- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (1976)
- ASIN: B0016AYPKY
- Package Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,818,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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THE GREAT CONDUCTORS Hardcover – 1976
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The Great Conductors. Harold C. Schonberg. Music Critic of The New York Times. Book is very Good+. The dust Jacket has some age wear & tear Old store stock Aidan16(1) and BoxR(1)
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The Great Conductors
Simon & Schuster, Hardback, 1967.
8vo. 384 pp.
First published in 1967.
I. The Genus
II. From Elias Salomon to Divided Leadership
III. Bach and Handel
IV. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven
V. Orchestras Tuning and Audiences
VI. The Arrival of the Stick
VII. Weber and Spontini
VIII. Francois-Antoine Habeneck
IX. Hector Berlioz
X. Mendelssohn and the German School
XI. Richard Wagner
XII. The Scene in England
XIII. Franz Liszt
XIV. Hans von Bülow
XV. The Wagner School - Richter and Others
XVI. America and Theodore Thomas
XVII. The Big Three in France
XVIII. Arthur Nikisch
XIX. Karl Muck
XX. Gustav Mahler
XXI. Richard Strauss
XXII. Felix Weingartner
XXIII. The Italians and Toscanini
XXIV. Willem Mengelberg
XXV. Wilhelm Furtwängler
XXVI. Bruno Walter
XXVII. Sir Thomas Beecham
XXVIII. Serge Koussevitzky
XXIX. Leopold Stokowsky
XXX. Otto Klemperer and the German School
XXXI. The Modern French School
XXXII. From Central Europe
XXXIII. The Foreign-Born Contingent in the United States
XXXIV. Leonard Bernstein
XXXV. Present and Future
This one needn't be long.
''The Great Conductors'' is one of the most forgotten books by Harold Schonberg, unjustly so. Unlike his books about pianists and composers, the one dedicated to conductors has never been revised after its first publication in 1967. Of course some parts of it are quite dated: the chapter of Hans von Bülow, for instance, falls quite short of the splendid and recently published biography by Alan Walker. Much less can the book be used as a reference to modern conductors; indeed, it is funny to read about Seiji Ozawa, Colin Davis, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Bernard Haitink or Claudio Abbado as the ''young generation'' - but in 1967 that's precisely what they were. But it is to be expected that a book published almost fifty years ago in a musicological area that almost no serious research had been done before, and a great deal have materialised since, must indeed be dated; and certainly Mr Schonberg never intended the book as modern reference - wisely so. Dwelling on these matters, however, is a perfect example of missing the point.
Those who are familiar with Mr Schonberg's other books will not fail to notice his using very much the same method here, nor will they have any trouble recognising his unique writing style. As always, Mr Schonberg starts with compelling preface, excellently presenting and summarising the subject, and then continues to explore methodically and in chronological order how on earth that strange species, the modern conductor, emerged, developed and changed through the centuries. As it turned out, the species - or ''the genus'' as Mr Schonberg calls conductors in his highly amusing introductory chapter - is much more recent phenomenon than most people may think; not before the 1840s did the conductor in the modern sense of the word, a man with a baton and a sole master of the orchestra, come into existence. It was even later, only in the second half of XIX and the beginning of the XX century, that the professional conductor arose, that is a man who primarily was neither instrumentalist nor composer but conductor. One of the many captivating bits of history in Mr Schonberg's book is the fact that in earlier times the leader of an orchestra used a violin bow or even a rolled sheet of paper to direct the musicians, almost always he was not alone but had to share the power with another man, usually sitting on a keyboard instrument, in the so called ''divided leadership''. As for Mr Schonberg's style, it simply cannot be bettered; it is shamelessly readable, extremely entertaining and contains profound reflections that are far from negligible - at least for anybody trying to do some thinking. The most remarkable thing about Mr Schonberg's writing, however, is something I have repeatedly remarked upon: his stunning ability to bring to life people who have long since been dead. He has a theory that there is more than enough documentary evidence for one to make pretty accurate guess about the character and the musicianship of anybody who had the carelessness to die before the invention of the recording. Almost the whole book consists of portraits drawn with extraordinary vividness and rare psychological insight, not to mention the extensive analysis of baton technique and pretty much everything else connected with conducting; as usual, biography is deliberately suppressed but there is little enough of it to make the whole picture coherent. Under such conditions it does sound like an impossible task to remain eminently readable, a great fun and a great intellectual challenge at the same time. But Harold Schonberg certainly does remain so.
Among the drawbacks of ''The Great Conductors'' are the usual ones encountered in Mr Schonberg's books. Sometimes he is somewhat careless with historical facts but that's perhaps to be expected; after all, Harold Schonberg certainly was no scholar, he was a journalist. But he also was an eminent music critic, an accomplished musician, a man with sharp intelligence, a good deal of common sense, a healthy dose cynicism and stupendous erudition when it comes to musical theory and history. There are no meticulous footnotes in Mr Schonberg's books, nor does he take the trouble always to indicate his sources (though he often does), but as a general rule he makes an informed guess how apocryphal certain story probably is. On the whole the reader is well advised to accept Mr Schonberg's numerous anecdotes with a pinch of salt; for those who have the time and the application, though the book uncharacteristically lacks a bibliography (perhaps because at the time there was scant literature on the subject), there are several important books and authors quoted between the pages. The only other caveat that comes to my mind is that Mr Schonberg may occasionally become a trifle sketchy, listing names of conductors as in the phone book, with little or no attempt for evaluating their place in the history of conducting. But that happens fairly seldom and never for more than a few lines.
Here is the bottom line: no matter how controversial, opinionated or scholarly sloppy Mr Schonberg may be, his vivid characterisation, delightfully malicious style and especially his thought-provoking, often profound and stirring, lines completely redeem whatever shortcomings he might have. To take just one example of Mr Schonberg's fascinating duality, in his chapter of Franz Liszt he makes the rather audacious claim that the Hungarian composer never took his religion seriously but only made a great show of it; that's indeed a bold statement, not to say scurrilous, which does not appear to be shared by any Liszt scholar of distinction known to me. But on the other hand, Mr Schonberg dedicates a whole chapter to Liszt and examines into some detail his significant influence on XIX century conducting which has always been - as so many other aspects of Liszt's life and personality - vastly neglected or misrepresented; indeed, the second volume of Alan Walker's biography did make something of a revolution in assessing Liszt's place as a conductor - and it was written well over 20 years after Harold Schonberg's book.
As a matter of fact, the last chapter of ''The Great Conductors'' is an ideal illustration of Mr Schonberg's considerable powers for reflection on serious matters, which he explores in more or less all of his books and which have the singular ability to stir unheard-of thoughts inside my head. Incidentally, this compelling last chapter has little to do with conducting, except for the very shrewd remark that there is not even one Austrian or German among the most promising young conductors of the time (see the first paragraph of this review), which is in so stark a contrast to the first part of the XX century that it most probably indicates a severe decline of the famous Austro-German conducting tradition. As usual though, Harold Schonberg touches a number of other topics than his primary one - and he does it splendidly. Some of his most profound observations here include the famous revival of baroque music that occurred after the Second World War. The explanation of this seemingly inexplicable phenomenon is actually rather simple: the largely anti-Romantic post-war zeitgeist simply matched to perfection the objective, academic, scholarly and musicological, or in short anti-Romantic, nature of the baroque music; most probably this is also the finest explanation why I personally so often find baroque music all but unlistenable. Another favourite theme on which Harold Schonberg has written a number of literary variations is the split - unique in the history of music - between the avant garde works of the contemporary composers and the general concert-going audience that occurred in parallel with the baroque revival. Yes, it certainly does raise some ''hard questions'':
And, considering avant-garde music after World War II, never in music has there been kind of universal loathing that has been created. Which leads to some hard questions. Is this lack of rapport and communication necessary the public's fault? Has the composer failed in his function? Or has the language of music itself been exhausted?
Needless to say, ''The Great Conductors'' is essential reading for every admirer of Harold Schonberg's books. It is rather a pity that he never made a revised and updated edition but this one, badly dated at places though it may be, still contains a cornucopia of historical information and a great deal of fascinating insights. I venture to claim that everybody who is seriously interested in the mystery of conducting and the mystique of conductors really should read that book. Much has been written about that elusive art since 1967, but rarely if ever with such perspicacity or in so eminently readable a style - let alone both at the same time.
P. S. Well, it is not as short as I imagined it would be...
However, let me leave that and put the unique contributions of Schonberg (1915-2003) in perspective. In my opinion he was one of the few writers after 1960 to follow in the long tradition of informative, music-consumer oriented writing. That tradition includes Michael Praetorius 1570-1621 ("Syntagma Musica"), Johann Mattheson (1681-1764), Charles Burney (1726-1814), Ludwig Köchel (1800-1877), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Sir George Grove (1820-1900), and Romain Rolland (1866-1930). In America it includes Henry Finck (1854-1926), Sigmund Spaeth (1885-1965), Deems Taylor (1885-1966), David Ewen (1907-1985), Olin Downes (1911-2001), and Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Virgil Thomson (1896-1989 might be considered a transitional figure to the new school of music writing that took over in the 1960s.
After the 1960s a new school of critics symbolized at the top by Andrew Porter (1928-) and Anthony Tommasini (1948-) emerged. Porter became editor of The Musical Times and wrote for many British papers including the London Times Literary Supplement. Anthony Tommasini remains a senior music critic of the New York Times. Stanley Sadie, Editor of the 2001 Grove Dictionary of Music described Porter as having an “elegant, spacious literary style always informed by a knowledge of music history and the findings of textual scholarship”. The new school provides evaluations of concerts, performers, and music trends as though this was their ordained function. Depending on the status of the critic, they emphasize their membership in a circle of cognoscenti by dropping names, arcane information and generalizations like this piece from Porter (cited in The Attentive Listener, by Henry Haskell (1996):
“Who could have foreseen that ricky-tick minimalism, soupy neoromanticism, and holy monotony would be the next waves? In Palermo, individual voices – [Luigi] Nono, [Franco]Donatoni- sang strongly. Morton Feldman’s ‘False Relationships and the Extended Ending’ was an orderly, seductive piece.“
Less established classical music newspaper critics – who as a genre have been increasingly displaced by freelancers or loss of classical music criticism from many papers – just try to describe events vividly. They are more cautious about making making value judgments, but may throw out hints about really obnoxious music.
Harold Schonberg, in contrast, wrote books that revealed heavy-duty scholarship not used to enhance his credentials but rather to inform and entertain readers about great music of the past. These took time and were not produced prolifically. Books besides conductors included The Great Pianists (1964, revised 1987), Lives of the Great Composers, Facing the Music (an anthology of essays on musical topics) and a biography of the great pianist, Vladimir Horowitz (1992). In his regular reviews Schonberg did not spend much time offering opinions of concerts that 90% of his readers had not attended and had little interest in, but rather provided insight and information that entertained while it added to music lovers’ knowledge.
There are a few post 1960s “emancipated” music writers besides Schonberg who are not afraid to call spades spades rather than digging implements. These include the late Henry Pleasants (1910-2000), Nicolas Tawa (1923-2011), and Samuel Lipman (1934-1994); and at times, Richard Taruskin (1945- ) and Terry Teachout (1956 -).
Condition of book is what you would bexpect with an old paperback..