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8.223105 - FURTWANGLER: Symphony No. 3
Wilhelm Furtwaengler (1886-1954)
Wilhelm Furtwaengler must be considered one of the greatest conductors of the present century, his name associated above all with that of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he became conductor after the death of Nikisch in 1922. As a composer he has been largely neglected, in spite of the direction in which his own interests first led him. His orchestral works include three symphonies and a Symphonic Concerto for piano and orchestra, chamber music, songs, and choral works, among them two settings of passages from Goethe's Faust. The achievement is relatively slender in quantity, compared with his work as a conductor, but not insignificant in other respects.
Furtwaengler was born in 1886 in Berlin, where his father, a distinguished archaeologist, was on the staff of the University. In 1894 the family moved to Munich, after his father's appointment as professor of archaeology there, and it was in Munich, the native city of Richard Strauss, that he continued his education with private tutors, employed because of his obvious and unusual gifts. His mother, a painter of some distinction, had clear influence in the appointment of a well known sculptor, Adolf Hildebrand, as one of the boy's teachers. The archaeologist Ludwig Curtius was another, with the help of the musicologist and art historian Walter Riezler. It was, in the end, neither the visual arts nor archaeology that seized Furtwaengler's young imagination, but music, and he was able to develop his particular ability in this direction, in the context of a much wider liberal education that took him to Hildebrand's studio in Florence and on archaeological excursions to Greece with his father.
As a musician Furtwaengler was provided with excellent teachers, Anton Beer-Walbrunn and his own teacher Joseph Rheinberger, and the composer and conductor Max von Schillings, contributed to his musical formation, which had led, by the age of seventeen, to the composition of a symphony and a setting of the Walpurgisnacht section of Goethe's Faust, the latter completed at the age of twelve, to be followed in 1902 by a setting of the Geisterchor from Faust and the following year the Religioeser Hymnus.
Furtwaengler was slow to give up his ambitions as a composer, and it was partly through the desire to conduct his own music that his career as a conductor took shape, leading from apprentice years as repetiteur at Breslau Stadttheater and employment successively in Zurich, Munich and Strasbourg, to the position of director of the opera in Luebeck and conductor of the orchestral concerts in the city from 1911 until 1915. This was followed by five years at the Manheim Opera. Positions in Frankfurt and at the Berlin Staatsoper preceded his appointment in 1922 to the Berlin Philharmonic and to the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
In the years that followed Furtwaengler's pre-eminence became generally acknowledged, although his popular success in America was marred at first by his failure to court the favour of rich sponsors and later by his apparent association with the National Socialist Party after Hitler's accession to power in 1933. While Jewish musicians in Germany fended for themselves as best they could, taking refuge abroad, when possible, or suffering the fate of others unable to escape, a number of distinguished non-Jewish musicians chose to leave Germany in protest at the anti-Semitic policies of the new regime. Furtwaengler, with the approval of Jewish friends and colleagues, such as Arnold Schoenberg and Max Reinhardt, chose to stay, doing what he could to help those persecuted, and attempting always to keep music and politics apart.
It was unfortunate that Furtwaengler's very honesty and political innocence were to work against him in the years that followed the war. In January 1945 he emigarted to Switzerland, a country that provided a refuge for Richard Strauss in the same year. In 1946 there was a "denazification" tribunal to face, but his clearance was followed, all the same, by opposition and persecution that was to prevent his appointment to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1949. Yehudi Menuhin has provided an insight into the post-war mood, when his innocent repetition of the statement by French musicians that they would welcome Furtwaengler, because of his refusal to conduct in occupied France, was used in the American Jewish campaign against his appearance again in the United States. Menuhin goes on to point out, in a view of the matter that must recall Mahler's earlier dilemma, that Furtwaengler found himself a foreigner in Nazi Germany and a Nazi in the eyes of foreigners. This reputation died hard.
At the time of his death in 1954 Furtwaengler was planning a tour of the United States with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, having already been welcomed in the major musical centres of Europe. It was in his last years that he was able to work on his Third Symphony, the composition of which occupied him from 1947 until his death. His Symphony in D of 1903 had proved unsuccessful at an early performance in Breslau. The first numbered symphony, the Symphony No. 1 in B minor, was completed in 1941, and the Second Symphony was written in the closing years of the war, his application to composition coinciding with a decrease in activity as a conductor.
The Symphony No. 3 in C Sharp Minor is a monumental work, of the dimensions of a Bruckner symphony, with something of the latter's structural technique, yet belonging to a much starker world than Bruckner or Brahms had known. Its ominous first movement unfolds slowly, brooding and tragic in its Mahlerian intensity, a mood that the following Allegro does nothing to dispel. The feeling of Weltschmerz continues through thematically related third movement into a Finale that seems only narrowly to win the battle against despair. Throughout the music speaks in the idiom of the great symphonists of the late Romantic period, the language of Bruckner, the mood of Mahler, with an occasional glance towards Furtwaengler's nearer contemporary, Richard Strauss.
RTBF Symphony Orchestra
The RTBF Symphony Orchestra was conducted from its foundation by Edgard Doneux who was succeeded in 1984 by the present Principal Conductor, Alfred Walter. The orchestra appears regularly in France and Germany and has made a number of recordings, in addition to its regular work for the Belgian broadcasting service.
Alfred Walter has appeared as a guest conductor in various parts of the world. In Vienna he has worked as guest conductor at the State Opera and in 1986 was given the title of Professor by the Austrian Government. In 1980 he was awarded the Golden Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Society.
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