Wednesday, May 29, 2013

1957: Karajan And Szell In Salzburg

Herbert Von Karajan and George Szell in Salzburg in 1957.

1957 was Karajan’s first year at the helm of the Salzburg Festival, and Karajan had coaxed from the festival’s organizers an enormous increase in the festival’s budget.

Five new opera productions were staged that year: Beethoven’s “Fidelio” conducted by Karajan; Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” conducted by Karl Böhm; Strauss’s “Elektra” conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos; Verdi’s “Falstaff” conducted by Karajan; and Rolf Liebermann’s “The School For Wives” conducted by Szell.

The Liebermann was a European premiere. The opera, incomprehensibly, had received its first performance in Louisville, Kentucky, two years earlier. (The opera was revised, and considerably lengthened, for its European premiere.)

Liebermann’s music was very much in fashion in the 1950s. The composer’s work was played everywhere, most likely because Liebermann’s music simply recycled and reordered the accepted clichés of the day . . . and because Liebermann was a master of the art of self-promotion.

Liebermann’s music is startlingly unoriginal and wholly derivative; he was the John Adams of his time. Performances of Liebermann’s music were completely to cease more than a quarter century before the composer’s death. Today Liebermann is remembered, to the extent he is remembered at all, as an opera impresario.

It would seem that Szell got the short end of the stick in 1957, having been assigned the least interesting work on that year’s festival program (although a legendary cast of singers might have made Szell’s work somewhat less dreary).

There were compensations: Szell was assigned the lion’s share of the festival’s orchestral concerts, three with the Berlin Philharmonic and one with the Vienna Philharmonic.

1957 was the first year in which orchestral concerts became a prime component of the Salzburg Festival, and 1957 was the first year in which the Berlin Philharmonic—or any visiting orchestra—participated in the festival.

The festival has presented orchestral concerts and visiting orchestras ever since.

The Liebermann notwithstanding, Szell got his reward.


Rolf Liebermann was a nephew of the great German painter, Max Liebermann.

1 comment:

  1. Mock not: Louisville used to have a very ambitious concert series of new works, many of which were recorded and published on LP (perhaps even on CD). From

    "Active: November 2, 1937 -
    The Louisville Orchestra is a major American symphony orchestra, widely known for its unique commissions of new music and for its recordings on its own label. Despite its durable musical traditions, the Kentucky city had no permanent orchestra until November 2, 1937, when the Louisville Civic Arts Association formed the Louisville Civic Orchestra, an ensemble of 54 paid but part-time musicians. The first music director was the English-born American conductor Robert Whitney. The original venue was Memorial Auditorium. Whitney enlarged the orchestra and brought it to full-time (though partial-year) status and in 1947, renamed it the Louisville Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra was known for the top-name soloists it engaged, and, over the ten-year period, had accumulated a $40,000 deficit.

    Whitney and Louisville mayor Charles P. Farnsley envisioned an innovative change of direction in the orchestra's policies designed to distinguish the orchestra and to eliminate the deficit. The expensive guest soloists would have to go. In their place, the orchestra's programs would include new works commissioned by the orchestra. The first such premiere was Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo's Quatro Madrigales Amatorios, played in the orchestra's home at the time, Columbia Auditorium. Some of the Louisville-commissioned recordings appeared on such major labels as Columbia and Mercury. In fact, the Louisville Orchestra's performance of William Schuman's ballet Judith was the first domestic orchestral recording made and released by Mercury. In technique and sound this rare recording shows a developmental stage of the label's famed "Living Presence" sound. In 1953 the commissioning series was given financial support by a major grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to record all the newly commissioned works and release them on the orchestra's own record label, known as First Edition Records. Over the years, the label has released hundreds of recordings of works by over 250 composers.

    Whitney retired after 30 years in 1967. He was succeeded by Jorge Mester (1967-1979), Akira Endo (1980-1982), Lawrence Leighton Smith (1983-1994) and Max Bragado-Darman (1994-1997). The orchestra was nominated for several Grammy Awards, and under Smith played at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

    An interim period began in 1997 with the appointment of three conductors pending search for a new music director. Uriel Segal conducted the regular concert series, Robert Bernhardt the pops series, and Robert Franz the educational and the "LG&E New Dimensions" series. Segal was named music director during the course of the 1998-1999 season.

    The Orchestra endured several years of deficits during the 1980s and early 1990s, but returned to a budget in the black in 1996-1997. It plays several series of concerts a year: major symphony concerts, pops, light classics, "New Dimensions," and the children's series "orKIDStra." Its summer venue is at the Louisville Zoo and, in addition to playing the regular concerts and children's concerts in its regular home, it performs at the campus of Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. It also functions as the orchestra for the Louisville Ballet and Louisville Opera. "