Bach - the specialists would never allow that
I couldn't agree more strongly with Théo. As Colin Davis said when he took over at the LSO, what the orchestra needed was to play a great deal of Mozart and Haydn, string tone often having been the Achilles heel of London orchestras. Davis has also said that, of works he would most still like to record he would most like to record, he would choose the St Matthew Passion, but noted that, alas, the 'specialists' would never allow that. As our good host points out, the present situation would have been incomprehensible to great conductors of the past, whether Walter, Klemperer, Mengelberg, or Furtwängler. How is one to hear the Bach in Mahler, let alone the Mahler in Bach, if one does not know Bach - and know him intimately? Even if one were to take the ayatollah-like view that Bach and Handel were and could only be chamber music, it would be necessary to play them for that reason alone.No apologies for reblogging that comment which was left by Mark Berry on Specialisation is damaging classical music. It was also Sir Colin who said "I don't worry about status".
Those would confine Bach, Mozart, Monteverdi, or anyone else, to a (generally grossly misunderstood, even on their own terms) particular room of the museum (I think Paul Bekker used the phrase many years before Boulez), drain it of any life. Furtwängler was already lamenting that Bach had become ‘today … indeed – as is also already the case with Beethoven – infinitely more of an authority than a vital force [Lebensmacht].'
And anyone who has heard Theodor Adorno's blistering attack, 'They say Bach, [but] mean Telemann,’ is unlikely to forget it. Adorno quite rightly pointed out (in 1951) that, in order to neutralise Bach, he was being reduced to the level of a generic Baroque composer, just at the time when German towns were being prettily restored, attempting to wipe away the traces of the recent catastrophe: restoration rather than renewal. Such was the world from which Hans Werner Henze decided he must escape: ‘the period of political reconstruction around and after 1950,’ the very year of Furtwängler’s defiant Vienna Philharmonic performance of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto from the piano. For Henze, the period looked ‘like a gradual return to the recent past, under which its appalling conditions once again became conceivable’. He went on to observe that communists,‘old comrades, who had been imprisoned by the Nazis, were locked up again. I have never heard anyone mention this in musical circles. Music is, after all, unpolitical!’
We might likewise observe that 'heritage' Bach must never be connected with Schoenberg, or indeed with Stockhausen... Boulez put it very well in an interview quite some time ago: 'It was much more interesting when the period piece being performed was actually distorted by the period performing it. At least that implied some creativity, even if it caused a few distortions, whereas specialized reconstruction leads to a total and remote historicism. The more one reconstructs, the further one drives things back into history, resulting in a totally dead contact – the myth of the Golden Age. It’s like people who think dinner without candlelight is not a proper dinner. It’s as vulgar as that really – rather nouveau riche.'
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