Felix Weingartner, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony

Paul Felix WeingartnerEdler (a title of nobility in Austria) von Münzberg (June 2, 1863 – May 7, 1942) was an Austrian conductor, composer and pianist.  He is considered by many to be the greatest conductor of the 20th century.  For many, his tempi were perfect, and his phrasing was simply inspired.  When you listen to his conducting, you perceive a tight control over the orchestra, beautiful colorations of sound, and absolutely stunning lines.  I know of no conductor better than this one.

I have uploaded Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A major, op.92. as an example of Weingartner’s conducting style.

Life and career

Weingartner was born in Zadar, Croatia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His parents were Austrian. The family moved to Graz in 1868, and his father died later that year. In 1881 he went to Leipzig to study philosophy, but soon devoted himself entirely to music, entering the Conservatory in 1883 and studying in Weimar as one of Franz Liszt’s last pupils. The same year, 1884, he assumed the directorship of the Königsberg Opera. From 1885 to 1887 he was Kapellmeister in Danzig, then in Hamburg until 1889, and in Mannheim until 1891. Starting that year, he was Kapellmeister of the Royal Opera and conductor of symphony concerts in Berlin. He eventually resigned from the opera post while continuing to conduct the symphony concerts, and then settled in Munich.

In 1902, at the Mainz Festival, Weingartner conducted all nine Beethoven symphonies. From 1907 to 1910 he was the Director of the Vienna Hofoper, succeeding Gustav Mahler; he retained the conductorship of the Vienna Philharmonic until 1927. From 1912 he was again Kapellmeister in Hamburg but resigned in 1914 and went to Darmstadt as general music director while also often conducting in the U.S. for the Boston Opera Company between 1912-1914. In 1919-20, he was chief conductor of the Vienna Volksoper. In 1920, he became a professor at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. From 1927 to 1934 he was music director of the Basel symphony orchestra. He made many outstanding Beethoven and Brahms symphony recordings in Vienna and London between the mid-1920s and his last recording session with the London Symphony, including an electrifying Brahms Second to complete the historic Beethoven-Brahms symphony cycle he began in the 1920s (see below), on February 29, 1940. He gave his last concert in London that year and died in Winterthur, Switzerland two years later.

Weingartner was the first conductor to make commercial recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies, and the second (to Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia) to record all four Brahms symphonies. His crisp, classical conducting style contrasted with the romantic approach of many of his contemporaries, such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, whose conducting is now considered “subjective” on the basis of tempo fluctuations not called for in the printed scores; while Weingartner was more like Arturo Toscanini in insisting on playing as written.