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Famous story about Fürtwangler


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There is a very famous story about the great German conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler:

The story is that a visiting musician was sitting in the auditorium listening to, I think, the Berlin Philharmonic, rehearsing a difficult symphony. The rehearsal is going well, the guest conductor was doing well, and all of a sudden, from one second to the next, the visiting musician heard a shocking change in the entire orchestra. From one second to the next every single aspect of musicianship in the orchestra went from outstanding to several rungs higher, it was exactly the same group of players and yet from one second to the next they increased what they were doing to an astonishing degree.

The narrator of the story turned around and saw that Fürtwangler had entered the auditorium.

Even though the orchestra was already playing at an extremely high level, the presence of their leader instantly made every single man in the orchestra take his personal playing up another level or two.

That is an absolutely true story,I have heard it many times. Does anybody know the details? When this took place, who the narrator was perhaps what piece was being played?

I’d be really grateful, it’s a terrific story and I don’t remember reading about it in the magnificent book, “the devils music master.”

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Thanks, Philip, good to hear this story again!  I recall hearing it told in a televised interview (maybe in the seventies?) by one of the BPO percussionists, someone who had been in the orchestra since Furtwängler's day.  I think the excerpt appeared on a video compilation called something like The Great Conductors, with video snatches of many of the greats going way back.  Wish I could find my copy. :(

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I don't think I've ever heard an orchestra play several rungs higher than outstanding. I'm prepared to believe they may have perked up a bit when "sir" appeared. Fear will have that effect

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13 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

There is a very famous story about the great German conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler:

The story is that a visiting musician was sitting in the auditorium listening to, I think, the Berlin Philharmonic, rehearsing a difficult symphony. The rehearsal is going well, the guest conductor was doing well, and all of a sudden, from one second to the next, the visiting musician heard a shocking change in the entire orchestra. From one second to the next every single aspect of musicianship in the orchestra went from outstanding to several rungs higher, it was exactly the same group of players and yet from one second to the next they increased what they were doing to an astonishing degree.

The narrator of the story turned arMy cello professor told me a similar anecdote about Sir John Barberoli and the New Philharmonia orchestra. They played Faure’s Pavane at a rehearsal, and Sir John found it quite beautiful. He put his baton down, and said “Gentlemen, that was lovely, I would like you all to come and play that at my funeral” upon which most of the orchestra reached into their jacket pocket for there calendarsound and saw that Fürtwangler had entered the auditorium.

Even though the orchestra was already playing at an extremely high level, the presence of their leader instantly made every single man in the orchestra take his personal playing up another level or two.

That is an absolutely true story,I have heard it many times. Does anybody know the details? When this took place, who the narrator was perhaps what piece was being played?

I’d be really grateful, it’s a terrific story and I don’t remember reading about it in the magnificent book, “the devils music master.”

My cello professor told me a similar anecdote about Sir John Barberoli and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. They played Faure’s Pavane at a rehearsal, and Sir John found it quite beautiful. He put his baton down, and said “Gentlemen, that was lovely, I would like you all to come and play that at my funeral” upon which most of the orchestra reached into their jacket pocket for there calendars

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Found it.  Turns out  the whole 2-hour video I mentioned (The Art of Conducting) is on Youtube, and it's well worth watching.  The percussionist's anecdote comes at about 55:18 in the video.

 

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4 hours ago, J-G said:

Found it.  Turns out  the whole 2-hour video I mentioned (The Art of Conducting) is on Youtube, and it's well worth watching.  The percussionist's anecdote comes at about 55:18 in the video.

 

You, sir, go above and beyond!

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4 hours ago, J-G said:

Found it.  Turns out  the whole 2-hour video I mentioned (The Art of Conducting) is on Youtube, and it's well worth watching.  The percussionist's anecdote comes at about 55:18 in the video.

 

Hey is this the same video where, when talking about Van Karajan, One of the old members of his orchestra says, “he was a terrible human, but a genius.”? Or something like that?

I remember the last part of the comment, almost like an afterthought, saying in German,”... aber er war ein Genie.” And as he said it he kind of looked off in the distance with an expression of awe.

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9 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

My cello professor told me a similar anecdote about Sir John Barberoli and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. They played Faure’s Pavane at a rehearsal, and Sir John found it quite beautiful. He put his baton down, and said “Gentlemen, that was lovely, I would like you all to come and play that at my funeral” upon which most of the orchestra reached into their jacket pocket for there calendars

Ha!

The Dallas Symphony conductor was respected more than he was loved, and when he announced that he was leaving To take over the New York Philharmonic, the story goes that everybody in the orchestra was eager to drive him to the airport.

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In the 70's I heard the Berliner Philharmonic once with Karajan and several times with guest conductors. All of the performances were of the "highest" level.  Well worth standing in line at the Philharmonie at 4am to get a number that allowed me to buy a ticket later in the week before the performance. Great fun :)

Wish I had been in Berlin when Furtwaengler was there....

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In the early 70's when I first started buying records  my self and my friends were focused on conductors. Eugine Ormandy was big at the time. We happened to be at a small gathering talking about conductors and an older person ( a university professor) said we were making a mistake by focusing on the conductor. We should pay more attention to the orchestra. He said  that a great orchestra will do anything a conductor tells it to do. Which I guess begs the question of the chicken and the egg. I saw many times Robert Shaw and the ASO. With a student ID you could get in for $1.00. I still remember Daphnis et Chole with full orchestra and chorus. Seemed like there were 200 people on stage. Words can not tell. No words can.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There are countless of these stories. Haitink revisits an orchestra he's conducted many times before, and with in one minute of rehearsal the orchestra sounds like Haitink's orchestra again, just by force of his presence. (The funny thing is, no one can explain what that sound exactly is.)

There may be something to these stories, even the Fürtwängler in the doorway story, but there is just no way of telling; these aren't things that can be measured. To a large extent they depend on how much you are willing to believe in the magic powers of the conductor's charisma.

Both in the audience and in the orchestra, people need this belief. But that doesn't make it 100% true. 

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On 6/13/2021 at 4:09 AM, Herman West said:

There are countless of these stories. Haitink revisits an orchestra he's conducted many times before, and with in one minute of rehearsal the orchestra sounds like Haitink's orchestra again, just by force of his presence. (The funny thing is, no one can explain what that sound exactly is.)

There may be something to these stories, even the Fürtwängler in the doorway story, but there is just no way of telling; these aren't things that can be measured. To a large extent they depend on how much you are willing to believe in the magic powers of the conductor's charisma.

Both in the audience and in the orchestra, people need this belief. But that doesn't make it 100% true. 

Anybody who has spent meaningful time under the baton of multiple great conductors can definitely attest to the accuracy of these stories. Haitink never did a thing for me as a listener, and neither did Ozawa or many another “great” Conductor. I never played with them, however, so I can’t judge them as one of their players would have.

But I have played with some astonishing conductors who absolutely illustrate the power of personality that is revealed in this story.

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