of the overture from a different Klemperer disc. It was Gustav Mahler who first adopted the practice of performing “Leonore” No. 3 before the final scene of “Fidelio” in the opera house, and over the last century this has become virtually standard practice worldwide—but Klemperer and Legge believed, rightly, that to perform the overpowering “Leonore” No. 3 before the final scene destroyed the great culmination that Beethoven had created for the final scene of his only opera. Accordingly, the “Leonore” No. 3 was never part of the original Klemperer recording. Now, unaccountably, it has been included, but at least “Leonore” No. 3 is placed at the end of Act II, and not before the final scene. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the artists’s original wishes on so important a matter should have been disregarded for the reissue of this classic performance.

(However, exactly one year before this studio recording was made, Klemperer conducted a now-legendary set of “Fidelio” performances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. During those 1961 performances, Klemperer DID conduct the “Leonore” No. 3 immediately prior to the final scene, whether at David Webster’s instigation or his own.)

Weber’s “Der Freischutz” is an opera seldom staged in the U.S. The Metropolitan Opera last mounted the opera in 1972, during Rudolf Bing’s last year as General Manager, and that 1972 production was not well-received and was retired after one season. New York City Opera presented “Der Freischutz” in 1981, and the NYCO production met the same fate: a poor audience reception and a poor critical reception. It, too, was sent directly to the warehouse, never to be revived.

During the Terence McEwen era at San Francisco Opera, “Der Freischutz” was staged, successfully, and the San Francisco production was revived once or twice. However, that is the sole U.S. production of “Der Freischutz” in the 20th Century that lasted more than a single season.

Why do American audiences not respond to this incomparably great work? I genuinely have no idea, because I have always firmly believed that “Der Freischutz” is one of a handful of the greatest operas ever written. It has been in the repertory, continuously, in Central Europe since 1821, a mainstay of the operatic stage. It holds the stage in Scandinavian countries, and it is performed periodically in Italy and Britain. Only in France can I not recall a single production in recent years, somewhat surprising given France’s abiding love for the music of Robert Schumann.

A greatly-respected conductor once told my father that there are two reasons why “Der Freischutz” has not taken root in the United States: first, the Weber style is simply beyond the capabilities of American singers and conductors—only German singers and conductors are successful in realizing the special style and ethos the music requires; and, second, the many choruses in Weber are impossibly difficult, just as demanding, if not more so, than the choruses in Wagner operas.

The 1958 Joseph Keilberth recording on EMI has always been my favorite version of “Der Freischutz”. It is as brilliant as the version conducted by Carlos Kleiber, but the Keilberth trumps the Kleiber set in its depth of feeling and spirituality. Kleiber, in comparison to Keilberth, sounds brittle and lacking in conviction.

“Der Freischutz” is the only studio recording that keeps the memory of Joseph Keilberth alive, but it has served to keep his name before the public for 50 years. Like the Klemperer recordings of “The Magic Flute” and “Fidelio”, Keilberth’s “Der Freischutz” is the classic reference account of the work. The recording has never gone out of print in Europe.

The Keilberth “Der Freischutz” was recorded in Berlin. The orchestra is the Berlin Philharmonic and the chorus is the Chorus Of The Berlin Stadtische Oper (soon to become the Deutsche Oper). Both ensembles are in splendid form.

The cast was the best available at the time, and even the smallest roles were cast from strength (a young Hermann Prey is the Prince Ottokar; Frick—the only singer common to all three opera sets—is the Hermit). The set is most famous, above all, for the Agathe of Elisabeth Grummer, generally acknowledged to be the finest Agathe who ever lived, and for the Annchen of Lisa Otto, the great German soubrette of the immediate post-War years. Both are exceptional. The Max of Rudolf Schock may not be to all tastes, but the role of Max is an almost-impossible one to sing, combining as it does the requirements of a Mozart singer with the demands of a Wagner singer. Every singer I have heard in the part has failed to some degree.

I was twelve years old the first time I heard this “Der Freischutz” recording. It was my first exposure to the work. By the time I had heard the famous overture and the magnificent opening chorus, I was hooked on this work, and I have been hooked on this work ever since. The mere thought of listening to this score again always gets my blood racing. The score is eternal, retaining its freshness and charm after literally dozens of encounters.

Josh loved “Der Freischutz”. In fact, he preferred “Der Freischutz” to “The Magic Flute” and “Fidelio”. He said that “Der Freischutz” was the best opera he had ever heard, and he immediately wanted to know why we had waited so long to listen to it. It was all Josh could do to keep from joining in the choruses, especially the great Act III hunting chorus, which he especially loved.

The post-War era that produced the great opera recordings of the 1950’s and 1960’s is long gone. “The Magic Flute”, “Fidelio” and “Der Freischutz” were remarkable products of remarkable men and women working in remarkable times. The musicians associated with those recordings are gone now, too, or in a very few cases (Franz Crass, Janowitz, Ludwig, Otto, Vickers) still living but long retired.

With the exceptions of Crass, Janowitz, Popp, Prey and Vickers, all of the artists—conductors and singers—involved in all of these recordings were trained in the small opera houses of Central Europe before or during the Second World War. Central European opera houses served as great incubators of talent during the first half of the 20th Century. The sheer number of great artists that emerged from small theaters throughout Germany and German-speaking territories is astonishing. Nothing remotely comparable exists any longer, not even in the German theaters of today.

The German operatic tradition has died out, victim of internationalization that began in the mid-1960’s—by which point all of Germany’s opera houses had been repaired or rebuilt, and had reopened, and were in the process of abandoning the pre-War custom of performing all operas in the German language—and has snowballed since the 1970’s. Today there is little difference in style of operatic performance between Berlin and Barcelona or London and Leipzig, whereas fifty years ago there was a distinct discreteness in national performing styles among different countries and nationalities.

After World War II, the French style died first, followed by the Italian style, ending with the German style. The only way to encounter “authentic” performances of French, Italian and German repertory today is via recordings documenting the work of past generations.

If sales figures are any indication, these now-historic documents are treasured by countless persons worldwide, and listened to and enjoyed constantly.

That is a very reassuring thing.


  1. I was looking forward to reading this since you left last week.

    Though I have short attention span when it comes to German operas, I shall have to check out that. opera.

    I wish Joshua and you a great night.


  2. I bet you would like all three operas, J.R.

    Each is magnificent in its own way.

    Listening to the Mozart, Beethoven and Weber in sequence, one may see the path that led to Wagner.

    You especially might like "The Magic Flute", if for no other reason than the voice of the young Gundula Janowitz. It is the most breathtakingly beautiful voice you will ever hear.

    One can easily understand why Legge insisted upon her as Pamina, even though she was totally unknown outside Vienna at the time. She is a Pamina to die for.

  3. There are phrases Janowitz sings in that set, J.R., that will never leave your mind.

  4. Sounds divine, Andrew.

    I will check them out!

    I have never heard Janowitz ever in my life.

    With your recommendation, I am very curious.

    Thank you.


  5. J.R., I think you might like Gundula Janowitz very much.

    The best way I can describe her voice is to compare it to the richest, purest cream—her voice is a lovely shade of white, and it pours forth effortlessly in thick, even, glorious dollops of sound.

    The Klemperer “Magic Flute” recording catches her voice in the freshest glow of youth. Walter Legge worked with Janowitz, before and during the recording sessions, to “act” for the microphone, and she shapes her phrases in a very individual but stylish and appropriate way. Her diction is exemplary and, when the music requires it, she offers nothing so much as unearthly swells of gorgeous sound.

    Janowitz’s only appearance in a U.S. opera house was at the Met, when she sang Sieglinde under Karajan in the Met Ring project that Karajan abandoned after “Rheingold” and “Walkure” (Karajan hated Rudolf Bing, he hated the Met orchestra, he hated the Met audience, and he hated the Met itself). Otherwise, Janowitz was happy to spend her life and career in Vienna, where she was a great, great star for decades, the greatest star in the house during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

    In addition to her single U.S. opera appearance, Janowitz made several U.S. recital appearances, but she was never much appreciated here. After she was already a full-fledged international star, she gave a recital in San Francisco, and only 900 persons bought tickets, a dismaying statement about American audiences.

    In New York, her Carnegie Hall recitals were generally coolly received by New York critics, who found her to be a “cool” artist.

    I do not think that Janowitz was “cool” so much as she was subtle. She was a very subtle musician, and the audience in Vienna greatly appreciated her while the audience in New York largely did not.

    Every conductor wanted to work with her, and she worked only with the best. She was the reigning Mozart and Strauss soprano in Central Europe for two decades, and had her pick of roles, casts, conductors and theaters. She was also a magnificent Elsa and Eva.

    Janowitz is in retirement now.

  6. This makes me want to collect ALL of her CDs.

    Thank you ever so much for this beautiful "précis" to La Janowitz.

    I DID borrow the Klemperer "Flute" from the library last night, with Janowitz as Pamina.

    However, I failed to listen to it because you-know-who wanted to take me out on an advanced birthday dinner.

    I definitely will try to listen to the recording tonight.

    Big hugs,


  7. I hope you enjoy "The Magic Flute", J.R.

    When is your birthday? Please tell me.

    You have my most sincere and heartfelt birthday wishes!


  8. I should turn 26 by midnight tonight, Andrew.

    Thank you, with all my heart, for your kind wishes!


  9. Janowitz was a favorite soprano of Karl Richter's. The conductor employed her frequently in performances of Bach’s B-minor mass in Munich. I attended one of these performances during my first year in Germany in 1973. Hers was a gloriously singular instrument, indeed. Her association with this Maestro goes back to at least 1969.

    I am no musicologist, but over the last thirty-five years I have harbored a theory – more of a suspicion, actually - that modern period-instrument vocal technique has been more than a little influenced by Janowitz. One attribute of her beautiful tonal purity, as I vividly recall, was a striking absence (in person, at least) of vibrato. I cannot prove this, but I began to believe in the late seventies that artists like Emma Kirkby, who began her famous career with Hogwood after 1976, packaged their “period” artistry after the model of Janowitz’s singing, remembering her collaborations with Richter. And I DO know that Richter/Janowitz B-minor performances were legendary, at least in Munich. I have never read of anyone adducing such a notion; but in all truthfulness the whole vibrato issue has worn me out. James Bowman was right when he referred to the "thorny vibrato problem".

    Perhaps it’s all just a coincidence.

    Joseph Keilberth is perhaps the most neglected German conductor. It is too bad that he only conducted for one season in Bayreuth (1955). Knappersbusch succeeded him for a number of years before yielding to Solti. Keilberth was superior to both those conductors. Keilberth’s “Freischuetz” IS the only STUDIO-performance documentation of his work. But now we have the complete 1955 'Ring' from Testament records, produced in stereo (and then summarily dismissed) by John Culshaw; I believe these recordings will at least forestall Keilberth’s growing obscurity among music lovers.

    By the way, although I do not consider myself a Wagnerian, it is interesting to me that Keilberth’s 1955 Ring is the only set that I can listen to all the way through without becoming restless. Before last year I could abide only Karajan’s ‘Ring.’

    As for “Der Freischuets’” unpopularity in the US, here’s another possible reason: Many Americans seem to be put off by the occult-connection in the Wolf-glen scene. I saw a couple of performances at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1981 or 1982, and I remember the American organ “The Stars and Stripes” denouncing the opera as “Satanic.” Since then I have heard similar objections by American opera lovers.

    Just another observation, for all its worth.


  10. So May 31 is your birthday!

    Happy Birthday, J.R.!

    I suspect you have lots of nice things planned, so I hope you enjoy your birthday weekend in splendid style!

    You have our very best wishes, for tomorrow and always!


  11. Dane:

    I am pleased you had an opportunity to have heard Janowitz. I missed her, of course.

    I have not heard an enormous number of Janowitz recordings, and the only ones I know extremely well are "The Magic Flute", her album of Mozart concert arias, and Strauss's Four Last Songs under Karajan.

    I have never thought about Janowitz inspiring the vocal style used by singers in period-instrument performances. This is completely new to me. Like you, I am fatigued by the vibrato arguments, whether vocal or instrumental.

    I have never heard the Testament Keilberth Ring. In my opinion, its price is bizarrely high, and unnecessarily so. Because of its high price, I never even considered buying it.

    Further, for some reason I have always kept Wagner's Ring on the back burner, waiting to study it when I am older. I'm not sure I am ready to appreciate the Ring fully just yet.

    If I lived in a city with frequent and competent Ring performances, no doubt I would have a different set of priorities.

    The only part of the Ring I have heard in the U.S. is "Die Walkure", which I heard Levine conduct at the Met. That put me off Wagner in the U.S. for life, I'm afraid.


  12. It would seem to me odd for Americans to object to the Wolf Glen scene in "Der Freischutz", especially since Americans seem to have no objection to Verdi's "MacBeth" or to Gounod's "Faust" or to the Berlioz "Faust".

    I would be curious to learn your favorite Wagner recordings, Dane.

    You will probably laugh at me, Dane, but I happen to like some of Solti's Wagner. For instance, I love his "Dutchman" and "Tannhauser" recordings, although his "Lohengrin" leaves me totally cold.

  13. Andrew,

    Levine's Wagner is the PITS! I cannot think of any American conductor who has any business performing Wagner. The late Gary Bertini was a better Wagner conductor than Levine, and how many Americans have ever heard of him?

    On the other hand, I'm probably unqualified to make such a statement.

    My fav Wagner recordings? Well, I haven't really ventured beyond the 'Ring.' I came to Wagner very late, only seriously during the last 15 years (I am 55). Among true New York Wagnerians I'm a hopeless ignoramus. Every time I try to ensconce myself into "Tristan" I become too restless to stay the night. I walked out of a "Parsifal" in Munich after the first act because it seemed to be longer than Siegfried's sword-forging scene (!).

    The Keilberth 'Ring' is the one I will grow to cherish, I'm sure. It will take a year or two, however (at least). You're right about the price (highway robbery). This is the only set of complete Wagner operas that I own. Of course, I have always adored Szell's Columbia recordings of the orchestral music - both the 1956 and the 1968 releases.

    To be quite honest, Andrew, before I was thirty-five years old, whenever I heard any recording of any of Wagner's operas, all I wanted was for all the singers to shut their traps so that I could hear the orchestra. Yet, strangely, at the same time, I was quite comfortable with mainstream works like "Elektra" (succinctly short) and the off-beat likes of Szymanowski's "King Roger," Hindemith's "Cardillac," and Dallapiccola's "Ulisse," both over which most American Wagnerians would probably cry "yuck!" An acquired taste for Nilsson, Windgassen on the Boehm/Philips set - LP's that I no longer have - eventually sparked the change of my mind.

    I have never heard Solti's discs.


  14. Dane, I have never even tried to get into "Tristan" and "Parsifal", mostly because both operas go on and on and on, for thousands of hours at a time.

    I think I will wait until my retirement years before I seriously examine those operas.

    I love "Elektra" and "King Roger", too, but the only Hindemith opera I know is "Mathis", and the only Dallapiccola opera I know is "The Prisoner". Dallapiccola's time will come, I believe, although his music is completely ignored now.

    You know, for some reason it really offended me that Testament priced its Keilberth Ring cycle like a premium product, as if it featured state-of-the-art engineering. The set sold very well, I understand, so apparently listeners are ready to pay any price for good Wagner recordings. I am not among that number, I fear.

    Solti has tons of energy in Wagner, which you may or may not like. His energy, by itself, carries the youthful Wagner works, like "Dutchman" and "Tannhauser". In his "Dutchman" recording, Solti grabs the listener from the opening horn calls in the overture, and he does not let go for the next two hours and twenty minutes. The entire opera is thrilling in his hands.

    The first performance I ever attended at the Met was "The Flying Dutchman". I looked forward to the performance for weeks and weeks.

    The performance itself was a complete dud. When the curtain came down on that performance, I turned to my father and I asked him "What happened? This performance was dull as dust."

    My father's answer: he had deliberately not warned me--because he had not wanted to color my opinion or affect my enjoyment--that James Levine was a terrible conductor. He wanted me to figure that out for myself--and I figured that out very quickly, let me tell you.

    If you ever want to hear a truly laughable performance from a conducting perspective, see if your local library has the Levine "Luisa Miller" on Sony. If it is not THE very worst-conducted opera set ever, it at least must be on everyone's short list.

    For what it's worth, my father says that the Haitink Ring is the greatly under-valued Ring recording. If nothing else, it very definitely has the most glorious recorded sound.

    For five or six dollars, Dane, you can pick up highlights of the Haitink Ring online. It is a single disc, on the Seraphim label, and it contains the predictable excerpts. The sound is stunning, and I think that Haitink is quite good. You might enjoy it.

    Haitink's complete Ring has just been re-released, I understand, at least in the U.K.

  15. And, Dane, many people believe that the finest way to hear "The Flying Dutchman" is via Keilberth's 1955 Bayreuth performance.

    The performance has circulated on numerous labels over the last half-century. The sound is supposed to be poor, but apparently it is a performance to die for.

    I do not know whether the performance is even available at present, or on which particular label it is circulating now.

    My father has it on an old Turnabout set of LP's, I think. So far as I know, he never listens to it, and I don't believe he thinks as highly of that performance as many others do.

  16. Oh, yes, I HAVE heard Solti conduct Wagner live in Europe. His "uber-Dionysian" approach on those occasions wasn't to my liking, and so I never gave the Decca set a chance. Perhaps I'm being unfair.

    So, you see, Andrew, I can't laugh at your fondness for some of Solti's 'Ring.'

    As in the case of reading, it is impossible to listen critically to everything. I count myself fortunate to have such a knowledge of Bach cantatas at age 55 when, as you have written, it should normally require a lifetime of study. I also count myself fortunate in being familiar with a vast amount of music that is hardly ever performed in the U.S.


  17. Wieland Wagner hated Solti's way with his grandfather's music, too.

    "A climax in every bar", or something like that, was his dismissive assessment.

  18. I'm happy that you are familiar with "Il Prigioniero," Andrew. I have Jorma's recording. I love it, but I really believe that Dallapiccola's supreme masterpiece is "Ulisse," which received its world premier under Lorin Maazel in 1968 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Dallapiccola himself regarded "Ulisse" as his best work. While I was in Berlin I waited for a staged revival, but it never happened. So, I had to settle on Ernest Bour's recording. Ernest Bour, you may know, conducted the French premiere of Hindemith's "Mathis Der Maler." Bour's conducting of "Ulisse" is good, but the French orchestra . . . a-hum, could be better.

    The first piece by Dallapiccola I ever heard was "Tartiniana Seconda" at the Wiener Festwoeche. It was at this event over the course of about a decade that I heard a number of other fantastic works that I have never heard to be programmed in the States. The last concert I heard there in about 1982 - before I was off to Moscow - was Alfred Schnittke's "Seit Nuechtern und Wachet," his "Faust cantata," that just blew me away! I waited to hear it again in Moscow, but I never heard ANY single major Schnittke piece programmed in Moscow between 1983 and 1990. I waited a long, long time, too, for Dohnanyi, a Schnittke champion, to perform "Wachet" in Cleveland and then bring it to New York, as he had Henze's "The Bassarids," but that never happened, either (or, if it DID, I missed it).

    I have the Schnittke cantata on a Bis label, but the quality of the performance is very disappointing to me.

    I think you would certainly laugh at my CD collection, Andrew. It's surely the most expensive in the world, but not necessarily the most valuable: In addition to the overpriced Testament 'Ring,' I actually paid $150 for the complete orchestral music of Duch composer Matthijs Vermeulen on a whopping . . . THREE discs(!). But the collection contains some bargans, like the complete Glenn Gould on 80 Sony discs

    Unlike "Ulisse" Hinde-mith's "Cardillac" was performed frequently while I was in Berlin; I saw a number of those. I LOVE Paul Hindemith ueber-passionately! I believe he is the most underrated of the well-known composers of the last century. But you have to put out the dough in order to acquire some of his most sublime, but equally ignored, works. Like the Cello Concerto that I've mentioned before in these Comment Blocks. In order to get the Concerto, you have to pay for FOUR discs among CPO's box sets (yes, you guessed it! I have it). For me that's okay, because I wanted EVERYTHING by Hindemith that I could get my hands on.

    Enjoy your weekend.


  19. Dane:

    I have always believed that Paul Hindemith was as important a German composer as Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss, and I have always liked Hindemith’s music. I do not know Hindemith’s chamber music well, or his piano music well, either, for that matter, but I am very well-acquainted with Hindemith’s orchestral works, and they are mostly magnificent. All of his symphonies should be in the active repertory, I believe—even his symphony for wind ensemble. I need to get to know the many Hindemith concertos much, much better, however, because the ones I do know strike me as not as fine as his purely-orchestral pieces.

    My favorite Hindemith composition is his Requiem to the Whitman text. I think that particular composition is inspired, but one would hardly know if from the available recordings. Hindemith’s own recording is the better of the two I have heard, but the chorus is poor. Shaw’s version features a magnificent chorus, but unimpressive soloists, an unremarkable orchestra, and bland conducting. I have never heard the Sawallisch recording, which I believe uses a German translation of the Whitman text.

    Is “Cardillac” superior to “Mathis Der Maler”? What do you think of “Die Harmonie Der Welt”? Are Hindemith’s early—and late—one-act operas worth mounting?

    I am ashamed to say I have never even heard of Vermeulen. I shall have to look him up in Grove, assuming Grove even has an adequate entry on Vermeulen, which Grove very well may not.

    I have never been able to get into Schnittke, but I admit I have not tried very hard. His music strikes me as polyglot. I sort of like his Concerto Grosso No. 1, as well as the Double Concerto he wrote for Heinz and Ursula Holliger. However, I devoted some serious time listening to and trying to get to know the Cello Concerto Schnittke wrote for Rostropovich, and I ultimately thought it was time wasted. Is his opera, “The Idiot”, any good?

    Believe it or not, I happen to like the music of Rodion Shchedrin, Schnittke’s contemporary, much better than the music of Schnittke (although I understand that I am not supposed to).

    I know Dallapiccola’s “The Prisoner” from the Salonen recording, as well as from the old Dorati recording. The Salonen recording, the better of the two, is coupled with the Prisoner Songs, if I am not mistaken. I know nothing about “Ulisse”, and wonder if I ever shall—I suspect no American company will ever stage the work. My favorite Dallapiccola composition is his Variations For Orchestra.

    I assure you I would not laugh at your disc collection, Dane. To the contrary, no doubt I would be utterly fascinated.

    The post-Stravinsky composers I try to collect in abundance are Henri Dutilleux and Witold Lutoslawski and, to a lesser extent, Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter and Krzysztof Penderecki. I think I have every Dutilleux and Lutoslawski recording ever issued, and I believe that both composers are great, great masters—in fact, the two greatest masters post-Stravinsky.

    With reference to Penderecki, this very weekend the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is performing Penderecki’s Viola Concerto, a work I like very, very much. Josh and I are not going to go, however, because the conductor is not good, and because the rest of the program is not particularly interesting to us, and mostly because we want to stay home after all the driving we suffered through last weekend.

    Moscow must have been an interesting place to be between 1983 and 1990!

    I have never visited Russia, and some day I hope to spend some serious time in Saint Petersburg, at least, in order to visit the Hermitage and in order to visit the various palaces. I am told, however, that it is better to visit Saint Petersburg via an organized tour unless one speaks Russian (and I certainly do not).

    I hope you enjoy your weekend, too, Dane.


  20. A lot of interesting things here.

    MAGIC FLUTE--I always wished that Fritz Wunderlich would have sung Tamino in the Klemperer recording, instead of in the Karl Bohm recording made at the same time. The Bohm recording is treasured by many, but I think Evelyn Lear and Roberta Peters ruin the recording.

    FIDELIO--The live Klemperer Fidelio from 1961, out now on Testament, is supposed to be even better than the studio version. I have not heard it.

    FREISCHUTZ--I could never get into this opera. I think it's too rustic for American audiences. I happen to prefer the Kleiber recording. I think the Keilberth recording is a bit drab.

    DALLAPICCOLO--San Francisco opera offered "Prigioniero" on a double bill with Puccini's "Suor Angelica" back in the 1970's. It was a logical pairing, actually, but the audience was stultified during "Prigioniero".

    SOLTI--I love the Solti Ring, but it was the first one I heard. It has always colored my view of the Ring. No other set ever matches up in my eyes (ears).

    LEVINE--The worst Wagner conductor who ever made Wagner recordings. Worse than Leopold Ludwig, if you can imagine.

    DUTCHMAN--I heard Levine conduct "Dutchman" at the Met. 1990. Every note was in place. Nothing happened. He put the audience to sleep.


    DUTILLEUX--Cleveland gave the premiere of "Metaboles" under Szell. From what I have been told, the performances were a disaster. The orchestra hated the score. 1958, I think. Things have changed somewhat since then, but we still don't hear much Dutilleux in Cleveland.

    Has Minnesota Opera announced "Ulisse" for next year?

  21. Levine is not a Verdi conductor, either, so I'm not surprised that his Luisa Miller stinks.

    Truthfully, Levine can't conduct anything. He gets the notes right, and that's about it. He's a rehearsal conductor.

    Did Joshua change his blog?

  22. Robert, Minnesota Opera will be performing Dallapiccola's "Ulisse" in February 2071.

    Alas, I will not be able to attend any of the performances, as I have knee replacement surgery scheduled for that month.

    Casting is yet to be announced.

  23. Andrew, I admire Lutoslawski’s early work, but many of his latter pieces seem little more than exercises in pedantry – but pedantry of a humorous kind, sort of like Holoferne’s poetry in “Love’s Labor’s Lost”: “Hercules [defeated] Cerberes, that three –headed canus . . . strangled serpents in his manus.” A case in point is “Chain 2” for violin and orchestra. In New York I remember hearing a broadcast of an interview with Daniel Majesky conducted by Klaus George Roy, who asked the concertmaster, “Is [Chain 2] well written for the violin?” Majesky responded with affirming, and typically refreshing cador, “Not especially.”

    I’m not so sure I can say the same thing about Penderecki. Of course, the consensus among critics and musicologists is that the composers work after Yale is dismissively retrogressive. But I happen to like both the “St. Luke Passion” and the later “Credo ”

    The case of Hindemith, however, is much clearer in my mind; but rather than becoming worse, like Lutoslawsky, Hindemith, at least in the operatic form, got better and better as he aged.

    While poor Catarina Lagendza was suffering through Brunnhilde at the Deutsche Oper in 1977 – her facial contortions in Act II of “Die Walkuere” reminded me of an Olympic swimmer coming up for air – I headed out to what Americans called at the time the “Zone” to hear Hindemith’s early triptych of one-act operas at the Munich Opera: “Moerder, Hoffnung der Frauen,” “Das Nusch-Nuschi,” and “Sancta Susanna.” I shouldn’t have abandoned Wagner’s trilogy. My expectations had been high because I already owned “Mathis der Maler” on LP. Those three operas I heard in Munich were full of promising things, but nothing more.

    By contrast, Hindemith’s last opera (1960) the one-act “The Long Christmas Dinner,” based upon Thornton Wilder, is a shining masterpiece. There is no reason whatsoever why this 45-minute gem cannot be seen at the Met. The libretto is in English and the opera is very easy to stage. Any enterprising manager with a little imagination could pull it off. I think a coupling with Pfitzner’s “Das Chistelflein” at the New York City Opera would work very well on so many levels.

    Hindemith’s three greatest operas are, in order of greatness, (1) “Mathis der Maler” (2) “Die Harmonie der Welt” and (3) “Cardillac.” All three are still available on CD. (I have never heard “Neues vom Tage,” but I have it on good authority that this comic opera is not nearly as good as the aforementioned three). And so, Hindemith wrote four masterpieces that will never be heard at the Met. My personal favorite is “Die Harmonie der Weld.” The Symphony does NOT prepare you for the glories of this work. Marek Janowskis recording from Berlin is good, as good as his recording of “The Long Christmas Dinner.”

    It is unlikely that anyone will see Schnittke’s “Life with an Idiot” at the Met, either. Musically, I am disappointed with “Idiot.” Schnittke’s polystylistic way runs amok here, causing confusion. Of course, this was the composer’s intent, in keeping with the libretto. But I become frustrated if I cannot make sense of musical arguments. (In the same way I dislike Berg’s “Lulu,” for instance. The internal shapes of his “Wozzeck,” by contrast, are easily grasped).

    The libretto of “Idiot,” however, is hysterically funny, particularly for anyone who has ever lived under a totalitarian system, as have I. Schnittke’s “I” is tormented by “Bobo” – oops, “Vovo,” - who represents Stalin. For me, “Vovo” is the embodiment of the collective of voyeuristic toadies that served the KGB while I was in Moscow. I spent 2659 frightening days in an unimaginably pathologic climate of homophobia. For a gay man like myself, living with “Vovo” for that long a period . . . the experience was not a pleasant one. It was only due to my sense of humor that I was able to survive my stay there.

    When I left Moscow in 1990 I thought I would never return. But since 2002, I have been required to fly to Moscow each June to conduct business at my technical firm’s Moscow office. And so I shall again in a few days. I will leave here Friday morning and will return on the 17th, in close proximity to our observance of Independence Day.

    For six years without fail on the evening prior to my departure for Moscow I have had a good cry. Not because of Moscow. I CRINGE at flying to Moscow. I CRY because I am reminded in the most profound way of the freedoms we have in our beloved country – freedoms easily taken for granted.

    And I'm sure that I will cry again this Thursday.

    Okay, joke time: Last Friday the MSN webpage featured an article about the “ten things every man should know how to do.” For instance, knowing how to throw a punch and how to cook a meal without a grill. For me the most interesting "requirement" was the skill in knowing everything about at least one “music group.” I imagined being kidnapped (KGB style) and placed on an ambush-interview panel with “Butch.” Here’s a partial transcript of this imaginary scene:

    BUTCH: “Hey man I know everything about “Police.” . . . I know that Stewart Copland had intercourse with fifty women seven times in the span of five days!”

    DANEN: “Yes, gentlemen . . . Well, Butch, that’s nothing. I know that William Preucil had intercourse with 104 men AND women seven times in the course of five days – and all at the same time!”


  24. Dane:

    Butch probably never did figure out that Preucil was concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra!

    I wish you a safe journey to Moscow, and the best trip possible under the circumstances.

    I think that Lutoslawski's final symphony, his Fourth, is his masterpiece, even finer than the much more popular Third. It has an organic logic only discernible after some familiarity with the score. Whenever I mention this to musicians, they tell me that I am wrong, and that the Third is better. I am not wrong, however, and the Third is not better than the Fourth--it is simply more familiar to more people.

    I hope you manage to have some fun in Moscow.


  25. Do you want me to air-express my copy of John Adams's "Naive And Sentimental Music" to you so that you can listen to it on the plane?

    I am desperately trying to get rid of it.

  26. No thanks, Andrew, not necessary. I’m taking the Payne/Elgar Third, which has been unfailingly reliable in the past.

    You see, Andrew, you have exposed me as a true ignoramus. Would you believe that I never heard Lutoslawski’s Third or Fourth Symphonies? I’ll have to revise my judgment on him until I get this music from the library.

    Apologies to the composer.

    Now, regarding John Adams, do you know, Andrew, that he is writing a new work for the Houston Opera? It’s called “Die, Rhea!” and it promises to be anything but somnolent. The libretto concerns the ordeal of a hapless Palestinian sports fan and letter-bomber, accidentally violated in her posterior by a wayward, Israeli curling stone (don't ask). Employing a convoluted plot reminiscent of “Lt. Kije,” Zhorzha is told the lie that she is the host of the reincarnated Rhea Silvia (the ancient mother of Romulus and Remus), who, anticlimactically fleeing the pursuits of the god Mars, changes herself into a time-traveling zygote, which Mars is able to curse in the nick of time: he proclaims, you see, that the zygote will gestate not into the beautiful maiden that had been but into the form of a sea cow. Zhorzha’s resultant and unprecedented recto-ectopic pregnancy is the heart of the plot. The entire second act, word has it, takes place in a research tank of the Beirut Institute of Cetology, where Zhorzha bobs in lamentation. For the painful Second-Act aria, “My ass, my ass!” Adams has created a sublime inverted variation on the doleful First Act zygote aria “ssa ym, ssa ym!” which the soprano sings in some long-forgotten Etruscan dialect. The whole opera ends in triumph when the Palestinians and the Jews realize the futility of disinformation and look forward to a new Middle East together.


  27. Perhaps you will change your mind, Dane, if I offer to sweeten the deal and throw in the James Levine "Luisa Miller"? My parents have been trying to get that set out of the house for years, but even the Salvation Army won't take it off their hands.

    You may need all the entertainment you can get--it's a long trip to Moscow, you know.

    The best Lutoslawski Fourth is Salonen's on Sony. It is the finest recording Salonen ever made.

    There are lots of good Lutoslawski Thirds, of which Salonen's is probably the least interesting. There is nothing wrong with any of the Naxos Lutoslawski discs, including Wit's reading of the Third. I have collected the entire Naxos Lutoslawski series, and have been very happy with the results.

    I would dearly love to attend that John Adams premiere, but I believe I have elective surgery scheduled concurrent with the premiere.

    Blogger seems to be acting up today. It is quite annoying.

  28. Yeah, what's up with the blog? Maybe it can't stand my stories.

    Thank you for that last offer, but I'm sure I have plenty of entertainment. Are you sure your local cryobiology bank won't take it?

    Are you sure YOU won't change your mind about attending the "Die, Rhea!" premiere? I haven't told you about the best part, Act III: Zharzha and the mayor of Beirut consumate their love in an Esther Williams ballet sequence that must be seen to be believed. The mayor serenades his darling with the bass aria "I'm all thumbs, now," foreshadowing the international art of the possible (In Act I, having been fearful of a similar fate as Zharzha's, the mayor has both his thumbs removed for use as "contraceptives.") In the final scene, the lovers' "child," a twelve-pound merman pops out singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses."


  29. I will get the Salonen / Lutoslawski fourth.

    Thanks, Andrew


  30. Blogger has been acting up all day. Blogger must be having problems with its server. It is irritating, which is why many persons have abandoned blogger for wordpress (which has its own problems, I understand).

    Well, that sounds like a typical Adams opera to me, sort of a follow-up to "Klinghoffer".

    It's a close call, but I think I am going to stick with my elective surgery, at least for now.

    That Esther Williams sequence almost captured me, but I will only attend if the Esther Williams portion features swimmers, during their routines, smoking cigarettes.

  31. The Salonen Fourth is coupled with the Third, as well as a song cycle.

  32. Speaking of William Preucil and the Cleveland Orchestra, Andrew, I know that you and Josh do not own a television (I don't, either), but on 11 June PBS will nationally broadcast Welser-Moest's Bruckner 5, recorded in the Abbey of St. Florian, Austria in 2006.

    It's FREE!

    You wrote that musicians have disagreed with your appraisal of Lutoslawski's Fourth. I'll bet someone among the blog readership may construe your steadfast position as "arrogance."

    Someone once said that Donald Rosenberg was right about Welser-Moest because "he's a musician" (!).

    In your defense, some of the silliest things about music that I have ever heard originated in the mouths of musicians:

    One local musician referred to the opening viola figures, marked decrecendo, in Nielsen's Fifth as "early mininalism," and she assayed the whole Symphony as "hackneyed" (!).

    Some orchestral musicians get into a rut, and I really think they should acquire full scores and study them, were practical. It is only from the full score that can one really know a piece.

    Thank you, Andrew, for your well-wishing regarding the trip to Moscow. One thing I DO look forward to is visiting the huge music store across from the Bolshoi. You can get lost in it, literally. I always bring back some great bargains. Last year I found the scores to Hindemith's "Klein Kammermusic" and his "Organ Concerto," as well as E.J. Moeran's G-minor Symphony, and Zemlinsky's one-act opera "Der Zwerg." Dirt cheap, too.

    I have about 250 scores at home.

    I'm sure I can find the scores to the Lutoslawski Third and Fourth Symphonies. (But despite the threat of Vovo's spectre, I will not look for the score to "On the Transmigration of Souls.")

    Would the Minneapolis Chess Club be interested in that "Luisa Miller"?


  33. Welser-Most in the Bruckner Fifth: can you believe that, one hour ago, I received an unsolicited email message from Amazon, bringing to my attention the June 10 release of Welser-Most’s “Oedipus Rex”? That email message also informed me that I might enjoy (and want to purchase) Welser-Most’s Korngold disc, his Alpensinfonie and his Bruckner Fifth.

    Your musician friend’s remark about Nielsen’s Fifth containing one of the seeds of minimalism was borrowed from Alex Ross. He wrote that bit of nonsense somewhere in the last year, either in the New Yorker or online or on one of the many music sites he visits.

    Because of their highly-focused studies, musicians—as a general rule—are not well-rounded individuals in terms of their educations. They are more prone to make errors of judgment, inside and outside their field, than most persons.

    Dane, when you are in Moscow, you might want to pick up the score to the Maw Violin Concerto. I understand it makes excellent kindling for the winter months, when people want to build a fire to ward off the winter chill.

    The Minneapolis Chess Club has been inundated with copies of the Levine “Luisa Miller”, and recently adopted new by-laws forbidding the Club from accepting additional copies.

    Having you been reading about the criticisms of Preucil that have appeared in the last year or so? Criticisms of his cronyism? Criticisms of his odd behavior during the Cleveland Orchestra’s tour of Europe last summer?

    As Josh wrote this morning, we will be heading to Britain this August. Our itinerary is not set, but we will probably spend a couple of days in London at the start of our journey. The National Theatre is staging a play about Max Reinhardt that we might want to see. Have you heard anything about it?

    The Chichester Festival Theatre is staging Ronald Harwood’s play about Furtwangler, as well as a new Harwood play about Richard Strauss and Stefan Zweig. We might want to see one or both of those works, too. I have already seen a production of “Taking Sides”, but I am curious whether you have heard anything about the new Harwood.

    The very thought of “On The Transmigration Of Souls” makes me vomit.

    Now, please excuse me, but I MUST get back to work and finish my evening-length oratorio commemorating the Atocha Station terrorist attacks.

  34. I haven't heard anyting about either the new Harwood play or the play about Reinhardt, Andrew. Sorry. I must say, however, that I am more excited about your trip to London in August than I am about going to Moscow this weekend.

    Yes, doesn't that Adams/Nonesuch abomination take the cake? Talk about exploitation! The CD is only about 20 minutes long - there is no filler - and people buy it, anyway. I wonder why he hasn't yet written a "Meditations on the Writhings of Sharon Tate"?

    THE PREUCIL PUZZLE: I googled and found the 31 Oct 2007 story in Cleveland Scene. Andrew, this is TRUELY disturbing! Of course, we don't know how much is hearsay, and we don't know the full context. Even so, it would be hard to imagine circumstances that would justify such behavior, if it's true.

    What do you think of the unsigned comment posted on the Scene blog on Feb 28 2007 - the one which claims that Preucil engineered the ouster of Stephen Majesky and others? The information (or disinformation) is discusting.

    Andrew, I will do my best to locate the score to the Maw Violin Concerto AND the score to "Odyssee" - if indeed either of those have even been published - so that an appropriate bondfire can be planned.

    Gee, the Preucil mess isn't too disimilar from the recent wailings of Kenny G. Have you heard, Andrew?
    Kenny G’s dog had auditioned for the clarinet chair of a new woodwind quintet, the “Beasties,” organized by none other than Herr Wunderhund of Kehl, Germany! After the fire at the Folks Opera, Wunderhund was unable to find steady work, and so he auditioned players for this new group from all over the world. Apparently Wunderhund passed over Kenny G’s dog for a giant anteater from the Nairobi zoo. Well, Kenny went ballistic, claiming that he had actually been at the audition and could plainly see that his dog’s pawing was much superior to that of the anteater. I suspect, however, that Wunderhund was swayed by the uncommon resonance of the anteater’s embouchure. Well, I only brought this up because I understand that the bassoon chair and the horn chair are still open, and I wondered if your parents’ dog may be interested in auditioning for the bassoon chair? The group will be a sensation and the money will certainly be there. Think of the opportunity to introduce Hindemtith's "Klein Kammermusic" to untold thousands! Now, it doesn’t matter how big or small he is because the only requirement is that the candidate “be worthy of collar and leash.” . . . Hmm, now that I think of it, I wonder if Donald Rosenberg would consider auditioning: word has it, he plays a mean horn.

    You know, Andrew, I think Alex Ross shoud write a new book, "Young Adolf at Graz." It will be proclaimed as scholarship and believed by everyone as fact.


  35. Dane, I am going into depositions all day.

    Have a safe trip to Moscow.


  36. Dane, I do not know what to make about any of that Preucil stuff.

    Yes, that ridiculously-short Nonesuch disc is absurd. That's why my own tribute to the victims of Atocha Station will be over four hours in duration--I want to make sure that people get their money's worth. I also want to show up John Adams, and write something suitable to the scale of the tragedy.

    In fact, I question whether four hours will be enough, and I am contemplating turning my oratorio into a multi-part epic requiring several successive evenings to perform, akin to Wagner.

    I am not confident that Rex is ready to go out on the road unsupervised. Further, I question whether he would be able to get along with all the other fine musicians, since he is so used to ruling the roost by himself.

    Honestly, I just can't see him adjusting his talents to become an ensemble player. He always wants to be top dog!

    Have a safe and good trip.