Musicians on Music and Beethoven
and his book
"Gespräche über Musik"
Musiker über Musik und Beethoven
As announced at the end of part 2 of our series, "Music and Musicians on Beethoven", we wanted to provide you with a brief introduction to the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and his work. After a brief biographical description and after Yehudi Menuhin's comment on his standing up for Furtwängler after WWII, the conductor should speak to us directly. For this, we have at our disposal two sources: Karla Höcker's little booklet "Sinfonische Reise" from 1955, from which we only took Furtwängler's direct comment on Beethoven, and his own book "Gespräche über Musik" (Talks on Music) which took place in the years 1936/1937 and 1947, in which he, in six talks with Walther Abendroth, attemped to answer a few questions with respect to music that the latter had put to him. In both cases, Furtwängler commented extensively on the subject of Beethoven.
Brief Biographical Description from "Norton/Grove's Concise Encyclopedia of Music":
Furtwängler, (Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin) Wilhelm (born on January 25, 1886 in Berlin, died on November 30, 1954 in Baden-Baden). What is not mentioned in this encyclopedia, is the fact that, as the son of a well-known German archaeologist, he received a thorough classical education, both in Berlin and later in Munich and also accompanied his father on journeys, so that he might not necessarily have considered music as his only possible career, but that it ultimately became his choice and the "crowning touch" of his life ambitions and desires. "Norton/Grove" goes on to mention that, as a musician, Furtwängler wanted to originally concentrate on composition, but that he, already in 1907, conducted his first concert in Munich. After that, his early career saw him as conductor in Breslau, Zurich, Munich and Strasbourg. As early as in 1911, he could be seen in leading positions, namely from 1911 to 1915 as opera director in Lubeck, and from 1915 to 1920 in Mannheim. This cemented his reputation as a leading young German conductor, as which he, during the years of 1920 to 1928, conducted orchestras in Frankfort and Berlin. From 1928 on, he was entrusted with the direction of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and with that of the Berlin Philharmonics. From 1924 on, he was also regularly seen conducting in London, where he, in the 1930's, conducted the "Ring" and the "Tristan", and in the USA from 1925 on. Although he also occasionally conducted the Vienna Philharmonics, his lasting relationship was that with the Berlin Philharmonics with whom he toured all of Europe. As member of the bourgeois class and due to personal reasons, he was not able to support the Hitler regime; however, he could also not remove himself entirely from his German identity, so that he spent the years 1933 to 1945 in an ambivalent relationship to the regime of the Third Reich. Thus, in 1934, he staged Hindemith's opera "Mathis der Maler" which had been denounced by Goebbels. In this year, he relinquished all of his official positions, but continued to work with the Berlin Philharmonics from 1935 on, in Berlin. After the war, he had to go through investigations with respect to his possible involvement in the Nazi era and was only able to commence his conducting work from 1947 on, after he had been cleared. Thus, while Yehudi Menuhin already performed with the Berlin Philharmonics in 1946, he did so under Sergiu Celibidache, and only in 1947 under Furtw&aum;ngler. After this, Furtwängler's international career with performances in Milan, Salzburg, London and many parts of Europe was open to him, while he did not perform in the U.S.
Norton/Grove continues by stating that "hias art lay in his ability to approach each performance as a spontaneous re-creation of the composer's thought: He cultivated an imprecise beat to achieve a large, unforced sonority and allowed fluctuation of tempo that conveyed through a mastery of transition a unique spiritual insight" (Norton/Grove: 276). In addition to the great German classics, he also conducted many works of Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Debussy and even the premiere of Bela Bartok's First Piano Concerto and Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra. His own compositions consisted of three symphonies, a few settings of Goethe for chorus, chamber and piano music.
Before we now let Furtwängler speak to you directly, we would like to acquaint you with Yehudi Menuhin's own account of his standing up for Furtwängler after WWII, in his won words, in his book Unfinished Journey:
"I have never regretted stirring up hornets' nests, however. What does this make me, I wonder? An amiable fool blundering into delicate situations which the angels of prudence suspend their breath to contemplate? A self-righteous prig who believes everyone else is marching out of step? A man perfectly aware he has no monopoly of rectitude yet who pits conviction against received opinion? Naturally, I hope that evidence will be found to support this last interpretation. In the first polemic I provoked, I believe the verdict has already been pronounced in my favour (unless the rueful truth is that time wears out the bitterest quarrel). This was my defence of Wilhelm Furtwängler after the Second World War.
'I remember Hitler turning to Furtwängler and telling him that he would have to allow himself to be used by the party for propaganda purposes, and I remember Furtwängler refusing. Hitler got angry and told Furtwängler that in that case there would be a concentration camp ready for him. Furtwängler was silent for a moment and then said: 'In that case, Herr Reichschancellor, I will be in very good company.' Apparently Hitler was taken aback by the conductor's defiance, because he went into none of his usual rantings but simply walked away.'
This very personal and human comment of Yehudi Menuhin provided us with an opportunity to have Furtwängler's difficulties explained to us by a sympathetic, internationally renowned colleague and might also put us into the right frame of mind to become acquainted with the conductor's own comments on music and Beethoven.
We took his first comment on Beethoven from a small booklet that, in its writing style, might no longer be up to today's standards, namely Karla Höcker's "Sinfonische REise" (Symphonic Journey) from 1955. (This former viola player and later musical writer accompanied the conductor in the early 1950's on one of his tours through Europe with the Berlin Philharmonics). However, Furtwängler's comments on Beethoven out of it are still his comments:
"In the course of the 19th century, Beethoven has become the undisputed king of European music. Today, we might no longer be inclined to accept such a rule. In spite of this or perhaps because of this it might be worth our while to ask ourselves the question why he is still surrounded by such an atmosphere or aura of greatness that elevates him above other, perhaps not any less distinguished names!
What appears most striking in Beethoven and in his works, more as in those of other masters, is what I would like to describe as the 'principle' or 'law'. Like no other, he is striving for that which is naturally logical, the decisive, and due to this, his extreme clarity that his music is characterized by. The kind of innate simplicity and naivete one can sense in it is not primitivity, it is also not an attempt at rendering a meaning aimed at any effect. And yet, there has never been written any music that approaches the listener so directly, so openly and at the same time almost naked! From Beethoven's life we know that the monumentality and simplicity of his musical topics did not come easily for him. To the contrary: each of his works represents a concentrated extract of an entire world, and has been led to order, form and clarity by the iron will of the artist out of an abundance of chaotic life and experience. This particular kind of clarity, however, means a forfeiture of all those means that exist in art as well as in life, by which that which is said is shown in the most favorable light, is made to appear deeper and greater thant it is in reality by giving it a different coloring and different nuances." (In our century, Furtwängler here infers, there are not only a few composers who, with respect to precisely this, represent the exact opposite to Beethoven, in that they are possessed of an very extraordinary ability of shrowding or cloaking, if not to even say, fogging in, of their thoughts, what is only not recognized by entirely naive audiences, to a large extent -- to which belong, surprisingly, also many urban intellectuals -- as that what it in fact is.) After this trailing-off, he continues:
"Beethoven understands all of the entire, round and complex human nature. He is truly comprehensive. He is not overwhelmingly "cantabile" (singable) as Mozart is, not overwhelmingly architectonically-swinging as Bach, not dramatically-sensual as Wagner. He is -- and from this stems his special artistry -- he is all of that at the same time and each of these aspects in their special places. However, if one really looks at it the right way, this is something that his highly peculiar and remarkable! Namely, there is, in all of the development of European music, in which the different elements of the "cantabile" or "singable" and of the purely structural, in which the soft and the hard, only form the lively, natural organism in their working together, no music that has formed such a natural synthesis. In spite of all of the force that is woven into this music, a sacred sobriety is what seems to force it into the law of all organic development. It is explosive, even ecstatic up to the boundaries of human experience -- and yet not in the least exalted. I believe that mainly these qualities render Beethoven's music as universally true. There has never been a less artificial, a less matter-of-factly -- or, in order to express it in modern terms, a less sober music than his. Today, in our times of matter-of-factness and rationality -- whereby I see this entirely positively --, he is, due to this, relevant like no other composer!
What wonderful nobility of feeling we are confronted with everywhere, where Beethoven appears to be speaking most directly of himself. The most beautiful Beethovenish moments bear witness of an innocence, of a child-like purity that, in spite of all human expression that they are endowed with, also displays something un-earthly. Never has a musician known and experienced more of the harmony of the spheres, of the harmony of God's nature. Therefore, he is entirely lacking one thing: every sentimentality and every pathos -- as far as one understands by sentimentality and pathos a conscious, too conscious feeling of self, a taking oneself seriously. Whenever Beethoven shows pathos, it is the pathos of nature, since it is innate to the immediate, elementary effect of its force. He never 'celebrates', he never wants to appear 'deep', he never, ever, wants to 'appear' as anything, at all, he merely is. This shows his true depth, his real innocence" (Höcker, Sinfonische Reise: 9 - 12).
Our second source of direct Furtwängler comments on Beetoven have been taken from his own book "Gespräche über Musik" which took place in 1936-37 and in 1947 and in which Walther Abendroth asked him several questions with respect to music, and to his work:
Abendroth: Recently, the management of the Philharmonic Orchestra published a list of the works that are particularly preferred by the Berlin audience and which are "financial successes". This lets us draw interesting conclusions with respect to the psychology of the audience.
Furtwängler to this, amongst other comments: ... By the way, as far as the well-known "favorites" of the public are concerned -- and these are, according to the statistics of the Philharmonic Orchestra, supposed to be, for example the "odd-numbered" symphonies of Beethoven - etc. -, their preference might, in part, be due to practical reasons. These works distinguish themselves through a great clarity and lucidity of their contours, through the graphic nature of their inventiveness that can even not be destroyed by any flawed and unclear performances of them. They are not as dependent on the quality of their performance by inept interpretive artists as other, less popular, but not necessarily less valuable works of the great masters.
Abendroth: Would it not also be a task of music critics to clarify the public's understanding of itself and of its own capability of judgment?
Furtwängler: Music critics can not do that, for they, themselves, are too much a part of the public. The contradiction that lies in the fact that the immediate reaction of the pubic is often wrong, but that its long-term judgment is ultimately right, has as its only reason the fact that I already mentioned, namely that the audience needs time in order to come to terms with an artist and his work, and that all the more, the more weighty and incommensurable both artist and work are. ...What would, for example -- paradoxically expressed -- our entire public concert life be like if Beethoven had not written his symphonies? Beethoven's predecessors and successors, above all he, himself, have formed the term "concert audience" with the creation of their works, in the first place. Of course, this audience is then something different than a merely shapeless mass without any will. Through the creative artist, it receives its standards. It demands standards of quality. The artist has to live up to those standards of quality, for it are those demands of the artist that give it its actual dignity. There is, after all, a difference as to whether a crowd of people is united by watching horse races, a boxing match, or by listening to a Beethoven symphony. The kind of unification is the essential factor here.
Abendroth: ... Do you want to say with this that the popularity of a work of art with the audience is an argument against a work of art?
Furtwängler: Not at all, that would be a too easy and hasty conclusion, to reject Beethoven's works due to the reason that they are popular with the audiences. This would really mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Particularly at the example of an artist like Beethoven, it can best be shown or demonstrated what a truly "justifiable" popularity with and effect on audiences is. As a matter of fact, his works appeal exclusively through that what they really represent; by their essence -- and not by their facade. That Beethoven's appeal is that what it is, is due to that what he has to say and expresses. The greatest possible clarity of artistic expression is thus, the way -- and the only way, in which an artist can take into consideration the factor of the "audience". Already Goethe said, "Wenn mir einer etwas zu sagen hat, so muß er es deutlich und einfach sagen. Problematisches habe ich in mir selber genug." (When someone wants to tell me something, then he has to do it simply and clearly. I already have enough problematic issues within myself.) Of course, this would, as a prerequisite, require one thing: namely that one has something to say, that is, that one can dare to show oneself, so-to-say, naked, without any cover. That is not everyone's coup of tea; and those who express themselves in a complicated manner, also among artists -- and particularly among them --, may, most of the time, have their reasons for this.
There are works of art that appeal to us due to their mere existence. Herein lies the reason why the appeal of some works diminishes with time, while others keep their appeal.
Abendroth: Obviously, a wide circle of the audience is not clear as to where the actual difficulties lie and what can be expected of a reproductive artist who, after all, can be considered as the custodian of our most noble musical treasures. That is why one only too often experiences that pianists, conductors etc. can master the most complicated tasks brilliantly, only to fail, on the other hand, with quite simple ones.
Furtwängler: ...for decades, I have kept making the same experience over and over, in all possible varieties. For example, consider the pinist X, who had, not so long ago, played the Tchaikovsky Concerto so naturally and brilliantly. And a few years ago, she had started under me with Liszt; and even if she, today, can not yet entirely grasp Chopin's e-minor Concerto, she can already render a respectable performance of this masterful late work. And now just listen to how inhibited and helpless it sounds when she approaches Beethoven: how, on the one hand, all glamour of his temper, all security and all of his victorious nature, but also all tenderness and warmth of feeling vanish from her playing. What remains is dry, academic conservatory. That, however, -- and that is the unfortunate part about it -- is not a single case. Rather, nowadays that is quite the rule-- and here it does not matter if the artist is a conductor, pianist or any other instrumentalist.
In conversation, a former colleague once expressed: In performing modern pieces, such as by Strauß, Tchaikovksy, etc., one could really "express something of oneself", in performing classical pieces, one would, above all, as is known, have to play "in style". Where does this "as is known" come from? Is it an unwritten law? How often have I asked myself in the past, why classical "style" would have to necessarily be synomymous with boredom! For, it is really not true that the measure of sensuality and passion that Tchaikovsky and Verdi require is greater than that which Beethoven requires. It is not true that Bach is less "soulful" than Puccini. Only, with the one, the soul lies on the surface, with the other one on the inside. Therefore, it is not only easier to see with the one but also easier to bring across. It is a fact of experience that, who can render Beethoven performances -- really of the entire Beethoven, not of the "classically-academically-castrated" one, will also be able to make inroads with Tchaikovsky and Verdi, but that whoever who can play Tchaikovsky impressively, might not necessarily be equal to the performance of Beethoven's or Bach's music. Of so-called "labelled" Beetoven interpreters who fail in performing a waltz by Chopin or an opera by Puccini, I do not think very highly.
Naturally, there is a problem hidden here. It is not quite easy to come to understand it. Let's try it from a biological viewpoint: In the music of the great classical masters, nerves, senses, feeling, and understanding were incorporated equally. The particular elements were developed with and out of the entire, and the entire with the particular elements. In spite of the fulfillment of the moment, all (artistic) striving -- as it is conducive to a natural feeling -- is unconsciously, at the same time, also directed at the overall context. The impulses were not any less elementary, however, less sensual only, less nerves only, less feeling only as in later music. During the 19th century, the development gravitated towards an unraveling of ever shorter and apparently -- but only apparently -- more spontaneous impulses. With this, music performance did not, as one believes, become more elementary or basic, but more primitive. To emotionally grasp the greater concepts, that means the psychological events they are based on, today's musician will rarely be able or willing, whether he now plays in a hotel lobby, in a concert hall, with the violin, or wehther he conducts an orchestra. He is no longer prepared, no longer adequately trained or educated for this task -- both by the conservatory as well as by practical life. The consequence of this is that he learns to differentiate between the music in the performance of which he considers that he can "be himself", which means that he can live himself, and that other music in the performance of which he -- almost like a moderator -- stands beside himself while performing. The latter performance style is then what he would describe as performing "in style".
The outstanding genius of Beethoven that has never again been reached, in this manner, in music history, lies in the fact that he, apparently, out of the same source, out of the same overall "mood", can create several themes of quite different content, that only subsequently come into their own by the life that develops between them into a new, all-embrancing whole that reaches far beyond the world of the single theme. For this reason, it is not the geniality of the single invention alone that is characteristic for Beethoven -- although, even in this respect, he has something to show (and in this respect those who want to recognize in him more his "hard work" are not quite in the wrong). His intuition goes much further, since, in his best works, he is always able to find a number of themes that somehow, as one is almost tempted to say, belong and come together by fate or by law, and, only in their complementing each other, convey the value and full measure of wealth and life force that its creator has to give.
I call this method "dramatic" in the actual sense. Beethoven's themes "experience" each other in the manner of the characters of a drama. Within each Beethoven work, nay, within each movement, a fate is evolving before us.
. . . It is no coincidence that the funeral march is only the second movement of the "Eroica". The ultimate effect of the tragedy (about which Goethe and Schiller carried on an entire correspondence), its liberating quality of deliverance, is poured out in music -- here, the significant difference between the two art forms becomes apparent -- in the opposite of the "tragic", namely in joy. Here, the deeply dyonysian character of music reveals itself, and nobody has revealed this more than Beethoven. Every sonata, a every string quartet of Beethoven is, in its kind, no matter in what mood the particular movements may be held, a drama, not seldom a real tragegy such as is not even remotely possible to render in the same ecstatitally-concentrated form in a stage drama or literary work of any kind. Richard Wagner has duly recognized this. Wherever literature takes on wings and grows into the grandiose, super-human, music will always remain somehow silent, as if tied up in itself, and there, where literature has no possibilities of expression, any more, in the ecstasy, in the surrendering to the dyonisian aspect of joy -- which is as far from the essentially literary and poetic Goethe as it is lacking in the epically-plastic imagination of the ancient Greeks (as is known, the ancient Greeks were also capable of the "other expression") -- there, music is only beginning to show what it is capable of. In this, the great Beethoven finales in the major key -- as monumental example may serve the final movement of the Ninth Symphony -- have their deeper roots.
Abendroth: But Beethoven did not only write works of dramatic character. Are not, for example, the "even-numbered" symphonies of Beethoven preferred by the audience because they are less dramatic?
Furtwängler: The character of Beethoven's works is as rich and manifold as nature itself. When I, however, call them dramatic, then I do not mean by that the "world" or "mood" that they, respectively, express, but the form of expression they are based on. What I mentioned before with respect to the kind of theme development -- the combining and working-together of in itself completely different parts -- that is the principle of his creativity. It forms and penetrates his entire work in its minutest detail as well as overall, in the single theme as well as in the separation of the whole into different movements, comparable to the different acts of a drama. After all, it cannot be denied that also these movements show a connection, deeply necessary in their coherence. And the feeling Beethoven was governed by with respect to a "fruitful contrast", as I would simply call it here -- the contrast out of which a new unity is born -, shows itself everywhere in his work with the same clarity. Precisely because this new unity is that which is aimed for, since with it, every piece expresses a world of its very own, Beethoven is of an astonishing abundance. This can be seen in the detail of his form, in the style, and in the development of his works. There are no two works of his of the same form, while, for example, the few works of Bruckner, with respect to the individual formal elements (for example, the endings), they all appear like identical twins to us.
Precisely those differences that can apparently not be negotiated was what Beethoven sought out. Accordingly, a dramatically most active, hard first movement (the first great example for this might be the Kreutzer Sonata, the last the piano sonata op. 111) might be followed by music as relaxed as one can hardly imagine. Only in the combination of both, however, does nature present itself as a whole to Beethoven.
Just consider all of these adagio variation movements, particularly of his early period! Of course, they did not come out of the blue. They are not variarions in the usual sense. They go out from the creation of the kind of Beethovenish themes that rest so much in themselves, live so entirely in themselves, that the entire great following movement merely presents a one and only breathing-out, swinging-on, spreading-out of the theme, without any moment that does not arise out of its innermost essence. And such a movement -- the greatest possible relaxation that has ever been dared in music -- is then set into the middle of outer movements in which again tension seems to be mounting to the highest degree. Just consider the IX. Symphony. The theme of the adagio is of the utmost contemplative nature, certainly belonging to the religious sphere, that spreads itself out in the following themes, loses itself in endless combinations -- it seems as if there is an instinct for form at work that otherwise, from an art history perspective, has only been prevalent in the Gothic era. Unlike in the Gothic period this does not happen for its own sake with Beethoven; rather, it is an orderly part of a greater context. With the almost shocking entrance of the finale, the adagio seems to gain its real meaning at last, in retrospective, since it may only remain an episode, a part of the entire creative process. Nothing here is merely added onto each other in sequence, everything is always developed out of the preceding. Thus Beethoven was not only able to write the first movement of the Ninth Symphony that means a whole world by itself and the content and style of which has formed and overshadowed entire musical generations --, he could also allow it to be followed by the scherzo as a counterpart, the scherzo of all symphonic scherzos of the greatest format --, he was further able to present the opposite side of the world in the adagio, here, too, going to the outer boundaries of what can be experienced -- and he was finally also able to move everything preceding into the persepctive with the final movement, that was the right one for him in order to reveal the tragically-dionysian possibilities of music in their entire force. Truly, this is creative force!
Now I want to come back to what you said about the undramatic character of certain Beethoven works, particularly the "even-numbered" symphonies. Certainly: there are such works; their number is even relatively larger among all of Beethoven's works than that of the more tragically-dramatic ones. The wealth in Beethoven of the most varied emotional moods is extraordinary. However, each of these moods -- and this is characteristic -- is expressed with his innate decisiveness. With him, every expression is always driven forth to its utmost boundaries. Those "iffy", undecided moods that can be found in Mozart or in the early romantics, where the soul, itself, does not know how it feels, exists as little with him as that stalling in a limited bourgeois manner, that not-quite-going-to-the-end, as it can often be found in Schumann and Brahms, or that remaining tied to the matter, that not being able to grow beyond the applied means that we often find in later music. Particularly in his last period, it is often very extreme conditions that Beethoven expresses.
That, however, makes his effect on the public at large more difficult, taking away some of its breadth yet gaining more depth. A work as, for example, the VIII. Symphonie with its unearthly serenity, its wild, gigantic humor is -- as it appears to me -- not very accessible at all, to many people, in its entire breadth. This is quite the same with the idyllic-sweet serenity of the "pastoral" Symphony, as Wagner characterizes it so beautifully with Jesus' words, "Ye shall be in paradise with me today!" Many parts of this symphony are filled with a meditatively religious feeling of nature, certainly belonging to the religious sphere and which, therefore, might not be to everyone's liking among both performers and audience.
How little these works that lie before the eyes of us all are understood by the broad spectrum of the audience and of musicians, can best be seen in the common criticism respectively prejudices that one can hear very often: -- of the 'harmlessly cheerful "eighth"', the "weak" Pastoral Symphony, that is accused of not having "an end", the "trivial" last movement of the "Ninth", and so on. The unknown Beethoven -- a chapter all by itself that mainly has a lot to tell about the ineptitude of our interpreters of today.
Abendroth: You always emphasize that it is purely musical laws that come into force in the great classical works. Particulary with respect to Beethovens works -- to take him as an example for all of them -- this can be clearly shown. It can, however, not be denied that -- in spite of all purely musical laws -- even beyond these, Beethoven, in the creation of his works, obviously always went out from an idea.
Furtwängler: First of all, it should be noted that the word "idea" is only a term for a kind of condensation process within the real world. In this sense, wherever we deal with human issues, there are ideas that want to realize themselves, such as, for example, the different concepts of state in political life that nations and politicians have in mind, in religious life the various forms and realizations of religious communities. When in a work of art, when, for example, in a musical work, an "idea" seems to be embodied, it does not have to be "less of music". To believe that is a misconception that arises when we try to describe the idea rationally in words. Naturally, that is not possible without losing the content of such an idea to a great extent. This idea that one becomes thus aware of in a musical work should, however, not be equated with reality. With Beethoven, too, "ideas" are not the essential but the way in which he realizes them musically.
Particularly Beethoven, more than anyone else, has the need to dissolve everything into purely musical forms. This can be clearly seen in his relationship to a given text. As much as he also in this -- in particular passages of the "Fidelio", of the "Great Mass", for example, seeks to express the meaning of the single word with great accuracy, he can still not let go of his concepts of musical form. The sonata and -- as its simplified core -- the song form with its repetitions etc. lies, so-to-say, "in his blood"; ultimately, everything is related to it and directed towards it. That loose, so-to-say, half-way meeting of musician and poet we do not find in him. That is the reason why he could not become a lyric composer like Schubert, why he did not become a musical dramatist like Wagner. Not beceuse he was less, but because he was more of a musician, for of a pure musician, since the purely musical demands were stronger and more forbidding in him. The musician in him does not feel inspired by a text but rather inhibited by it; he can not tolerate that the form of the text should dictate the form of his music. Therefore, Beethoven only becomes entirely himself where he can exclusively follow music and its immanent needs.
This is why he, most of the time, tries to dissolve a text into singular phases that he then approaches from a purely musical standpoint, i.e. the single pieces of "Fidelio", starting with that wonderful quartet -- the noblest inspiration based on a minor incident -- up to the movements of the "Great Mass" that, in this sense, can almost be seen as a symphony with underlying text.
Abendroth: This certainly applies to the composition of an existing and prescribed text. What about the process such as that of the "Ninth" in which Beethoven, after three instrumental movements, resorts to the word -- can that not, ultimately, be explained on the basis of non-musical influences?
Furtwängler: Of course it can. Since Wagner's one-sided and confusing interpretation attempts of this symphony and its choral ending, it is all the more important to come to an understanding of this. First of all, it should be noted that Beethoven here, too, approaches the text as a pure musician. Already Wagner has noted that the melody has not been composed for the text but rather that the words have subsequently been inserted -- and that not even very smoothly. In reality, Beethoven searched for a text that was suitable to accompany that what he wanted to express as musician, as it arose out of the meaning of the preceding movements, and that he accidently found this text in Schiller's Ode with his tendency towards the abstract, ideal. A different, more reality-oriented writer would, perphaps, not have written an Ode to joy as such, but expressed a more particular joy. Beethoven was quite happy with Schiller here, as he did not want to be tied down too much by the details of the text and thus be limited in his musical freedom of movement. Ultimately, he only selected a few strophes from the poem and set them to music by repeating them several times at random.
Considered from a formal viewpoint, this last movement has a cyclical form, like the adagio preceding it and like, for example, the final movement of the "Eroica" and hundreds of other similar movements in Beethoven works; it is a grandiously laid-out variation movement. Certainly, the particular variations appear to suit the form of the respective passages of the text -- there is also woven into it a second theme that later appears together with the first theme in a fugato -- however, the musical character of a variation movement, even if in a grandiose form, remains intact until to the last note.
Abendroth: The important fact here is, however, the sudden, musically perhaps unmotivated use of the human voice. How do you explain that?
Furtwängler: The final movements have, certainly, for a composer like Beethoven in whose work something "happens", in which a "development" is expressed, always been the greatest and most difficult task, for these were the last and decisive word. He tried to meet this task in various ways. Either he was able to solve the tension that had built up in the preceding movements, in finales full of high spirits and vivaciousness -- in this, Haydn preceded him. Of such finales there are many, especially from his middle creative period. Then there are finales that turn a wild merriment into the diabolic, as, for example, the final movements of the C minor and C-flat minor quartets, also the minor finale of the " Appassionata". Apparently, at first, he had a similar finale in mind for the "Ninth"; the theme for this, as we know from his sketches, he has used in this way in the A minor quartet op. 132. Then again, there are finales that represent a kind of "serene" overcoming of the world and appear flat yet are profound. To the average person, this kind of final movement is difficult to understand, as, for example, the finale of the great B Major trio that appears to be falling off in comparison to the preceding, wonderful adagio, in reality, however, means a liberation, a moving-on into a lighter, clearer air. Then there are those rondos as for example, for the first time, in the "sonate pathetique", that let the tensions of the preceding movements fade away in an elegiac-epical manner. These possibilities of crowning finales are, with Beethoven, as varied as his works themselves.
When, in the "Ninth", he was drawn to the word, to the human voice, then this was only out of a need that had its origin in the preceding movements, that means, in the purely musical realm. The theme of this last movement as such was what brought with it everything that followed, the text, the human voice, the cyclical form. This very theme of all themes, a pure invention of a musician, could not be the interpretion or explanation of a certain text. Rather, the poem appears to be an explanation of the theme. And, therefore, the added human voice should thus be seen as the natural "instrumentation" of this eternal melody.
How the use of this "instrument", the appearance of the human voice as such, however, is now musically motivated, in that can be seen the genius of Beethoven in all its greatness. Another composer would just simply have started the recitative and then the choral ending. With Beethoven, who only recognizes the musical necessities within his work, this develops as follows: At first, the adagio appears to be virtually extended into eternity. It appears as though he could not get enough of it, as if he could not finish it. All the sharper is then the contrast of the following instrumental recitatives, that, thereby, gain a peculiar expressivity and certainty. Already here one gets the impression that one is listening to the finale of all finales. With this, also the need of a review of the preceding movements, that was later often imitated and that could easily appear artifical, becomes completely understandable. At first, everything happens in the purely instrumental realm: finally, as the aimed-for goal, there finally appears the "joy" theme, at first, unisono in the basses, so-to-say, in its original form. Then it is executed in several variations, until Beethoven, after a temporary conclusion to this, -- as in the sonata movement -- goes back to the beginning, so-to-say, as a repetition of the first part. Only then the same that until now has taken place instrumentally -- namely both the recitative and the "joy" theme, the first in abbreviated form -- and by the addition of the human voice, thus virtually as a repetition on a higher level, as an elucidation, an elevation of something, that was already present before. Here, the human voice is only one more instrument that joins into the choir of the other instruments. This is the musical law of elevation by repetition -- within the prescribed symmetry of a whole -- that is exercised here in a grandiose manner and that is in effect everywhere in music, in the great as well as in the small.
One only has to compare this with the childishly-naive manner, in which Liszt, in his "Faust" Symphony, seeks to motivate the entrance of his chorus. Contrary to this, Beethoven was really able to let something apparently so unlogical as the introduction of a song recitative and choral movement that appears to come from the outside in an instrumental work, appear so completely natural, convincing and artistically necessary. There is hardly another example in music history that documents the possibilities of pure absolute music more clearly, which shows more clearly that here, the musician and no-one but the musician is at work. Not in the "idea" as such, but in his ability of how to realize this idea to such a degree in music, therein lies Beethoven's strength.
Abendroth: What is, however, the reason that in Beethoven's music, not only ideas but also very extra-musical thoughts, nay, even entire dramas, are seen, to a far greater degree and with less hesitation than with the music of other great masters?
Furtwängler: That has to do with self-deception that is not difficult to explain. One has always had the impression that with Beethoven, music has arrived at a very particular certainty of expression. This certainty of expression basically arises out of Beethoven's need to find for everything that he says to the briefest and simplest formula. He is characterized by an extraordinary will and -- a look at his works teaches that -- a particular capability of simplification. This is demonstrated in a very revealing manner in the sketch books that have been left behind. Here, we can clearly see that the certainty and simplicity of the theme formation was not present from the beginning (in a work), but had to be fought for. The first form, most and often, of his most beautiful themes was more complicated than the final version -- not set out from the beginning as with other composers, or, as with most modern composers, simpler and more primitive. The course of his creative process moves from the chaotic to the form, that is, consciously, towards the simple, not, as today, with most composers, consciously towards the complicated. It is, above all, this quality that separates Beethoven so clearly from all others, and at that, from his predecessors and his followers, alike.
To this has to be added something that comes into effect in the execution, in the fate of these themes, and what I have already once called the logic of the psychological process. The laws of development, of the transition from one mood to the next, the feeling for how the various movements of a work have to follow each other, -- that all presents a kind of psychological logic that actually presents the effect to the world of Beethoven's music, since this logic, in its actual and profound sense, is human. It is based on both artistic considerations as well as on human feelings and will be understood always and at all times. To investigate the reason why here, psychological and musical logic are one, would be a rewarding task and would be the beginning of the answer to the certainly not idle question why a Beethoven symphony is better than many of the bad modern works. This can not be accomplished with purely musically-formal explorations or, on the other hand, with a mere description of the psychological processes. The essential here is to understand the psychological through the musical and this again expressed by the psychological: that both are one and can not be separated and already the attempt at separating them represents a decisive misconception. When important musicians reject Beethoven as a composer of "literary" content(s), then this does, not in the least part, go on account of such misguided attempts at interpretation.
The will for simplicity, the musical logic in the development causes that kind of certainty that the sensitive listener is confronted with again and again in Beethoven. This certainty, although, as already mentioned, only in musical form, misleads humans, however, again and again, to seek more here than music and to interpret into it quite other things.
Abendroth: Did not certain statements of Beethoven provide occasion for misunderstandings?
Furtwängler: I do not know any statement that, by itself -- without a forced interpretation -- would provide a reason for the assumption that Beethoven would have meant anything but themselves, thus music, with his works. Wagner's interpretations -- as much as Wagner knew of Beethoven, otherwise -- tell us more of Wagner than of Beethoven. It lies in the nature of music that the certainty of expression that is inherent in it is of another kind than the clearness of the word; it is, however, not any less certain. At no moment, with no tone, one will be in doubt about where one is in a Beethoven work, of course, within a musical whole. And that, one has to be able to hear as such.
To attempt to naturalistically interpret Beethoven's certainty in a sense of underlying dramas, of real literary works that supposedly have inspired him in the composition of his works, can only be done by someone to whom the purely musical language is not enough. Such an individual does not know how infinitely great the measure of certainty of music itself is, if one only submits to its language, and can speak and understand it. Aside from all of this, Beethoven has neither -- to say it bluntly -- given us cause nor the right to treat his works in this manner and to deliberately interpret into them and read in them things that have nothing to do with them.
The ideas that his works are supposed to represent are a different matter. If Wagner, for example, calls the VII. Symphony an "apotheosis of dance", then there is a certain justification to it. This has to do with the alrelady meantioned, particular certainty of Beethoven's musical language, with his strength of creation, with his particular ability to clearly present the essential of each work and to complete it within it and to isolate it. In this sense, almost every work of Beethoven represents an idea that could be given a name. Only, as I already mentioned, there is sincerely little said by it. Whoever finds pleasure in showing these "ideas" in dry words, to so-to-say pin the content of something so abundantly lively, onto the pin of the needle of a concept like a butterfly, let him do it. I personally prefer to stick with the works themselves.
However, how a musician thinks for whom the form lived from within, can -- to stay with the already often-mentioned example -- be seen in Beethoven. In a particular case, namely when the task was to write an overture for his only opera, Beethoven tried to emancipate himself from the otherwise to him so familiar sonata form. The II. "Leonora" overture (the first version of the piece) is an immediate description of the dramatic process by foregoing of all of that, that has to do with the sonata form (above all, with the so-called "reprise"). The comparison to the III. "Leonora" overture, the later, final form, is instructive not only for the overture itself, but for Beethoven's creative process, in general. Wagner is of the opinion that the powerful content of the II. overture surpasses everything with its power of expression, that is contained in the following opera "Fidelio". The only weakness of the overture is, to him -- the reprise, i.e. that moment in which the piece proves itself as a usual sonata movement instead of as an immediate presentation of a dramatic event. Wagner thus finds the weak point of the work to be in what Beethoven retroactively corrected himself. For it is this reprise and the broader final coda that is connected with it that differentiates the III. from the II. overture and for the sake of which Beethoven -- what he has not done in his entire life -- wrote it once more. Even today, there are people who value the II. as the more original version higher. More original it is only insofar as it was written earlier. In reality, these people have understood as little as Wagner that the return to the sonata form was a necessity to Beethoven, an inner must: That the law of symmetry, the harmony of the whole, that is the basis of the sonata form, forced him to it. Only through it, the elevation, the expansion into vastness of the coda, the fulfillment, the completion of the musical content of a grandiose piece, as we have it before us in the III. version, became possible. For Beethoven, the sonata form is, thus -- here as everywhere -- not a pattern that one follows in one case and noth in another, just as one feels like. It grows by itself with and out of the conception of the respective work. It is an unavoidable consequence of such a conception, it is Beethoven's form of musical thinking as such, since it is a natural form. Every impartial look at both overtures will, by all consideration of the geniality of the first, nevertheless, agree with the Beethoven of the second version. Beethoven knew what he was doing when he wrote the work a second time.
At the beginning of our century, the Viennese musician Hauer made the "discovery" that Beethoven has actually only written cadenzas all his life. Quite in the spirit of those years in which such a "discovery" had to be made, he believed to have found with it the key to a final definition and with it to a final explanation of Beethoven's music. "Only" cadenzas: As if, with this, there would have been made any statement with respect to the meaning of Beethoven's music. This is not different from, for example, saying that Caesar and Bismarck, basically, "only" consisted of oxygen and water. It requires quite an amount of intellectual poverty to be "proud" of such a discovery.
The laws by which a Beethoven sonata is constructed are the psychological alws of man, of organic life. They are basically and principally different from those laws that physics and astronomy deal with. The material of music, organized into tonality, speaks of biological facts, not of physical or cosmic ones.
We hope that this becoming acquainted with the personality of this great European conductor of the first half of the 20th century brought you some reading pleasure and that it also provided you with some insight into the musical life of that time. With our introduction of artists such as Schnabel and Furtwängler, both of whom either still knew the composer Brahms who was touted as Beethoven successor (as Schnabel did) or, at least from his age, could still have known him (as Furtwängler could), we also hope that we were able to build a bridge from the 19th to the 20th century, from which we can also continue the further performance history of Beethoven works in a chronological and coherent manner.