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Wilhelm Furtwängler
(1886 - 1954)

  1. The Conqueror (1906-1934)
  2. The Tragic (1934-1945)
  3. Serenity (1947-1954)

" Musik ist nicht ein Ablaufen von Tonfolgen sondern ein Ringen von Kräften" (Furtwängler) [" Music is not a succession of sounds but a struggle between forces"]

"Furtwängler was so full of contradictions. He was both ambitious and jealous, noble and vain, coward and hero, strong and weak, a child yet also a man of wisdom, both very German and yet a man of the world. But when it came to music, all these contradictions disappeared: his attention was undivided and focused only on the music." (Gregor Piatigorsky, Cellist - Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1965)

Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin Wilhelm Furtwängler was born on January 23 1886, at Number 25 Maassenstrasse in Berlin to Adolf Furtwängler (1851-1907), a well known archaeologist, and his wife Adelheid, née Wendt. Their son was baptised into the Lutheran faith. The couple subsequently had three more children: Walter, Märit and Annele. The Furtwängler family originally came from the heart of the Black Forest; the Wendts from North Germany (Adelheid was a great friend of one of Brahms's daughters). Both families were musical and Furtwängler's mother was also a talented artist who painted a number of portraits of her children.

The father hated big cities and always wanted to get back to nature. So in 1894, the family moved to Schwabing (on the outskirts of Munich) and later bought a house called Tanneck ("at the edge of the pine trees"), on a peninsula on the Tegernsee, near Bad Wiessee. There the children learnt to swim and play every conceivable game and sport. In his childhood, Furtwängler was a lonely and introverted child and already his life revolved around music, art, literature and philosophy. Throughout his whole life he remained an avid sportsman, fond of riding, swimming, playing tennis, ice-skating and mountain climbing.

At the age of six, Furtwängler went to school in Munich, but he wasn't a very good pupil, not because he wasn't clever but because he thought he was wasting his time and that he had better things to do. At the age of seven, he asked his mother to teach him to play the piano and the basic principles of writing music. On June 30 1893, still aged seven, he composed his first work, "ein Stückchen von den Tieren.". His father who was openly scornful of public schools and their methods of teaching, withdrew his son and started looking for a tutor: his choice fell on Ludwig Curtius and Walter Riezler, both remarkable in their own ways, but with very different minds. There and then Furtwängler decided he would be a composer (all his life he remained a frustrated composer). When he was twelve, he heard Bach's Saint-Matthew Passion for the first time and was deeply moved. Soon afterwards, he discovered the music of Beethoven - a momentous event. Furtwängler and Beethoven was for a long time the archetypal meeting of minds between a composer and his interpreter, and interpreting Beethoven became Furtwängler's goal in life. His approach to Beethoven's mind went well beyond the aesthetic boundaries of the early Twentieth century. Furtwängler's Beethoven is for every generation.

In September 1901, Furtwängler father took his son to Egina in Greece. Wilhelm brought along a poem by Goethe and Beethoven's quartets. Furtwängler never attended a music school; it was his mother who gave him his first piano lessons, followed by Auntie Minna, an excellent piano teacher. His first real music teacher was the organist and composer Anton Beer-Walbrunn (1864-1929) (whose Sinfonia Furtwängler conducted on 24 February 1912 in Lübeck). Beer-Walbrunn quickly recognised the extraordinary gifts of his pupil and recommended him to his own teacher, Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901), at the time director of the Academy of Music of Munich. But Rheinberger was a reactionary: music ended at Beethoven; so Furtwängler looked for another tutor who would be able to open up the rest of the nineteenth century, especially Wagner and the German Romantics - Bruckner and Brahms. That man was Max von Schillings (1868-1933), the composer and conductor with whom Furtwängler studied from 1902 to 1903.

1905 marked a turning point in Furtwängler's life. He was only nineteen years old when he decided he wanted to be a conductor. But at least he realized he still had much to learn; for example opera and symphonic music; he was totally ignorant of both of them. Thanks to a cousin of his mother's, the conductor Georg Dohrn, who was the driving force of musical life in Breslau, he became repetitor at the municipal theatre during the season 1905-1906. This work was not really very exciting: it meant rehearsing with the choir and the singers and his impressive capacity of sight-reading even the most difficult piano accompaniments to opera scores went largely unnoticed. In Breslau his first orchestral work, a symphony, was performed. The concert was a disaster; both the public and the critics rejected this work. Father and son were deeply affected by this débacle. So Furtwängler decided the best way to profit from disaster was to actually conduct a concert.



Although he was a famous archaeologist, Adolph wasn't a rich man : however, he had a friend - Franz Kaim - who had founded his own orchestra which was named after him. So, on February 19, 1906 in Munich, Furtwängler conducted his first concert which included Beethoven's Consecration of the House, his own symphonic poem in B minor, and after the interval, Bruckner's Ninth symphony. The Bayerische Kurier of January 23 wrote:

"After attending the concert of this very young conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, one might assume the program was chosen with the public in mind. He chose as his first victim Bruckner's ninth symphony. Is Furtwängler talented? Probably, but that's still no reason to present a masterpiece, especially if one doesn't yet know how to conduct! The Bruckner left a greyish and cold impression. The scherzo was particularly dreary and sounded like a voyage through dangerous reefs after days of endless rain. His own symphonic poem seemed to be promising but all too quickly it turned into something empty and without shape or character, in which the shorter themes seemed to be living through harmonic torture. The audience quite surprisingly greeted him with repeated applause."

Furtwängler wrote to his tutor Curtius:

"Conducting is the lifeline that has saved me. I was about to die as a composer. Until now I considered myself a composer who also conducts: never a conductor who also composes."

Furtwängler suffered from a defect shared by many post-romantics: a lack of discipline that led to elephantine compositions; but the need to compose was genuine and sincere. Although most of his youthful compositions are just average, for some people the Te Deum is a misunderstood masterpiece. Of course, today Furtwängler isn't really remembered for his compositions, but he was a sincere composer, who had some talent even if he wasn't really gifted.

After this first concert, Furtwängler got a job at the Zurich Theatre for the 1906-1907 season. The director allowed him to conduct some operettas, for example the Merry Widow which was being played that season. He conducted it nine times between February 3 and April 21 1907. He made his conducting debut on October 10, conducting the ballet Tanzbilder and on October 31, Pfitzner's Fest auf Sollhaug, and then ten performances of Rübezahl set to music by Bertrand Sänger. The next stop was Munich where he became once again repetitor at the opera, under Felix Mottl, for two seasons (1907-1909). Then he was appointed third conductor at the Opera in Strasburg. On September 8, 1910 he left Munich and remained in Strasburg until April 1911. The musical activity of Strasburg, at the time German, was entirely dominated by the composer and conductor Hans Pfitzner and his two assistants Richard Fried and Hermann Büchel. Furtwängler gave sixteen concerts, conducting six works that he never again conducted: Flotrow's Martha, Donizetti's Elisir d'amore, Maillart's Dragons de Villars, Messager's P'tites Michus, Suppé's Flotte Bursche and one performance of Verdi's Rigoletto (March 11, 1911). The critics' were far from unanimous: one described him as "having the lightness of an elephant" in P'tites Michus, another complained that his interpretation of Martha was quite unsatisfactory... He also had to dress up like a gipsy, with a black beard stuck onto his face and play the piano in the Fledermaus, in a soirée at prince Orlowsky's, which amused him very much (February 27 and 28, 1911).

During his stay in Strasburg he met Bruno Walter who, on February 22 1911, had premiered one of his own symphonies. Furtwängler returned to Strasburg on December 6 of that same year to conduct his own Te Deum, that had been premiered in Breslau in November 1910 by G. Dohrn and that he had started composing during his stay in Florence. The Allgemeine Musik Zeitung was very negative about it and wrote that "Furtwängler's composition is full of good intentions, and nothing more! The Schlesische Zeitung wrote: "Maybe there were some personal reasons for the premiere of Furtwängler's Te Deum; because there were surely no music ones"

A friend of Furtwängler's mother, Ida Boy-Ed, told the young musician that the post of conductor had become vacant in Lübeck because Hermann Abendroth had left for Essen. However, the news reached Furtwängler too late: the Society of the Friends of Music had already chosen four candidates (Paul Scheinpflug, Karl Mennicke, Walter Unger and Rudolf Siegel) out of 97 competitors and each of these four had already conducted a test concert. Everything seemed to indicate that Rudolf Siegel would be the winner. But Paul Scheinpflug withdrew from the competition, so the Society decided to select a fourth candidate and Mrs Boy-Ed asked Furtwängler to submit his candidacy, which was accepted by the musical authorities and by Abendroth. Thus he conducted on April 5 1911 his test concert (in front of over 4000 people!). It didn't take either audience or the members of the Society long to be entirely won over by the passion that emanated from the young candidate, despite the great difference that existed between him and Abendroth whose virility, assurance and economy of gestures were highly appreciated. Furtwängler, with his nervous and sometimes excited gestures, was quite the opposite and on the podium he seemed to be battling against an invisible enemy - yet the public recognized very quickly his extraordinary capacities. On April 13, he was unanimously chosen to succeed Abendroth.

The conductor of the Society of the Friends of Music (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde) conducted only concerts, each season eight symphonic concerts plus two concerts with the philharmonic choir (mainly devoted to oratorios). Then there were also the popular concerts, about thirty each season, (The 1905-1906 season exceptionally had 56 concerts). Rehearsals took place on Wednesday evenings and the members of the Society came with their families and friends. Furtwängler was not very happy about these concerts which took place in the hall of the Kolosseum and followed the same pattern: In the first part symphonic music, during which smoking was not allowed but people could drink beer, a second part devoted to light orchestra classics, and a third part devoted to popular music (such as military marches). During his stay in Lübeck he conducted 32 symphonic concerts, 104 popular concerts and 9 choral performances: this was Furtwängler's apprenticeship. He also conducted three operas as guest conductor: Fidelio (23.3.1915), the Merry Wives of Windsor (16.4.1915) and the Meistersinger von Nürnberg (20.11.1913). The town's critics soon appreciated Furtwängler's personality. The Eisenbahnzeitung for example wrote: "Furtwängler is a genius musical talent, who in favorable circumstances, could become a genius." Ida Boy-Ed continued to praise her protégé to all concerned.

Furtwängler often went down to Hamburg with his friend Lilly Dieckmann to attend the concerts conducted by Nikisch who in his eyes was the "king" of conductors (they didn't officially meet until February 1912). During his stay in Lübeck, he gave his first concert outside Germany - , in Vienna - on January 26, 1913. Along with the Lübeck orchestra's first violinist Szanto, he gave a series of chamber music evenings, including a cycle of Beethoven sonatas. In his final season he played the piano part in Beethoven's triple concerto (February 3, 1915) and in Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto (January 2, 1915). His successor in Lübeck was Georg Göhler.

As far as the development of his repertoire is concerned, in Lübeck Furtwängler conducted all the Beethoven symphonies (except the second), the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth of Tchaikovsky, symphonies Nos. 39 and 40 of Mozart, symphonies Nos. I, III and IV of Brahms, Nos.VIII and IX of Schubert, the Brahms violin concerto, symphonies Nos. IV, VII and VIII of Bruckner, Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, Reger's Romantic Suite, Dukas' Sorceer's Apprentice, Strauss' Sinfonia domestica, Liszt's Faust-Symphony, the second piano concerto of Brahms, Schumann's First. The popular concerts included works by Offenbach (Hoffmann's Erzählungen) Gilbert and Sullivan (Mikado), Bizet (Arlésienne, Carmen), Delibes (Sylvia, Coppelia), Gounod (Faust Ballet), Sibelius (Valse triste), Grieg (Peer Gynt) and waltzes by Strauss and Waldteufel and endless medleys.

At the beginning of 1915, the Kapellmeister in Mannheim, Arthur Bodanzky, decided to go America. The choice of a successor turned out to be a very difficult one and many famous conductors submitted their candidacies. The Mannheim public would have loved to have Nikisch. Contrary to Lübeck, Mannheim's main musical activity centered round the opera, and the chief conductor was in charge of all the opera performances and of only eight subscription concerts at the Academy of Music. A committee of five members went to Lübeck on March 23 1915 to attend a performance of Fidelio conducted by Furtwängler. They were so impressed that they decided to invite him to take on the post of Kapellmeister. So Mannheim gained a young and almost unknown conductor. The town welcomed Furtwängler enthusiastically and his future secretary Bertha Geissmar wrote in her memoirs:

"The citizens of Mannheim were used to considering their Kapellmeister as a demi-god whose actions and deeds were the talk of the day. Furtwängler, who was quite timid, found this kind of public attention rather gruesome and sought shelter with Oskar Grohé, who took the young conductor under his wing."

Furtwängler's assistant was Felix Lederer who conducted the first performances of all the Italian operas and of Rosenkavalier (unlike Böhm, Clemens Krauss and Knappertsbusch, Furtwängler didn't like this opera and never conducted it). He conducted operas that have since fallen out of the repertoire, such as Violanta (Korngold), Monna Lisa (Schillings), Shéhérazade (Sekles), Klein Idas Blumen (Klenau)... Fidelio was the first opera he conducted in Mannheim on September 7, 1915 in a greatly appreciated performance, particularly the overture Leonore III. He conducted 232 performances of 39 operas. In the symphonic repertoire, he conducted for the first time the Symphonie fantastique (February 1, 1916), the first Brahms concerto with Schnabel, Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphonie, Mahler's Lied von der Erde (November 21, 1916), Schumann's Fourth, Mahler's Fourth (January 28, 1919), Schoenbergs Verklaerte Nacht (February 18, 1919), Bruckner's Fifth (December 9, 1919) and Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande (March 2, 1921).

During his Mannheim period, he also began his lifelong career as a guest conductor. In September 1917 he was invited to the Kurhaus in Baden-Baden to conduct the Ring then, on December 14, for the first time the Berlin Philharmonic: the critics were thrilled and stunned: for the first time one heard the phrase "the Furtwängler Miracle." (das Wunder Furtwängler). On November 15, 1918, he conducted for the first time the concerts of the Frankfurter Museumsgesellschaft and on November 30, he was in Vienna with the Wiener Tonkünstler Orchester after Ferdinand Loewe's retirement. Still in Vienna, on November 29 1919, he conducted Mahler's Third; on April 2 1920, he conducted for the first time the Berlin Staatskapelle succeeding Richard Strauss. On June 30 1920 he gave his last concert as Kapellmeister of Mannheim and said farewell with a performance of the Entführung aus dem Serail.

From the 1920-1921 season onwards, he was invited more and more abroad, but kept on conducting in Frankfurt, where he had succeeded Mengelberg, and at the Berlin Staatskapelle. So in October 1920, he went to Stockholm, where he conducted Berwald's symphony serioso. On November 19, he conducted Mahler's second symphony at the Staatsoper and then, in December, he gave seven concerts in Stockholm and at the end of the season he was in Wiesbaden for the Brahms Festival. The season 1921-1922 began with his first concert with the Leipzig Gewandhaus. He split his time between Vienna, Frankfurt and Berlin. On November 30 1920 he conducted his first Missa Solemnis in Vienna. Nikisch died on January 23 1922. Furtwängler's prediction that he'd made in Hamburg became true ("I'll be the successor of Nikisch"): he inherited both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus.

The six seasons he spent with the Gewandhaus are not the happiest ones of his career. First, the orchestra would have liked to have Abendroth as Gewandhauskapellmeister and Furtwängler was appointed only after the intervention of Max Brockhaus. Then, his programs included too much contemporary music, to the dislike of the rather conservative public of Leipzig which would also have preferred to have its Kapellmeister live permanently in Leipzig.

On March 25 1922 he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time, in a concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of Brahms' death. In April, he was invited by the Accademia Santa Cecilia of Rome and in May he participated in the Brahms Festival in Hamburg. On April 22 he married Zitla Lund, a young and elegant Danish woman three years older than him: they had no children and their marriage was a mistake. In April 1923, he left with the Gewandhaus on tour for Switzerland and ended the season giving two concerts at la Scala in Milan. In Winter 1923, he bought a chalet in Saint Moritz (which still belongs to the family today). In January 1924, he went to England, and in April-May 1924 he left for the first time on tour with the Berlin Philharmonic. After he left Mannheim, he continued conducting regularly operas in Mannheim. In July 1924 he participated in the Munich Festival, conducted the Nozze di Figaro, Tristan, the Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Entführung aus dem Serail. In January 1925, he crossed the Atlantic for his first American tour (ten concerts with the New York Philharmonic). His activity was now divided between Leipzig, Berlin and Vienna. In February 1926 he made his second American tour (32 concerts) and back in Europe, he started a European tour giving twenty concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic and ended the season with the Brahms Festival in Heidelberg. In October, aged forty, he made his first recordings for the Polydor label (Freischütz overture and Beethoven's Fifth).

In February 1927 he began his third and final American tour (33 concerts) that ended with the Brahms Requiem on April 4. Furtwängler left America somewhat exasperated by American musical culture. His fellow musicians were jealous of him, the press was negative (above all Olin Downes, the critic of the New York Times) but he was adored by the public. On November 19 her conducted the Vienna Philharmonic as its new musical director in succession to Weingartner (who had resigned from his post in 1930). On March 29 1928 he conducted his last concert as Gewandhauskapellmeister with the Beethoven Ninth and the season ended with a European tour with the Berlin Philharmonic, at the Heidelberg and Görlitz Festivals.

The 1928-1929 season marked a new beginning for him as an opera conductor: on October 17 he conducted for the first time at the Vienna Opera (Rheingold) and after the festivals of Heidelberg and Jena, he conducted for the first time an opera in Berlin, not at the Staatsoper unter den Linden but at the Schauspielhaus am Gendarmenmarkt (Le nozze di Figaro). In Autumn he was nominated "Generalmusikdirektor" and in May 1929, he was awarded the order of Merit.

One tour succeeded another, and in April 1930, he went on tour for the first time with the Vienna Philharmonic. On June 2 he conducted his seventh and last performance of Missa Solemnis (Furtwängler played the piano score and thought that the work was Beethoven's greatest work of art. But he also felt he never managed to entirely express all that the music contained. He thought that the score should have been re-orchestrated and that is why he regretfully decided never to play it again). In July-August 1931 he took part for the first time in the Bayreuth Festival (Tristan) and conducted the Siegfried-Wagner memorial concert. In 1932 the Berlin Philharmonic celebrated its Fiftieth anniversary: this event was marked by four superb concerts in April, followed by a grand European tour with 26 concerts. On this occasion, Hindenburg awarded him the Goethe Medal for services rendered to German music.

On June 7 and 9 1932, he conducted for the first time at the Opera in Paris (Tristan with a magnificent cast: Frida Leider, Lauritz Melchior, Igor Kipnis, etc.). On January 30 1933, Hitler came to power, and with him began anti-Jewish activity. On April 11, Furtwängler published in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung an open letter to the Minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, in which he declared that there was only one distinction, that between "good" art and "bad" art. This letter reached the world press and Goebbels replied that politics was also an Art ("maybe the greatest of all arts"), and that music could not be separated from politics . So it was necessary to expel all foreign elements (meaning, of course, the Jews).

Shortly afterwards the great exodus of German Jews began: Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Arthur Schnabel, Bronislav Hubermann and many others. Furtwängler carried on conducting at the Staatsoper (this fell under Göring's absolute control) operas such as Arabella and Elektra. During a tour with the Berlin Philharmonic, he gave a mammoth concert in Mannheim, that brought together under one conductor the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra and the Mannheim orchestra - 170 musicians in all. Furtwängler had a confrontation with the Nazis: they asked Furtwängler to dismiss Szymon Goldberg, his Jewish first violin. Furtwängler refused and decided never again to come back to Mannheim (he only returned twenty one years later in 1954). He ended the season 1932-1933 at the Opéra de Paris (Tristan and Walkyrie) and in June was appointed by Göring conductor-in-chief of the Berlin Staatsoper. Göring then nominated him Staatsrat (Council of State) on July 8, 1933 and on September 15, Erich Kleiber conducted a gala performance of Lohengrin in honour of Furtwängler. He was also given the honorary title of Vice President of the Reichsmusikkammer. In August 1933, he met Hitler in his house at the Obersalzberg in Berchtesgaden and when he got back home, told his entourage: "This hissing chameleon will never get anywhere in Germany". However things turned out quite differently.

On March 11 1934, he conducted the première of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler and published his famous article "The Hindemith Case" in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on November 25 in answer to Nazi attacks on the composer, whom they accused of writing "degenerate" music. On April 25, during a tour with the Philharmonic, he met in Rome Mussolini, which infuriated Toscanini.

Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on November 25 1934

The season 1934-1935 was very short: after two Ring performances at the Staatsoper in October and November, and his article on Hindemith, Furtwängler resigned from all his official functions and on December 4 retired to the Bavarian Alps where he started writing his symphonic piano concerto. His passport was confiscated. Erich Kleiber supported his action, resigning from his position at the Städtische Oper of Berlin and going into exile.



The news of Furtwängler's resignation created a sensation, but it also meant he could no longer leave Germany. The situation got even more complicated because the Berlin Philharmonic was due to tour Great Britain in January 1935 and Furtwängler declared that it was out of question that he should conduct. Beecham was asked to take over, but when he refused, the tour was simply cancelled. The situation became increasingly difficult for Furtwängler, who decided to dismiss his Jewish secretary Bertha Geissmar. Finally, Goebbels and Furtwängler met on February 28 1935 and hammered out a compromise: Furtwängler was allowed to continue conducting in Germany, but with no title or official position, provided he stayed away from all politics. The Führer approved and Furtwängler was allowed to travel abroad again. He rejoined his orchestra on April 25 1935 in Berlin in an all-Beethoven program: Hitler, Goebbels and Göring attended the concert and at the end, Hitler went and warmly shook hands with Furtwängler. Furtwängler ended the season with some performances at Covent Garden in London (Tristan), at the Opéra de Paris (Tristan and Walkyrie), at the National Theatre of Munich (Tristan), at the Opera of Vienna (Tristan) and at the Hamburg Opera (Meistersinger). Hitler, Goebbels and Ribbentrop attended the performance in Hamburg, on June 23 1935.

The 1935-1936 season began in Nuremberg with the Meistersinger, and Tannhäuser followed at the Vienna Opera. On November 7, he conducted Egmont at the Berlin Schauspielhaus, staged by the famous actor Gustav Gründgens (a controversial personality). Hitler, Göring, Goebbels and Rudolph Hess were again all present. After touring with the Philharmonic in November-December, he ended the year at the National Theater in Munich (Meistersinger on December 25 and Tristan on January 1). On February 27 he left for Egypt with his friend John Knittel. He arrived in Alexandria on March 5, and got back to Naples on March 31. The season ended with a few operatic performances in Paris (Meistersinger), in Zurich (Tristan), in Vienna (Tannhäuser) and at the Bayreuth Festival where he conducted Lohengrin, Parsifal and the Ring.

In November 1936, Beecham toured Germany with his London orchestra and invited Furtwängler to share the upcoming Covent Garden festival planned for the coronation of King Georges VI. But Furtwängler had decided, with Hitler's permission, to cancel all his public engagements during the winter season 1936-1937, because he wanted to spend some time in absolute peace to compose. He returned to his orchestra on February 10, 1937 in Berlin, for a concert again attended by Hitler, Göring and Goebbels. In March he embarked on another tour, but this time of chamber music with the violinist Hugo Kolberg. During it, he gave the premiere of his own violin sonata in D minor in Leipzig, on March 4.

After a magnificent Beethoven Ninth in London (March 25), he conducted the Ring at the Berlin Staatsoper, made a short tour with the Philharmonic and left for London to start rehearsing the Ring that was to be given in two cycles. The sensation of the second cycle was the first appearance of Kirsten Flagstad as Brunnhilde. The season ended at the Bayreuth Festival (Parsifal, Ring) and Salzburg Festival (Beethoven's Ninth). The 1937-1938 season started in Paris on September 7 with Beethoven's Ninth, followed by two performances of Walküre with the cast of the Berlin Staatsoper. During a tour with the Philharmonic, he conducted the premiere of his symphonic piano concerto with Edwin Fischer - to whom the work is dedicated - on October 26 in Munich. At the same time, he made a few recordings for His Master's Voice that were praised internationally (Beethoven's Fifth and in 1938, Tchaikovsky's Symphonie Pathétique and some excerpts of Wagner). On April 22 and 23 1938 Furtwängler conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in Berlin (Schubert's Unfinished and Bruckner's Seventh), concerts attended as always by Hitler and Goebbels. He went back again to Covent Garden in May-June for two more Ring cycles and ended the season in Munich (Fidelio), at the Opéra de Paris (Tristan) and at the Salzburg Festival (Meistersinger).

On September 5 he was in Nuremberg with the Vienna Philharmonic (Meistersinger). On February 20 1939 the French government awarded him the "Légion d'Honneur" but Hitler made sure news of this never reached the German public. In May he conducted two performances of the Saint-Matthiew Passion in Munich and Florence and ended the season at the Zurich opera (Meistersinger, Walkyrie and a concert at the Wesendonck House with Flagstad replacing Germaine Lubin). The performances of the Walküre, planned at the Opéra de Paris in June were eventually cancelled by the French government for political reasons. After the German invasion of Poland, Furtwängler's activity was restricted to Austria (annexed by the Reich on March 13, 1938) and Germany. In April 1940 however, he made a trip to Scandinavia but the concert planned in Copenhagen on April 10 was cancelled following Denmark's occupation by the Nazis. In May in Berlin, he met Elisabeth Ackermann, who eventually became his second wife. She was married at the time to a lawyer who was killed in France a few months later.

Although Furtwängler gave no concerts in France during the war and refused to conduct in countries occupied by the Nazis, he did conduct in some "annexed" cities (such as Prague). In December 1940, he made a second chamber music tour, this time with Georg Kulenkampff. At the beginning of March 1941, while skiing in the Vorarlberg (Sankt Anton, in Austria), he fell badly and suffered injuries serous enough that he couldn't conduct for nine months while he convalesced. In February 1942 he toured Scandinavia with the Berlin Philharmonic, and at the end of March was in Vienna for the celebration of the Vienna Philharmonic's centenary: on that occasion, on March 28, he conducted Schubert's Third Symphony for the only time in his life. Back in Berlin, on April 19, he conducted a concert for Hitler's birthday, that was preceded by an endless speech of Goebbels about the Führer's "stupendous visionary plans".

In November-December, he returned to Scandinavia and gave two performances of Walküre at the Stockholm Opera and a concert with the orchestra of Göteborg. On December 12 he conducted Die Meistersinger at the re-opening of the Berlin Staatsoper and in January 1943, he gave some concerts in Switzerland with the Winterthur orchestra at the Tonhalle in Zurich and in Bern. On January 2, 1943 he conducted Tristan at the Vienna Staatsoper: that was the only and one time he staged an opera himself. After a tour of Scandinavia with the Vienna Philharmonic in May, he married Elisabeth Ackermann in a civil ceremony in Potsdam on June 26: he was 57 years old and his wife 25 years younger (he was living at the Fasanerie in the park of Sans Souci, in Potsdam). They had a church wedding at the end of 1945 in Montreux, in Switzerland). In July he took part in the Bayreuth Festival and conducted the Meistersinger alternately with Abendroth.

On September 7, 1943, the pianist Karl Robert Kreiten - a child prodigy and pupil of Claudio Arrau. was hung by the Nazis after he'd been denounced. This drama became the subject matter of a play written by Heinrich Riemenschneider, Requiem for K.R. Kreiten, that was premiered in Germany in 1987. The main characters are Kreiten and his mother, Furtwängler, Goebbels and two men who denounce Kreiten. In December Furtwängler was again in Scandinavia (Stockholm and Göteborg) and in January he returned to Switzerland (with the orchestras of la Suisse Romande and Berne).

On January 30, the old concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic in the Bernburgerstrasse was bombed to ashes. The season ended in Bayreuth (Meistersinger) and at the festivals of Salzburg and Lucerne. On October 11 1944, Furtwängler conducted for the only time in his life the Bruckner Orchester of Linz, also called the "Orchestra of the Führer" whose official conductor was one of the three Jochum brothers, Georg-Ludwig. On November 7, his mother died in Heidelberg and four days later, his wife who was already in Switzerland bore him a son, Andreas, that he saw only in February 1945.

Furtwängler had become a traitor in the eyes of the Nazis due to his repeated criticism of Hitler's policies. He was even accused of having taken part in the conspiracy of July 20 1944 for which Hitler was the target. The situation became quite intolerable and the Nazis made it clear they would be happy if Furtwängler failed to survive the war. According to transcripts at his denazification trial, which took place in Berlin on December 17 1946, Furtwängler declared:

"In October 1944, Mrs. Himmler's personal doctor came to see me and told me of Himmler's and the SS' intentions. From the start Himmler personally considered me an enemy of the State, this lady confirmed to me. She came back in November. In January 1945, when I was in Berlin for the last time, she came suddenly early one morning, and told me: 'Mr. Furtwängler, nobody is to know that I have come to see you. Let me inform you that the SS are talking of putting you in quarantine. No Nazi is supposed to talk to you any more. Everything you do, all your telephone calls are under surveillance. You are accused of having participated in the attack against Hitler. It's up to you to draw your own conclusions'. Then she left. I decided I should not go back to Berlin after my concerts in Vienna and so I hid out for three days near the Swiss border. The evening before I crossed the border, some Gestapo agents came to see my secretary, Miss von Tiedemann and told her to her great surprise that I had left. Thereafter I did everything necessary to clarify my position in Switzerland."

During a concert of December 11, 1944, in Berlin, Albert Speer also told Furtwängler that his life was in danger and that Himmler's Gestapo was after him. Speer advised him not to return after his next tour to Switzerland. So, after having celebrated his fifty-ninth birthday at the Hotel Imperial in Vienna with his friend the sound engineer Friedrich Schnapp, on December 30, he sent a message to the Berlin Philharmonic saying that he could not conduct the concerts of February 4 and 5, "due to the fact that he had slipped on ice..." From February onwards, he organized his escape to Switzerland to coincide with concerts he was to conduct in Lausanne, Geneva and Winterthur. From February 1 to 6 he hid in the small village of Dornbirn, near Bregenz and the Swiss border. From Dornbirn he wrote to Irme Schwab : "I am heading for Switzerland. I still don't know if, due to the political situation, I will manage to get through, otherwise I will go to Tanneck." On February 6, he wrote to Hélène Matschenz: " If I am allowed to do so, I will cross the border tomorrow." On February 7, he managed to cross the border and joined his wife and their son. On February 23, he conducted his last concert in Winterthur (Bruckner's Eighth) but the two concerts at the Tonhalle were cancelled by the Town Hall. An enormous scandal that lasted an entire month broke out in the left-wing press, (he was accused of being a Nazi stooge), in papers like the Volksrecht.

The Journal de Genève summarized the so-called Furtwängler affair quite accurately:

"The two concerts that Furtwängler was due to conduct at the Tonhalle this week were cancelled by the Council of State and created quite a stir. In seems the Zurich Municipal Executive Council had suggested the cancellation to the government, and they also received threats from the Labour Party. But the Cantonal Police Department had already given permission for these concerts, and had to reverse itself under pressure from the Municipal Council. Protests quickly broke out. 'La Nouvelle Gazette de Zurich' and 'die Tat', an independent paper, immediately reacted negatively to this intrusion of partisan passions into the realm of artistic freedom, and deplored the fact that Zurich had set such a poor example of intolerance.

As the Zurich Radical Party's central Committee rightly said in a public protest, it is regrettable that the Swiss authorities seemed to give in to such demagoguery which sought only to take advantage of the widespread and justified dislike by the Swiss public of the Nazis. The Furtwängler affair had its first epilogue last Wednesday at the Town Hall, and the discussion was both instructive and explosive. Two groups of speakers faced off against each other: on one side the radicals and the independents, who defended Furtwängler saying that it was a bit late to blame him for accepting a post in the Staatsrat (Prussian State Council) and the decoration that he had accepted from the Führer; on the other side, the communists, the socialists and one member of the Fraction of the "Monnaie franche" who accused Furtwängler of becoming a pawn of the Nazi propaganda campaign..."

As for the Winterthur concert (Bruckner's Eighth), it was the last one before the fall of the German Reich and a number of demonstrations were organized by the Labour Trades Union and its political wing. The demonstrators tried to prevent the public from attending the concert and a detachment of the police with water canons had to intervene. In the end the concert took place without any incidents and the house was full.

anti-Furtwängler manifesto published in the Swiss press (5 juin 1948)

> Scan of the anti-Furtwängler manifesto published in the Swiss press.

In February, he settled in Clarens, at the Clinique la Prairie run and owned by Doctor Niehans, where he stayed until June 1947. (Who was this Doctor Niehans? Nicknamed Doctor Miracle? Some said he was a charlatan - someone who profited from the credulity of people and asked astronomical fees for treatments that did absolutely nothing -, others said that he was a true pioneer of rejuvenation therapy. Paul Niehans, who invented "cell-therapy", was born in 1882 and counted among his clients some famous names including Konrad Adenauer, Somerset Maugham, Gloria Swanson, Charles Chaplin and the Duchess of Windsor. He was internationally famous as a surgeon; later he became for some a genius, for others a crazy visionary and a false messiah inspired only by a thirst for money) Once safely in Switzerland, Furtwängler and his family waited out the end of the war. When Hitler's death was announced on April 30 1945, bringing the war to an end, Furtwängler had to undergo denazification by the Allies (not having been a member of the Nazi party, it actually shouldn't have been necessary). In his case this "purification" process revolved around the question why he had remained in Germany under the Hitler dictatorship, and his behavior during that period, especially in the light of the regime's official anti-semitism. Two trials were held, one in Vienna in January 1946 and one in Berlin, on December 11 and 17 of that same year. Furtwängler was exonerated and allowed to take up conducting again. Contrary to other conductors (Karajan, Kabasta or Abendroth), Furtwängler was never a party member, never made the Hitler salute, never signed his letters "Heil Hitler" and as much as he could, helped Jewish musicians. Furtwängler explained the reason why he remained in Germany as follows: "I didn't stay because I was a Nazi, I remained because I am German!". He was supported by his friend, the producer Boleslav Barlog, by the Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache and by musicians such as Hugo Strelitzer who declared:

"If I am alive today, I owe this to this great man. Furtwängler helped and protected a great number of Jewish musicians and this attitude shows a great deal of courage since he did it under the eyes of the Nazis, in Germany itself. History will be his judge".

At the end of the trial, Furtwängler declared:

"Art has nothing to do with politics nor with war. I felt responsible of the German music and it was my duty to get through this crisis as best as I could. I have no regrets that I stayed on in Germany alongside fellow-Germans who had to live under Himmler's reign of terror."

In his Diary for 1946, he wrote:

"I try to look at my behavior objectively. I am no better than any other, but I had to do what my instinct and conscience dictated. I love my country and my people, and I felt it was my duty to right a terrible wrong. Any worry that my presence could be manipulated by the Nazi propaganda machine had to take a back seat to my major preoccupation, to save the soul of German music as far as possible, and continue to make music with German musicians for a German public".



Furtwängler was acquitted on December 17, 1946 but wasn't allowed to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic until May 25, 1947 again, in an all-Beethoven program. Very quickly his career returned to its previous frenetic pace, and he resumed his tours and festivals (Salzburg, Lucerne). On January 24 and 25 1948, he gave two concerts in Paris with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. In February, he gave ten concerts in London and on February 22 he premiered his second symphony (composed at the end of the war) in Berlin. In April he left for Argentina where he gave eight concerts at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires; Italy invited him for six concerts and then he took the Vienna Philharmonic on a tour to Switzerland and ended the season at the Salzburg (Fidelio) and Lucerne festivals.

In August, a sad incident compromised his relationship with America: the management of the Chicago Symphony invited him to conduct 22 of the 28 concerts the following season. In December, he agreed to conduct eight concerts. But on January 6, 1949, an article by Henry Taubmann in the New York Times said some famous musicians wanted Chicago to back out of the contract. Among these musicians were Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Alexandre Brailowsky, Isaac Stern, Lily Pons and André Kostelanetz who declared that they would never again play in Chicago if Furtwängler became the orchestra's conductor in chief. Faced with this extremely hostile campaign, organized by some Jewish groups, Furtwängler decided to reject the contract. Rubinstein, who had lost many of his family in the holocaust, said:

"I don't want to be on the same concert platform with someone associated with Hitler, Göring and Goebbels. Had Furtwängler been a true democrat, he would have left Germany like Thomas Mann. Furtwängler remained because he thought that Germany would win the war and now he is looking for dollars and fame in America".

Other artists such as Bruno Walter, Yehudi Menuhin and Nathan Milstein refused to turn their backs on Furtwängler. Menuhin issued the following statement to the press:

"I have never met a more insolent attitude than that of three or four trouble-shooters who do everything they can to prevent a famous colleague coming to make music in this country. I find this behavior despicable."

Milstein declared:

"Furtwängler is a great musician and absolutely not a Nazi and if this campaign succeeds the great loser will be the Chicago Symphony".

And that's exactly what happened.

In his diary for 1949, Furtwängler wrote the following about this painful episode:

"A number of famous American artists protested against my coming to America. This protest is heresy in musical history. What is the real reason behind this campaign? It is a boycott that has a very precise aim. The real reason for this slanderous ostracism of a famous musician is simply because he is German."

In 1948, Furtwängler was 62 years old and was invited to conduct literally everywhere else in the world; he toured with both the Vienna and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras and made a number of recordings for His Master's Voice in Vienna and in London. In September-October, he conducted a complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies in London with the Vienna Philharmonic, a cycle that was broadcast Live on television, but which unfortunately no longer exists. Every year he took part in festivals and in August 1949 went to visit Richard Strauss who was hospitalized in a clinic in Montreux. The following year, on May 22 1950 he premiered the Four last Lieder. with Kirsten Flagstad

In September 1949 he took part in the Besançon festival and in March-April 1950 conducted three cycles of the Ring at la Scala in Milan. Flagstad was in the cast. He gave a series of concerts at the Teatro Colon and in April-May 1950 and March-April 1951, he was again at la Scala for five performances of Parsifal and four of Orpheus and Eurydice. In April he took the Berlin Philharmonic on tour for ten concerts in Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria), and on July 29, he was chosen to conduct the official reopening of the Bayreuth Festival, with a Beethoven Ninth that is still a myth today.

On October 18, Rudolph Bing, director of the New York MET, wrote to Furtwängler asking him to open the season 1952 with a new production of Lohengrin and another opera of his choice. Furtwängler learned that Toscanini was madly against his coming. Once again, the American project was cancelled along with a tour by the Vienna Philharmonic of the USA. In March 1952, he went back to la Scala for six performances of Meistersinger and after a long tour with the Berlin Philharmonic, he made the magnificent famous recording of Tristan with Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra in London.

After a performance of the Walküre in Zurich on June 29, he left to rehearse for the Salzburg festival: during rehearsals he caught double pneumonia. He had to give up his activities and retire for several months to a sanatorium in the Bavarian Alps. Not having taken any time off since 1947, he slept very little and this lack of sleep affected his health. The heavy doses of antibiotics, particularly Tetracycline with its side effects, affected his hearing. But Furtwängler recovered, and on December 7 was on the podium with the Berlin Philharmonic. But on January 23, 1953, he fainted during the adagio of Beethoven's Ninth in Vienna. Once again and over his protests, doctors prescribed heavy does of antibiotics and his hearing, specially in the right ear, began to deteriorate. This loss of hearing made him very depressed but despite this handicap, he continued working, resumed his concert tours and returned to Salzburg and Lucerne.

The 1953-1954 season began with four concerts at the Edinburgh Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic, then in October-November, he recorded the Ring at la RAI in Rome, one act per day. During his stay in Rome he gave two private concerts for Pope Pius XII, at the Vatican and at Castel Gandolfo, his Summer residence. In December, he caught the flu, which prevented him traveling two months; by March he was well enough to leave for Caracas for two concerts with the Venezuelan Symphonic Orchstra. Back in Switzerland, he bought a property on the heights of Montreux, in Clarens, called Basset Coulon where sadly he was to live only for a very short time.

The season 1954-1955 was his shortest and final one. After two performances of the Beethoven Ninth at the Festival of Lucerne (August 21 and 22), a concert at the Besançon Festival on September 6 and two concerts in Berlin on September 19 and 20, including his second symphony, he left for Vienna to record the Walküre, between September 28 and October 6. The Vienna Philharmonic played radiantly. That was the last time he ever conducted an orchestra.

He left Vienna for Gastein to get treatment for his hearing. On his journey back to Clarens he didn't feel well and caught a cold. His wife tried to persuade him to stay in bed but he wanted to take long walks in the open air and in the mountains. In the night of November 6 he told his wife: "I'll die of this illness, and it will be easy. Don't leave me alone, not even for a moment." He read the proofs of his third symphony and listened to the test pressings of his recording of Fidelio, that had just arrived. The doctors diagnosed bronchial pneumonia, and his wife decided to have him hospitalised in Ebersteinburg near Baden-Baden, in the clinic of his doctor, Mr. von Loewenstein. They left on a sunny Autumn day on November 12. At the clinic, Furtwängler said to his wife: "You know, they all think that I have come here to recover. I know that I am here to die." What hit his wife was the fact that his mind was no longer on conducting, but on death, his own death. He asked the Intendant Gerhardt von Westermann of the Berlin Philharmonic to come and see him and made his farewells: "Please say my goodbyes to the orchestra". His state of health worsened and on the morning of November 30, he was given a blood transfusion. He died that same day in absolute peace and was buried at the cemetery of Heidelberg next to his mother, on December 4. During the funeral service, Karl Böhm said:

"Shattered as I have never been before in my life, I stand today in front of a coffin in which lies a man who was my friend for over twenty years. For all those who love you, dear Furtwängler, it is still not possible to value the consequences of your death because it will leave a void that can never be filled. May God welcome you into a better world and may he give you back all the unforgettable Beauty that you bestowed on the most divine Art."

Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic played Mozart's Maurerische Trauermusik and the Aria from Bach's Suite in D.

Back in Clarens, his widow told his friend Ernest Ansermet:

"Furtwängler's departure has taught me that to accept death is something we should all aim for. Furtwängler reached that goal."

Why are there no more Furtwänglers today? Was he really unique? Does an answer lie the role of media and mass culture today? Is conducting today decadent? So many good technicians but with nothing to say? Look at conductors created by the media, and promoted by huge recording companies? Show business and it's corollary, the star system - lead directly to the phenomenon of deification. But isn't imagination also the way we deform our images? Furtwängler was a legend in his lifetime and the myth is still growing.

Yehudi Menuhin said:

"There are many conductors but very few of them seem to reveal that secret chapel that lies at the very heart of all masterpieces. Beyond the notes, there are visions, and beyond those visions, there is this invisible and silent chapel, where an inner music plays , the music of our soul, whose echoes are but pale shadows. That was the genius of Furtwängler because he approached every work like a pilgrim who strives to experience this state of being that reminds us of Creation, the mystery which is at the heart of every cell. With his fluid hand movements, so full of meaning, he took his orchestras and his soloists to this sacred place."

The conductor Eliahu Inbal gave perhaps the best answer:

"Why are there no Furtwänglers today? I don't think that this can be explained solely by the absence of talent. Nobody can metamorphose himself into a Furtwängler living at today's pace, giving concerts and making records as if they were on a conveyor belt producing soap or cars. The manner in which recordings are made today, with a bevy of microphones, is able to destroy all the mystery and the ambiance that Furtwängler knew how to create so well. We, musicians of the younger generation, should try and follow Furtwängler's example: that has nothing to do with tempo but rather with imagination, and total surrender to music."

Furtwängler was the complete opposite of Toscanini who thought there was nothing left to "create" in an interpretation, Furtwängler wrote in 1927:

"The conductor's true ethics are not a perfect technique but his spiritual attitude."

Looking "beyond the notes" - Furtwängler was always looking for the Absolute. Forget the trends and fashions - and even if Furtwängler's exacerbated romanticism, his almost religious perception of music and of the role of the medium that he attributed to the conductor in the mystical communion between the composer and his public, may be somewhat irritating, Furtwängler's Art was and remains immortal.