Sunday, December 19, 2010

12/19 Furtwängler's Beethoven in Wartime

Wilhelm Furtwängler is kind of like an anti-Toscanini.  His tempos are elastic and he definitely likes his ritardandos...sometimes he takes things a bit too broadly for my tastes - nonetheless his renditions of Beethoven's orchestral works, especially in the 40's is near-apocalyptic in its savagery.  Perhaps it had something to do with something called World War 2, and how it stood against all things Beethovenian.  People used to criticize Furtwängler for not fleeing Germany during the Hitler years, but apparently he helped many Jews during such awful times.  Anyways, motives aside, his Beethoven is unique, deep and moving.

Here's Furtwängler's 1947 Egmont Overture:

Here's his 1943 Coriolan Overture:

and finally his notorious 1942 Beethoven 9th...this is the 1st movement starting in the middle. I like this clip because about 40 seconds in is probably the greatest timpani part ever written...

OK, what the heck, it's a Sunday - here's the full Furtwängler 1942 9th (74 MINUTES).  Considering that his audience was made up of many in the Nazi party at the time, it seems an incredible act of bravery to perform such an life-affirming work.  The musicians here perform as if these were the last notes they were ever going to play....

Playlist HERE

Sadly there are not that many videos of live Furtwängler conducting.  There's a few recordings of his Beethoven where you can actually hear anti-aircraft fire in the background.  Maybe it wasn't the right time for the "lights, camera, action" thing....

I should also mention the movie "Taking Sides" - a fascinating film based on a play based on a true story of Furt's "de-Nazification" investigation in postwar Germany.  Harvey Keitel plays the investigating American...pretty intense and recommended.


  1. Whenever I hear old recordings of B it seems that the orchestras are never very tight - there is a lot of sloppiness, although the vibe is usually right on.

    For my money I think the Gardiner recordings are the best. Quick tempos, clean, sharp playing, and no attempt to over romanticize the notes! I also liked the Jarvi videos you posted earlier.

  2. You have to admit Toscanini was tight, some would say too tight ;)

    Furtwanger's style is more 'vaporous' but when he really wants to makes a point - it's pretty definitive...