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#346445 - 12/07/07 01:39 PM performers and politics  
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pianojerome Offline
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Here is a very interesting review from amazon.com of a Beethoven Symphonies cycle by Herbert von Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic:

Quote
I am normally against dragging the politics of an artist into a discussion of his work. But Karajan's reported 11 years of active membership in the Nazi party really seem to have been a major influence on his musical aesthetic. These recordings present a Beethoven of unrelieved aggression and inhuman discipline. Tempos are fast, dynamics tend towards the loud and anything approaching a march rhythm is goose-stepped.

The unanimity of the Berlin Philharmonic is technically amazing (and somewhat frightening). One never gets the sense of an individual musician playing an instrument. Everyone is just a cog in the absolutely perfect Karajan Machine.
http://www.amazon.com/review/product/B000001GBQ/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_1?%5Fencoding=UTF8&filterBy=addOneStar


Sam
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#346446 - 12/07/07 02:44 PM Re: performers and politics  
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argerichfan Offline
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This thread could get very tetchy, but I'll have to say that I'm in complete agreement with that review.


Jason
#346447 - 12/07/07 03:22 PM Re: performers and politics  
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BruceD Offline
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From all that I have read, a "goose step" is purely visual; it's a straight-legged style of marching in which the legs are swung high. There is no rational way that I can see in which an audio recording of a march or march-like music can be described as "goose-stepped." The tempi may be fast, the music may be played aggressively, but that's as far as I am willing to accept this reviewer's analogy.

Regards,


BruceD
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#346448 - 12/07/07 03:48 PM Re: performers and politics  
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Bassio Offline
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This is the first time I see someone invoking Godwin's law in a musical discussion or review!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin\'s_law

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#346449 - 12/07/07 03:48 PM Re: performers and politics  
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BruceD Offline
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Moreover, if this reviewer is even vaguely suggesting that one should avoid Karajan's recordings on the basis of Karajan's politics, would anyone be willing to throw out the La Bohème that he made with Freni and Pavarotti or the incomparable Die Rosenkavalier with Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, Stich-Randal et al? I could not do that.

Regards,


BruceD
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#346450 - 12/07/07 05:10 PM Re: performers and politics  
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argerichfan Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by BruceD:
...if this reviewer is even vaguely suggesting that one should avoid Karajan's recordings on the basis of Karajan's politics, would anyone be willing to throw out the La Bohème... or the incomparable Die Rosenkavalier...
That's precisely my problem. I would gladly not have any Karajan in my collection, yet blimey, I can't do without the aforementioned Boheme nor the Ariadne with Schwarzkopf and Seefried.

Otherwise, I've done quite well...


Jason
#346451 - 12/07/07 06:13 PM Re: performers and politics  
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Janus K. Sachs Offline
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Betelgeuse, baby!
I generally don't like Karajan's music making, period. He has some interesting touches in that Beethoven cycle, but he seems to smother so much of the vigour and colour out of anything he conducts by obese string tone and a lack of variety in articulation. So thankfully my conscience doesn't bother me in this matter.


Die Krebs gehn zurücke,
Die Stockfisch bleiben dicke,
Die Karpfen viel fressen,
Die Predigt vergessen.

Die Predigt hat g'fallen.
Sie bleiben wie alle.
#346452 - 12/08/07 01:42 AM Re: performers and politics  
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Antonius Hamus Offline
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This reminds me of something an old writer once said: "People are so stupid."

#346453 - 12/08/07 01:45 AM Re: performers and politics  
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argerichfan Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Janus Sachs:
I generally don't like Karajan's music making, period. He has some interesting touches in that Beethoven cycle, but he seems to smother so much of the vigour and colour out of anything he conducts by obese string tone and a lack of variety in articulation. So thankfully my conscience doesn't bother me in this matter.
With exception of Karajan as opera accompanist (doubt he would fancy me referring to him that way... after all, he was always the star), but your post makes sense to me and I agree. We generally tend to think alike.

There are too many other excellent Beethoven cycles, however, for me to worry about Karajan. His Bruckner 7th is quite fine, but there have been many other great interpreters of this not-to-everyone's-taste composer, and it is just a matter of searching them out.


Jason
#346454 - 12/08/07 04:21 AM Re: performers and politics  
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ecm Offline
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Republic of Macedonia
How come people do not like such iconic persons and people that were just eccentric as in their personality, and they listen to the music with that dislike even before you play the track in the cd player!

Similar thing is, with Ivo Pogorelich besides Karajan. They criticise him even before he touches the piano. I don't like meddling politics or anything else that isn't art, in music.

#346455 - 12/08/07 12:48 PM Re: performers and politics  
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Janus K. Sachs Offline
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Betelgeuse, baby!
Quote
Originally posted by argerichfan:
With exception of Karajan as opera accompanist (doubt he would fancy me referring to him that way... after all, he was always the star), but your post makes sense to me and I agree. We generally tend to think alike.

There are too many other excellent Beethoven cycles, however, for me to worry about Karajan. His Bruckner 7th is quite fine, but there have been many other great interpreters of this not-to-everyone's-taste composer, and it is just a matter of searching them out.
I will however admit to one thing I share with Herby von K. -- I tend to favor voices that are somewhat lighter than the norm. Of course lighter voices are rather impractical in lots of repertoire. Why he insisted Fisher-Dieskau sing Wotan was wishful thinking at best.


Die Krebs gehn zurücke,
Die Stockfisch bleiben dicke,
Die Karpfen viel fressen,
Die Predigt vergessen.

Die Predigt hat g'fallen.
Sie bleiben wie alle.
#346456 - 12/08/07 03:08 PM Re: performers and politics  
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WA
Cool, it's like a new genre of music... Nazi piano :p

#346457 - 12/08/07 03:17 PM Re: performers and politics  
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signa Offline
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why not treat music as it is, rather than politics? that's Beethoven after all, no matter who plays or conducts. ...alright (not quite), it matters only in term of sound.

#346458 - 12/08/07 03:26 PM Re: performers and politics  
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pianojerome Offline
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Signa, the reviewer's idea is that politics actually affected Karajan's musical approach -- not that politics should affect our acceptance (or lack thereof) of his work.

Surely we agree that performers can present the music in different ways, depending on their personalities and experiences -- Richter's Beethoven simply sounds different than Arrau's Beethoven, because Richter was much more straight-forward and "classical" in his approach, while Arrau was much more "heart-on-the-sleeve" and personal/romantic about it.

So the idea is that Karajan's work with the Nazi party actually influenced him enough so that he would have very driving, very clean, very mechanical tempi; so that he would make sure the orchestra played exactly together as one whole unit, rather than emphasizing individual musicians.


Sam
#346459 - 12/08/07 05:15 PM Re: performers and politics  
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Bassio Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by pianojerome:

So the idea is that Karajan's work with the Nazi party actually influenced him enough so that he would have very driving, very clean, very mechanical tempi; so that he would make sure the orchestra played exactly together as one whole unit, rather than emphasizing individual musicians.
But I can not see a causation between the two (distant) facts, and he certainly does not provide us with enough evidence or even clues why he feels this way.

And by the way, the mechanical clean straightforward way of interpretation is largely thought of as .. German laugh and not particularly Nazi.

Of course, as a subjective view or analysis of the artist or his interpretations/personality in general the reviewer is totally free in his opinions and he can present his case .. and you can't blame him if he does that.

But I won't depend on this lonely fact in evaluating a recording.

#346460 - 12/08/07 07:10 PM Re: performers and politics  
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signa Offline
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Bassio is right. it's about German, rather than Nazi. it's like people expecting pianists from German all sound German...

#346461 - 12/08/07 08:57 PM Re: performers and politics  
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Schubertian Offline
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this seems like such blatant projection to me

If Karajan were known for his subjective slower tempi and nuanced tone then people would hear in that Hitler's known penchant for the sentimental and the kitsch


"There is nothing more terrifying than ignorance in action." -- Goethe
#346462 - 12/08/07 10:51 PM Re: performers and politics  
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argerichfan Offline
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Lot of dissatisfaction here with bringing Karajan's past into a current evaluation of his music making. So we'll leave that aside.

Otherwise, and with the operatic exceptions noted earlier, I personally don't care for many of Karajan's recordings. His early Beethoven cycle (1963?) for DG was marred by an absence of repeats, though it generated a certain amount of excitement.

Yet his last cycle for DG (early '80's?) seemed awfully mannered, and all wrapped up in a rather slick, glib presentation of the music. I just didn't care for it, okay? His Ring has never attracted me, let alone his Mozart, Schumann, Mahler, Strauss tone poems, Sibelius or Brahms (particularly the 4th symphony).

Throw in the way he was packaged into the mix, and it's all rather disagreeable. Several of the videos on YouTube -Liebestod with Jessye Norman, Rachmaninov 2 with Weissenberg to cite two examples- are really difficult to watch.

An inordinate amount of time is given over to Karajan's appearance on the podium, conducting with his eyes closed, naturally communing with the composer. It all looks so egotistical, and so fake. Certainly it was no accident that the cameras spent the time they did focused on him.

IMHO. Of course.

But it's a crowded field of recordings out there. Karajan seldom strayed from the standard literature, and unlike Microsoft's domination of the computer OS and (standard) applications [1], it's quite possible to live without Karajan.

I just choose to do so.

[1] I'm a proud Mac user, but I still have to use Word and Excel on the Mac platform.


Jason
#346463 - 12/09/07 05:22 AM Re: performers and politics  
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Try to dump the discomforting conjecture pj,

We all know the racist antagonism in your punt ... there are folk who like the recordings of Herbert von Karajan ... only a twit would relate the marching tempo to the dreaded "goose-step" ... and to think that Beethoven himself was so disenchanted in 1804 with an earlier dictator "Emperor" Napoleon ... that in 1804 he summarily tore out the title page to the Eroica Symphony ... Bonaparte lost out on the dedication.

#346464 - 12/09/07 09:23 AM Re: performers and politics  
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Despite my last post I also have a hard time listening to - or buying - music by Karajan - not so much because of the quality of the music but because of the associations - no question Karajan was a major egomaniac and heartfelt Nazi

I have the same problem with one of my favorite pieces of music - the slow movement of the 'emperor' quartet of Haydn - sublime music on a par with Beethoven's last quartets and Mozarts quintetes - one of the great melodies of all time - but it's hard to listen to without hearing Deutschland Deutschland uber alles.


"There is nothing more terrifying than ignorance in action." -- Goethe
#346465 - 12/09/07 09:26 AM Re: performers and politics  
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Quote
Originally posted by btb:
Try to dump the discomforting conjecture pj,

We all know the racist antagonism in your punt ... there are folk who like the recordings of Herbert von Karajan ...
As a matter of fact, I recently recommended this very recording to someone who wanted to hear the Beethoven Symphonies. I like that drive and power Karajan can get from the BP, especially in the 5th.


Sam
#346466 - 12/09/07 10:03 AM Re: performers and politics  
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I gotta disagree that "only a twit would relate the marching tempo to the dreaded 'goose-step'". Short of being a time-traveler and/or telepath, we can never know absolutely the intentions or interpretive criteria of any conductor or performer. All we can do is make more or less educated guesses based on our individual interactions with the work. That's what makes discussions like this fun to have, and I for one think that even the conflicting PoVs of PJ and Bassio and Schubertian are quite interesting and thought-provoking.

And I say that as someone who doesn't particularly care for HvK, who's responsible for the most agonizingly dull Mozart recordings I ever heard. laugh

On the other hand, I've only just this weekend discovered Mitsuko Uchida's Schubert recordings for Philips, which are simply rapturous IMO. Which - to keep this whole little rant on point - just points up the premise that interpretation matters, and one's interaction with and opinion of a given interpretation also matters. Might be wrong as heck, but it matters.


"Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer."
- Patrick Rothfuss
#346467 - 12/09/07 10:09 AM Re: performers and politics  
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Quoting Bassio: "And by the way, the mechanical clean straightforward way of interpretation is largely thought of as .. German and not particularly Nazi.

I don't think that is true, Bassio. Toscanini, an Italian and an anti-fascist, is credited with a "mechanical clean straightforward way of interpretation," whereas his rival, contemporary, and one-time member of the Nazi party, Furtwangler, has a dreamy, rubato laden, off-score approach--an approach similar to many German conductors.

The fallacy of the reviewer is in making way too much of certain kinds of march rhythms and aggressive, driving interpretations, and attaching them to both personal and national politics.

I have a low opinion of Elia Kazan, the man, due to his behavior during American McCarthyism. But his films are wonderful, and arguably, left.

Perhaps both Furtwangler and Karajan felt themselves to be in a similar situation to Kazaan: they had to cooperate to some extent to survive in their chosen professions.

It's a long time ago. We should let it go for all of these individuals.

Tomasino


"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

#346468 - 12/09/07 10:26 AM Re: performers and politics  
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Quote
Originally posted by tomasino:
Perhaps both Furtwangler and Karajan felt themselves to be in a similar situation to Kazaan: they had to cooperate to some extent to survive in their chosen professions.
It certainly happens. Mahler was Jewish, but he converted to Christianity to advance his career. Shoenberg did the same, although he converted back to Judaism later in his life.

Leonard Bernstein had it strongly recommended to him by Koussevitsky -- who had also converted to advance his career -- to at least change his last name so as to appear less Jewish. Bernstein refused: "I'll do it as Bernstein, or not at all!"


Sam

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