THE WILLEM MENGELBERG SOCIETY
Newsletters on this page:
"Yesterday evening our fellow countryman conducted
the first special Siloti concert of the season in the Hall of the Nobles
[St. Petersburg, Russia]. Here is the program: first, Beethoven: Egmont
Overture; second, Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik; third,
Richard Strauss: Don Juan and, after the Intermission, the Sixth
Symphony of Tchaikovsky . . . .
"During the Intermission the enthusiastic and thankful press into the greenroom, to shake the hand of the hero of the evening. Here are the musical authorities, the Board of the Imperial Music Association. Here is Casals, the Spanish cellist . . . .
"It is generally known that the Russian public swears, as it were, by Artur Nikisch, who has certainly conducted the Pathétique here at least 20 times. Therefore, the expectations of some of the public were perhaps not so very high, and certainly not so high as to expect anything better than Nikisch. It was very quickly evident that Mengelberg's conception [of the Pathétique] was entirely different from Nikisch's. The public followed with mounting tension. Mengelberg realizes magnificently the tremendous power of the expansive melancholy, which he never allows to fade into impotent sentimentality. . . . I cannot attempt to describe the enthusiasm that seized the listeners after the Tchaikovsky. . . .
... Modest Tchaikovsky, the brother of the dead composer, who was very close to him, explained that Mengelberg's reading most nearly approaches the original that he had heard Tchaikovsky himself play on the piano.
"Casals, who is no great admirer of Tchaikovsky, declared that this was the first time he found the Pathétique to be beautiful. Mr. Mengelberg, whom I had the opportunity to meet after the concert, told me that he was well satisfied with the performance of the imperial orchestra, although he naturally cannot do with it what he does with his Amsterdam orchestra. But keeping in mind that he had only three rehearsals, it went perfectly well. At the rehearsals he worked them very hard, as he himself expressed it, training them, putting them in harness, taming them; then, once their resistance was hunted down, giving them their head as a driver does his horse. . .
. Of the St. Petersburg musicians and of the Russians in general, Mengelberg'says they are too accustomed to a safe decorative routine, and also are exceedingly nervous, which is a consequence of the many works they must play in a season. His Amsterdamers stand higher in musical culture, as he must also say is true of the Amsterdam public, compared to the Russians." [Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, Dec. 23, 1910. Dispatch dated Dec. 18, St. Petersburg.]
We continue with the 80th season (1921/22) of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Mengelberg.
(14-17) Feb. 28 (MOH); March 2 &3; March 5 (B)
(18) March 8, Wednesday Evening, 8:30 p.m.
Mr. KENNETH DeKAY: "Meredith Willson's 'And There I Stood with My Piccolo'
(Doubleday, 1948) has several Mengelberg anecdotes though he was a Toscanini
worshiper. I had forgotten about it until my wife read the book recently.
In a new book of highlights from 25 years of High Fidelity Szell in an
interview referred to Mengelberg as a great distorter. Szell could have
used a little feeling in his conducting. He always talked as if he had
some but never displayed any in his work: cold, calculating, and dull.
Like Bohm and others, a great conductor by default in an age of pygmies.
He was never great when the really great were alive." Mr. DeKay brings
to my attention the publication Kastlemusick Exchange, a monthly
bulletin for record collectors, published by Kastlemusick, 170 Broadway,
Suite 201, New York City 10038. An annual subscription is $9.00. The May
issue comprises 12 pages of classified & display advertising, &
several articles, including a short contribution by Mr. DeKay, "Art as
a Refuge for the Artist."
Mr. ALAN H. PRICHARD: "Finally, you must be aware of the old 1947 recording of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah with Sir Malcolm Sargeant conducting. This is easily the greatest Elijah I've ever heard and I've heard several recordings (including Sargeant's 1954 retake). . . . I’m willing to dub my 78s onto tape someday, but I'm trying to get EMI to reissue the recording. In that effort I have written to EMI, . . . Would you also send a letter to EMI in this cause? The address is: EMI Records, Ltd., EMI House, 20 Manchester Square, London, Wl."
Mr. LAWRENCE H. JONES: "I should also mention that Don Tait played this performance [Beethoven's 9th/Mengelberg] on his 'Collector s Item' program on WFMT in Chicago on Monday last -- the 106th anniversary of Mengelberg's birth. . . . I understand that this . . . has proven to be one of the most requested recordings which he has aired."
Mr. ANDREW B. McALLISTER: ". . . the Victrola recording of Ein Heldenleben has now been played on all three Chicago FM good music stations."
Dr. JOHN S. LEWIS: "Jim Cartwright, of Immortal Performances [see last Newsletter], doesn't think that the Mengelberg Ein Heldenleben has been Stockhamized. . . . I did a quickie column on the issue for RR; . . . I don t know when this one will run, but as you see I worked in a plug for the WMS and eventually I'll do another column on Mengelberg." RR refers to Record Research, 65 Grand Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11205, a subscription to which costs $4.00 for 2 years, comprising 10 issues, as a rule. " . . . 4000 or more records offered each issue on auction," writes Dr. Lewis. Most listings are jazz, blues, popular, country & western, but also some classical.
Dr. HARRY WELLS McCRAW, arguing some points
of the last Newsletter, writes: "But to return to your original
point about Mahler, . . . , . . . . the Fourths of Walter and Klemperer,
also heavily influenced by Mahler, are entirely different from Mengelberg's.
The whole question of influence is extremely vague and tricky." I agree
heartily. Aside from the question as to whether Mengelberg was better acquainted
with Mahler's views on his own music than either K. or W., the radically
different way in which each conducts Mahler owes to the obvious fact that
each was not the others! And since this was so, each understood Mahler
from his own more or less narrow point of view, while attempting to express,
from this point of view, Mahler's intentions, in so far as he was informed
of these intentions & understood them, & was sufficiently expert
at conducting to obtain from the orchestra a close approximation of what
he (the conductor) wanted.
The chemical reaction between an orchestra & a conductor is different for each new conductor, even though it is always the selfsame orchestra. When the orchestra also changes, the chemical reactions are even more diverse. The inevitable conclusion is that talk of "authenticity" in the customary senses (namely, a slavish adherence to the score or to inadequately known performance practices of 200 years ago or doing just what all other musicians do with only the most trivial departures as necessitated by a moribund spirituality) is simply nonsense:--unless the composer himself is the conductor, in which case one is then faced with the problem as to which of several of his recordings of the same work is the "authentic" one, when they can all differ, one from the other, in numerous major & minor points.
Having written so poorly of "authenticity", nevertheless we should reserve to ourselves the right to defend as "authentic" Mengelberg's recordings of Mahler, Beethoven, & Tchiakovsky, & of modern Netherlands music; because they are based, to varying degrees, on what he knew the composer wanted. There will always be details in his interpretations of their works that are there simply because he was told, or had observed first hand, that this was what the composer desired. We have seen how Harold C. Schonberg (Newsletter #10) set his own trap in just this regard. When someone complains to you of Mengelberg's "excess" in this or that respect, how does the complainer know that it is an "excess?" In fact, he does not know. What he is likely really telling you is that he does not like it, which is another matter entirely.
Mr. JAMES NEU: "Am so glad that your publication put me on to those Bruno Walter Society releases of the two LP set including a magnificent version of the Overture to Oberon and the very exciting Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra which I'd always heard was superior to the later Telefunken-Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and it is. . . . I don't care much for the cuts in the last movement however, even if Modeste T. did convey that Peter I. preferred it done that way."
Mr. THOMAS VARLEY: "The Beethoven set arrived
and was superb -- the 1st movement of the 9th seemed too fast at first,
but then began to make sense, and have an impetus many performances lack.
"Have given the Victrola 'Heldenleben to several people as gifts--maybe if RCA sells enough they'll issue the rest of the Philharmonic series."
Mr. ARTHUR H. RICHARDSON sends me from the monthly program schedule of WMHT-FM (Albany, Schenectady, & Troy, N.Y.) a page devoted to an announcement that "The work of famed conductor Willem Mengelberg will be featured this month [June] on WMHT-FM." The page includes two photos of Mengelberg, one in his study, poring over a score, & another in the company of Richard Strauss, the latter photo apparently taken after WWII or perhaps late in the war.
Monsieur HUBERT WENDELL: "Last week [early
May] I was at Paris and with 3 friends broadcast a 2 hour program (France-Musique)
on Mengelberg. I spoke about Mengelberg, and we played the 7th Symphony
of Beethoven, the 1st of Brahms and the Tragic Overture of Brahms.
"In one month I shall make another broadcast on Ein Heldenleben (Concertgebouw)--and no doubt there will still be other broadcasts."
PAST MASTERS (POB 713, West Paterson,
N.J. 07424) has issued on PM.9 a disc containing all of the Netherlands
music that Mengelberg recorded for Telefunken: the National Anthem, arr.
by Mengelberg; Hendrik Andriessen's Magna res est amor/Jo Vincent;
Adriaan Valerius Wilt heden nu treden, which we know as the
Protestant hymn We Gather Together; Cornelis Dopper's Gothic
Chaconne Julius Roentgen's Old Netherlands Dances (#5 &
6); Rudolf Mengelberg's Salve Regina/Vincent; & Johan Wagenaar's
Overture, Cyrano de Bergerac. (R. Mengelberg was Willem s nephew,
& artistic manager of the COA.) I cannot praise the disc too
highly, musically or technically. These are superb transfers (just a hint
of distortion, apparently in the violas, at the end of Gothic Chaconne)
& performances of extraordinary beauty, finish, & persuasiveness.
The music captivates from beginning to end, the gem being, in my opinion,
the Wagenaar, the wit & ebulience of which Mengelberg conveys perfectly.
I cannot recall better playing from the COA, Mengelberg's always telling
& sensitive management of the brass & the clarity of some of the
rapid string passages in the Overture exceeding sober reality: if
one can judge accurately from these recordings, the COA of the war years
was at least the equal, perhaps the superior, of itself before the war.
Words of praise also to Mr. JAMES H. NORTH, a member of the Society, who
wrote the excellent notes for PM.5 (Brahms S.#4/Mengelberg).
Past Master plans for August PM.l0, the Symphonie Fantastigue, electrically
recorded by Weingartner, who messianically spread Berlioz s music in the
German speaking countries, where B. was for many years far better appreciated
than in his own France. (During my two years in Paris, 1961/62, I cannot
recall a single performance of a work by Berlioz, although it snowed Bach
& Beethoven every week of the season!)
DISCOCORP, INC. (POB 771, Berkeley, California 94701), which is now the distributing arm of the Bruno Walter S, offers Opus 78 (Schumann's PC/Sauer/Mengelberg & Carnival/Sauer) & RR-506 (Bruch's VC/Bustabo s incomparable performance; Mahler's Wayfarer Songs/Schey; & Ravel's Daphnis & Chloé, Suite #1/all Mengelberg). I have heard the Opus, which is re-mastered; the reproduction of the Concerto is excellent. Each disc costs $7.00 ($8.00 abroad), postpaid.
BACK ISSUES of the Newsletter are 20 cents each, plus a reply envelope bearing l3 cents postage for every 2 numbers ordered. Numbers 9, 11, 16, & 17 are exhausted.
The following conversation too place
between Zoltán Kodály & a tenor who had just sung
the solo part in the composer's Psalmus Hungaricus.
K: "Is Hungarian your mother tongue?"
T: "Yes, professor."
K: "Then why don't you sing in Hungarian prosody?"
T: "But I sang exactly in the rhythm that is on the score."
K: "That's the trouble. You should not sing according to the notes but according to the laws of
your mother tongue -- Hungarian."
High Fidelity, Sept. ‘77: Philips will issue Beeth.’s S #1-9/Mengelberg. This set (8 discs) available from the Society for $43, incl. postage U.S.A. Order must be rec’d by Oct. 10. S #3 is transfer of the Telefunken.
Mailing delayed because the local store selling
postage stamps is changing hands!
Pleasant listening & a pleasant late summer wished to all
Go to Newsletter: #21 #23 #24 #25 #26 #27 #28-29 #30
March 22 marks the 27th anniversary of Mengelberg’s death, in Swiss exile, at Zuort, Graubünden, & March 28 the 107th anniversary of his birth at Utrecht.
In October I dismantled my old power amplifier. In early February of this year I finished the new amplifier, which behaves strangely. I have now found one of the causes of this behavior, the construction of the amplifier & the subsequent experimentations with it being one reason why this NEWSLETTER appears so long after the previous issue. In the meantime, I have heard no records at all, including the recent Philips set, offered in the last NEWSLETTER, of Mengelberg conducting the 9 Beethoven symphonies. To keep myself informed on the charming events of the day, I listen to a borrowed transistor radio of tiny size, which receives FM, as well as AM, transmissions. The FM broadcasts of WFMR, the local "good music station," of public concerts of our major symphony orchestras surprise me unpleasantly. Just a week or so ago I heard the NYPO under Lorin Maazel play a Schumann symphony & several months ago the Cleveland Symphony under an Israeli play a Dvorak symphony, in both cases the out of tune violin playing & the ragged attacks of all sections amazing me. Just last night, the violins of the Chicago Symphony, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, were frequently badly out of tune in a Mozart symphony. These & many other examples (including disc recordings) broadcast by WFMR tell me that our standards of orchestral playing are declining. Oh, for what Harris Goldsmith (High Fidelity, December, 1977, p.80) called the "finicky purity of Mengelberg’s string sound"! Finickiness means exactness; exactness means that the goods meet the specifications; where the goods meet the specifications, there is quality & dependability. Who among us does not appreciate quality & dependability, irrespective of whether they are found in the performance of a musical score or in the pressing of the phonograph record that has the performance? It is just the lack of these that partly causes the peculiar behavior of my new amplifier- the output tubes apparently are very gassy--, & the long delay of this NEWSLETTER thereon. (Since writing the preceding, I heard the NYPO, conducted by Klaus Tennstedt, play Bruckner’s 8th: were these the same musicians, now playing their Sunday best (& a very good best that is, if the little radio does not misinform me), who had played so carelessly under Maazel? The difference lies in the conductor!)
My translation of the following interview of
Mengelberg owes to Hubert Wendel, who kindly gave me the German text. The
interview, which was broadcast by the German Reichs Rundfunk, apparently
was held on Feb. 9, 1938, on which evening Mengelberg conducted the Munich
Philharmonic (where Oswald Kabasta, so full of Austrian charm & grace,
was shortly to succeed the now legendary Siegmund von Hausegger)
in works of Beethoven & Tchaikovsky: Elly Ney was soloist.
"Dear Listeners, in connection with the Festival of Netherlands Culture in Munich, Professor Willem Mengelberg conducts this evening a concert of the Munich Philharmonic in the Tonhalle. "We are just now in the Greenroom of the Tonhalle. Professor Mengelberg has interrupted the rehearsal for a few moments, & has kindly granted us a short interview.
"Professor Mengelberg, what were your reasons for composing the program of this evening’s concert as you did?"
"That I can certainly tell you. Those who arranged for the concert asked me to conduct Beethoven & Tchaikovsky, & I gladly agreed. Ever since childhood I have felt certain ties to Beethoven--to his works, that is. As you all know, Beethoven, of course, goes back to Holland. He was born in Bonn, but his ancestors were Dutch. His name, mind you, is van Beethoven; & in his art he also has certain ties to Dutch artists; &, for example, with Rembrandt he has these colors--in his later works, above all the illumination, the light, which one certainly can also express in sound; & the feeling, the delicacy, the depth, & the like, which our artists & painters have expressed in their great masterworks."
"And now, Professor Mengelberg, you are also conducting Tchaikovsky this evening; & I pay you a compliment, but you are considered to be THE interpreter of Tchaikovsky; & I have heard that you even had personal ties to him."
"THE interpreter is going somewhat too far. Interpreter, interpretation: that’s quite a subject. But I knew him well: I was very friendly with Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest Tchaikovsky. He was a dear person, an ardent lover of music, of beautiful music, &, above all, of the music of his brother, naturally. And when I conducted in Moscow for the first time--that s already 40 years ago [Mengelberg means 30 years ago: he apparently first conducted in Moscow the season of 1909/10]--he attended the concert & was very enthusiastic, & since then we were friends. He gave me his brother’s scores, which have Tchaikovsky s retouches, & these retouches are very interesting. There isn t a single great composer who did not make retouches after his works were published, once he had heard them or conducted them. Tchaikovsky did the same thing."
"What do 'you mean by retouches?"
"Minor changes, such as doubling a wind part in a tutti or substituting a forte for a piano or having the winds blow a crescendo or a dimuendo or adding a few notes or removing a few. Every composer did this, you know."
"If I may: We have just now followed the score as you were rehearsing the first movement from the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, & we noticed that you played a few notes that are not in the original score. So, are they added by you?"
"Tchaikovsky himself wrote them into the score that Modest gave to me. The last two times he conducted this symphony in Moscow he made various changes. Above all in the Finale. The construction of the Finale was somewhat weak--the constructive lines. He understood this & then shortened & strengthened the lines, & thus made the movement much more beautiful; & he asked me, Modest did, please to do it so, & his brother had stressed that one should do it so."
"And the second movement, Professor Mengelberg, do you conduct it as published or are there also changes here?"
"No, I don t make any changes in this movement. I make, as I said, only retouches: small improvements that the composer himself had made in his score."
"Good. And now if I am correctly informed, you will rehearse the middle movement [apparently, the 2nd movement is meant]; & then may we listen a little with our microphone?"
"Thank you very much."
"But when I stop the orchestra you must not be angry."
"No, we should not be that in any case. Thank you."
In the last NEWSLETTER I asked about Saint-Saëns’ The Deluge, the Prelude of which Mengelberg conducted on March 8, 1922. KENNETH DeKAY: "'Le Deluge is a biblical cantata. . . There is a recording of the prelude on import: ASD-3058." JOHN TOCZEK: "I have an acoustic Columbia, on one side of which The Deluge appears. It is very hard to say much about the music, . . ."
THE AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, August, 1977, publishes Gerald S. Fox’s enthusiastic review of Ein Heldenleben performed by an NYPSO "molded and honed in 1928 by both Mengelberg and Toscanini into a virtuosic, full throated ensemble, the special qualities of which have not been heard since." As I stated in NEWSLETTER #20, in connection with Peter G. Davis review in the N.Y. Times, the superlative playing of the orchestra, which no one questions, owes solely to Mengelberg. To whatever extent Toscanini’s influence on the orchestra affects its playing in this recording (Victrola AVM1-20l9), to that same extent the orchestra plays less well than it otherwise would; this is true because the two conductors had in many respects entirely dissimilar, & clashing, views as to how an orchestra should play & sound. Those of us inclined to believe otherwise should remember that just as Mengelberg complained publically & justifiably in 1929 that the orchestra he had so arduously trained lost both its tone & its style after playing under Toscanini, so many years later Toscanini forbad Stokowski’s returning to the NBC Symphony, simply because the orchestra that Toscanini rehearsed after a Stokowski concert was no longer the same.
While on the subject of Ein Heldenleben,
I want to quote from the appreciative lines of a review published in the
October, 1975, issue of The E.M.G. Monthly Letter (London), &
sent to me by J. W. NEVE: "A recording of this work by Mengelberg
is an important document, because not only was he the dedicatee of Heldenleben
but he was also a close friend of the composer who admired his conducting.
In the event, Mengelberg’s performance of 1928 is far brisker and rhythmically
tauter than the ones we are used to today, and it is a performance of immense
power." What the critic does not remark is that the transfer, which was
made in Japan, includes artificial resonance. Attempts to polish up an
old recording in this way are simply clumsy & wrong headed. Unless
one can use Dr. Stockham’s extremely involved attempts to reconstruct
the original sound technically, it is far wiser to leave well enough alone.
IN A later letter, Mr. NEVE writes: "Browsing through a London record shop a while ago, I spotted some imports from America and, lo and behold, there was RR-443-two disc Mengelberg, just under 6 Pounds for the two, which is just over 10 dollars. Eagerly playing them when I got home proved to be a mixture of excitement and slight disappointment. My views, for what they are worth!: the BACH suite very pleasing and lovely flute sound. WEBER-Oberon, which I know well, marred by an incredibly careless join. RAVEL-Bolero, which I had always wanted to hear by Mengelberg--tremendous performance, sustained rhythm, fascinating woodwind sounds--but, careless joins, but not as bad as in Oberon. [In Bolero M. obtains from the winds, both wood & brass, a far greater variety of sound than do other conductors. From side 2 to side 3, of the 78s, there is, I believe to recall, a sudden fall in volume level: does this owe to M. or to the engineers?] CORIOLAN & POET & PEASANT Overtures--wholly satisfactory, and what superb performances!
"I turned to the second record with great interest, as it included some of the later Telefunkens. The TANNHAUSER is, of course, from Columbia,... MEISTERSINGER Overture is from Telefunken and I thought the sound rather fuzzy. ROMAN CARNIVAL is a little better and a sprightly performance. [An excellent transfer, in my opinion.] The real disappointment, for me, was the TRAGIC OVERTURE, a rather dull performance and muddled sound. Two repeated hearings have not caused me to change my opinion either. 1812, however, soon restored me to a happy frame of mind, Mengelberg is always unsupassed in Tchaikovsky."
ANDREW B. McALLISTER: ". . . Don Tait on his program 'Collector’s Item’ on WFMT-FM played the Mengelberg recording of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, and the Victrola recording of Ein Heldenleben has now been played on all three Chicago FM good music stations." And WNIB, Chicago, broadcast the entire Philips set of the 9 Beethoven symphonies in November.
RICHARD L. BENSON, FRANK FORMAN, & Professor WAYNE H. FINKE send me reviews of the Philips set (6767003/Beethoven’s S. #1 to 9) published in The Gramophone, Records & Recording, & the N.Y. Times. John Rockwell’s review in the Times (Nov. 6, 1977) is quite favorable, but Robert Dearling s (R&R, Sept. '77) & Richard Osborne’s (Gramophone, Sept. '77) are a good deal less so. Mr. Rockwell writes, "This new Beethoven set has been hostilely received in several pub1ications, and indeed it has been attacked with what might be called denunciatory vehemence, as if the conductor could do no right."
MR. TOCZEK: "I wanted to tell you I bought the Mengelberg-Beethoven 9 and had to return the set. The range is occasionally too dynamic and my needle (plus a friend’s & the record store’s) would jump out of the groove. This problem often could not be overcome with even 5-10 playings of the trouble spot. . .There is also some 'fuzziness’ throughout the sides." A few days ago WFMR broadcast the 5th Symphony of this set, & the needle jumped in the last movement. If the cartridge is too stiff in the bass for the tracking force used, the set will cause needle jumps, because the tympani are very prominent in Mengelberg’s forceful and expressive use of them. My amplifier now works satisfactorily; & I have played the 1st S., which causes no difficulty for my cartridge, a Shure V 15, Type III. The sound being very clear & of a wide dynamic range, the recording is a remarkable achievement of The Netherlands engineers, on the part of both those who cut the original 78s on April 14, 1940, & those who made the transfer in 1960.
SAMUEL C. CHAPMAN: "The Mengelberg/Beethoven
set arrived on Dec. 22nd, and I picked it up the next morning. It became
the finest Christmas present I have had in years. The timing was most fortunate."
In an earlier letter writes Mr. Chapman: "I have both PM-9 (Mengelberg conducts Dutch Music) and PM-l0 (Weingartner/Berlioz-Symphonie Fantastique), which I think are marvelous, . . . . The Dopper confirmed all my imagination guessed at from the old Rococo transfer (which was none too good). The transfer in PM-9 shows what a gorgeous work this [Gothic Chaconne] really is. This, by the way, is not concurred in by Otto Ketting in an issue of Keynotes (Nr. 3) which I received recently with a 2 record set from Composers’ Voice dealing with some Dutch compositions from the 1920's. I got the set mainly to have Pijper s Sym. Nr. 2 Lo and behold--Cornelius Dopper is lambasted on several pages by Vermeulen, Otto Ketting, and others. Why? Mainly because his music is not like their music, or at least this is what I can ascertain when the axe grinding leaves of f momentarily. Dopper, of course, was quite active in the '20 s, and (of course?) is not represented in this set, so no comparison can be made by anyone having just it and the Keynotes comments. On page 37, in an interview with Matthijs Vermeulen, Mengelberg is attacked for 'his crude neglect of Diepenbrock, who was pro-French, and in his stupid advancement of Dopper (of whose work no note now remains) to the position of Holland’s foremost composer, because he was his [Mengelberg’s] hanger-on’. Well, this is rather strong stuff--and Dopper is written off into the void without a note left. Imagine my surprise when I reached page 48 and found an example (rather scanty) from the Adagio of Dopper’s 6th Sym., 'Amsterdam ‘! There the author of that article (Rob du Bois) describes Dopper as 'turning out symphony after symphony with chauvinist titles such as Rembrandt, Amsterdam, The Zuyder Zee, but that these compositions are more 'German in spirit than Richard Strauss. I get the distinct impression that du Bois dislikes anything chauvinistic or 'German (whatever that may mean). Throughout the comments on Vermeulen, he is constantly compared to Charles Ives. This puzzles me somewhat--the only comparison I can see is what Mengelberg told Vermeulen with what Walter Damrosch told Ives, which in both cases amounted to: 'Better acquire a little skill in writing music. [Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians says the following of Vermeulen's music: "Though a certain inspiration is apparent in his work, it lacks technique and discipline."] I note that when Monteux is stated as having refused one of Vermeulen’s symphonies, he is not castigated or mulled as is Mengelberg. In my opinion, what little I have heard of Vernieulen is hardly similar to any of the Ives I heard (which is quite a bit). I do not consider either of them to be qreat composers, but at times they are very interesting composers (and they can be in certain instances rather boring composers). Also, if I may sound a bit corny here, Ives is as chauvinistic as all get out! If chauvinistic titles of wàrks are to be the judge of how 'good a composition is, then Ives and Dopper are in the same boat. And, from what I read in Keynotes, Vermeulen not only is unchauvinistic, but seems to exalt the French styles of composition (so he says) and to denigrate anything in the traditional Dutch style as 'German.’ All in all, it seems these writers are still fighting a battle which has been long over- they seem unaware that Mengelberg performed the French school at the Concertgebouw and recorded works by Ravel and Debussy. Who else but Mengelberg performed Diepenbrock in his lifetime? I doubt that without the fact there was a great orchestra in the Netherlands there would have been little or no Dutch music-writing of any kind. Certainly very little for orchestra! And who but Mengelberg made this possible?"
Vermeulen’s attack on Mengelberg is not only musical; it also has its political side, even though politics are never mentioned. Throughout WWI Mengelberg continued to conduct in Frankfurt on the Main, at the Museum Concerts, as he had always done since 1908. The Netherlands being neutral in this fratricidal war, Mengelberg had a perfect right to do so, but his doing so aroused the active hatred of those in his country who were supporting France & Britain. Grove’s entry under Vermeulen states, "During the war of 1914-18 he fought against the German influence on music. . . . " There are, & apparently always have been, in The Netherlands those who are drawn to France spiritually; they are usually more or less consciously anti-German, a sentiment not entirely unknown elsewhere. This hatred, aversion, or disapproval of Mengelberg -the intensity varies with the person: forr Vermeulen one must suppose it verges on hatred, because his feelings overwhelm his better judgment, leading him to much silliness--springs from matters basically musical or political (again, depending on the person); & becomes attenuated & subtle with time, as in the final paragraph of the notes in the recent Philips set (6767003).
Music Editor of The News
'Francois Huybrechts, who debuts Friday with the Dallas
Symphony in its "Starlight" Series, is not exactly ecstatic about the
| "On the other hand, listen to the
same music conducted by Beecham, Furtwanegler, Toscanini or Mengelberg.
You not only know what composer you are hearing, you know without a doubt
who the conductor is, because of the strong ideas being expressed. These
men wrestled alone with their scores and without outside influences; that
resulted was all their own.
"THAT'S THE old-fashioned
way, and it is my way. Another old-fashioned aspact of conducting is paying
your dues to the profession, beginning In small ways, preferrably in an
opera house, and working your way up. The greats of the past were
nowhere at 40; they were still learning their business. It takes time to
be a good conductor; few now are willing to spend the time needed.
[For want of room I had to omit
HUBERT WENDEL (Les Xettes, Le Darou, 88400
Gérardmer, France) seeks a tape copy of Bach’s Concerto for 2
Pianos & Orch. in C Major, performed by Edwin Fischer & a second,
unknown, pianfit, & by the Winterthur Orch., which Fischer also conducts.
Monsieur Wendel also seeks tape copies of recordings by Ignaz Friedman.
He will pay money or give recordings of Mengelberg, Furtwaengler, or Friedman
in exchange. He writes: "Last Sunday on France Musique there was
a broadcast in which different recordings of J.S. Bach’s Suite #2 in
B Minor were compared. Of course, the host of the program, Armand Panigel,
did not use Mengelberg’s recording, but he did say that M. had recorded
this work 'with an enormous orchestra and aberrant tempi,’ which is to
say that M.’s interpretation is false and without interest. The same Armand
Panigel some time ago made a similar broadcast on Ein Heldenleben
of R. Strauss. He did not even mention the name of Mengelberg!!!!
"It’s absolutely unbelievable.
"On the other hand, several days ago (October 11) there was a very nice comment on the re-issue of the Beethoven symphonies by Mengelberg (again, on France-Musique).”
FRANK FORMAN (6923 Clarendon Road, Apt. 316, Bethesda, MD 20014) has compiled from Dr. Hardie’s Mengelberg discography a one sheet index to M.’s recordings, & will send a copy on request.
JOHN TOCZEK (23308 53 West, Mountlake Terrace, Washington 98043) seeks the following Mengelbergs: Victor 6427, Strauss & Tchaikovsky waltzes; Victor M-73, Beethoven’s S# l; Victor 7436, Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel O.; Brunswick 50161, Ride of Valkyries; Brunswick 50096 (or 20872), two Strauss waltzes; & many of Mengelberg’s early Columbias. Aside from the foregoing, he also seeks any Brunswick orchestral recordings.
PAST MASTERS RECORDINGS (P.O. Box 713, West
Patterson, New Jersey 07424) has published three more discs. PM-ll ("Albert
Coates Conducts Russian Music") comprises Borodin‘s S.#2 & Scriabin’s
Poéme de l’Extase, both performed by the LSO. PM-12 ("Felix
Weingartner Conducts Concert Favorites") has Der Freischütz O.
& Entr’Acte #3 from Rosamunde (played by the orchestra
of Basel Conservatory, where W. was the Director), the Liebestod
from Tristan & I (Columbia S. O.), Trauermusik from
(PCO), Academic Fest. O. (LSO), & the Egmont O. (VPO:
Weingartner’s own orchestra). And PM-l3 ("Von Hausegger Conducts Bruckner")
has the 9th S. performed by the Munich Philharmonic. The legendary
Siegmund von Hausegger, as I referred to him earlier in this issue, is
reborn, as it were, in this disc, which was recorded in 1938, the year
of his retirement. These records cost $4.95 each, plus $1.00 for mailing
costs in the United States for 1 to 3 discs..
Monsieur Wendel: "I have the Past Masters disc 'Mengelberg Conducts Music of the Netherlands. It is truly an extraordinary record. The sound is prodigious and the interpretations extraordinary. I find that Dopper’s Gothic Chaconne is a very beautiful work, and it is incomprehensible that one no longer plays this music."
BACK ISSUES of the NEWSLETTER are 20 cents each, plus an envelope of sufficient size bearing 13 cents in postage for every two issues ordered. The following numbers are exhausted: 9, 10, 11, 13, 16 & 17.
DR. APRIL MARCH: "It should interest you, because you are always complaining of noisy pressings, that my researches into plastic flow have had a very nice spinoff. You put the noisy record into the oven (when your wife is baking a pie, for example, which saves electricity). The oven is set to the pie temperature. When the pie is baked you will find the record has no more pops and the grooves are perfectly silent. You should be careful of one thing. Make sure the pie doesn’t absorb any odor from the record by placing 10 tablespoons of ethyl mercaptan in a shallow dish in the oven, and you will have no problems."
This issue comes too late for me to wish the members "A Merry Christmas!" but I can still wish you the Best for the New Year!
|Beethoven’s nine symphonies are performed by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, under Willem Mengelberg (Philips 6767 003); sixteen sides; mono). This recording, taken from radio broadcasts of 1940, gives an idea of what musical interpretation was like before Toscanini.||Mengelberg’s elastic tempos and frequent rubatos seem like fresh breezes after a generation of Toscaninian rigidity. The shymphonies are all beautifully done, and the sound is excellent.|
Susbcription year ‘77, which began with Newsletter #21, ends with the next issue. My thanks to those who have already renewed for S.Y. ‘78.
A warm spring and pleasant listening wished to all!
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #24 #25 #26 #27 #28-29 #30
Richard Wagner, in his essay Über das Dirigiren (On Conducting), writes of his experiences conducting the Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society, London, in 1885. "In so far as this was now possible, I made it my business in the important cases to insist on what seemed to me to be the correct interpretation, & thus also on the suitable tempo. The able musicians had nothing against this, & even honestly rejoiced in it; it also appeared to the public to be obviously correct: only the critics were furious about it, & so intimidated the directors of the Society that I was actually approached by them to permit the 2nd movement of Mozart's S. in E-flat [#39] to be slovenly rushed through once again, as one is supposed to have been accustomed to in earlier days, & as even Mendelssohn himself had supposedly permitted." [Mendelssohn had formerly conducted at these same concerts.] When some of our critics so berate Mengelberg for not conducting music as they are accustomed to hearing it conducted, they place him in the best of company.
RICHARD L. BENSON. "I was interested in your favorable reaction to Klaus Tennstedt. He seems to have that effect on both orchestra and audience and is one of the few conductors I go out of my way to hear these days."
DR. JOHN S. LEWIS. "Nearly forgot to tell you
that the local educational radio station, KERA-FM, Dallas, has promised
a forthcoming 'Collectors Series’ group of radio transcriptions including
Mengelberg (are they getting these from AVRO? I can t find out). Hard to
tell what goes on there; the station has been usurped by the Toscanini-ites
who keep trying to nominate him for sainthood. Now I like some of
the things Toscanini did (when he didn’t play too fast) but frankly he
had a largely pernicious effect on American tastes, I think.
". . . I think his supporters would be surprised by his choice of tempo in the Mozart symphony movements [in T.'s acoustical recording], for instance. Musically, it was downhill after 1921 though I regard Toscanini’s 1953 recording of the Eroica as the finest record he made. I like his Dvorak 9th, but I prefer Talich’s, Stokowski’s last and his 1934 Philadelphia recording, and Horenstein’s RPO recording (recently released on Quintessence and well worth getting) to Toscanini’s. I ve never heard Mengelberg’s."
ANDREW B. McALLISTER. "Every once in a while one of the Beethoven symphonies from the complete set recorded by Mengelberg is to be heard on one of the two good music stations in Chicago. On Mengelberg’s birthday, Don Tait played several of his records on 'Collector’s Item’. . .
EUGENE KASKEY. ". . . would love to hear his
[Mengelberg’s] words, his feelings about his relationship with the N.Y.
Phil.--music & life in America--would be most fascinating to read his
afterthoughts about Hitler, the War, his life--from the time of after W/WII
to his death. It is a great loss to his cause that he never wrote his life
story. . ." I have from time to time published interviews of Mengelberg
& parts of letters written to him. I was once told that Mengelberg
rarely made copies of his own letters to others; Strauss’s letters to M.,
&, I believe, those of other composers, are in safe keeping in The
Netherlands. Mengelberg, who, so far as I know, never wrote anything of
consequence for publication, lives in his recordings. Most of what I know
about Mengelberg & politics I published in NEWSLETTER, #13. Mr. Robert
Brouwer’s informative letter on this subject appeared in NEWSLETTER, #14.
Mr. Code’s commentary on Mr. Harris Goldsmith s allusion to the subject,
in his review of the 9 Beethoven S.s (High Fidelity, Dec., 1977),
I publish in the following lines.
WILLIAM CODE. "I wonder if members are familiar with David Wooldridge’s ‘Conductor’s World’? It has chapters on Mengelberg and Toscanini and is full of acute observations, fascinating information and opinions on many conductors. Strauss, Furtwangler, Karajan, Harty, Szell, Mitropoulos, and on and on, not to mention Bulow and Nikisch and other early ones. Wooldridge is an English conductor and composer, and his book is the best informed on the subject of conductors I have read. He writes with a refreshingly independent mind.
"The ‘High Fidelity’ review of the complete Beethoven symphonies conducted by Mengelberg,does have the advantage of giving publicity to the release. Stereo Review ignored it. Goldsmith says that Mengelberg’s 'politics caused him to be ignored in music circles. If his claim is correct, it does not speak well of the music world."
On Feb. 16, I mailed to HF the following letter,
which the magazine acknowledged March 13, but did not publish.
"May we reply to two points Mr. Harris Goldsmith raises in his review (December) of Beethoven’s nine symphonies conducted by Willem Mengelberg? The critic speculates that the 'conductor so admired by Mahler. . . might well have been quite different from the erratic one who emerges from the riveting Philips set.’ What we know of Mahler the conductor does not suggest that he would have raised the objections that the critic raises, not least of all because he knew that Mengelberg, through Franz Wüllner and Anton Schindler, was very well informed as to how Beethoven played and conducted his own music. Has Mr. Goldsmith forgotten how Beethoven, while accompanying George Bridgetower in the Kreutzer Sonata, embraced the violinist, who had just improvised in the Presto, and exclaimed, 'Do it again, my dear boy?’, whereupon Bridgetower repeated the improvisation while Beethoven held the open pedal? The composer understood perfectly well that a musician who has so little to bring to music that he can only attempt a more or less literal reproduction of the score is an impoverished spirit.
"The further point Mr. Goldsmith raises--namely, that Mengelberg 'in his earlier years . . . was considerably more direct in his musical approach’--is not borne out by the recordings. The Beethoven Third he refers to, with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, was recorded in 1930. That same year Mengelberg recorded with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and the following year the first Leonore Overture and the Egmont and Coriolan Overtures, Beethoven recordings that are as notable for their marvelously plastic and imaginative rhythm as is the Philips set. If we widen our enquiry to include other composers, among a host of examples, the recording that Mengelberg made in 1922 with the New York Philharmonic of Liszt’s Les Préludes completely refutes the critic’s view. The reader can easily satisfy himself on this point: the complete set of Mengelberg’s acoustic recordings is published by Past Masters on PM6 and PM7. That some of Mengelberg’s American recordings are relatively bland musically (although superbly polished technically) as compared to those he made at the same time with the Concertgebouw Orchestra very likely owes to Mengelberg’s conclusion as to what was acceptable on our shores."
THOMAS VARLEY. "I had the same problems as the others with the Beethoven set (purchased locally immediately upon release) but with patience, repeated playings and liberal use of the Discwasher, it’s been solved on all except the 5th which in this pressing is virtually unplayable on a decent turntable. Fortunately I still have the German Philips of 5 & 9."
F. JAMES NEU. "Love the Beethoven set for the
most part, not all of it of course, but enough of it to make it well worth
while owning. At first I also had trouble with some of the sides tracking
(the finales of the 6th and 7th symphonies mainly), as someone mentioned
in the newsletter having that particular trouble. However, shortly after
I found that other LP5 I own were doing the same thing that never had before;
so, the day before Christmas I took my turntable to the Midwest Stereo
where I bought it and found that the tone arm wasn’t balanced quite right.
So, they hooked up to it what looked like a brain scan or something a surgeon
might use during open heart surgery and calibrated the weight of the tone
arm with a test record that showed distortion whenever it set in after
a certain level of volume. They corrected it (for a handsome fee
I ight add) and it has worked perfectly ever since, with no tracking problem
on any set I own.
"Admittedly, the finale of Beethoven’s 7th as performed by Mengelberg is very heavily recorded, especially in the bass and awfully reverberant kettle drums, but if one has a properly balanced tone arm, I don’t think it should be any problem. . . .1 was especially elated to read that someone else, such as Winthrop Sargeant of the New Yorker, doesn’t remove his hat in reverence at the mere mention of the name of Toscanini, the most colossal brainwash job of the century as to the 'Master’s’ greatness, as far as I m concerned. There are other great conductors besides The Maestro, though I don t think some critics are aware of it."
American Record Guide, July, 1978, states
that the "first pressings" of this set (Philips 6767003) "were marred by
production problems, . . . ." I do not know whether or not the Society
received the original pressings. My pressing, which is the same as the
one I mailed to members, is not defective. I compared two different issues
of the last movement of the 7th S.: the disc in the set in question
(6767003) & the Japanese Fontana disc SFON-l0602, which the Society
sold to the Members several years ago. What appeared to be some weakening
of the kettledrums on the Jap. disc became a certainty near the end of
the 4th movement, where M. brings the music to a temporary halt with--in
the Philips set--a doomsday crack of the kettledrum. On the Fontana disc
the kettledrum explosion is snubbed, the Jap. engineers having used one
or another electronic trick to reduce the kettledrum’s prominence (even
though the Jap. disc is cut at a lower level), the Philips set being a
truthful (or more nearly truthful) copy of the AVRO 78s. This is not the
first time the sound of the frequently despised 78 has had to be watered
down to accommodate the technical limitations of the high fidelity LP.
When Telefunken in the l950s transferred to LP its marvelous series of
Bayreuth recordings, cut in 1936, it did so with a reduced dynamic range,
as I discovered when I heard a recent transfer of one of these recordings.
The difference in the tone of the orchestra between the 3rd S. (recorded by Tel. in 1940) & the other symphonies (recorded by AVRO, likewise in 1940) is startling. In the 3rd it is warm, dark, & dense, with muffled kettledrums; in the remaining symphonies it is bright & comparatively coarse. My impression is that the transfer of the 3rd is excellent, if we overlook the apparent wear of the 78s that Philips copied. The bass is immensely powerful. A near by door knob, some metal dishes, a cabinet door, & the baffle itself all buzzed when I played the symphony to make a joyful noise in the house. I compared this transfer with that on Jap. Tel. MZ5100, another disc we sold to members in years past: the Jap. disc, which I believe owes to the Tel. transfer first published here & in Ger. in the l950s, has less bass, a generally brighter tone, & a relatively coarse & thin treble.
Which in the Philips set more nearly reproduces the true timbre of M.’s orch. in the Concertgebouw: the sound of the 3rd or the sound of the other symphonies? From what I have been told, I would have to say that the 3rd has the better reproduction of the orch., although I suspect that the kettledrums are much too backward. Is there a reader of these lines who can offer an opinion? We should remember Mr. Brouwer s words in NEWSLETTER, #14: "It was Mengelberg’s fate to live and perform in a time when no faithful recording legacy could be left to posterity, thus barring us from a comprehensive artistic judgment." Two important advantages of these AVRO transcriptions are the realism of the kettledrums (in set 6767003) & the unbuttoned manner in which M. views the scores. The interpretations are more imaginatively conceived & more freely played than, as a rule, it seems to me, are the corresponding performances on Tel., thereby coming closer to my understanding of Schindler’s descriptions of how Beethoven conducted & played his music. (Anton Felix Schindler, Beethoven as I Knew Him, ed. by Donald W. MacArdle. The chapter entitled "Musical Selection," pp.395-445, is fascinating.) The kettledrums in the AVRO transcriptions at times assume an expressive independence & importance that we associate with M.’s use of the winds, particularly the brass. This kettledrummer is no circus dog, who barks & growls on command; here we have a lion of the jungle, young & egotistically confident of his superiority, whose roars are like lightning bolts & thunderclaps. Listen to the last bars of the 1st movement of the 7th S., where our lion, having tensely waited measure after measure, at last seeing his opportunity, unexpectedly springs at us, roaring as though to set our hair on end. Are we presumptuous to imagine that Beethoven appears just then, hovering over us, a broad smile on his face, & saying, "Well, here at last is someone who conducts my symphonies not as though he were delivering a sanctimonious sermon to a sleeping congregation. He looks me straight in the eye, does this musician!"
DR. HARRY W. McCRAW. "I guess that 1938 Munich interview [NEWSLETTER, #22] shows that Mengelberg was on solid scholarly ground as far as the Tchaikovsky Fifth was concerned, though I still don t think Mengelberg was one to worry over much about solid scholarship. Did he have similar authorization for those cuts he made in the last two movements of the Brahms REQUIEM? Incidentally, I recently played the DEUTSCHES REQUIEM under a conductor who made Mengelberg’s cut and one other in the Sixth Movement but played the final movement intact. His explanation was quite simple: he didn’t think his chorus could sing the entire Sixth Movement and still have enough stuff left to do the last movement. This makes sense for a smallish community chorus of mostly young voices but it hardly will do for the Toonkunst Choir under Mengelberg, esp. considering that every other live performance I’ve heard, from Toscanini to Andre Previn, did the score complete." But what will Dr. McCraw say to the following? By Aug., 1866, Brahms had finished Mvts. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, & 7 of his Requiem. Over a year later, Johann von Herbeck conducted at Vienna, Dec. 1, 1867, only the 1st 3 Mvts. in a concert that, it seems clear, the composer himself helped to prepare & which he attended: see Karl Geiringer, Brahms. His Life & Work, pp. 98 &310. As for scholarship, musicians are rarely scholars; when the musician is face to face with the score, scholarship does not tell him how the composer phrased this & that passage, how fast was his fast, how slow his slow, etc. Even Hanoncourt, who, I suppose, is a scholar, does not rate scholarship as high as we might believe: see NEWSLETTER, #14. In respect of Beethoven & Brahms, M. very likely was a scholar, & that in a sense far more important than the meagre facts that guide a Harnoncourt: one of M. 's teachers, Franz Wüllner, was a student of Schindler & later was closely associated with Brahms. It is only reasonable to suppose that M. learned, & incorporated into his conducting, a great deal of how these 2 composers viewed & played their own music.
JOHN W. NEVE. "I have since bought RR424--Tchaikovsky
4th Symphony & Romeo & Juliet and this record gives me complete
satisfaction, no complaints.
"An acquaintance in Amsterdam has recently sent me a copy of a new book entitled 'Van dolf van qendt naar Bernard Haitink 1888-1978. It is written in Dutch, but contains photos on every page: it is mainly about the orchestra, the Concertgebouw building and, of course, their conductors, incl. Mengelberg." Can Mr. Neve please tell us the publisher’s name & address?
JOHN TOCZEK. "I really can t say much about different conductors’ influence on orchestras--except what I read which I must admit is at variance, depending on what author you read. But I get a lot of enjoyment from various conductors doing different repertory, and I m not yet to the point where I can make good judgments. Most of my listening I do while doing University homework--& I hate to admit it--but sometimes I get nothing out of a performance as far as to what characteristics distinguish it from another. [We shall see that Mr. Toczek is not alone when he listens to records with 1/2 an ear.] Oh well, I guess I simply like what I like--depending on mood, etc. But I do prefer performances which are well rehearsed & show it, by way of exacting & precise playing. I like Hell Fire & Brimstone too, & I can take rigid, letter perfect performances (Toscanini) as well as very personal, dramatic (Tchaikovsky-Mengelberg for example) performances."
KENNETH DeKAY. "I purchased the live performance
of the Tchaik. Fifth conducted by M. on RR-425 from the B. Walter Soc.
It was a grave disappointment due to the omissions at the beginning of
both the first and second movements--the horn solo at the beginning of
the second movement having been omitted in its entirety--and the distorted
sound which allows the tympani far too much prominence in too many places.
"I found the performance of the last movement to be very satisfactory if one can get by the too loud tympani, but this does not overcome the defects of sound and performance elsewhere in the performance to say nothing of the lengthy omissions. M. does pull and hual the tempi far more than in his two commercial recordings with the ACO and BPO."
M.'s 2 recordings with the COA of T.'s 5th are fundamentally the same; those differences I have noticed are ones of degree: in the concert performance (RR-425, Nov. 26, 1939), M. gives freer expression to the composer’s dynamic & tempo instructions. I prefer this performance, although the earlier one (RR-42l,, a transfer of the Columbia recording of May 10, '28) is better reproduced. With score in hand, I followed the 1st 115 measures of the 1st mvt.; nothing is missing on my copy. Mr. DeKay is correct with respect to the 2nd mvt., where the opening 107 measures are mysteriously omitted. The night after receiving his letter I dreamt this dream. I was seated in my living room chair with the score of Tchaikovsky’s 5th in my lap. I had just opened the score to the 2nd mvt., when the pages began to turn of themselves, sheet by sheet, until the pages of the first 107 measures had all turned in this miraculous way, at each page the staffs thereon jumping off & lining themselves up on my lap,until all 107 measures were in proper order, whereupon they began to march toward me, page by page, & into my mouth, which, however much I tried to close it, remained open until all 107 measures were therein & descending into my stomach. As they thus marched into my stomach I began to vibrate & to fill the room with the sound of these pages. As the last wonderful strains of this music died away, there appeared Tchaikovsky & Mengelberg, the latter with so frightening a look that I cringed, who enjoined me never to forget these 107 measures! Thereafter, the two faded away, & I awoke.
ROBERT HAYDEN. "Are you English? I would find that ironic in that the reviews of Mengelberg records I’ve seen in The Gramophone or Records and Recordings have been at times almost hysterically antagonistic. " [I am Thuringian through my father & Prussian (by way of Russia) through my mother, which is to say that my descent is pure German.] Mr. Hayden (c/o Mathematics, 400 Carver ISU, Ames, Iowa 50011) would like the disc of M.’s recording of the Academic Fest. O. Does he want LP or 78? The former, I presume. He has a cassette tape recording of a comparison between M.’s two recordings of Ein H., on. the one hand, and those of Krauss & Reiner, on the other, which was broadcast on Nat’l. Public Radio. Can someone help Mr. Hayden? It should be possible to arrange something satisfactory to both parties.
FRANK FORMAN (6923 Clarendon Rd., Bethesda, MD 20014) has a want list that includes the following Mengelbergs (tape copies preferred): Brahms, S. #1, 3rd mvt., recorded in 1930 for Columbia; Schubert, S.#8, 1942, Telefunken; & Tchaikovsky, S.#5, mvts. 2 & 3, recorded on Odeon 123533/5.
WAYNE H. FINKE sends me a fine example of Gallic intoxication: a review of IGI-358 (Franck’s Symph. V & Rachmaninoff’s P.C.#3/Gieseking/Mengelberg/COA) in Harmonie, issue of June/July/Aug., 1978. '. . . for verve, abandon, sensuality, badinage with the rhythm & between soloist & conductor, for the liberty with which they slip the bonds of the score or simply break them, & thereafter return to the score to start afresh, the Third of Rachmaninoff is incomparable."
PAST MASTERS RECORDINGS (P.O.B. 713, West
N.J. 07424) has published 3 more discs. PM-l4 ("Leo Blech in Concert Performances"):
Mendelssohn’s Spring & Spinning Songs & 4th mvt.
of S.#4 (all with LSO) & (with Berl. St. Op. O.), Brahm’s Hung.
Dances 5&6 (deliciously idiomatic playing), Dvorak’s Slav. Dances
(Op. 46) 1 & 4, Strauss’s Death & T. PM-l5 ("Albert
Sammons & W. H. Squire Perform"): Bruch’s V.C.#1 (Sammons/Harty/Symph.
O.) & Saint-Saëns’s Cello Conc. (Squire/Harty/Symph. O.).
PM-16 ("Mengelberg"): Cornelis Dopper’s S. #7 (concert perf. of
Dec. 8, 1940) & Alexander Voormolen’s Sinfonia (1st world perf.,
Oct. 31, 1940: date on label & jacket is incorrect), both performed
by COA. These discs cost $5.95 each. Postage is $1.00 for 1-3 discs, $2.00
for 4 6, etc.
I suppose that PM-l6 owes to the Mengelberg series that AVRO broadcast in July, 1976 (NEWSLETTER, #18). Although not as good as that of the Philips/Beethoven set, the sound is enjoyably adequate & of a generally wide dynamic range. These performances are all that you can expect from M. The Dopper is a whole world of new and exotic sounds, which the COA exploits with an incomparable mastery. The 2nd mvt. is like a rollicking peasant’s dance, the boisterous & comical nature of which M. realizes perfectly. The 3rd mvt., described as nature painted in sound, is exquisitely beautiful, & from it M. extracts all the poetry that saturates the notes. The 2 outer mvts. are just as attractive ih their own way. The Voormolen, a work of great charm, has likewise a very individual & engaging tonal speech. If you enjoy PM-9 (Mengelberg Conducts Music of The Netherlands"), you should equally like this disc.
LEO MACK (PAST MASTERS). ". . . you might be happy to learn that we are sending a copy of PM.16 to Alexander Voormolen . . . Miss Heemskerk will also receive a copy." Miss Heemskerk, who is the principal of.the Mengelberg Foundation, Amsterdam, played 1st violin in the COA under M. for about 4 decades, & was a close friend of the Mengelbergs.
PETER J. RABINOWITZ sends me his review of PM-9, publ. in Fanfare, May/June, 1978, of which this is a paragraph. "The music may be of variable quality, but the performances are uniformly excellent. Most people today think of Mengelberg as a hopelessly old fashioned mangler who fussed around with tempos and smudged everything with an obstrusive and persistent portamento. Yet while Mengelberg did, in fact, use more rubato and a richer string sound than you’ll find in the performances of Toscanini, they were always interpretive devices, saved for occasions when he felt the music demanded it. Not only did the sound of his portamento depend on the music (cool and chaste in the restrained Valerius, rich and thick in the juicier climaxes of the Dopper) but his playing could also be as tightly controlled and sharply etched as Szell’s (listen, for instance, to the rhythmic snap of the Roentgen Dance No. 6, or to the clean wind staccatos and trumpet flourishes in Cyrano) .”
Mr. Forman brings my attention to ARS MUSICA, 13 Dante St., Larchmont, N.Y. 10538, which is a catalog dealer in used classical records (chiefly LPs). Mrs. Ann R. Sheinhouse, the proprietress, seems to be very conscientious, to judge from her catalogs.
With this number ends Subscription Year 1977 of the NEWSLETTER. S.Y. 1978 costs $3.75, at home; & $4.25 (air mail), abroad, an increase of 25 cents over last year for home & abroad. My thanks to the Members for their continued support. Old numbers are 20 cents each, together with an envelope of sufficient size bearing l5 cents in postage for every 2 NEWSLETTERS ordered. The following numbers are exhausted: 9, 10, 11, 13, 16,
Past Masters has just publ. PM-17 [Beeth., S #1 (Sir George Henschel.Royal Phil O.), & S #2 (Oskar Fried/Berl. St. Op. O.)] & PM-4 [Dvorak, S #9; Weber, Der Freischütz O.; & Rorodin, In the Steppes of C. Asia/All COA/Mengelberg].
This issue probably being the last for ‘78, I want to wish all of you an early Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Pleasant listening and a harvestful Fall
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #23 #25 #26 #27 #28-29 #30
Willem Mengelberg: born, March 28, 1871, Utrecht; died, March 22, 1951, Zuort, Switzerland.
Mengelberg’s first post was at Lucerne, Switzerland,
where for 3 years he was the city director of music & a teacher in
its Conservatory. When the conducting post of the Concertgebouw O. fell
vacant in. 1895, Jonkheer J.C.M. van Riemsdijk, who had taught M. score
reading, recommended his former pupil to the Board of the Orchestra. A
member of the Board, R. van Rees, who was soon to leave to spend his vacation
in Switzerland, was asked to meet with M. there. Twenty five years later
Mr. Rees contributed his recollections of this meeting to the memorial
volume, Mengelberg-gedenkboek, which was published in 1920 to mark
M. 's 25th Anniversary with the orchestra. These same recollections are
also published in Wouter Paap’s Willem Mengelberg (Elsevier, 1960),
"There I stood on a brilliant Summer’s day in front of the excellent Schweizer Hof at Lucerne to meet this young man, who in the following years was to exercise so strong an influence on Holland’s musical life. Of that I had at the time, however, not the slightest presentiment. Mengelberg, with his distinctive head, with his red blond hair, with his short, powerful frame, his piercing gray eyes [weren’t they blue?], & his sense of triumph--self-confidence would be too weak charmed me immediately with his simplicity, his naturalness. A gay & convivial conversationalist, with an open eye for the good things of this earth, he quickly showed his great satisfaction with his field of activity & his place of residence at Lucerne. It had cost him a great deal to leave his cozy parental home, his dear industrious mother, his artistic father, his brothers & sisters 'all more or less highly gifted.’ 'Of course, I am also highly gifted,’ I can hear him say in a perfectly matter of fact way; 'the one is a banker, as you are, the other is brilliant; perhaps it is even better & more fortunate to be a banker.’ This sally--typical of Mengelberg, I can now say--struck me particularly, as did also his simplicity. It surprised me, accustomed to look up to men of genius, to hear one of them speak so naturally about themselves. I wrote to Holland: To my way of thinking, Mengelberg is the epitome of conceit--although I would now say: of self confidence, because conceit, I believe, is entirely foreign to him & the epitome of simplicity."
The following description of M.’s death &
funeral I have freely adapted from the personal account of Elly Bysterus
Heemskerk in her book Over Willem Mengelberg (NEWSLETTER, #3), pp.
136 & 137. Miss Heemskerk was a close friend of the Mengelbergs, &
played 1st violin in the COA for about 40 years, beginning in 1914.
"The Winter of 1950 & '51 was unusually severe. In the nearby village of Vnà raged a fierce influenza epidemic that had also affected Mengelberg. Although he was nearly fully recovered, we agreed that only a few of us should visit him to observe his 80th birthday, on March 28. As the representative of a group of old friends & admirers I took the train from Amsterdam to Schuls, in the mountainous region of east central Switzerland called The Engadin.
"At Schuls I was about 5 miles, as the crow flies, from The Chasa, Mengelberg’s residence. It was our intention to give Mengelberg a wire recorder for preserving his improvisations on the piano. Our earlier attempt to wire record Mengelberg’s improvising had failed, owing to weak batteries.
The Chasa had no electricity. As Schuls was the end of the Rhëtische Railroad, I telephoned the house, only to learn that Mengelberg had had a relapse. I now made my way, partly by automobile, but mostly by foot, at tines sinking into the snow up to my hips. When I finally reached The Chasa, Mengelberg was unconscious, although we were convinced that he was aware of vigil we kept. For 2 more days he remained in a coma, whereupon he peacefully died. In this way did the Supreme Power solve all his problems.
"He lay in state in his beloved chapel, which he had had built on his property after World War I in thanks to God for having preserved The Netherlands & Switzerland from the war. The neighboring peasants, who in happier years were invited to Chasa Mengelberg on Switzerland’s National Day, August 1, to attend the merrymaking that Mengelberg & his house guests performed, now offered to carry the casket to the edge of the woods, where stood a horse drawn sled waiting to sledge it to the main road. As we continued on our way from the chapel, the bells of the church of Vnà tolled just so long until they were taken up by those of Ramosch, the next village on the route to burial at Lucerne, some 200 miles to the west. At Ramosch the mayor spoke feelingly, remarking on the pride of this town that so famous & lovable a person had stayed in the midst of them all these many years. The journey thereafter continued by automobile. We passed between the 25 foot snow walls of the Julier Pass, the only one open to traffic.
"A small group of family members, friends, & representatives of the Board of the Concertgebouw & other musical institutions gathered to attend the solemn funeral service in the old Hof Kirche, the very church at Lucerne in which Mengelberg 60 years earlier had begun his career. A chorus composed of singers from far & wide under a Swiss conductor sang the Requiem of Johannes Verhulst, the Netherlands musician who died in 1891. As the small cortège left the church, the old concertmaster of Mengelberg’s orchestra, Ferdinand Helman, played the Adagio from Bach’s Violin Concerto #2 in E. March 28, 1951, his 80th birthday, Mengelberg was laid to rest in the beautiful church cemetary, Friedental, next to his dear wife, Mathilda, who had died in 1943. The money we had collected to buy a wire recorder bought instead a grave stone.
"At the grave site, the Lucerne Men’s Chorus sang chorales in grateful rememberance of Mengelberg’s having conducted them at the start of his career. But the deepest impression we preserved was the simple, silent, procession through the immense landscape of The Engadin."
In the last NEWSLETTER, JOHN W. NEVE informed us of a new book about the Concertgebouw, the orchestra, & its conductors. He writes further, "The Dutch book does not seem to have a publisher’s name, but it is obtainable from the Concertgebouw, van Baerlestraat, Amsterdam-Zuid, Netherlands. It is in soft covers, about 3/8" thick with illustrations (not always photos) on every page, with short texts in Dutch." Those interested in the price of the book should write to the address Mr. Neve quotes. the
KENNETH DeKAY: "In case you might have missed
this one from Rakhmaninov by Geoffrey Morris (Dent/1976) at p.43:
'From there he went on to Holland to rehearse his Second Concerto for a
series of concerts in Amsterdam and The Hague. The conductor for these
performances was Willem Mengelberg, whose musicianship impressed Rakhmaninov
so much that a few years later he dedicated to him, and the Concertgebouw
Orchestra, his choral symphony 'The Bells’. I find this very interesting
in view of the beautiful Mengelberg accompaniments of Gieseking in the
2nd and 3rd concerti of Rachmaninoff."
In another letter writes Mr. DeKay, "Have you read 'Conversations with Klemperer’ by Peter Heyworth (Victor Gollancz, 1973)? It is interesting although the author does not pick up K. on many of his seeming contradictions.
"On Mengelberg, K. finds him an excellent trainer rather than a great conductor. But I was amused to find that while K. considered Toscanini the greatest conductor of his generation, he held Mahler to be 100 times greater than T. Also, when K. conducted the N.Y. Phil. in 1936 as a substitute during part of the season, K. found the orchestra 'not good.’ Since it had been Toscanini’s orchestra for at least 6 years, that is quite a commentary on T. as a builder of an orchestra."
The hook, Conversations with Klemperer, is the compilation of chats that Peter Heyworth recorded in late 1969 for broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Company & the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne. What did Kiemperer have to say about Mengelberg? The following is K. 's complete statement, p.91.
"Heyworth: What about Mengelberg?
"Klemperer: He was a very good trainer, and the Concertgebouw is his creation. He was excellent in pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. And he gave an entire Mahler festival in 1920 he had been a good friend of Mahler in his lifetime.
"Heyworth: Did he have a very distinctive style of performing him?
"Klemperer: No. Mengelberg was an excellent trainer rather than a great conductor. He knew how to master an orchestra and he had very good ears. Unfortunately he did a lot of silly things during the war. He is said to have sent Hitler a telegram of congratulations after his entry into Paris. As a result he was not allowed to conduct after the war and he died in Switzerland. I conducted the memorial concert for him in Amsterdam."
How unfortunate that Mengelberg did not instead send a congratulatory telegram to Josef Stalin on some grand event in his life, for then we could expect a discreet silence & perhaps even an appreciative remark or two--on the part of all those who publicly deplore M.’s "politics." I suppose we ought dutifully to ask ourselves why M. should have done something so unwise? Is there a connection between this & his musical follies? If we are asking questions of ourselves, we can also ask these fine gentlemen to put the knife down, for the calendar tells us that Mengelberg died in 1951 & WWII ended in 1945. Before we leave the subject, a final observation: the story that Kiemperer tells for broadcast & which Peter Heyworth publishes is not true.
JAMES BALLARD: "I purchased the Philips Mengelberg Beethoven Symphonies from a shop in New York prior to its being offered by the Society. The labels say they are not to be sold leading me to believe they were to have been review type copies. I too had trouble tracking the finale of the 7th Sym. Shortly thereafter I purchased a new and better phono arm and cartridge and the problem disappeared."
THOMAS VARLEY bought his copy of this Philips set (6767003) locally immediately after the set was issued. The numbers stamped in the land between the label & runout groove of his discs agree with those stamped in the sets 1 received from Philips & mailed to the members. These sets are the original Philips pressings. Contrary to what was implied in American Record Guide (July, 1978), the original pressings are not defective, but do require, as Mr. Ballard discovered, an excellent arm & cartridge for satisfactory tracking (NEWSLETTER, #22 &23) & a floor soundly constructed so as not to transmit strong vibrations to your turntable.
RICHARD L. BENSON sends me the Mengelberg discography published in the French magazine Diapason, June, 1978: "The 233 Recordings of Willem Mengelberg," compiled by Georges Zeisel. The listing has errors & omissions. Monsieur Zeisel quotes Mahler’s telling his wife, "He [Mengelberg] is the only one to whom I can entrust my works with complete tranquility."
Preludium is a publication of the Concertgebouw,
the Concertgebouw Orch., & the Friends of the Concertgebouw. The magazine
comprises articles, concert program notes, & announcements of forthcoming
concerts. The issue dated Nov., 1978, recently came to hand. As the issue
explains in a foreward, "To the Readers," the 90th anniversary of the Concertgebouw
(the building) was celebrated in April, 1978, & the same anniversary
of the orchestra will be celebrated in Nov., 1978. One would expect, quite
innocently, that some of the appreciative words for the past conductors
in this issue would be reserved f9or Mengelberg, who, when he was not in
N. Y. City or in Frankfurt or in Switzerland climbing mountains, spent
an hour of two before the orchestra. The first article is an account
of Willem Kes, the orchestra s first conductor. The 2nd article is "Recollections
of Eduard van Beinuin" by Marius Flothuis. The 3rd article is "Van Beinum
& the Others," the "others" apparently being those who played under
van Beinum, for this article is a collection of short recollections by
some of these musicians. In one or another of those articles Mengelberg
is mentioned in passing, but no more. The most striking example of the
method employed is the following (p.23).
"We write of 1948. Rehearsal under Eduard van Beinum: Romeo & Juliet of Tchaikovsky. The wood wind chords at the beginning would not play in tune. Over again, several times, still out of tune, although the mood remained excellent. Van Beinum: 'Tomorrow, I shall let you hear a recording of the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Mengelberg; then you will hear exactly what I aim at.
"The next day, under deathly silence of the complete orchestra, van Beinum himself put on the record. Seldom in my career have I heard those devilish chords played more falsely."
I wrote to a conductor for his opinion of these chords. I did not tell him why I wanted it, but simply asked: "If you have Mengelberg’s recording of Tch.'s Romeo & J. O. would you play the opening measures & please tell me whether the wood wind chords are in tune or out of tune? If the latter, how badly out of tune."
"The conductor’s answer: "Did I tell you I checked 2 recordings of same R & J and couldn’t come to any decision about the intonation of the opening winds? I wouldn’t quibble about a little flaw here and there anyway. Heavens! If there were a goodly number of performances nowadays that came CLOSE to the likes of that little Dutch Master we might think about splitting hairs! I continue to learn EVERYTHING from these old recordings of M. and Furt. The specialness of what in other hands is rendered a mechanical gesture--the . . . etc."
WILLIAM CODE: "The dream sequence of the last
newsletter tickled my fancy. But did you wake up in time, after Tschaikowsky
and Mengelberg had dressed you down? I mean the absence of a masthead for
"Following my praises of Wooldridge’s 'Conductor's World may I bring your attention to two articles in a British monthly 'Encounter’? The first article is written by B. H. Haggin, who has broken many a lance for Toscanini. It appeared in the July 1977 issue. The article is somewhat deceptively called 'Vienna’s Great Conductors: Burghauser’s Memoirs, since the real purpose of the article seems to be to express Haggin’s hatred (not too strong a word) of Furtwangler. In a trade that is known for its petty and often base natures, I believe that if this is not the worst thing I have ever read written by a music critic it is certainly one of the worst. The other article is Yehudi Menuhin’s answer (December 1977) in the form of a letter to the editor, 'Furtwangler and Toscanini.’ Menuhin’s answer should make even an ego maniac like Haggin blanch. By the way, Menuhin states that some of the evidence used against Furtwangler in the de-Nazification trial was forged. Typical and rather expected, I’d say."
ROBERT HAYDEN: "I also want to tell you that the University radio station here played the Mengelberg/NYPO Ein Heldenleben! That’s most unusual. I can’t recall ever hearing any other historic recording played. Well, they have played Steber’s recording of Knoxville: Summer of 1915. But I recall one Klemperer, no Toscanini, and certainly no Mengelberg! I m happy for the publicity for M., tho after many hearings I must confess I still prefer Reiner’s Ein Heldenleben. . .. .I’d probably prefer M/Concertgebouw to M/NYPO, but I still don’t enjoy either as much as Reiner."
LAWRENCE JONES: "I can add my endorsement of Ars Musica to that included in newsletter #23. It is a very well-run operation and a delight to deal with, unlike some others (...)."
EUGENE KASKEY: "Have heard some of the Beethoven Nine by Mengelberg and have enjoyed them. Some friends of mine have criticized the way he ends the final movement of the Ninth--that broad retard. If he would have done it in the middle of the movement causing a disruption of the flow of music--then I might have objected--but coming at the end I find it can make sense and is satisfyingly unexpected." He closes his letter with a challenging "Yours for freedom of expression in music." Amen, Mr. Kaskey.
FRANK LORD: "I would like to draw your attention to an article in the February '79 issue of 'The Strad’, a magazine for string players which is published in London, but which has a good deal of material by and for Americans, and which I understand is distributed in U.S.A. In the series 'Contemporary 'Cello Concerti’, S.S. Dale wrote an article about the 'Cello concerto of Willem Pijper in which he made several critical remarks about WM, such as 'Mengelberg stood in the way of all rising Dutch composers. . .', and 'Pijper was neglected by Mengelberg, who had no time for Dutch composers unless they had trained in Germany. On consulting the various books about the Concertgebouw and Mengelberg which I have, I found that many of Pijper’s works were played at the Concertgebouw during Mengelberg’s time and that he premiered some of Pijper’s works, so I have written to Mr. Dale pointing out the facts and deploring his unfounded blaming of W.M. for the neglect of Pijper’s music." Members will want to compare Mr. Lord’s letter with Mr. Chapman’s in NEWSLETTER, #22. From the season of 1917/ 18 to that of 1936/ 37 M. conducted the 1st performance of five different ones of Pijper’s works at Amsterdam. At N.Y. City Mengelberg conducted the music of nine Netherlands composers during his 10 seasons. All composers but one were living at the time of performance. In respect of first performances alone, M. conducted in Amsterdam the music of over 30 different Netherlands composers.
ANDREW B. McALLISTER: "Forgot to tell you that on a December, 1978, 'Collector’s Item’ on WFMT-FM Don Tait played 'A Victory Ball’ by Schelling and Symphony No. 1 by Beethoven, as recorded by the New York Phil.-Symphony under Mengelberg. He had a good copy of each, and also gave a fine commentary about Mengelberg as a conductor, in particular with the New York Phil.-Sym, ." Mr. McAllister (5700 N. Magnolia Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60660) is selling duplicates from his record collection. The prices include postage. A few of those he offers for sale are Beethoven/P.C.#3/Hoffmann/Philharmonia Hungaria/Caridis/Musical Heritage Society ($4.00); Kodaly/Hary Janos S./ Austrian S .O. /Halaz/Remington 10" ($2.00); Beethoven/S.#7/Zurich Tonballe O./ Ackermann/Musical Masterpiece Society 10" ($4.00); Bruch/V.C.#1/Paganini/La Campanella/Odnoposoif (one-time concertmaster of the VPO under Weingartner: prodigious technician)/Netherlands P.O. /Goehr/Musical Masterpiece Society 10" $4.50); etc., etc.
Mengelberg recorded the Tannhäuser O. twice for Columbia, once in 1926 & again in 1932. The Netherlands EMI disc 047-01298, which was published about 6 years ago (NEWSLETTER, #5 & 7), contains the Tannhäuser O., among others of M. 's recordings. The jacket states that this is the 1932 performance, but FRANK FORMAN writes to me that this is not so; the recording transferred is the earlier one. "I checked it out. Also, Clear’s Bach Double Concerto was not dubbed onto the BWS [Bruno Walter Society] but the EKN was." The disc Mr. Forman refers to is RR-501, which contains M.'s rare recording of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, copied from a transfer originally made by T. L. Clear & published by him as part of a 4 disc set, TLC-2584. Numbers 17 & 20 of NEWSLETTER have a more complete explanation of the goings on.
If you have RR-425 (Tchaikovsky’s S. #5
& Serenade for Strings/concert performances of Nov. 26, '39,
& Oct. 9, 38/NEWSLETTER, #20 & 23), play the first minute or so
of the Symphony. You notice a sudden odd change in the sound, but
you don’t know the reason for it. (Nor did I.) Monsieur HUBERT WENDEL
explains the mystery. "With respect to the 5th Symphony of Tchaikovsky
by Mengelberg on the disc of the Bruno Walter Society, RR 425 (. . .),
the beginning of the first movement is a falsification! I have the
tape recording of Western Sound Archive [NEWSLETTER, #20], & the beginning
of the first movement is missing. On the BWS disc, they simply added
the beginning of the Columbia recording of 1928!!"
In #20 of NEWSLETTER I generally praised the 2 disc set RR-443 offered by the Bruno Walter Society, but criticized the transfers of the Tragic, Die Meistersinger, & 1812 overtures. I have since played them again & heard none of the distortions I originally complained of. They are all very good transfers, although the Tragic O. has a momentary failure of sound at the beginning, a bobble near the end, & perhaps one or two other momentary peculiarities, all of which seem to owe to mechanical problems. [The Roman Carnival O. has a hum that is present in the original 78s.]
BERKSHIRE RECORD OUTLET, Inc., 428 Pittsfield-Lenox Rd., Lenox, Mass. 01240, publ. in Nov. a catalog that lists (p.13) Ein Heldenleben on Italian RCA Victor 12019 (apparently same transfer as on American Victor & Camden), $2.99; & (p.16) Brahms S.#3 & Ac. Fest. O. on German Electrola Da Capo 01453, $3.99. Domestic mailing costs are $1.00 1st disc & 15 cents each addl. disc.
PAST MASTERS RECORDINGS (P.O.B. 713, West
N.J. 07424) has publ. PM-17: Beeth., S.#1 (Sir George Henschel/Royal
P.O.) & S.#2 (Oskar Fried/ Berlin St.O.O.); PM 4: Dvorak’s S.
#9, Weber’s Der Freischütz O., & Borodin’s In the
Steppes of Central Asia (all Mengelberg/COA); & PM-18, Tch.’s
P.C.#1 (Conrad Hansen/Mengelberg/BPO) & 1812 O. (M/COA).
These records are $5.95 each, plus $1.00 mailing costs for every 3 discs
ordered. Please mail your orders directly to Past Masters. [PM 19: Brahms,
S. #2/W. Damrosch/NYSO; & PM-20: Beeth. Leonore O. #1 &
3; Turkish M.; Coriolan & Egmont O.; Prometheus,
MR. BENSON: "I have waited 25 years for the Weingartner Symphonie Fantastique (PM-1O) and the Henschel Beethoven #1 to be made available. Henschel must be the earliest conductor, from point of view of date of birth (1850), to have recorded."
SAMUEL CHAPMAN, writing of PM-18: "What a promising way to open the new year!"
MR. CODE, writing of PM-16 (M. conducts Dopper & Voormolen): "I hope no one skips this record because it s 'modern music.’ It is a perfect joy to the ear."
PM 4 is a re-issue of the original PM-4, with the addition of the Weber & Borodin. The Dvorak has no treble, as did also the original PM-4. The Weber seems to have a little more, but I suspect the treble is likewise severely filtered. M.concludes the overture at a very brisk & merry pace. I asked Miss Heemskerk about this; she replied: "M. took a very brisk tempo in the last part of the Freischütz Overture but it is quite possible that he had to press it a bit to put the whole overture on the disk. . . I don t remember if . . . this was the case." The Borodin seems to me to be a very good transfer. The Dvorak & Borodin are transfers of the Telefunken recordings made in the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw, probably in April, 1941. The Weber is a transfer of the Columbia/Odeon recording, June 1, 1931, likewise made in the Great Hall.
PM-18 seems to me to comprise two very good dubbings. The 1812 O. was originally recorded by Telefunken in the Great Hall, April 9, 1940. The performance lacks cannons, but did M. ever need cannons to make his point? "The finicky purity of Mengelberg’s string sound" & evidence that by "1940 Mengelberg’s interpretative powers had begun to decline" are abundantly apparent in this recording. If your weaknesses are "finicky purity" & "declining interpretative powers," this disc will satisfy them to an altogether exorbitant degree, as well as will the Dvorak & Borodin on. PM-4. The Concerto was recorded at Berlin, July 11, 1940, presumably in the old Philharmonie, which, destroyed by Allied bombs in Jan., 1944, Furtwängler much admired for its acoustics. Conrad Hansen, I believe, is a very fine pianist. He was born at Lippstadt, Nov. 24, 1906; studied with Edwin Fischer; taught in the Berlin City Conservatory from 1934 to 1945; & in 1947 founded the Music Academy at Detmold. This performance in like manner shows "declining interpretative powers," not on Hansen’s part, perhaps, but certainly on Mengelberg’s.
Old numbers of NEWSLETTER are 20 cents each, together with an envelope of sufficient size bearing 15 cents postage for every two issues ordered. The following numbers are exhausted: 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17, & 19.
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #23 #24 #26 #27 #28-29 #30
"The conductor so admired by Mahler in the
first decade of the century might well have been quite different from the
erratic one who emerges from the riveting Philips set." (Harris Goldsmith
reviewing the 9 Beethoven symphonies in Philips set 6767003, High Fidelity,
Dec., '77, p. 79.) "By 1940 Mengelberg’s
interpretative powers had begun to decline" for season of the "willful
subjectivity and cavalier treatment of tempi." (Gerald S. Pox reviewing
the same set, American Record Guide, July '78, p. 18.)
How did M. interpret in his early days?
In June, 1895, Mengelberg was appointed successor to William Kes, the COA’s first conductor, who had accepted a better paid post as conductor of the Scottish Orchestra at Glasgow, Kes conducted his last concert on Oct. 24, l895, for which Mengelberg, as soloist, played Liszt’s P.C.#1. Three days later, Sunday afternoon, M. conducted the orchestra for the first time in public. The program included Beethoven’s S. #5 & Weber’s Jubilee O. He was 24 years old & had only three years of experience as a conductor, gained at Lucerne, Switzerland, where he had been the director of music for the city. For all of the enormous self confidence that M. had in himself (of which we read in the last NEWSLETTER), might not so important a post for so young & inexperienced a musician intimidate him, even if only for the first concert, & neutralize his strong personality?
On Nov. 10, 1895, the Amsterdamse Revue published Maurice Hageman’s criticism of the concerts of Oct. 24 & 27. "As was to be expected, the farewell concert of Mr. Kes attracted so large a public that not a single seat was left untaken, Mr. Kes was greeted at his appearance with fanfares and a rain of flowers. As is customary, the orchestra played in its well known masterly way. . . . The orchestra was an instrument on which Kes played and through which he, as conductor, unfolded his personality and skill.
"His successor, the Mr. Mengelberg, is a sound pianist, but as to whether he as leader will match Kes is still a question for the future, Mr. Mengelberg was thunderously applauded at his entrance and after his execution of Liszt’s concerto. . . . Let us thankfully acknowledge what Mr. Kes has done for art in Amsterdam and look forward to the best from Mr. Mengelberg. He is a young and good musician; experience will do the rest.
"The appearance of Mr. Mengelberg as Music Director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra has made a favorable impression. With the Fifth Syrnphony of Beethoven the new conductor did not hold to tradition, but I must admit that the liberties that Mr. Mengelberg took in it are well worth defending, some liberties, rather than doing injury to the work, even giving us a fresh insight into it. In the Jubilee Overture of Weber there was not that alertness to which we are accustomed, but that is not to be wondered at when the conductor and the orchestra have known each other for so short a time. The artists and the public received the new conductor very cordially,"
If the critic writes of "liberties," can he mean some trifling nuance here & there, when it was a time that even so individual a musician as Mahler--so his biographer Henry Louis de la Grange tells us (NEWSLETTER, #l2)--felt himself obliged to understate the tempo markings in his scores so as to avoid exaggerations? This is not to imply that the M. of 1895 was the M. of 1940: for all that we know, the earlier M. may have been more "erratic" & more "cavalier" than the later one; but the review does give rise to the conviction that at his first concert he had already elaborated a forceful & notably original view of even so hallowed a piece as Beethoven's 5th. It is only reasonable to believe that this view owed in some degree to what Franz Wüllner, Schindler s student, had taught M.at the Cologne Conservatory, five & six & seven years earlier, of the composer’s own conception of this work.
FRANK FOHMAN. "Toczek swears up & down that the Tannhauser O. on the Dutch LP is the 1932, not the 1926," I played the transfer (an utterly wretched one: no treble), & it does seem to me to be the 1932 recording. See Mr. Forman’s letter in the last NEWSLETTER.
JOHN W. NEVE. "In a London record shop yesterday
I came across PM 16, with notes by yourself--an exciting find--Mengelberg
conducting Dutch compositions, which I had not heard. . . . .
Mengelberg obviously gives very persuasive performances and the orchestra plays brilliantly. Nevertheless, I feel the music is uneven and, in lesser hands, it could sound pretty dull; but it has its moments, and the audience seemed to enjoy it, judging by the applause.
"I think Dopper’s Ciaconne gotica is a fine and more concentrated work than this 'Zuider Zee’ Symphony, which tends to lack form. However, it is interesting to have the two pieces.
"Are there a few bars missing from the beginning? It appears to begin very suddenly and there are no customary taps from Mengelberg’s baton."
DR. HARRY W. MC CRAW, "I have come to the conclusion that it is mostly beside the point to attack or defend Mengelberg on whether or not he was sufficiently 'scholarly’ in instance after instance. To illustrate, I recently took part in a Tupelo, Mississippi Orchestra performance of Death and Transfiguration. You will recall that after the second 'struggle’ episode there is a long, suspenseful, rolling buildup to a grand statement of the Transfiguration theme. In my part this buildup is marked 'stringendo’ which means 'faster arid faster,’ but Mengelberg in his recording does just the opposite, imposing a huge allargando on the passage. Did he have Strauss’s personal authorization for this change? Apparently not; Strauss, in his 1944 VPO performance of the piece, speeds up just like everybody else I have heard except M. But so what? Played Mengelberg’s way the effect is thrilling, as is the whole performance which is Strauss of the highest order, a convincing justification of Mengelberg’s reputation as a Strauss interpreter and of the lifelong confidence the composer had in him,"
IN THE last number we learned that FRANK LORD
had written to The Strad, an English magazine, to correct some errors
in an article. The Strad published Mr. Lord’s letter in the April,
1979, issue. It published my letter in the June number. As the two letters
are mostly the same in substance, I quote Mr. Lord’s, "I write to correct
some of S. S. Dale’s remarks about Willem Mengelberg in his article
on Pijper’s Cello Concerto in the February issue.
"He stated that 'Mengelberg stood in the way of all rising Dutch composers,’ whereas in fact he premiered many contemporary Dutch works and also allowed Dutch composers to conduct their own works within his concerts. Though Mengelberg may have had conservative tastes in music, it is quite wrong to say Pijper 'was rejected by Mengelberg, who had no time for Dutch composers unless they had studied in Germany.’ Several of Pijper’s works were premiered in Amsterdam by Mengelberg, namely the Fêtes Galantes and the First Symphony (1917-1918), the Six Symphonic Epigrams (1927-1928), the Cello Concerto (1936-1937) and the Violin Concerto (1939-1940).
"Additionally, Pijper was a guest at one of Mengelberg’s concerts in the 1922-1923 season to conduct the first performance of his Second Symphony, and his Piano Concerto was played at one of the special concerts to celebrate Mengelberg’s fortieth anniversary in the 1934-1935 season. Pijper’s Six Symphonic Epigrams were premiered in the USA by Mengelberg [Alas, no: the orchestral parts failed to arrive in time] , and Pierre Monteux (Mengelberg’s colleague at the Concertgebouw from 1925 to 1934) conducted the first performance of the Third Symphony (1926-1927), the Piano Concerto with the composer as soloist (1927-1928) and the opera Halewijn (1932-1933).
"Whatever reasons there may be for the neglect of Pijper’s music, it seems they do not include Mengelberg’s attitude or the lack of performance of Pijper’s music in Amsterdam, and it is regrettable that the article gave such a false impression of Mengelberg.”
In another letter writes Mr. Lord: "The Past Masters discs of M. are available in UK from Michael G. Thomas, Lymington Road, London NW 6; perhaps you could give this information in a Newsletter, for the benefit of UK members."
WHEN THE American weekly Billboard, published the news that BBC Records & Tapes will issue on its new label, .Artium, a two box set of historical recordings of the BBC Symphony O., I wrote the firm to suggest that the several recordings held in the archives of the British Broadcasting Corporation of M. conducting that orchestra be made part of the set: 2nd. movement of Berlioz’s Fantastic S. & the Scherzo & Nocturne from Mendelssohn’s MSND, all from a broadcast concert of Jan. 18, 1938. Mr. Mike Harding, Artists & Repertory Manager, answered, "I regret to say that we will not be using the recordings you list (as conducted. by Mengelberg) in our set,"
THOMAS .A.VARLEY. "It is interesting that phrasings similar to some of [Frederick] Stock’s own can be found in some of Mengelberg’s recordings, e.g., compare the 1st movement of Tchaikovsky’s 5th in Stock’s Victor recording (which would. make a marvellous Victrola reissue, especially if coupled with Stock’s reading of the ‘Russ1an and Ludmilla’ Overture) with the same movement in Mengelberg’s 1940 Berlin Philharmonic recording. One wonders if this is Wül1ner’s influence as reflected in the work of his two pupils. On the whole, however, Stock was a bit more conservative than Mengelberg and, like any great conductor, it may be unfair to attempt to describe his style in terms of others ."
TOSHIO SHITA MOTO. "Japanese Telefunken has plan to issue Vivaldi: Concerto No, 8, op. 3 conducted by Mengelberg from metal parts in next year."
HUBERT WENDEL. "For some days I have had the
latest disc of Past Masters: 'Mengelberg Conducts Beethoven.’
[PM-20: for contents see last NEWSLETTER]. The recordings are very good,
in my opinion, although the surface noise is rather considerable in places.
But the sound is excellent and has not been filtered, which is the most
"In listening to the disc of Mr. Mack . . . . I was able to review, once again, the unequalled genius of Mengelberg. Each note, each phrase is considered in relation to its function in the whole of the work. Everything is extraordinarily balanced., and yet very free, He was--of this there can be no doubt--indeed the greatest interpreter to have lived in this century,"
F. JAMES NEU. "Have you heard that Past Masters
Issue [PM-22] of Schubert’s Eighth? Marvelous! Much better than his live
version of a radio broadcast that came out on Philips some years ago."
At a concert last winter there set a young lady wearing earmuffs. I asked her why she covered her ears in a warm concert hall, when there was so much sound to hear,
SHE. "The audience is so noisy! Just frightful, really! And these are not earmuffs, at all, but sound cushions. They remove all of the audience noise. It’s called filtering, I think,"
ME. "Is that all they remove? How much of the orchestra a sound do you hear?"
SHE. "They remove some of that, too, I suppose. But that audience noise--these sound cushions remove all of it. And that’s really important. That noise is just TOO irritating. Here, why don’t you try them on and see for yourself how much quieter it is?"
I did put them on; &, indeed, the audience noise was almost inaudible; but as the orchestra began to play the next work, I noticed how flat and uninteresting the orchestral tone was, because there was NO TREBLE. What I heard was not the orchestra at all, but a sound that was a complete falsification of it.
I was reminded of this strange meeting with the earmuffed music lover when I listened to Past Masters PM-22, a collection of recordings of the COA conducted by M. The disc comprises the 2nd movement, arranged by Toveli, from Bach’s Suite #3 (BWV l068), recorded Dec. 31, 1937; Gluck’s Alceste O., recorded in 1935 (probably in June); the Adagietto from the 1st Suite of Bizet’s L’Arlésienne, recorded June, 1929; Debussy’s Faun’s Afternoon, recorded Nov. 30, 1938; & Schubert’s S. #8, the recording date of which Dr. Hardie believes to be Nov., 1942. All of the recordings were made in the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw, The Bizet is from the Columbia/Odeon series, the Gluck was recorded by Philips for English Decca, the remainder are from the Telefunken series. All of the transfers have treble filtering. The Schubert 8th is a good transfer, although it is apparent that the treble is reduced. It is no great exaggeration to say that all of the rest have no treble at all; the cut off seems to begin at about 1000 Hz. To what degree treble filtering can falsify a conductor’s conception of a work--particularly the view of a conductor who exploits instrumental color to the unequalled degree that M. does--is dismayingly apparent in the Alceste O. Several years ago I heard the 78 disc of this recording well reproduced. The rich and velvety string tone in the opening part so amazed me that I suspected filtering, although the surface noise had its normal timbre. When the trombones sounded I have never heard them snarl and buzz as they do in this recording I knew that the treble was intact; and I also understood what Mengelberg was intent upon. He stresses the German warmth and richness of the opening part to an almost unbearable degree; the penetrating snarl of the trombones not only provides the necessary contrast and relief, it also gives the performance an astonishingly dramatic character; it is, after all, the introduction to an opera, a piece for the theater. But of any of this we hear nothing at all in this Past Master dubbing.
BERKSHIRE RECORD OUTLET (see last NEWSLETTER) offers M.’ s recording of St. Matthew Passion on Philips 6747168 for $11.97 (3 discs), Mailing costs are $l.80, home, & $3.00, abroad. This is the same set that Philips issued world wide several years ago.
Back issues of the NEWSLETTER are 70 cents
for a single number & 60 cents each for two or more numbers. These
prices include postage for domestic & foreign mail (sruface mail).
Some back issues are available only as photo copies.
COLIN DAVIS in an interview with Niels Le Large (Preludium, Nov., 1978, p.30). I.e Large: "Did you ever personally meet Stravinsky?" Davis: "Yes, I did Oedipus Rex, long ago, & he came to me after one of the performances. He found one of the arias rather too slow; & when I answered that I had kept strictly to the metronome, he said, 'Oh, metronome markings, that’s only just a start.’"
Pleasant listening & a pleasant late summer wished to all!
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #27 #28-29 #30
July 5, 1900, Mengelberg married Mathide Wubbe ("Tilly" to her friends), a soprano in the Toonkunstkoor, which Mengelberg also conducted. In the years before his marriage, he kept his own household accounts in Amsterdam, just as earlier, while a student at Cologne, his father had held him strictly responsible for all expenses. In these household books we can read (March, l898): "’When this book is full, I hope to have fewer debts than now, on the contrary I hope to have put aside a little capital for my future better half and seven children; that this may happen hopes Willem Iengelberg (poor oaf).’ And later: 'The better half is there--now the little capital end all is attained.’ And later still: 'End of the wild bachelorhood. July! Start of the solid devoted life with my beloved better half Tilly, Start of THRIFT!’” (E. Bysterus Heemskerk, Over Willem Mengelberg, p.37) A1though Mengelberg’s hopes for seven children were scarcely realized--the couple was childless--he was certainly the devoted and faithful husband: no scandal ever touched the marriage.
LET US suppose that the Society is gathered
together to await the same confluence of wonderful events that caused Beethoven’s
flaming heart to appear to Cécile Chaminade outside her bedroom
window, end which will bring us Mengelberg in our midst, What are some
of the questions we might ask, what are the answers he might give?
MEMBER #1. Lucky we, Mr. Mengelberg, that you may return to us,
MENGELBERG. But only for the 1ength of this chat, you understand. I like it very much where I came from.
MEMBER #1. Yes, we can well understand that. There is a question we all would like to have answered, Mr. Mengelberg, Why did your trombones snarl?
MENGELBERG. First, I should say that my trombones did not always snarl. Sometimes that can be too much of a good thing. When your wife bakes a cake, it is not all frosting, Nor would you want it to be all frosting. So it is also with instrumental color, which is really part of another problem: the problem of clarity, which is particularly important in Mahler’s works, which he--Mahler, I mean--always conducted to ensure the greatest possible clarity.
MEMBER #2. (interrupting). Mr. Mengelberg, that must have been the meaning of the Viennese Heinrich von Krelik, who refers to a concert of yours with the Vienna Philharmonic during World War One. He said you conducted the Mahler works with the authentic Mahler style that made all of the voices clear.
MENGELBERG. (continuing). This is whet I learned from Mahler. If a conductor insists that his orchestra play clearly, it must first of all play accurately: the instruments must start together, stop together, play in tune, phrase together, & play in a common style. But this is not all. There is the problem of balance, too. The brass must not outshout the strings, which they can easily do. The different choirs of the orchestra must be in correct balance with respect to each other, each playing at a degree of loudness to ensure the desired clarity between themselves arid the desired total volume. But even if all of this is done in an adequate way, the problem of clarity is not entirely solved, unless each of the different instruments in the orchestra has a characteristic tone.
MEMBER #3. By "characteristic tone" don t you mean a very individual tone?
MENGELBERG. Yes, The tone must be highly distinctive in a way that is natural and characteristic to the instrument.
MEMBER #2. German critics sometimes refer to the French sound of your winds.
MENGELBERG. My winds do have a French quality sometimes. My oboe is thin and nasal. My trumpets are brassy and penetrating, but not coarse and noisy. The trombone raises a special problem. Composers write for it as though it had a distinctive sound, but it has so bland a tone nowadays that the point the composer wants to make with it is lost. For this reason, I had the trombones snarl some call it a buzz saw tone at times. My brass could also produce a very rich, warm, and weighty tone, as in the opening pages of the second movement from Dvorak’s "New World" Symphony.
MEMBER #3. To what extent are composers aware of the tonal color inherent in their instrumentation?
MENGELBERG. As a rule, composers have only very elementary notions about their scores, even supposing that they have sufficiently mastered conducting, which is usually not true. Composers told me that they had not imagined the tonal colors of their orchestration that my orchestra painted for them. And what my orchestra painted was only what was in the score. Of course, that is not something learned in a day. The timbres of the Concertgebouw were the consequence of decades of arduous work on their part and on mine. It is the conductor’s duty to attempt to uncover all of the possibilities inherent in a score and then to extract from the orchestra all of these possibilities, whether they are tone, rhythm, tempo, phrasing, or what have you. Music is just sound--sound and silence, actually all of what constitutes music is just that and nothing more. The musician must be fanatically concerned with sound, therefore. And this includes the essential ingredient of tonal colors and their warmth and coldness.
MEMBER #1. But how do you go about to extract these possibilities?
MENGELBERG. It does no good, of course, to admonish an orchestra to play with a better tone. What is a "better" tone? And how do you achieve it? A better tone in one passage is not the same as a better tone in another passage of the same work, to say nothing of two different works. These are all matters of balance, loudness, where the bow plays on the string, and so on. Nor can it all be put into words, because conductor A before an orchestra will produce one kind of tone without scarcely saying a word, and conductor B will draw from the same orchestra an entirely different kind of tone--again, without scarcely saying a word. Their mere presence--the spiritual effect it has on the players--affects the orchestra-s timbre to a significant degree. But that is not sufficient in itself, because there is still much that must be done--much that is purely technical in nature that can be done to draw out the desired sound. For instance, in the St. Matthew Passion in soft passages for choir, I would have part of each section only hum. This ensured that the tone had the desired fullness, richness, and warmth that I sought, while the passage still preserved its softness.
MEMBER #4. But isn’t what lies behind all of this the requirement that the conductor have the necessary imagination to see what is possible?
MENGELBERG. I would say that imagination and sensitivity are virtually the same thing, Of course, a musician may be very sensitive--imaginative as to the rhythmical freedom possible in a score, but more or less insensitive to the tonal possibilities. Or it can be the other way round, I suppose, but it certainly usually is not for a conductor, because the amount of work required to rehearse and teach an orchestra to speak in a great variety of voices is enormous and very time consuming, and demands the utmost in obedience to the conductor’s will. It is a far more difficult and elusive goal than mechanically accurate playing.
MEMBER #5. What is your view of musicians today?
MENGELBERG. I will only say that in the person of Pierre Vidal France has a very great and audacious musician. He is an organist. He has written two books on the performance of Bach’s organ music that every musician, whether organist or no, should read.
MEMBER #6. Even today, nearly 30 years after your death, many critics vehemently attack your recordings.
MENGELBERG. (interrupting). Ancient history!
MEMBER #6. How long has that been true?
MENGELBERG. (reflecting). Since before World War One. In Frankfurt, where I conducted for many years, the public even demonstrated against the music critic and his newspaper, which didn’t like me at all. It was a great uproar. That was before World War One.
MEMBER #7. You mentioned rhythmical freedom as one expressive possibility inherent in a score, Is this true for all scores?
MENGELBERG. No. You cannot conduct a march with great rhythmical freedom, because the marchers will fall out of step. A march is intended to be marched to--the composer intends this. The conductor must conduct at a march tempo and with sufficient strictness of tempo. When I conducted a waltz at a ball--the Concertgebouw played for balls--I had to keep the tempo changes within limits that the waltzing couples could manage.
MEMBER #7. Some critics complain of your rhythmical freedom in the St. Matthew Passion and reject it as too romantic. What is your view, Mr. Mengelberg?
MENGELBERG. Contrary to all attributions, I was not a romantic conductor. I was born in 1871, which is far too late for romanticism. If Weber, Schubert, or Wagner had conducted the Matthew Passion, the listener would have heard this or that kind of romantic view of the work, whatever that particular romantic view would have been,
MEMBER #8. But you used a very large chorus, which is supposed to be romantic.
MENGELBERG. If that is all there was to romanticism, then it was only a shallow movement. It was an entirely fresh view of music, as we know from the music itself. But how the performance of music differed as it certainly must have--from what was true before in this or that part of Germany or Austria--is not a matter on which we can speak with any great precision or detail. But I believe it is absurd to contend that a strict tempo was held in Bach’s day. The argument that romanticism introduced tempo freedom is simply nonsense. Where are the facts to prove it? Pierre Vidal points out in one of his books that Bach only once commented on performance. His comment was this: "He plays perfectly, but he is cold," Therein lies a great deal. His music expresses feeling. It is not musical mathematics, as some want us to believe. Vidal, by the way, concludes from his analysis of Bach’s organ scores that tempo freedom is essential to their performance.
MEMBER #2. If one observes the architecture, dress, cooking, handwriting, prose styles, poetry, and other spiritual expressions of a time, shouldn’t we be able to draw some general conclusions as to how music was performed in that time? We do not have phonograph recordings of that day, but we do have these other spiritual records. I should expect that a time is spiritually of a piece--within, at least, a defined geographical area; for this reason, characteristics true in one field should also be found in another. Thus, the simplicity--not to say primitiveness--that characterizes architecture, dress, cooking, and so on, today is also peculiar to musical performance today. Any comment, Mr. Mengelberg?
MENGELBERG. I cannot recall having heard this view before, but it seems entirely reasonable to me. It implies that earlier styles of performance were exceedingly detailed and complex as compared to this day.
MEMBER #9. To move from music to the more sordid world of politics, would you want to comment, Mr. Mengelberg, on your treatment after World War Two?
MENGELBERG. No, I would not. I am certain that matters will eventually work themselves out in a perfectly satisfactory way. And now I must leave you, St. Peter will be quite upset if I do not rehearse the Celestial Choir this afternoon.
THE MEMBERS. Thank you, Mr. Mengelberg, and good by.
WILLIAM A. HOLMES, b, Aug. 17, 1932, died. March 2, 1979, from injuries received in a fall at his house in Chicago. Mr. Holmes, who was Vice President of the Sir Thomas Beecham Society, which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary, & Editorial Director of Le Grand Baton, the publication of that society, was an ardent admirer of Mengelberg. For the Mengelberg Centennial Issue of Le G, B., published in Dec., 1971, he wrote the chief article, an account of Mengelberg’s life; on his radio program, Collector’s Showcase, he frequently played Mengelberg’s recordings.
PIERRE VIDAL’S two books (which Mengelberg admiringly mentioned), Bach et la machine-orgue (40 Francs) & Bach-les psaumes (125 Francs), can be ordered from Librairie "A la Flute de Pan"; 55, rue de Rome; 75008 Paris, France. Postage for the 2 is 40 Francs. The first, a book of brilliant common sense, is fascinating & profitable to any enquiring music lover who beads French well, The 2nd is an incisive analysis of the psalms with a view to determining their performance. A bank draft, denominated in French Francs & drawn on a French bank, can be bought at most any bank, & is faster than an Int’l, Postal Money Order.
NEIMAN-MARCUS, P. O., Box 2968, Dallas, Texas
75221, offers in its Christmas Book a 4 record. set (Item 7lA, Classic
Album, First Edition, Series Four) of recordings, originally cut by Victor
and Brunswick & all, excepting one, originally issued or 78s, of Mengelberg,
Toscanini, Barbirolli, & Beecham conducting the NYP(S)O. Alcina
O., Handel; Magic Flute O.; Air from Suite #3,
Bach; S.#1 & Egmont O.; War March of Priests,
Mendelssohn; Coronation M,, Meyerbeer; Tales from the Vienna
Woods; A Victory Ball, Schelling; & Marche Slave
(ALL MENGELBERG). Dance of Blessed Spirits, Gluck; Italians in
Algiers O.; S. #5, Beethoven (never before publislied, says
Book); & Nocturne & Scherzo from MSND, Mendelssohn
(ALL TOSCANINI). Violin C in d (w/Menuhin), Schumann; &
Ibéria (BOTH BARBIROLLI). And BEEECHAM’S Don Quixotte
(w/Wallenstein), R. Strauss. My thanks to FRANK FORMAN & Dr.
JOHN S. LEWIS, who brought this set to my attention. The album costs $30.00.
Mailing costs are $2.20 for surface mail & $3.65 for air mail to addresses
in the U.S. Sales tax is 4% in Ariz., Ill., & Fla; 6% in Calif.;
3% in Ga, & Mo,; 3% in Nev,; & 5% in Tex.& Wash., D.C.
"Foreign oharges [presumably mailing costs to foreign addresses] will be
billed later," the Book states. If you want the set, you should order
immediately, because it is a limited edition. Dr. Lewis wonders if the
Toscanini Beeth. 5th was not once issued by the Arturo Toscanini Society.
"Since I only heard the set once I can hardly be very explicit about the
performances. Noticeable were the pronounced retards in the first
movement of the Beethoven 1st, I want to compare the NYPO recording with
the COA one of these days,"
THE Tannhäuser O. published on the Netherlands EMI disc 047-01298 IS the May, 1926,
recording, contrary to the statement on the record jacket. See NEWSLETTER, #24 & 25. Details in the next NEWSLETTER.
BACK ISSUES of the NEWSLETTER are 70 cents for a single number & 600 each for two or more numbers. These prices include postage for domestic & foreign surface mail. Some issues are available only as photocopies.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, pleasant listening, & seasonable weather wished to all.
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26 #28-29 #30
"That remarkable Amsterdam conductor, Willem Mengelberg, has been officiating as a 'guest’at some orchestra concerts in London, and his 'entirely personal rendering’ of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has suggested to George H. Clutsam, the London Observer’s critic, that 'it might be an excellent idea if the works of the classic masters (those with an unassailable tradition behind them) could, for once and all, be interpretatively standardized." (Musical America, Feb. 21, l914)
THE Austrian composer Siegmund von Hausegger,
better known to us as the conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra,
had led the Museum Concerts at Frankfurt on the Main for three seasons.
When he resigned his post at the end of the season of l905/’06, the Management,
faced with the task of appointing his successor, arranged the next season
in the form of a series of guest appearances. Among those invited were
Arthur Nikisch & Willem Mengelberg. The latter conducted on February
1, 1907. The Frankfurter Zeitung published this review, written
"THE famous conductor from Amsterdam, Mr. Willem Mengelberg, led the ninth Friday concert, which stood entirely under the sign of modernism. His apt choice for the opening work and his conducting skill raised the public’s mood far above the level of customary interest. For the opening number he programmed Tchaikovsky’s great and imposing Pathetic, . . . , . . . . That Mengelberg almost completely erased the slightly sentimental strain, much noticed in other performances, certainly did not harm the work; on the contrary, it seemed to gain in pithy force. Part of Mengelberg’s merit also lay therein that he reduced the sentimental in the lyrical element of the symphony to a minimum. He even stood in some opposition to Nikisch, whose interpretation--now the rather generally accepted standard--favors a slightly languishing view of the work. But as, for example, the cantilena of the second theme [1st movement], in spite of the small acceleration, lost nothing of its sweet core; as the guest’s interpretation, which drew the individual threads closer together, fully preserved the heroic-tragic character of the Adagio lamentoso [4th movement]; & as he generally held the individual parts in their correct balance, one cannot deny artistic justification to this different, almost more sympathetic, view. Most strikingly, the melancholy & gloomy undertone was not heard in the second movement, which Mengelberg conducted in an extremely lively way; the exceedingly taut rhythm in the March perhaps taken at too fast a pace raised general amazement. The other great orchestral number, the Heldenleben of R. Strauss, also provided the guest with ample opportunity to show how easily he masters orchestral forces and creates order out of utter chaos. . . . Between the two orchestral offerings, Mr. [Raoul] Pugno played Grieg’s piano concerto, one of the most beautiful that recent literature knows. He performed with a wonderful touch and ravishing expressiveness in the intimate and dreamy parts, and with every virtuoso brilliance in the bravura parts. The one misfortune was that the piano was so out of tune. The public prepared both artists an enthusiastic welcome."
AFTER the season closed, this concert decided the Management in Mengelberg’s favor. He was engaged as the permanent conductor of the Museum Concerts for the next season, 1907/’08, a post he held continuously until he resigned with the season of 1919/’20.
IF you will play either one of Mengelberg’s recordings of Tchaikovsky’s 6th you can prove to your own satisfaction whether or not the Mengelberg the critic describes to us is in his essentials the Mengelberg we know. We need not raise our eyebrows that the critic fails to tell how freely & expressively Mengelberg uses tempo, because tempo freedom as a fundamental part of expression was as common & unremarkable then as it is uncommon & remarkable today. The following season, Mengelberg did raise the critic’s eyebrows.
ROBERT W. HAYDEN. "On 8 April [l979], the local FM classical station will devote a special two hour program to Mengelberg’s Beethoven. Dare I suggest that the local station’s interest in historical recordings may have been stimulated by the NPR/NBC Toscanini series they‘ve been running for some months? Lately they’ve played Weingartner, Grainger, Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, and others."
F. JAMES NEU. "Incidentally, after reading
your last newsletter I did send to Neiman Marcus for that special set they
had covering the years of the New York Philharmonic with their different
conductors. And the sound of the Willem Mengelberg recordings with that
orchestra is a disaster. With the exception of Schelling’s A Victory
Ball, which is just creaky with age (c. 1925), and a questionable piece
of music at best, the sound on some of the other things is dreadful!
I had some of those things on 78s and know what I am talking about, and
if I had known what they had sounded like I doubt that I would have gotten
the set. But, of course, how is one to know. . . . Oh well, live
and learn, I wouldn’t have been content until I had gotten the set, so
that is that. I think the old Beethoven’s 1st Symphony by Mengelberg with
the New York Philharmonic, while not bad sonically, is a surprisingly off-hand,
perfunctory performance, not like our Willem at all to me. I would
never have guessed that it was by him. The version he made in that set
of actual performances on Philips is miles better, and does sound
like his work. . . ."
WHEN I announced the Neiman Marcus set (First 'Edition Fourth Series DMM4-0404) in the last number, I had not yet heard it. It was pure good fortune that Dr. JOHN S. LEWIS sent me its complete contents, for Neiman-Marcus never bothered to answer my enquiry in that respect. The transfer engineer, H. Ward Marston IV, has severely worked over many of the transfers electronically, apparently so as to reduce surface noise & (as in Beethoven’s 1st and Egmont O., for example) to add false resonance. My general impression of the Mengelberg transfers is that the sound is clear, but oddly smooth & bland; the raw brightness, characteristic of many early electrical recordings, is absent. I suspect that Mr. Marston more or less severely filtered the middle treble, to which the ear is most sensitive; the consequence is a smooth & bland tone, & a surface noise from which the most annoying frequency components are largely removed. Mr. Marston’s two transfers (Tales from the Vienna Woods & Marche Slav) from Merigelberg’s short Brunswick series are surprisingly good, it seems to me, in view of the very poor reputation these recordings have. In place of the Western Electric method, Brunswick used a patented General Electric scheme. A description of it tells us why it was soon abandoned. The electrical signal from the one or more microphones varied a magnetic field in which a mirror was suspended free to vibrate in dependence on the changing field. The vibrating mirror reflected a beam of light onto a slit, behind which was mounted a photocell. As the light beam passed back & forth over the slit, the electrical output of the photocell correspondingly varied. An amplifier strengthened this output & fed it to the disc cutting head.
THE DUTCH EMI disc 047-0l298 (NEWSLETTER, #5
& 7) contains Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture among others
of Mengelberg’s recordings. Mengelberg recorded the work twice, once
in May, 1926, & again on May 9, 1932. The record jacket states that
the disc has the second of these two recordings; but, in fact, it has the
first. There are two very easy ways to tell. The kettledrum rolls
at the overture’s end enter late in the first recording, but are almost
precise in the second. (One should not be too severe with the tympanist:
Mengelberg was improvising, as he always did on the podium; the poor instrumentalist
could scarcely have known when the next beat would fall.) The other
tell tale sign occurs at measure 313, about four minutes before the piece
ends, where Wagner adds two flutes, three trumpets, two tenor trombones,
& one bass trombone, & raises the loudness from F to FF for all
instruments except the trombones, which are marked only F. In Mengelberg’s
first recording, the trombones are not heard. In the second, they buzz
& dominate the entire orchestra for the 1/4 note they play. Why did
Mengelberg change at measure 313? He might have argued the problem in the
"This measure is the emotional climax of the preceding measures. Wagner adds three new instruments in this measure, including three trombones, & raises the loudness from F to FF. He clearly intends an electrifying effect. But the mystery is why Wagner marks the three trombones only F; & allots them a meagre 1/4 note, at the beginning of the measure (when all of the other wind instruments play the entire measure). The first part of the mystery implies that he does not want the trombones to be heard at all: their presence is only to add an undefinable extra weight to the wind chord, But if this is true, why should the trombones--which is the second part of the mystery--play only for the first quarter of the measure: why not, then, the entire measure? No, it’s apparent that Wagner wants the trombones to be heard: they are there to introduce the measure with a lightning bolt. And, too, the tenor trombone in Wagner’s day has a smaller bore & thus a thinner & more penetrating tone. If the measure is played today as Wagner seems to write it, it fails to purge the intensifying excitement & tension of the earlier measures,"
WILLIAM CODE. "I listened to the shellac record
of Gluck’s Alceste Overture which Mengelberg recorded and I did not hear
the buzzing trombones you reported in the last newsletter [#25].
What I heard were rather veiled trombones. But the string tone is
the loveliest I have ever heard on a phonograph record. What the Past Masters
dubbing [PM 22] gives us is an old and worn out charwoman, not the lovely
maiden glowing with the freshness of youth."
HUBERT WENDEL. "I have the latest Past Masters disc (PM 27), 'Mengelberg Conducts Concert Favorites’ with the Overture to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, three parts from Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, the Overture to Schubert’s Rosamunde, and R. Strauss’ Don Juan. All of the recordings are those made in the studio (78rpm), The sound is generally very good, good dynamic range, and the sound is very clear and unfiltered,"
PIERRE VIDAL, the French musician & author who figured in the imaginary chat we had with Mengelberg in the last number, has recorded five discs of organ music on the STIL label. If you have ever wondered why Bach’s music is so dull although it is supposed to be so great, any one of these records should please & excite you no end. They are in the nature of a revelation. These five discs are STIL 2507 S 75 (all Bach): Toccata & Fugue 540; Chorales 601, 606, 616, 619, 637, 641, & 643; Passacaglia & Fugue 582. ----- STIL 2607 S 75 (all Bach): Prelude & Triple Fugue 552; Chorales 603, 604, 621, 633, 636, 638, & 731; Toccata, Adagio, & Fugue 564. ---- STIL 2707 S 75: Frescobaldi, 7th Fantasy on 3 Subjects (Book I) & 6th & 9th Toccatas from Book II; Scheidt, Chorale & Variations: Christ Lay in Death’s Dark Prison; Buxtehude, Passacaglia in d; Lübeck, Prelude & Fugue in E; & Bach, Chorale 686. ---- STIL 0509 S 72 (2 disc allbum; all Bach): Famtasy 572; Chorales 610, 614, 622, 625, 644., 683, & 727; Toccata ("Dorian") 538; Fantasy & Fugue 542; Prelude & Fugue 532 & 546. The three single discs are 38,20 Francs each. The two disc album is 83 Francs, Postage is extra, The records can be ordered from Disco Shop; 22, rue de la Répub1ique; F94160 Saint Mandé; France. Remit 30 Francs for each record ordered. The shop will then reply as to the additional amout to pay.
WITH this number Subscription Year #8 ends. NEWSLETTER, #28, will open SY #9, which costs $3.75 for members at home & $4.25 for members abroad. Back issues of the NEWSLETTER are 70 cents for a single number & 60 cents each for two or more numbers. These prices include postage for domestic & foreign surface mail. Some issues are available only as photo copies,
"Gabriel Fauré once said, 'What ails our great masterpieces is the excessive respect that we pay them, " (Quoted in Pierre Vidal’s Bach et la machine-orgue, p. VI.)
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26 #27 #30
DEAR MEMBER: Following these lines is NEWSLETTER, Nos. 28 & 29, REVISED & PUBLISHED AGAIN. I was not satisfied with the appearance of the original issue, published in early August. This revised issue is posted by surface mail to members overseas. NEWSLETTER #30, which will end the present Subscription Year (#9), will appear in the next 6 to 9 weeks.
"Only when he had the orchestra absolutely in his grasp, which is to say only when everyone obeyed him unreservedly in respect of ensemble as well as of phrasing, was Mengelberg able to conduct with complete freedom. It thus once happened with a new work that the first performance was somewhat dry. The blame likely rested on the lack of a full rehearsal (although every conductor has too little rehearsal time!). It is manifestly better when everything 'sits’ as firm as a rock and the free interpretation rests thereon, than it is to improvise on an insecure foundation; because once a firm basis has been built, it is permanent, and the interpretation grows of itself with each performance." [E. Bysterus Heemskerk: Over Wil1em Mengelberg, p.83.]
MENGELBERG was appointed to his first conducting
post, Director of Music for the city of Lucerne, Switzerland, in June,
1892, three months after his 21st birthday. On Monday, January 9, 1893,
he gave his first concert, for which he played the piano and conducted
the "greatly enlarged" Lucerne Municipal Orchestra. Among the works
he conducted was Beethoven’s Symphony #5, of which performance a
Lucerne newspaper commented that "His conducting gave to the grandiose
symphony a genuinely artistic & at times, particularly in the movingly
sustained melodic passages, a surprisingly new interpretation. The
orchestra -- for which we only wished a stronger bass, as might be had
with a different seating -- followed every hint of the, baton in a masterly
way, as it likewise did his left hand, which indicated all of the nuances,
including the inner voices. One had the feeling that the conductor’s fire
& soul penetrated everything at the concert."
THE preceding paragraph & the NEWSLETTER, #25 & #27, give us an inkling as to how greatly Mengelberg stood apart from his colleagues, even in his earliest years. Scarcely the romantic conductor he is habitually & incorrectly called today, he was a fresh & thoroughly modern expression of his own time, & in so idiosyncratic a wise that -- as is true of any supremely outstanding individual in whatever field -- he had no contemporary, no predecessor, & no successor.
THE following quotations, taken from reviews
written by a person identified only as "g.", published in the Frankfurter
Zeitung, of Mengelberg’s first season of Museum Concerts, Frankfurt
on the Main, Germany, 1907/1908, show us that nearly all of his fundamental
& salient characteristics -- the same ones we meet in the recordings
he made several decades later -- were fully established by the first years
of this century. These quotations appear in the order in which the concerts
were played; each paragraph is another concert, the first paragraph being
the major part of g’s review of the season s opening performance.
AS I have, by & large, chosen reviews of those works that Mengelberg later recorded --& have done so solely with an eye for the revealing comment, irrespective of my own point of view -- these reviews fail to tell us how rich & venturesome the content of these concerts actually was. By playing these recordings, made decades later, the reader can decide for himself whether or not, in nearly every important respect, the Mengelberg of 1907 was the Mengelberg we know. In other words, the reader can now decide for himself whether Harris Goldsmith’s speculation that "the conductor so admired by Mahler in the first decade of the century might well havebeen quite different from the erratic one who emerges from the riveting Philips set," to say nothing of Gerald S. Fox’s claim that "By 1940 Mengelberg’s interpretative powers had begun to decline," (NEWSLETTER, #25, p.1) has any basis in fact.
"If the Overture [of Bach’s Suite #2 for Flute & Strings] fell somewhat unevenly on the ear, the performance of the work from the Rondo onwards satisfied all reasonable demands. Even in this piece, Mengelberg’s genuine musicality, foreign to all clever aestheticizing, was manifest in the marked rhythmization & sharp contrasts between tuttis & the passages accompanying the solos for flutes, which Herr Koenitz played with commendable skill. The performance of Beethoven’s Fifth confirmed to an even greater degree this young conductor’s thoroughly wholesome & ingenuously artistic nature, which stands in starkest contrast to the manner of sentimental conductors, who often drag the tempo. The strong naïveté of his art may be the very secret of its success, although its severity sometimes amazes or even offends. On that account, every subtlety in the performance of the symphony’s Andante notwithstanding, one wishes for the movement, even when it is an Andante CON MOTO more latitude given here & there to the completion of each of its moods. However much the unusually lively tempo in the first movement may be advantageous to a certain terse unity of the piece, the speed did endanger the brass. The essential elements on which he rests his interpretative art appear to be animation; transparency in complex tonal webs; & a sharply pointed, at times almost slightly stinging, rhythm. As a consequence, absolutely nothing was done to mark the transition from the Scherzo to the Finale or the contrasts & probes in the last movement. How the close of this much heard symphony was played: that was something directly thrilling, where one clearly felt the comand of an artistic individuality. And this is worth a great deal, whatever one’s position as to the details of that individuality. If the wholesome musical world of a Bach or Beethoven, at least insofar as it was played today, was clearly favorable to the conductor, with respect to the Tristan Prelude (a very sentimental piece, to be sure), we admit that we can easily imagine the half before the great climaxes played more poetically. Mengelberg’s characteristic razor sharp release of each note, so as to ensure that the sounds end in accordance with the exact values of the notes, is absolutely astonishing. But the climaxes were played with the greatest brilliance, as were those of the Love s Death music, although the sheer voluptuous tone & power of the orchestra was almost excessive for the vocal part . . . . . . . the impressiveness [of the Tannhäuser Overture] & Mengelberg’s truly bravura interpretation ensured the conductor a brilliant close. Although Wagner himself certainly never placed any great importance on stressing the horn part at the end (otherwise it would have been heard before Nikisch), it was played with the usual emphasis."
". . . the conductor’s conception lacked nothing in spirit & ardor, but one can imagine the truly poetical moments in the elevated parts of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetic better satisfied, however beautifully Mengelberg shaped the sonorities in the melodic passages. Generally, wherever liveliness & a taut rhythm are in place -- as at the close of Les Pré1udes or in the March of the symphony -- Mengelberg obviously was more in his ellement, & here he also secured his strongest effects yesterday."
". . . the conductor, Mr. Mengelberg, took the two movements [of Schubert’s Eighth] at so amazingly slow & broad a pace that the composition, in spite of every subtlety in the performance, seemed to want cohesion, which, in truth, the work does not lack. . . . Tchaikovsky’s Overture: Romeo & Juliet, as high spirited as it is passionate, closed the evening; & here in the fiercely raging Allegro part Mengelberg’s conducting art showed itself in its best light."
"Under Mr. Mengelberg’s taut direction the Coriolan Overture received that note of Alpine ruggedness that corresponds to the character of the work. . . . In the second part [of the concert] Liszt’s Faust Symphony was heard. The conductor interpreted it with a subtle elaboration of details, & spiritedly in the faster parts, where he quickened the tempi to obtain exciting climaxes."
"The conductor, . . . , brought forth a performance [of the Symphony #2 by Brahms] full of feeling, & with an attractive inclination to half lyrical, half meditative reverie in the first two movements. The high points of the performance were the exquisitely chiselled reproduction of the third movement & the climaxes in the Finale. No less beautiful in shading & tone did he conduct the charming short pieces that Schubert wrote for Rosamunde. The stormy applause obliged him to repeat the ballet music."
Mengelberg worked out the "heroic character of the first two movements [of Beethoven’s Third] & the humor of the Scherzo with a plastic clarity that very happily distanced itself from the all too drastic tempo changes so beloved of other conductors of this symphony." [Did these "all too drastic tempo changes" find their inspiration in the day, May 12, 1872, that Wagner conducted the Eroica at Vienna, a performance that so infuriated the schoolmasterish Eduard Hanslick?]
"Mengelberg conducted the work [Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4] with obvious devotion. With his customary success he concerned himself with clear structure & the dramatic juxtaposition of contrasts. Nevertheless, we missed that tonal poetry, dipped in rapture & melancholy, whose rising & falling loudness alone gives Tchaikovsky’s melodic passages their full attraction. This a Nikisch does in a masterly way. Mengelberg’s virtues lay, . . . , more in clearly laying out the composer’s design & in the exceedingly taut & tonally dense performance of imposing tuttis. Even so, he offered here & there, in the Andante, as well, much that was very successful. . . . On the whole, the performance of the Schumann Symphony [#4] turned out to be more impressive, although Mengelberg almost exceeded the extreme limit to which one can slow down the tempo when changing from one theme to the next."
"Beethoven’s Symphony #4 was heard in an uncommonly subtle & stimulating performance. No less enjoyable was the performance of the ever so charming Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 48, of Tchaikovsky. Mengelberg turned the gracefully played Waltz into a rare specimen of the performing arts."
"Mengelberg’s interpretation accommodated the
dissimilar natures of these two works [Beethoven’s Symphonies #1
& 9] in a conspicuous way. It struck the amiable & pleasant
nature of the last three movements of the C Major Symphony in the
best possible wise, but the first Allegro was performed somewhat conventionally.
The performance of the Ninth was also nobly conceived, particularly
in the highly dramatic first movement, taken very quickly, & in the
Scherzo, which was filled with a fierce & grim humor.
The various contrasts in the magnificent following Adagio were thrown
into a great relief, although in this movement we could imagine a more
soulful expressiveness. With the energetic support of the chorus,
composed chiefly of members of the Cecilia Society, the imposing Finale
was played in an impressive open air style & at times with almost excessive
Two days after the preceding concert Mengelberg concluded the "Sunday Museum Concerts with the same brilliancy that he did the Friday Series -- namely, with the Ninth of Beethoven . . . . The first rate disciplinary talent of the esteemed conductor was again evident, as he obtained with the . . . [enlarged Bad Homburg Spa Orchestra] a performance almost as technically perfect & beautifully toned as he did just two days ago with our Opera Orchestra."
THE critical atmosphere in the Frankfurter
Zeitung changed in the season of 1911/1912 with the appearance of a
critic from Be rlin, Paul Bekker by name. Who was he?
BEKKER, whose family name, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, was originally Baruch, was born in 1882 at Berlin, where he studied the violin & played that instrument in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Arthur Nikisch. Thereafter, he briefly conducted at Aschaffenburg & Gödrlitz. In 1906 he returned to Berlin to work successively as a music critic for two Berlin newspapers. In 1911, succeeding the critic g., he was named first music critic of the Frankfurter Zeitung, the most prominent of the Jewish newspapers in Germany. In leaving Berlin he went from the music capital of the world to a city whose concert life was completely dominated by a conductor he thoroughly detested. Thereafter, the attitude of the newspaper grew progressively more belligerent, Bekker’s criticism, which almost from the start distinguished itself by an unusually lordly & arrogant tone, hardening from concert to concert in opposition to Mengelberg. Did the same worm crawl in Bekker that did later in Olin Downes, who called Wilhelm Furtwängler "swine" and wanted him removed from New York City to make way for Toscanini, as we know from Daniel Gillis’s Furtwängler & America, & whose personal hatred, incorporated in his "music criticism," necessarily found a warm home in his reviews, published in the New York Times, of Furtwängler’s concerts with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the years 1925 to 1927?
TO ANSWER this question we shall have to consider Bekker’s reviews. It will be helpful if we keep in mind that each season Mengelberg conducted three series of concerts at Frankfurt: a Friday series of 12 concerts & a Sunday series of six concerts, both sponsored by the Museum Association; & a series of three concerts of the local choral group, the Cecilia Society. Mengelberg conducted the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra for the concerts of the Friday Series & the Cecilia Society; & for the Sunday Series, the augmented Spa Orchestra of Bad Homburg, a town about 10 miles north of Frankfurt.
IT WILL likewise be helpful if we bear in mind a recent event that the newspapers the Frankfurter Zeitung, had precipitated. We know from the NEWSLETTER, #27, p.1, that Siegmund von Hausegger, the Austrian composer, conductor, & writer on music, had preceded Mengelberg for three seasons at Frankfurt. Why did Hausegger resign at the end of the season for 1905/1906? Was he incompetent? Did he desire a more prominent post? Did he quarrel with the Museum Association? It was for none of these reasons. The newspaper, apparently in the person of its critic g., had waged so vicious a campaign against Hausegger that he, fearing his reputation elsewhere would suffer grievously under the attack, appealed to the Association for help. When the Association, to its later chagrin, declined to enter the completely unfair combat, Hausegger resigned his post, driven from it by the newspaper. As we shall see, the Association, did not blunder a second time.
WE begin with the season of 1911/1912, Bekker’s first with the newspaper.
BY the critic’s third Mengelberg concert Bekker concludes that ". . .Mengelberg can interpret the music of Berlioz, based as it is on a brilliant orchestral technique, with appreciably more conviction & interest than he can the profound & massively powerful music of Beethoven, a music that can dispense with the virtuoso polish, but which in the Leonore Overture [#2], as in the C Minor Symphony, requires a warm & thrillingly intense feeling.” This conclusion, early arrived at, henceforth shaped his attitude, which, in turn, became more & more belligerent, until, as we shall see, the upshot brought what had now assumed the proportions of a scandal to an abrupt & surprising end.
OF THE fourth Friday concert, Bekker complains that "Three evenings have passed without so much as a single novelty on the program. . . . Yes, yesterday the fourth Museum Concert did bring as novelties two Rumanian Rhapsodies by G. Enesco. But whoever had expected that the originality & significance of these pieces would compensate for the previous lack of new works was sorely disappointed. . . . Enesco brings us a few national tunes in an operatta-like arrangement: a dance-music talent (of which we have no lack), whose discovery scarcely belongs to the great tasks of our day." When Bekker wrote these lines he knew that Mengelberg was preoccupied at rehearsals with training the orchestra to play Mahler’s Symphony #8, which it performed later that season. Moreover, at subsequent Friday Concerts Mengelberg conducted a new work by Max Reger & the first performance of a piece by Bernhard Sekles, a local composer.
BEKKER is not to be pleased. If Mengelberg conducts something to his satisfaction, Bekker’s intensifying malevolence fashions his grudging approbation into a fresh cudgel with which to beat the conductor. For the second Sunday Concert, Bekker writes: "Mengelberg offered the charming Schubert pieces [from Rosamunde] in a superficially very striking guise, the rhythmically & dynamically elaborated piquancies of which are quite unnecessary for this inoffensively simple music."
AT the fifth Friday Concert Mengelberg conducts Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Because this is music that profits from a "virtuoso polish," the critic approves. "Yesterday the 'Variations’ were offered in an unusually effective performance. In contrast to the cooly & indifferently played 'Melusine Overture’ [of Mendelssohn], here Mr. Mengelberg had so polished & perfected that one could take genuine pleasure in the virtuoso execution of conductor & orchestra."
BUT at the following third Sunday Concert Bekker returns to his theme. "An outwardly polished but cooly dull performance of the F Major Symphony by Brahms opened the program. It is a great pity that Mr. Mengelberg has so much less feeling for the intimate attractions of the music of Brahms than he has for Tchaikovsky’s works, which are orchestrally more effective, true, but incomparably poorer in depth of feeling. The accompaniment to the Beethoven Piano Concerto [#3] also lacked careful preparation. What a great difference there was between Miss [Paula] Stebel’s pregnantly conceived performance of the themes & the indifferent, colorless repetition of the same thoughts by the orchestra. One would urgently wish that more attention be paid to these things in the future."
WHEN the season closes on the six Sunday Concerts, Bekker instructs Mengelberg as to what he should & should not conduct, & in the rules that must guide his choice of music in the future. "It goes without saying that a series of six concerts can scarcely encompass an even approximately exhaustive survey of the repertory. But in order to mark the important stages in the development of our instrumental literature, one can expect that the basic plan of the series will include the most significant works. At least one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos or of Handel’s Concerto Grossos, at least one of Bruckner’s symphonies, would have to be performed; nor can the names Weber, Schumann, Mendelssohn, & Berlioz be ignored. Haydn, one of the most important of the symphonists, is paid too little attention, whereas the five overtures & the parts from Wagner’s operas should be unnecessary in the concert hall. The prudence that necessarily governs while making up programs should have removed inconsequential works, such as Arensky’s 'Variations’; Grieg’s Overture, In the Fall; Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. In their place, important new works, now treated as a stepchild, would have won more attention. All in all, the soloists took up too much time."
FOR THE eleventh Friday Concert, which was devoted to Russian music, Bekker again lectures Mengelberg on the art of composing programs. ". . .it could have been a very interesting evening had one taken the trouble to choose those works that would give us an instructive & characteristic picture of Russian music: whether of its historical development, so as to show us the various stylistic changes, or of its contemporary situation. . . . In any case, some point of view should have been apparent; otherwise the program, in spite of its Russian décor, results in nothing more than a fortuitous string of Russian composers’ names. It would be difficult to find a better explanation for yesterday’s program. Missing were interesting & provocative new works, as well as valuable older ones. Only unassuming mediocrity was heard. It is arguable whether Glazounov’s Spring & Glinka’s very popular Kamarinskaya should be included in the program of a concert of serious pieces. But atleast both offer entertaining & nicely constructed light music. On the other hand, Borodin’s B Minor Symphony is a very weak representative of the great Russian symphony: little original in its construction, even less original in its musical invention; in the first movement, especially, full of inflated -- & consequently ineffective -- pathos; conventional in its scherzo effects; most impressive in the Andante, which is sustained by an inner ardor; of an indifferent & unattractive vivacity in the Finale. When judging the work, admittedly one must remember that the composer is already dead 25 years. This does not make the work any better for us, but undoubtedly more excusable." Bekker, having thus carved himself a fresh cudgel, forthwith furiously beats against Mengelberg’s interpretation of the symphony. -- TO BE CONTINUED.
F. JAMES NEU: "What has become of the Willem Mengelberg Society? I haven t gotten any literature for ages from you. . . . I always enjoyed the Society and got a lot of invaluable recordings by Mengelberg that I had long given up hope of ever getting my hands on, such as that splendid Schubert’s 8th to name one. Please let me hear from you one way or the other. The Newsletters were invariably fascinating and I had hoped were furthering the reputation of this great conductor." To reply to Mr. Neu & to all of the other members who kindly inquired: it took me a very long time to gather & to translate the information from which I have composed this number of the NEWSLETTER. I appreciate the members good natured patience & regret the long delay (the previous NEWSLETTER having been published in February, 1980)].
DR. EGMOND BACH: "Your readers may be interested in Mengelberg’s grave, which is not in The Netherlands, as one might suppose, but in Lucerne, Switzerland, where I recently visited. The cemetery is named Friedental [Valley of Peace] & can be reached in 15 or 20 minutes on foot from the main railroad station. Lucerne is a beautiful city, & the way from the station being very attractive, with prospects of great loveliness, the walk is unusually pleasant. At the cemetery I asked an attendant for directions to the grave site. He told me, 'it’s much asked for,’ & gave me the exact way from memory. One approaches the cemetery from above, the entire cemetery lying below to provide a landscape of astonishing beauty, for it is couched in a valley, divided between the valley floor & the broadly terraced slopes, on the south slope of which (if I am not confused in my directions) lies Mengelberg’s grave, where he & his wife, sharing a common headstone & plot, lie side by side. The stone is in the shape of a Latin cross, off white in color, standing about four feet high & two & one-half feet wide at the beam. An evergreen tree, about nine feet high, grows immediately to the left of the grave. The uninformed who glance idly at the stone, undistinguished as it is, can scarcely guess that beneath this simple grave lies one of the greatest performing musicians that history knows. Although eventually someone will raise his indignant voice in The Netherlands (as Wagner once did in our Germany for the dead Weber) as to why Mengelberg is not buried in his native land, no cemetery in The Netherlands can equal the luxuriant, quite overwhelming, beauty of Friedental: the beauty of a nature skilfully revealed by the hand of man that corresponds perfectly to the beauty of Mengelberg’s own art." [For E.B. Heemskerk’s personal account of Mengelberg’s death & burial, see the NEWSLETTER, #24, pp. 1 & 2.]
HUBERT WENDEL: "I have learned that at the present time at Hamburg [Germany] there is a ballet danced to Mengelberg’s recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I find this rather astonishing."
WILLIAM CODE: "In the 'conversation’ with Menqelberg [NEWSLETTER, #26] you put into his mouth the opinion that he was not a romantic conductor. . . . " [To examine only that aspect of the question never considered because it is completely unknown, none of the earliest reviews -- from 1893 to 1912 -- that I have read of Mengelberg’s concerts in Switzerland & Germany -- & I have read at least 100 of them -- ever refer to him as a "romantic musiciian"; on the contrary, he is explicitly called "modern" in several of them. Was it romantic to be modern in Lucerne on November 26, 1894, of which concert the critic complains that Mengelberg’s view of Beethoven’s Pastora1 Symphony". . . reminds one all too much of modern realism. . . ."? Even in our time, 30 years after his death, 110 years after his birth, several of his fundamental characteristics that were strikingly evident at Frankfurt in 1907, as the reviews that open this NEWSLETTER clearly show, are as modern today as they were then: his uncorrmon stress on rhythm, his minute & utterly cold blooded dissection of the score (the subsequent recombination of the parts into a passionate whole being peculiar to Mengelberg & neither modern nor old fashioned), & his incomparable technical mastery of score & orchestra. For at least the first decades of his career, in these qualities Mengelberg was unique. In the same vein, we know that Arthur Nikisch, born in 1855, fifteen years before Mengelberg, was a romantic conductor: as with Mengelberg, we know this, because so we are always told. But if this is true, why should a German critic, referring to a recent concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1909, have written as follows? "Arthur Nikisch has rediscovered Schumann. The way in which he represented the B Flat Major Symphony in the Philharmonic Concert the romantic appeared as a contemporary of Reger & Richard Strauss. Nikisch pulled Schumann into the modern interplay of light & shadow & interpreted him with piquant languor; & it suited him most well, I must admit." We so abuse romanticism in our use of it that the term is vague; the writer conveniently & lazily attaches to it whatever meaning suits his argument; if the word is to be rescued from the impotence with which its abusers afflict it, we should learn to apply it solely to that period in history, named the "romantic," which began in the late 18th Century & expired early the following century. What is past is dead, what is dead cannot be revived; none of us has ever heard a romantic musician play, nor shall we ever. As one example of how the term is abused, a writer in Musical America recently referred to a stage performance as "romantic," for the reason that a screen, which somewhat obscured the vision, was lowered between the stage & the audience. As one characteristic of romanticism is a heightened realism -- nature, man, & events are larger in all aspects than they are in our world --, which characteristic the reader can quickly confirm by calling to mind the plots of romantic operas & novels, obscured details are the antithesis of what romanticism was.]
WILLIAM FLOWERS: "There is no biography in English of Mengelberg published in this country [England] so although I have a good (and growing) collection of his recordings, actual reading matter is somewhat sparse. Neither Mengelberg nor Furtwangler (the 2 supreme interpretive artists of the 20th Century) have had a proper biography accorded them, at least, not this side of the Atlantic [nor on the American side, either]. When you think of the nonentities who have had biographies (or autobiographies) over the past decade! !"
PAST MASTERS has published in the last year three more discs of recordings by Mengelberg. The Concertgebouw Orchestra plays unless otherwise stated. PM-33 comprises two recordings from concerts: Hans Pfitzner’s Cello Concerto # 1 (not #2, as falsely stated on the record jacket), Op. 42 (Gaspar Cassado, concert of Dec. 12, 1940, in the Concertgebouw) & Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor (Maurice Gendron, Paris Radio Orchestra, broadcast concert at Paris of January 16, 1944, according to the record jacket). The former work was previously published on Rococo 2058; the latter (NEWSLETTER, #16, p. 3) appears for the first time. The Paris Radio Orchestra, of which Jean Fournet was the regular conductor, dates from October 15, 1941 , & comprised 90 musicians chosen by competitive examination from among the best instrumentalists in Paris. A French publication remarks: "Famous conductors from abroad -- Leonhardt, Adolf Mennerick, Oswald Kabasta, Carl Schuricht, Fritz Lehmann, Willem Mengelberg, Hans Rosbaud, Ekitai Ahn -- who conducted it. last year  have testified to its indisputable excellence." The notes toPM-33, which now & then read as a somewhat clumsy & pretentious translation from the German, incorrectly state that the National Symphony Orchestra became the New York Symphony Orchestra: on the contrary, the former merged with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1921, as described in the NEWSLETTER, #2, p.4. PM-34 comprises Franck’s Symphony in D Minor (the Telefunken recording, for which Dr. R. H. Hardie gives the probable date of November or December, 1940) & Franck’s Symphonic Variations, the latter being Walter Gieseking’s Columbia recording, Sir Henry Wood conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. PM-35 comprises Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major (the Telefunken recording; November 7, 8, & 9, 1938), Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Telefunken; probable date November, 1942), Grieg’s Two Elegjac Melodies (Columbia; June 3, 1931), & the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony #5 (Columbia; May, 1926). The Mengelberg recordings on PM-34 & 35 were all made at Amsterdam in the Great Hall of the Concertgebouw. I have bought these discs, but have still to hear them.
MR. SETH WINNER writes to me of PM-34 &
PM-35. "Concerning the Franck Symphony, I always felt that this recording
was one of the greats in the late 78 rpm & early LP catalogues. I also
felt that, unlike other people, this performance was more hair-raising
than its live Philips counterpart. The original Capitol-Telefunken
LP had rather decent sound, PROVIDED it was played with a 1 mil
stylus, and with proper equalization. The new transfer to my ears
is rather disappointing. It sounds a little cleaner, but there is
absolutely no mid-range, and thus has emasculated the sound of the orchestra,
hall, and performance. . . . 1 would take the earlier Capitol pressing
"'The Strings of the Concertgebouw record shows off the wonderful instrument Mengelberg had built, over some forty-odd years, . . . . This record, too, suffers from midrange deficiency, which must be boosted, to get full impact. The Tschaikovsky Serenade is a fine performance that had at one time also graced the earlier LP catalogues in the 1950's. It is a wonderful performance, especially the waltz movement, but I have a nagging preference for the 'incomplete’ live version issued on the BWS label. The Eine kleine Nachtmusik. . .[is] strange to today s ears, due to the exceptional tempo shifts, . . . . Thediscs are rather noisy, but that is due to the fact there are only one or two known copies of it in the world. . . . The Grieg excerpts are wonderful, and the sound is cleaner than the Da Capo European pressing. So is the slow movement of the Mahler Fifth Symphony also issued on that imported disc."
JAMES SCHULTZ: "A friend showed me a magazine from the Beecham society. There was an article in it about Mengelberg that you edited. My friend wonders who the real author was and I do too, because it seems from the article that you wrote it." [Your friend showed you Le Grand Baton, issue for Sept./Dec., 1979, #44, in which appeared under the title "Mengelberg and National Socialism" an article that Mr. Thomas Patronite, Editor of LGB, had compiled from the NEWSLETTER, issues #13 & 14. Mr. Patronite had requested my permission to publish the compilation. Aside from Mr. R. P. Brouwer’s letter, which forms the second part of the article, I did not edit the article: I wrote it. I mysteriously never received issues #45 & #46 of LGB (Mr. Patronite & I having agreed to exchange publications). Was there some reason why I should not see these two issues?]
CORRESPONDENCE: Costs have risen to where I am obliged to ask those who want an immediate answer to their inquiries to include an addressed envelope bearing sufficient postage. Otherwise, my answer will accompany the next NEWSLETTER. I regret this measure; but the blame, we should remind ourselves, lies with our free spending politicians of the past five decades & the inflation they have bred as a consequence.
PIERRE VIDAL: ". . . , Bach & Wagner have one point in common: they express themselves with notes, & these notes have a meaning, a direction, they are organized in the name of a logic, of a reason. If to play any note whatever it is necessary to have understood the reason clearly so as to establish the meaning & the direction (which assumes toil & -- some risk, as well), it is certain that in discharging the notes mechanically, without effort, the musician no longer incurs only the risk of robbing them of their meaning: he risks giving them no meaning at all. This is what is called: Let the Score Speak for Itself." (Pierre Vidal: Bach et la machine-orgue, pp. 55 & 56. See the NEWSLETTER, #26, pp.2 & 4; & #27, p. 3).
BACK issues of the NEWSLETTER are 75 cents for a single number & 65 cents each for two or more numbers. These prices include postage for domestic & foreign surface mail. Many issues are available only as photo copies.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year & pleasant listening wish to all!
Go to Newsletter: #21 #22 #23 #24 #25 #26 #27 #28-29
NEWSLETTER No. 30/SUBSCRIPTION YEAR NINE
E. Bysterus Heemskerk, for nearly four decades
a first violinist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra, describes in her book,
Over Willem Mengelberg, pages 103 & 104, a Christmas dinner
with the Mengelbergs as guests.
"It used to be the custom of the Concertgebouw Orchestra to offer young musicians the opportunity to play before the public on Christmas afternoon & on Easter Day. The second conductor of the orchestra directed these concerts, while Mengelberg & his wife sojourned abroad. But one year I learned that they were to spend Christmas Day in Amsterdam. I suggested to my mother that we invite them to Christmas dinner. My mother, who was very hospitable, eagerly agreeing, prepared a cosy dinner.
"The house we lived in at that time lent itself admirably to such entertainments. A squarish hall separated the dining room from the living room. When the glass double doors were opened wide, there was a clear view of the timbered dining room, with its Chinese blue walls & wainscoting. The festively decorated long dining room table occupied the middle of the room, at one end of which, in a large bay window built for this purpose, stood a tall Christmas tree, in whose candle light the silver & crystal on the table gleamed & sparkled. A solemn hush prevailed just before we took our places at the table.
"Christmas being so much a family celebration, the grandsons wanted to join us at the table. This, the first Christmas at which their wish was granted, they sat immensely impressed & dignified.
"But, o dear! My sister’s youngest son, overcome with excitement, by & by tipped over his glass of watered wine. A huge red spot spread over the once imaculate table cloth. Mortally terrified, the child looked around the table, thoroughly cowed by his clumsiness. Noticing this, Mengelberg snatched his own glass of wine, turned it over, & emptied its remaining contents on the table cloth, while exclaiming: 'Gee! you do it all the time, I do it all the time, too! I shall never forget the look on my mother’s face. There went her lovely damask! She was dumbfounded through & through. But then she had to join our uproarious laughter, . . . . Mengelberg had saved the evening for the children -- & the table cloth had to go into the wash in any case.”
IN THE last NEWSLETTER, Nos. 28/29, we introduced ourselves to the Frankfurter Zeitung, its newly appointed chief music critic, Paul Bekker, & to their intensifying attack on Mengelberg, begun in the season of 1911/1912. Continuing from where we left off, at the end of the season Mengelberg conducted a festival of three concerts. For the middle concert he brought to Frankfurt his Concertgebouw Orchestra & Toonkunst Chorus. Bekker writes: "The second day of the Spiritual Music Festival offered the Dutch guests the opportunity to display their orchestral & vocal art in an afternoon concert in the Saalbau. The enthusiastic applause that fell to their lot & to that of their leader, Mr. Mengelberg, should have shown them how perfectly delighted we were to make the personal acquaintance of the much praised Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra & the chorus of the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Toonkunst. With respect to the chorus, the program, unfortunately, was not so chosen as to enable us to form a clear opinion as to its abilities. The Te Deum of the noted Dutch contemporary A. Diepenbrock is a work (modest in thought) scored for double chorus, soloists, & orchestra. The themes are unctuously insipid phrases; construction & style aim at crude, tonally realistic, effects that are piled up until they finally tire & stupify. It offers the chorus no opportunity to display the quality of. its individual sections, as in the performance of a polyphonic movement; or to show its expressive ability in the elaboration of sustained melodies; or to demonstrate a great wealth & range of tonal color. It instead surprised us with a palpable fullness & the fresh, almost ringing, lustre of the voices, as well as with the certainty & precision with which it unfolds the score’s technical characteristics, the alert agility of the entire body, the clear & exact coordination between sections. We can praise the orchestra for similar merits: especially noticeable here are the absolute familiarity with the conductor’s intentions, the compliant submission to every interpretative sign from the podium, the strict training of the ensemble. One & all, the instrumentalists are able musicians, some of the woodwinds even show soloist ability; among the strings, a concentratedly powerful tone, now & then, indeed, somewhat penetrating, characterizes the violas. But to compare it with a German symphony orchestra of quality, such as the Meiningen, to say nothing of the Berlin Philharmonic, is out of the question. Compared to them the Concertgebouw Orchestra most conspicuously lacks the artistic culture that rises above a perfect discipline & manifests itself in the thorough training of each of the instrumental sections, as well as of the entire ensemble; in the refinement of tone; & in a more cultivated technique. On the other hand, the orchestra does possess in common with the two aforenamed examples the attractive flexibility & spirited liveliness that advantageously distinguish symphony orchestras in general. Mr. Mengelberg’s interpretation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 is known from one of the Museum concerts of last year. It confined itself, this time as well, to a reading -- not faithful to the score in every detaail -- of the intellectually understandable surface of this dreamily delicate music."
BY THIS time the waxing scandal had penetrated
into The Netherlands, where S.A.M. Bottenheim, Mengelberg’s future secretary,
published his detailed account of the three concert festival at Frankfurt.
In the course of his review, Bottenheim refers to Paul Bekker’s "continuing
campaign against the person of Mengelberg," & states in reply to the
review we have just read: (1)
The Berlin Philharmonic is an outstanding orchestra, the quality of which
is not a subject for dispute;
(2) The Meiningen Court Orchestra, which had played in The Netherlands several years ago, raised no impression out of the ordinary; &
(3) Bekker wants Mengelberg removed from his post as conductor of the Museum Association Concerts.
THE AFFAIR was about to explode into public view in Frankfurt. There had been, as we shall see, a private exchange of letters between the Museum Association & the Frankfurter Zeitung; Frankfurt’s music lovers would shortly demonstrate publicly against Bekker & the newspaper.
THE NEW season, 1912/1913, opened in early
October with a Friday concert consisting of Max Reger’s Concerto for
Orchestra in the Old Style, Op. 123; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto
No. 2, Ernst von. Dohnányi, soloist; & the Brahms Symphony
No. 2. Bekker’s review, unusually venomous even for him, contributes
his final scream to the journalistic hubbub. The critic writes: '"The series
of Friday concerts . . . did not open very promisingly yesterday.
. . . . Whoever recalls the dissimilarity between last year’s performance
of Reger’s Lustspiel Overture at the Museum Concert [conducted by
Mengelberg] & the subsequent concert of the Meiningen Court Orchestra
[conducted by Reger], whoever brings to mind what an unsuspected wealth
in dynamic shading, what subtle nuances of phrasing, Reger’s baton uncovered
in the Hiller Variations [by the conductor], he will hesitate to
accept yesterday s performance -- which never did more than to translate
notes into sound -- as the safe standard by which to judge the work.
In so far as it lay within their power, the two violin soloists, Lange
& Rynbergen, did at least make the Largo more effective. [Lange,
Concertmaster of the orchestra, is the same Hans Lange who was later assistant
(1923-1933), then associate (1933-1936), conductor of the New York Philharmonic
(-Symphony) Orchestra; & subsequently associate conductor (1936-1946)
of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.] But as the ensemble played altogether
roughly -- with injudicious dynamics & inadequately polished parts
-- the opening & closing movements nottably were necessarily complete
failures." Dohnányi’s performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto
was "very polished, technically finished to the last degree, an interpretation
judicious & intelligent, but completely lacking in the fascination
of the personal, which enables the re-creator, notwithstanding his being
subordinate to the work, to appear as an independent spirit. What
Mr. von Dohnányi offered was a good, immaculate, execution -- nothing
less, but also nothing more. Yet the ideal execution is that which transports
the player to creator in the moment of playing. Yesterday there was a perceptible
coolness. The D Major Symphony of Brahms closed the evening.
Although it was almost a foregone conclusion that Mr. Mengelberg would
not be able to draw much charm from this work, the most intimate of his
symphonies, still it remained astonishing how insipid was even so obviously
affecting a place as the cello melody at the beginning of the Adagio
or how he ignored the delicious miniaturization of the Third Movement.”
THE NEXT Friday concert was held a few weeks later, but the Frankfurter Zeitung published no review. Instead, this notice appeared in the newspaper. --- TO BE CONTINUED.
SIMON BUSH. "As far as I am aware there is
no Mengelberg Society in Great Britain. Indeed, there seems to be
something of a conspiracy to ignore his contribution to 20th century music,
apparently based on his reputation as a collaborator in World War II. As
you may know, the B.B.C. Symphony recently celebrated its 50th anniversary
and there were several concerts of recorded performances with conductors
of the past. Mengelberg was conspicuously absent from the list.
This is a lamentable omission since Bernard Shore, formerly principal viola
with the orchestra gave a whole chapter over to Mengelberg in his book
'The Orchestra Speaks’ (1938) of which I have a copy.
"Just last week I was able to obtain, through a London dealer, a copy of the Japanese Philips transcript of the 1939 Mengelberg performance of Mahler’s 4th Symphony. What a truly amazing performance and such a good transfer of the originals also. Ten times better than the transfers of the Beethoven set which I find very badly done."
[MR. BUSH’S words remind me that in late 1978 the New York Philharmonic mailed to me (not to the Society), unsolicited, its concert program booklet, entitled Stagebill, for October of that year. The booklet includes a short history of the orchestra, covering about one & one-third pages, & listing 12 past conductors who are now dead. Mengelberg s name is omitted. (This is the probable reason why the booklet was posted to me!) I wrote letters on the Society’s stationery to both the New York Philharmonic & the Managing Editor of Stagebill, but neither letter was answered. Putting to one side Mengelberg’s great historical importance to the New York Philharmonic, & to content ourselves with statistics, Mengelberg, in his nine seasons from 1921 to 1930, conducted about 300 concerts of the orchestra, a number probably exceeding that of any of the 12 conductors the program booklet names.]
RICHARD BENSON. "I was pleasantly surprised
to receive the current newsletter (28 & 29) as I had concluded that
the Society was defunct. I tried to obtain a phone number for the
previous address some months ago without success. [We have no telephone.]
The reason for the attempted phone call was that I missed receiving the
"Meanwhile, I am enclosing an article in the Carnegie Hall program booklet from last fall [of 1980] (during tour of LA Philharmonic to NY) wherein Giulini describes playing in Italian orchestra under Mengelberg among others."
THIS IS what Carlo Maria Giulini writes in the program booklet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on tour in New York City. "I believe in tradition. That is another reason Carnegie Hall beckons me back again & again. Even before I raise my baton I listen to the beautiful silence of the place. In that silence I imagine I can hear faint but vivid reverberations from the performances of other men, other orchestras, long ago -- friends like Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, idols like Furtwäng1er, Kleiber, Mengelberg, who were my exemplars, my teachers. "I remember Mengelberg, for instance, from my days as a violist in the Augusteo Orchestra [Santa Cecilia Orchestra] in Rome. How he used to talk! He would rehearse us for three minutes and then talk for ten. Of course he didn’t speak Italian, so nobody understood a word. But he was Mengelberg and a magnificent conductor, and no matter what he said, or how long he said it, or what language he used, in the end it was music that came out." [Mengelberg first conducted the Santa Cecilia Orchestra on May 10, 1908.]
HUBERT WENDEL. "I visited Paris 15 days ago & found in a record shop Mahler’s 4th Symphony by Mengelberg, a Japanese Philips disc, published in 1978, of far better quality than the Turnabout issue I have. All of the other Philips discs (First of Brahms, Franck’s D Minor Symphony, & so on) were republished in 1978 in Japan but are no longer available." In a later letter he remarks: "The sound [of the Mahler Fourth on Japanese Philips] is much better than on the Turnabout record, . . . Monsieur Wendel lists these Japanese issues of Mengelberg’s recordings, the EMI disc apparently having been published in the last year or two, the three Philips discs in 1978. EMI GR 2315: Liszt, Les Préludes; Berlioz, Dance of the Sylphs & Hungarian March from Damnation of Faust; Beethoven, 2nd movement from S. #8; Mahler, Adagietto from S. #5; & Grieg, Two Elegiac Melodies. Monsieur Wendel comments: "The sound, unfortunately, is not very good because it has been filtered. In spite of everything, it is better than the Dutch discs [EMI 047-0l297M/98M: see NEWSLETTER, #5, p. 4; & #7, p. 3] published some years ago." All of these recordings are from Mengelberg’s Columbia/Odeon series. Readers may recognize that the Japanese disc has the same contents as Dutch EMI 047-0l297M. The three PHILIPS discs are PC 5552: Brahms, S. #1 ("Very good sound."); the aforementioned Mahler, S. #4, on PC 5553 ("Very good sound."); & PC 5555: Schubert, S. #9, which Monsieur Wendel hasn’t heard as yet.
PAVILION RECORDS, England, published, September,
1981, on the Pearl label, a two disc set (GEMM 212/13) comprising these
transfers from the Columbia/Odeon series: Tchaikovsky’s S. #4 &
5 & the Valse from the String Serenade. (Pavilion
s most recent catalog lists the contents of this set incorrectly.) The
set can be bought in the United States from Qualiton Imports, Ltd.; 39-28
Crescent St.; Long Island City, N.Y. 11101. Price is $17.00 + $2.00
postage = $19.00 total.
CAMBRIDGE RECORDS, Ltd.; 5 London Wall Buildings; Finsbury Circus EC2M 5N1; England, published, November, 1981, on its Imprimatur label (IMP 2) these two transfers from the Columbia/Odeon series: Brahms, S. #3 & Academic Festival O. Price is £3.99. English readers can safely ignore the bizarre sentiments of a reviewer of 1933 that Cambridge Records so awkwardly quotes in its advertisements.
BERKSHIRE RECORD OUTLET, Inc.; 428 Pittsfield-Lenox Rd.; Lenox, Mass. 01240, in its most recent catalog, Dec., 1981, offers these two Mengelberg issues: Bartók, Violin Concerto No. 2, on Hungaroton LPX 11573, $4.99; & Brahms, German Requiem, with parts from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on 4th face, on Turnabout TV 4445/46, $3.98. Shipping charges are (domestic orders) $2.00 for first disc & l0 cents for each additional one; & (foreign orders) $4.00 for first disc & 75 cents for each additional one. Both issues were originally published some years ago & sold by the Society at the time. The soloist in the Concerto is ZOLTÁN SZÉKELY, for whom Bartók wrote the piece; the recording, technically excellent, is of the first public performance, March 23 (or April 23, depending on whom you read), 1939, Amsterdam.
THIS NUMBER ends Subscription Year Nine, which
comprises the following issues: No. 28/29 (a double issue), published August
2, 1981; No. 28/29R, published December 10, 1981; & the present issue,
No. 30, which you hold in your hand. Issue No. 28/29R was the republication,
with minor changes, of No. 28/29, which was carelessly typed & poorly
reproduced; No. 28/29R was posted to members overseas by surface mail.
Subscription Year Ten begins with the next NEWSLETTER, No. 31.
Dues for SY 10 are increased about 7% to $4.00 for members at home & in Canada & to $4.55 for members overseas. This small rise in the dues should ensure that I cover my out of pocket expenses for the Society. I appreciate the mernbers faithful & continued support. BACK ISSUES of the NEWSLETTER are 75 cents for a single number & 65 cents each for two or more numbers; these prices include postage for domestic & foreign surface mail; many issues are available only as photo copies.
To all an early spring & pleasant listneing!
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