Skip to main content
Select Source:

conducting

conducting. The art (or method) of controlling an orch. or operatic perf. by means of gestures, this control involving the beating of time, ensuring of correct entries, and the ‘shaping’ of individual phrasing. (For a discussion of the history of the use of the baton see under that entry.) The advance of the cond. as one of the most important and idolized of musicians dates from early in the 19th cent. and is parallel with (and perhaps a consequence of) the development of the expressive, Romantic elements in mus. François Habeneck, conductor at Paris Opéra 1824–47, also founded in 1828 the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire at which he introduced Beethoven's syms. to Paris and cond. Berlioz's works, but he never used a full score, conducting from a copy of the first vn. part (and presumably from a memory of the full score). Berlioz himself was one of the first to conduct from a full score, and Spohr, one of the best of the early ‘modern’ conds., probably used a pf. reduction since he is credited with the invention of ‘cue’ letters and nos. in scores as aids to rehearsal. Mendelssohn was an excellent cond., not only of his own mus. Perhaps the first virtuoso cond. as the term is now understood was Wagner. From him stems the great tradition of ‘interpretation’, whereby a cond. is not merely responsible for the technical excellence of the perf. but also for projecting his personal attitude to the composer's intentions. He was followed by Bülow, Anton Seidl, Hermann Levi, Hans Richter, Franz Wüllner, Felix Mottl, and others. After Wagner came a trio of composer-conds., Mahler, R. Strauss, and Weingartner, who dominated European mus. until the coming of Furtwängler, Walter, Klemperer, Kleiber, Krauss, and many besides, the most illustrious being Toscanini. The first English conds. to win wide acceptance were Frederic Cowen, Henry Wood, and Thomas Beecham. With the development of recording, conducting ceased to be an ephemeral calling—the interpretations were preserved and can be studied and compared. There is no explanation, beyond the obvious one of psychological personality, for the way in which a cond. can, often with a minimum of rehearsal, impose his own style on an orch. he may not have encountered before, often completely changing the quality of sound or tone-colour even when the orch. is used to regular perf. under another permanent cond. Nor is there an explanation why some (not all) conds. differ vastly in their artistic approach to the recording-studio and the public hall.

There are many examples of long assoc. between a cond. and an orch., e.g. Amsterdam Concertgebouw (Mengelberg and Haitink), Suisse Romande (Ansermet), Boston SO (Koussevitzky), Philadelphia (Ormandy), Chicago (Stock and Solti), Hallé (Barbirolli), Cleveland (Szell), NBC (Toscanini), Berlin Phil. (Furtwängler and Karajan).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"conducting." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"conducting." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conducting

"conducting." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/conducting

conducting

conducting, in music, the art of unifying the efforts of a number of musicians simultaneously engaged in musical performance. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance the conductor was primarily a time beater, maintaining the measure or tactus of polyphonic music with his hand or a roll of music paper. During the baroque era the harpsichordist, playing the basso continuo, was the conductor. When the continuo disappeared, the first violinist, even today called concertmaster, became the leader or shared the function with a keyboard player. A few 18th-century conductors, such as Johann Stamitz of the Mannheim orchestra, achieved a high standard of performance. The custom of beating time with a stick (baton) on a music stand or table originated in France. This noisy practice was irritating to the listener. It actually caused the death of the composer Lully who struck his own foot with his baton, resulting in an abscess that killed him. The beating technique was altered and a more subtle manner was used by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Spohr. Berlioz, in his treatise on instrumentation and Wagner, in his classic treatise Über das Dirigieren [concerning directing], laid down the principles of modern conducting; and under the latter's influence Hans von Bülow became the first of the virtuoso conductors. A generally conventional set of gestures is used for beating time, a downstroke marking the beginning of a measure. The baton remains popular although a few conductors, notably Stokowski, prefer not to use it. Modern conducting is highly individual and requires great musical understanding, a thorough knowledge of instruments and of the concert repertory, a clear mastery of the baton and hand gestures, and a human sympathy for the performers.

See A. C. Boult, A Handbook on the Technique of Conducting (7th ed. 1951); C. Bamberger, The Conductor's Art (1965); H. C. Schonberg, The Great Conductors (1967).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"conducting." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"conducting." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conducting

"conducting." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/conducting