1949 - The Furtwänglerian art of conducting




The Furtwänglerian art of conducting: a panorama




Bruckner, Symphony n°7


by Felix Matus-Echaiz




CD SWF 051



Symphony n°7

                    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

                                        18.X.1949, Berlin


  I. Allegro moderato
0’00 - 1’02

For the music-lover looking for getting initiated in the art of Furtwängler’s handling of a given tempo, the first minute of the Symphony n°7 is a beautiful and significant example.

Four different tempi are concerned here. These modifications, or rather the adaptation of the tempo to the expression, correspond exactly to the four segments of the principal theme; one of Bruckner’s longest motives (to the exception of the beginning of the 2nd symphony).

The first tempo (0’00 to 0’10) leads us straight to the highest note of the celli. The change of the tessitura (0’13) and of the climate, is marked by a slight inflexion of the tempo. The third tempo (0’34), is faster, thus giving more intensity to the celli’s singing, and is brought on by more nervous tremolos. The fourth one (0’45), which underlines the end of the principal theme, is in fact a rallentando.

The interpretation of the transitional bar of the theme from the celli to the violins is a masterpiece of a unique musical and expressive intelligence.


  I. Allegro moderato
4'20 - 5'04

In this passage (a great crescendo which culminates into a... piano) which is quite difficult to bring into light, Furtwängler combines to perfection two of his major assets : the sense of expression and musical logic. Contrary to the usual execution of this passage, the great conductor deliberately ignores the monolithic aspect. His tripartite structure (marked by the intervention of new instruments) is subtly put in evidence. In order to underline each sequence (i.e. at 0'00, then at 0'20 and 0'28), he re-launches the musical phrase by “spurring” on the orchestra. A great rallentando brings us to the peak of the crescendo.


 I. Allegro moderato
6'02 - 6'50

The sixteen bars of this passage, with its pastoral characteristic, sound like a peace haven. The lightness and the transparency of the strings are admirable. Worthy of note are the horn entrance (0’20) and the delicate rallentando (0’24).


 I. Allegro moderato
7’54 - 8’24

This part of the development, in which the celli play the second theme of the movement is one of the most poignant ever composed by Bruckner. In Furtwängler’s interpretation the preparatory eight bars of this great moment (two “questions” first asked by the celli, then by the violins and oboe) simply make one hold his breath.


I. Allegro moderato
8’26 - 9’17

The celli, already having played a major role at the beginning of the symphony, take ownership on these measures. The “ohne ausdruck” (or "without expression"), often requested by the great conductor in this type of passage, only enhances the broadness of the tune and its overwhelming despondency.


I. Allegro moderato

If the beginning of the movement is a proper initiation for getting acquainted with the “magic” of Furtwängler’s tempo, the Coda is yet another for those who want to become familiar with his unequalled crescendi.

Once again, we must dwell on the conductor’s tripartite structure, essential for the clarity and comprehension of this passage.

The first measures of this Coda (0’00- 0’24) are played with a minimum of expressive intensity. A clear change of climate (0’25), of which the conductor possessed the secret, marks the second section of this large crescendo. The third part (0’41), where the last flight starts, sounds like an “unleashing” of all the pent up energy of the preceding bars.

In the last measures, the power of the horns, as well as the timpani which seem to “crush” the orchestra, are well worth listening to with the utmost attention.



Translation: Sami Habra

(c) 2006



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