Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

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Wallingford
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Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Wallingford » Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:48 pm

Among my latest acquisitions (from my favorite underground source for historical recordings) is something which I thought I'd never get to hear, and which I was subsequently most eager to acquire: Arturo Toscanini's only surviving performance of a Bruckner symphony--the SEVENTH, that is.

Being a rather ardent Toscanini fan, I found this of more than passing interest. Toscanini's repertoire is notable as much by what it eliminates as by what it included:he professed a dislike for both Mahler and Bruckner, and went on record as making a pair of sharp slams at the duo. Never mind what he said about Mahler; what was most peculiar was his statement regarding Bruckner's music....."it has no sex!"

Now, I've never quite figured out what precisely he meant by that. Was it that Bruckner's music was neither male or female? Did it mean that there was nothing in Bruckner's music to stimulate the ears? A lack of color or drama, maybe? Whatever the case, Bruckner seemed to be permanently dropped from the maestro's repertoire after the quartet of subscription concerts represented by the performance surviving--January, 1935.

I've tended in this respect to let Toscanini have the final word as per my own feelings on this music. So how does he treat Bruckner? It amounts to something of a major makeover: it sweeps away most traces of that naive, humble, pious, roly-poly musician whose oversized symphonies were really written to the glory of God. What is in its place is a much more cosmopolitan Bruckner--a more "man of the world" kind of Bruckner. Thus the Toscanini philosophy of reducing everything down to purest lyrical melody and leanest textures (prominent foreground theme, in sharp relief against the inner voices which are relegated, to varying degrees, to the background). What emerges, in a listening to the first movement, is a Bruckner with prominent cheekbones, a white jogging suit, a California tan, a discman in one hand, and that lolling little bit of stubble replaced by a huge walrus mustache (and every self-respecting baldy knows how a walrus mustache can accentuate his virility).

In the famed funeral dirge for Wagner in the second movement, it seems Wagner's been replaced by some thrice-removed, forgotten uncle of Bruckner's--and our hero holds up exceedingly well from a masculine standpoint, against his sobbing wife and daughter (only once he seems to slide his finger across one nostril). He might as well be talking on a celphone during one part of it. And the scherzo finds him globehopping to Wales, simply to practice his polo with Charles, William, and Harry. But it is by the time of the last movement's appearance that I've pretty well lost all semblance of attention span, feeling no more of a dividend for the time I so generously invested for the two-dozenth time in hearing a Bruckner symphony.

In conclusion, I have to wonder: did I buy this recording because I'm a perfervid Toscanini worshipper who'll buy any small curio the man ever left on records regardless of artistic significance? Or was it because I was looking for a handy reason for someone else to sympathize with my endless bemoaninigs about why I can't fully penetrate (or even sufficiently penetrate) this music? In any event, misery loves company.
Last edited by Wallingford on Wed Jun 17, 2009 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Jack Kelso
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Jun 17, 2009 4:48 am

I can only guess what Toscanini meant by the music having no sex:

Perhaps to him Bruckner 's too solemn, even passionless. Now, I myself don't think so, but I can understand how a fiery, tempermental Italian conductor might.....!

Tschüß!
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

absinthe
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by absinthe » Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:04 am

Wallingford wrote: Being a rather ardent Toscanini fan, I found this of more than passing interest. Toscanini's repertoire is notable as much by what it eliminates as by what it included:he professed a dislike for both Mahler and Bruckner, and went on record as making a pair of sharp slams at the duo. Never mind what he said about Mahler; what was most peculiar was his statement regarding Bruckner's music....."it has no sex!"
He got it wrong: it was Bruckner that had no sex life. The symphony contains it at a more spiritual level, I'd guess. Toscanini probably hated Bruckner and Mahler for the magnitude of their works. Knowing Toscanini, he probably got Bruckner's 7th on a 78rpm disc... sure, it's over with quickly for those who get bored with Bruckner but it doesn't allow much for the Adagio!

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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by david johnson » Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:37 am

'sweeps away traces of that naive, humble, pious, roly-poly musician whose oversized symphonies were really written to the glory of God.'

This idea leans toward bull-featherdom :lol:
Bruckner needs a bit of those attributes to be Bruckner.
Which symphonies are oversized?

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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by stenka razin » Wed Jun 17, 2009 6:22 am

From Toscanini's Letters, I learned that the great Toscanini also conducted the Bruckner 4th with the NYP in 1932 and 1934. His only other Bruckner peformances were of the 7th in 1931 and 1935. That is the full extent of Toscanini's complete Bruckner Symphonies 'live' in concert. :idea:
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by John F » Wed Jun 17, 2009 7:13 am

A friend and I heard this 1935 live recording at the Museum of Television and Radio back in the NY Phil's anniversary year, and we were fascinated by it. It dates from a few years after Toscanini conducted "Parsifal" at Bayreuth, where he clocked the slowest time on their records for many years - slower than Knappertsbusch, in fact it was James Levine who finally broke that record. As I remember, Toscanini's Bruckner 7th is also quite slow, and he finds a solemn "Parsifal"-like quality in it, or gives it such a quality. You'd never guess who was conducting.
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Barry
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Barry » Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:28 am

david johnson wrote:'sweeps away traces of that naive, humble, pious, roly-poly musician whose oversized symphonies were really written to the glory of God.'

This idea leans toward bull-featherdom :lol:
Bruckner needs a bit of those attributes to be Bruckner.
Which symphonies are oversized?
My thoughts as well. I have this recording. It's interesting for its historic value. But I love the reverential feel and thick textures of Bruckner's music. I disagree with Toscanini's view of it and it shows in the way he conducted the 7th.
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Barry
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Barry » Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:30 am

John F wrote: As I remember, Toscanini's Bruckner 7th is also quite slow*, and he finds a solemn "Parsifal"-like quality in it, or gives it such a quality. You'd never guess who was conducting.
* I'll have to go back and listen to it again. It's been a while. My recollection doesn't match yours.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

Heck148
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Heck148 » Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:19 pm

I'd love to hear this - I've always thought that Toscanini had great potential as a Bruckner conductor...he was a marvelous Wagner conductor, one of the greatest ever...
he excells at the long line, the huge build-up, climax/release, the structural coherence of major works. after all, he was a great opera conductor - the rising/falling action, the tremendous climaxes are bread and butter for this genre..

Wallingford
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Wallingford » Wed Jun 17, 2009 8:46 pm

AND, it's owrth remembering Toscanini's affinity for German music didn't cut off with Wagner. He did some outstanding Richard Strauss interpretations, including as perfect a Till Eulenspiegel as I've ever heard.
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John F
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by John F » Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:15 am

The only sample I've found online is the scherzo, which is brisk but not unusually so in the outer sections, marked "sehr schnell," but considerably relaxed in the trio, marked "Etwas langsamer." My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I remember the first movement as unusually slow and the second as indeed "Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam." No recollection of the finale.
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Barry
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Barry » Thu Jun 18, 2009 3:48 pm

John F wrote:The only sample I've found online is the scherzo, which is brisk but not unusually so in the outer sections, marked "sehr schnell," but considerably relaxed in the trio, marked "Etwas langsamer." My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I remember the first movement as unusually slow and the second as indeed "Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam." No recollection of the finale.
I only had time to listen to the first two movements last night. They weren't as fast as I'd have imagined a Toscanini-led Bruckner performance to be, but I still would say they're faster than average when compared to the various recordings I've heard of the piece. There were some very exciting moments, but there were also times when I felt he had the orchestra playing too loud too soon during a build-up to a climax. I actually didn't dislike the performance as much as I expected to, given my general views on Toscanini's conducting (especially his conducting of Austro-German music), but it wasn't what I'd call my cup of tea. I tend to like Bruckner slowish and more reverential.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Jack Kelso » Fri Jun 19, 2009 12:18 am

His 1949 recording with the NBC Symphony of Schumann's Third was long regarded as the standard by which other performances were measured. Karajan's own with the Berlin Phil. held Toscanini's up as model.

Tschüß!
Jack
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by John F » Fri Jun 19, 2009 9:33 am

Actually, the Bruckner recordings I first got to know are neither reverential nor at all slow, but dramatic and forward-moving - what I might have expected from Toscanini. They're #7, 8, and 9 with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra under Eduard van Beinum. And the first Bruckner performance I heard in person was also by this orchestra and conductor, on tour. So I have a different frame of reference, and it still affects how I respond to performances of this music.
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Barry
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Barry » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:09 am

John F wrote:Actually, the Bruckner recordings I first got to know are neither reverential nor at all slow, but dramatic and forward-moving - what I might have expected from Toscanini. They're #7, 8, and 9 with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra under Eduard van Beinum. And the first Bruckner performance I heard in person was also by this orchestra and conductor, on tour. So I have a different frame of reference, and it still affects how I respond to performances of this music.
Bruckner conducting has evolved a lot over the years; I think for the better, but I know not everyone agrees with that.

Also, while I enjoy a lot of historic recordings of orchestral music by Beethoven, Brahms and a handful of other composers, when it comes to Bruckner (also Richard Strauss), I think his orchestral textures require at least relatively modern sound to achieve maximum impact.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Sator » Fri Jun 19, 2009 7:48 pm

John F wrote:A friend and I heard this 1935 live recording at the Museum of Television and Radio back in the NY Phil's anniversary year, and we were fascinated by it. It dates from a few years after Toscanini conducted "Parsifal" at Bayreuth, where he clocked the slowest time on their records for many years - slower than Knappertsbusch, in fact it was James Levine who finally broke that record. As I remember, Toscanini's Bruckner 7th is also quite slow, and he finds a solemn "Parsifal"-like quality in it, or gives it such a quality. You'd never guess who was conducting.
Toscanini's Wagner is generally painfully slow - indeed, so much so that it makes me pine for speed demons like Knapperstbusch. His tempo for the Tristan prelude is also slower than Furtwängler.

Barry
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Barry » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:38 pm

Sator wrote: Toscanini's Wagner is generally painfully slow - indeed, so much so that it makes me pine for speed demons like Knapperstbusch. His tempo for the Tristan prelude is also slower than Furtwängler.
Which Furtwangler performance are you referring to, if you don't mind me asking? I've got a live wartime performance of the Tristan overture and Tristan's Liebestodt that clocks in at just under 19 minutes. I found timings for a couple performances by Toscanini on-line and they both ran between 16 and 17 minutes.

That wartime Furtwangler performance is a big favorite of mine. It's up there among my favorite Furtwangler-led performances. As much as I love Furt in other repertoire, I'm generally not much of a fan of his Bruckner. I don't like that frantic, fast approach for the most part.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by John F » Sat Jun 20, 2009 5:14 am

Barry wrote:Bruckner conducting has evolved a lot over the years; I think for the better, but I know not everyone agrees with that.
People in the '80s used to say that performance in general was "evolving" toward generally slower tempos. I believe there was something in that. In recent decades, this trend has been somewhat offset or even reversed by the period performance movement, which as it has crept forward from medieval and renaissance music to take in more and more of the standard repertoire, has often featured fast and sometimes hectic tempos. And mainstream musicians have been influenced by the period performance thing, and admitted it, so tempos have been speeding up.

As for Bruckner, slow performances and recordings aren't anything new. Karajan's 1957 EMI recording of the 8th is the slowest I've ever heard, even in the scherzo, making even Kna sound almost lively. And several current recordings, not just Boulez's, get a move on. To my taste, performances like the Karajan 8th aren't just slow but sluggish, emasculating the music. But taste is what it's really all about.
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by Barry » Sat Jun 20, 2009 12:43 pm

John F wrote: As for Bruckner, slow performances and recordings aren't anything new. Karajan's 1957 EMI recording of the 8th is the slowest I've ever heard, even in the scherzo, making even Kna sound almost lively. And several current recordings, not just Boulez's, get a move on. To my taste, performances like the Karajan 8th aren't just slow but sluggish, emasculating the music. But taste is what it's really all about.
But that Karajan Bruckner 8th on EMI was very much the exception. I'm not aware of another recording of Bruckner's 8th (or the 5th) from the 40s or 50s that pushes onto two CDs. Slower tempos didn't really become more commonplace until the 60s or maybe even the 70s. Bruckner's 8th on two discs is more of a norm now, and it's not that unusual to see performances of the 5th that push up to 80 minutes or a little beyond either. For the most part, the major Bruckner conductors of the mono era tended to what we now consider to be faster than average tempos.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

THEHORN
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Re: Toscanini conducts.....a BRUCKNER SYMPHONY!

Post by THEHORN » Mon Jul 13, 2009 2:41 pm

I was aware of this Toscanini Bruckner recording and am very curious to hear it, but I hear it has one unfortunate problem; cuts, which are anathema to me in Bruckner.
His famous recording of Tchaikovsky's Manfred symphony is also disfigured by a big cut in the finale.
Klemperer also made a big cut in the finale his recording of the Bruckner 8th, a recording made near the end of his life and as far as I know, his only recording of the symphony.
I think the Bruckner symphonies ,like many other works, can take different tempi, slower or faster. The problem is to avoid the Scylla of lethargy and turgidity on the one hand in the attempt to achieve profundity and grandeur, and the Charybdis of rushing the tempi to the point of trivializing the music. That's no easy task for a conductor.

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