Professor Meyer’s musings on Beethoven’s Ninth Dr. Otto Klemperer #3

I performed this several times including a recording with Dr. Klemperer and the Philharmonia in the 1950’s.  He often conducted  with no baton as I believe he had problems with his hands, but although his directions were sometimes not very clear he obtained some remarkable performances

His tempi were interminably slow. One could nod off in the slow movement and in what is really the scherzo which to my mind should be light and joyful, sounded to me like a bum-slapping, clod-hopping ländler, but that being said the recitatives and the Ode to Joy leading up to a triumphal ending were truly great.

It must be remembered that Dr. Klemperer was struggling with his health, and, looking back, he had a grand overview of the work. Going back to the “scherzo” he insisted that we repeated Klem-perer  Klem- perer Klem-perer to ourselves so that we played the dotted quarters, eighths, and quarters correctly.  Of course I suppose he could have reminded us to think of Beet-hoven  Beet -hoven  Beet-hoven, but conductors are sometimes egotistical.

I mentioned in a previous blogpost that nowadays music tends to be taken faster, probably a sign of my old age and certainly if you listen to Toscanini then indeed Klemperer is slow and stately, but lately, after listening to many of his recordings a certain grandeur comes out which will make him remembered to posterity.

Professor Meyer’s musings on Beethoven’s Ninth. #2 Wilhelm Furtwängler

I played the Ninth with Furtwängler twice. One in the late 1940’s with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and two with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the mid 1950’s at the Kunsthaus during the Lucerne International Festival, Switzerland. They were by far the best performances of the Ninth I’ve ever played.

Furtwängler didn’t have much of a beat. He was lank, bald with a fringe of white hair, had a slight stoop and stuck his belly out when conducting.

His approach was to transmit joy. It wasn’t a “Herrlich” performance as some conductors are wont to make of it, but impressed me with its musicality. Despite not having a very clear beat he could convey exactly what he wanted. It is hard to describe but it was uncanny.

The first movement just flowed. There were no overly loud chords. The same with the second movement. The third was full of fun, not like the usual renderings with the tympani being allowed to play fortissimo like a ton of bricks being dropped.

The last movement, beginning with the recitatives was just as Beethoven described his ideas to Sir George Smart during a meeting in September 1825. And I quote Sir George Smart “Beethoven gave the tempi of various sections of his symphonies etc, while he played them on the piano, including the Choral Symphony, which according to his reckoning took three quarters of an hour,which we know is impossible. In Vienna the recitative was played by four ‘celli and two basses which certainly is better than if one takes all the basses”.

Schindler states that Beethoven required all the basses to play in a singing style, not stiffly but in strict time, not dragged. Thus it was with Furtwängler who segued into the Ode to Joy to make a glorious, joyful Finale.

Link here to read a previous post on Furtwängler that you might care to peruse.