Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wilhelm Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin Furtwängler, to give him his full name, was born in Berlin on 25 January 1886. His father was an archaeologist and his mother a painter. Both were cultured and enlightened people who brought up their eldest son in the beliefs of German humanism. When the young Wilhelm showed early signs of exceptional talent they decided to provide him with a private education based around the Arts. Although his artistic interests were wide it was music that eventually became his overriding passion and he started learning the piano at an early age, composing his first music at the age of seven. The idea of becoming a composer was his prime ambition, despite the failure of his early attempts at composition.
Several factors led to Furtwängler taking up the baton: the wish to conduct his own works; his increasing interest in the art of interpretation and the need to make a living, following the death of his father in 1907. His first concert as conductor was in Munich in 1906 with a programme of works by Bruckner and Beethoven as well as one of his own pieces. His rise to fame as a conductor was quite rapid and, after working in Breslau, Zurich and at the court opera in Munich, he gained his first big appointments at the Lübeck Opera (1911-1915) and in Mannheim (1915-1920). In 1920 he succeeded Richard Strauss as conductor of the Berlin Staatsoper concerts and in 1922, after the death of Nikisch, he took over the conductorship of the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. It was at this time that he also began a long and successful relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. But it was with the Berlin Philharmonic that Furtwängler was to remain for the rest of his career.
Throughout the 1920s and '30s Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic went on a series of European tours to Scandinavia, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary and England. In 1937 Furtwängler conducted at Covent Garden as part of the Coronation celebrations and, in 1938, he was back again to conduct two cycles of the Ring. At this time, too, Furtwängler found himself inextricably involved in the politics of Germany. His liberal outlook meant that it was difficult for him to see Nazism as a serious threat to his country and he dissociated himself from it and opposed it whenever he could. He refused to give the Nazi salute, even in the presence of Adolf Hitler, and used his influence to save the lives of as many Jewish musicians as he could. In spite of this and because of his rather naive political outlook many outside Germany saw his continued residence and musical activity as a kind of collaboration. The final ten years of Furtwängler's life were dogged by controversy, not helped by the American Military Government in post-war Germany delaying his denazification process until 1947, when he was once again allowed to take up conducting.
Success in Europe quickly followed and he appeared with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras as well as local orchestras in London, Stockholm, Edinburgh, Lucerne, Milan, Salzburg and Paris. It is from this time that the superb recordings in this 21-CD set were made. Here is a special selection of some of EMI's celebrated Furtwängler recordings, some recorded live at concerts and some made in the studios. The combination of Furtwängler and EMI brought about one of the greatest collaborations in recording history and the Company is proud to be able to contribute this set to the 125th birthday celebrations of a great conductor.
The last CD in this this set is titled:
Musicians who performed with Wilhelm Furtwangler and others who saw him recall how and why he exerted a magnetic and hypnotic effect on them and his audiences, illustrated by EMI Classics recordings of Furtwangler in rehearsal and performance
Pianist Aldo Ciccolini, Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Violinist Yehudi Menuhin
Peter Gellhorn, Berthold Goldschmidt
Players who performed with Furtwangler in the Philharmonia Orchestra:
Hugh Bean, John Meek, Hugh Maguire, Harold Nash, Gervase de Peyer
Furtwangler's widow, Elisabeth Connoiseur concert-goer Bernard Dennis Browne.