I don’t think that I have posted anything about Felix Weingartner in several years. I am going to remedy that with this post. This is Weingartner conducting Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Beethoven led a difficult life, but he became a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic periods.

I think that Weingartner is my favorite conductor of all time. I shouldn’t say that because I like many conductors; however, Weingartner was special. This recording is from 1927.

The Romantic Period

With the onset of the Romantic era in the wake of the French Revolution, composers began to view their own role in society as well as the social function of their work, and hence also its aesthetic prerequisites, in a radically different light. With respect to social function, Beethoven was actually the first musician of stature to achieve emancipation in the sense that his work reflected, with relatively few exceptions, purely personal artistic concerns. He simply took it for granted that patrons would supply funds sufficient for him to pursue his creative career unfettered by financial worries. This attitude represents a total reversal of the basic assumptions of the preceding century, when composers were hired by and large to satisfy the musical needs of specific individuals or institutions.

Ludwig van Beethoven, (baptized December 17, 1770, Bonn, archbishopric of Cologne [Germany]—died March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria), German composer, the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras.

Widely regarded as the greatest composer who ever lived, Ludwig van Beethoven dominates a period of musical history as no one else before or since. Rooted in the Classical traditions of Joseph Haydn and Mozart, his art reaches out to encompass the new spirit of humanism and incipient nationalism expressed in the works of Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller, his elder contemporaries in the world of literature; the stringently redefined moral imperatives of Kant; and the ideals of the French Revolution, with its passionate concern for the freedom and dignity of the individual. He revealed more vividly than any of his predecessors the power of music to convey a philosophy of life without the aid of a spoken text; and in certain of his compositions is to be found the strongest assertion of the human will in all music, if not in all art. Though not himself a Romantic, he became the fountainhead of much that characterized the work of the Romantics who followed him, especially in his ideal of program or illustrative music, which he defined in connection with his Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony as “more an expression of emotion than painting.” In musical form he was a considerable innovator, widening the scope of sonata, symphony, concerto, and quartet, while in the Ninth Symphony he combined the worlds of vocal and instrumental music in a manner never before attempted. His personal life was marked by a heroic struggle against encroaching deafness, and some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life when he was quite unable to hear. In an age that saw the decline of court and church patronage, he not only maintained himself from the sale and publication of his works but also was the first musician to receive a salary with no duties other than to compose how and when he felt inclined.

Early influences of Ludwig van Beethoven

Like other composers of his generation, Beethoven was subject to the influence of popular music and of folk music, influences particularly strong in the Waldstein ballet music of 1790 and in several of his early songs and unison choruses. Heavy Rhineland dance rhythms can be found in many of his mature compositions; but he could assimilate other local idioms as well—Italian, French, Slavic, and even Celtic. Although never a nationalist or folk composer in the 20th-century sense, he often allowed the unusual contours of folk melody to lead him away from traditional harmonic procedure; moreover, that he resorts to a folklike idiom in setting Schiller’s covertly nationalist text in the Ninth Symphony accords well with nationalist practices of the later 19th century.

Reputation and influence of Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s achievement
Beethoven’s greatest achievement was to raise instrumental music, hitherto considered inferior to vocal, to the highest plane of art. During the 18th century, music, being fundamentally non imitative, was ranked below literature and painting. Its highest manifestations were held to be those in which it served a text—that is, cantata, opera, and oratorio—the sonata and the suite being relegated to a lower sphere. A number of factors combined to bring about a gradual change of outlook: the instrumental prowess of the Mannheim Orchestra, which made possible the development of the symphony; the reaction on the part of writers against pure rationalism in favor of feeling; and the works of Haydn and Mozart. But, above all, it was the example of Beethoven that made possible the late-Romantic dictum of the English essayist and critic Walter Pater: “All arts aspire to the condition of music.”

After Beethoven it was no longer possible to speak of music merely as “the art of pleasing sounds.” His instrumental works combine a forceful intensity of feeling with a hitherto unimagined perfection of design. He carried to a further point of development than his predecessors all the inherited forms of music (with the exception of opera and song), but particularly the symphony and the quartet. In this he was the heir of Haydn rather than of Mozart.

Felix Weingartner

Paul Felix Weingartner, Edler (“Lord”, in English) von Münzberg (June 2, 1863 – May 7, 1942) was an Austrian conductor, composer and pianist. Weingartner did much to shape the modern art of conducting. He studied piano and composition in Graz, Austria with the composer W.A. Remy. He received a stipend from the state, and in 1881 he went on to study philosophy at Leipzig University, later attending the Leipzig Conservatory where he made the acquaintance of Liszt. Liszt persuaded him to become a conductor and helped to produce Weingartner’s first opera, Sakuntala, at Weimar in 1884. In the same year he began his conducting career in Königsberg.

Thereafter, Weingartner moved around constantly: Danzig (1885-1887); as Hans von Bülow’s assistant in Hamburg (1887-1889); Mannheim (1889-91); Berlin’s Kaim Royal Opera Orchestra (1891-1898); the Vienna Opera, where he succeeded Mahler (1898-1903); Hamburg again (1912-14); Darmstadt (1914-1919); Vienna Volksoper and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (1919-1927). Over the same period, he toured Europe, making his first visits to London in 1898 and to the U.S. in 1905, where he conducted the Boston Opera Company for its 1912-1913 season. From 1927 to 1933, he was director of the Conservatory and Symphony Orchestra in Basel, Switzerland, and returned to the Vienna State Opera from 1935-1936. In his second period with the Vienna Opera he appeared tired, and resigned at the end of the season. In 1939, Weingartner was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.

Weingartner’s activities were not confined to conducting: he was also a prolific composer. His output includes eight operas, six symphonies, two concertos, chamber music and songs, though none of his works had more than a brief success. Together with Charles Malherbe, he edited the complete works of Berlioz and was one of the first to bring that composer’s works back into public favor. Weingartner’s arrangement of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance was recorded four times by him, and he also recorded his own orchestral arrangement of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” piano sonata, Op. 106, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Weingartner was among the first great conductors to insist on a meticulous interpretation of the composer’s score and steady, moderate tempi. While in Hamburg, he clashed with Hans von Bülow, whom he criticized for romantic exaggeration and wayward performances. In 1895, Weingartner wrote a book, On Conducting, in which he accused von Bülow of “wanting to divert the attention of the audience from the music to himself.”

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. In 1935 he conducted the world premiere of Georges Bizet’s long-lost Symphony in C. 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. His 1935 recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, for instance, sounds much more like Toscanini’s 1936, 1938, 1939 and 1952 renditions (only the last of which was recorded in a studio rather than at a concert) than Furtwängler’s far more expansive readings.