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Beethoven Symphony No.9, in D minor op. 125, Ferenc Fricsay (c)

By June 12, 2022March 19th, 2023No Comments

I would like to highlight another composer who is perhaps little known today. This is a performance with an outstanding cast of soloists. I will write more about Fricsay below.

Ferenc Fricsay

August 9,1914 – February 20, 1963

Ferenc Fricsay was a student for six years at the Budapest Academy of Music, where he studied violin and piano with Bartók and composition with Kodály. His first appointment came in 1933 as military bandmaster in the Hungarian town of Szeged, the economic and cultural capital of the south-eastern region of Hungary, adjacent to the Yugoslav and Romanian borders. In 1934 he became chief conductor of the Szeged Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to establish an opera department in the local theatre in 1939, making his debut as a conductor at the Budapest Opera in 1939. Fricsay stayed in Szeged until 1944 when he and his family went into hiding from the occupying German forces in Budapest, but following the defeat of National Socialism he conducted the first symphony concert in liberated Budapest in 1945, and in the same year was appointed chief conductor of the Budapest Opera and conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, of which Otto Klemperer was then a guest conductor. He made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during 1946.

Fricsay’s international breakthrough came in 1947, when he substituted for Klemperer as conductor of the world première of Gottfried von Einem’s opera Dantons Tod at the Salzburg Festival. He was subsequently engaged as chief conductor of the Berlin RIAS (Radio In American Sector) Symphony Orchestra, the first of the six radio orchestras to be established by the occupying powers in Federal Germany, and held this post from 1949 to 1954 alongside that of chief conductor of the Berlin Stadtische Opera, a position which he retained until 1952. (The Berlin RIAS Orchestra was subsequently renamed firstly as the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and then as the Deutsches Symphony Orchestra, while the opera company was renamed the Deutsche Oper, Berlin.) Fricsay made the RIAS Orchestra into one of the finest in West Germany. With the introduction of the long-playing record both he and the orchestra became mainstays of the new catalogue of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.

At the same time he was developing an international career, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in 1948, returning to the Salzburg Festival to conduct Frank Martin’s Le Vin herbé in 1948 and Carl Orff’s Antigone in 1949, and conducting in England, Holland, Israel and South America. In 1950 he conducted the Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at the Edinburgh Festival. Having appeared for the first time in America in 1953, leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the following year Fricsay took up the post of chief conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in Texas, but stayed for only a short while, leaving following disagreements with the orchestra’s management. In 1956 he became chief conductor of the Bavarian State Opera, where he remained for two seasons before returning to his old post with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1959; he also acted as a musical adviser to the Deutsche Oper, and inaugurated the company’s new opera house in 1961, leading Don Giovanni. However by now he had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer and his final concerts were given with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall during December 1961.

Fricsay was unusual in that he insisted on and obtained great precision in his performances, yet combined this with considerable emotional force. In this respect his performances were quite different from those of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the other great Berlin conductor of the period when Fricsay was establishing his international conducting and recording career. These characteristics made him an ideal recording conductor, giving his recordings a power and freshness not heard in many rival versions. He encouraged orchestral musicians to listen to each other, and to play as though in chamber music: consequently his performances possessed excellent internal balance, which also was a great advantage when it came to making records. Fricsay’s repertoire was extremely wide: he was equally at home in the opera house pit as on the concert hall podium. His accounts of operas by Mozart have well stood the test of time with their bustling vivacity, while his recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio has survived critical disdain to be recognised as a reading of real substance and dramatic power.

But it is perhaps as an interpreter of the central late nineteenth-century repertoire, and especially the music of Tchaikovsky and Dvořák, that Fricsay will be best remembered. His readings of the three last Tchaikovsky symphonies, both in the studio and in the concert hall, possessed an intensity only rarely realized. In particular his landmark recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’ is powerful evidence of his ability to combine great instrumental precision with overwhelming emotional power. Fricsay’s musicianship was so keen and wide-ranging that anything to which he turned his hand was delivered with real understanding and style: his accompaniments to concerto recordings by Clara Haskil and Annie Fischer for instance remain models of their kind. To quote another highly distinguished musician, Yehudi Menuhin, ‘Fricsay was one of the world’s greatest conductors, certainly no conductor had greater talent.’

Fricsay died from cancer in 1963.

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.