Furtwängler, (Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin) Wilhelm
Furtwängler, (Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin) Wilhelm
Furtwängler, (Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin) Wilhelm, great German conductor; b. Berlin, Jan. 25, 1886; d. Ebersteinburg, Nov. 30, 1954. His father, Adolf Furtwangler, was a distinguished archaeologist and director of the Berlin Museum of Antiquities, and his mother, Adelheid (née Wendt) Furtwängler, was a painter. A precocious child, he received instruction in piano at a very early age from his mother and his aunt; by the time he was 7, he had begun to compose. After his father was called to the Univ. of Munich as prof. of archaeology in 1894, he was tutored at home by the archaeologist Ludwig Curtius, the art historian and musicologist Walter Riezler, and the sculptor Adolf Hildebrand. He commenced formal training in composition with Beer-Walbrunn, and then pursued the study of advanced counterpoint with Rheinberger (1900–1901); he subsequently completed his studies with Schillings. After working as repetiteur at the Breslau Opera (1905–06), he became 3rd conductor at the Zurich Opera in 1906; that same year he scored a notable success conducting Bruckner’s 9th Sym. in Munich with the Kaim Orch. From 1907 to 1909 he was an asst. conductor under Mottl at the Munich Court Opera. He then was 3rd conductor under Pfitzner at the Strasbourg Municipal Opera from 1909 to 1911. In 1911 he was appointed music director in Liibeck, a position he held until 1915 when he was called to Mannheim as Generalmusikdirektor. It was during this period that Furtwängler began to secure his reputation as a conductor of great promise. In 1915 he made his first appearance in Vienna conducting the Konzertvereinsorchester. He scored a notable success at his debut with the Berlin Phil, on Dec. 14, 1917. In 1920 he resigned his position in Mannheim to serve as Strauss’s successor as music director of the Berlin State Opera orch. concerts, remaining there until 1922; concurrently he served as Mengelberg’s successor as music director of the Frankfurt am Main Museumgesellschaft concerts. On Aug. 30, 1921, he made his debut with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch. to critical acclaim. Upon the death of Nikisch in 1922, Furtwängler was appointed his successor as music director of both the Berlin Phil, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch., retaining the latter position until 1928. On March 27, 1922, he made his debut with the Vienna Phil. He made his first appearance in Milan in 1923 when he conducted the La Scala Orch. On Jan. 24, 1924, Furtwängler made his British debut with the Royal Phil. Soc. in London. His auspicious U.S. debut followed on Jan. 3, 1925, with the N.Y. Phil.; he returned to conduct there again in 1926 and 1927. Upon Weingartner’s resignation as regular conductor of the Vienna Phil, in 1927, Furtwängler was elected his successor. He made his debut at the Vienna State Opera conducting Das Rheingold on Oct. 17, 1928. That same year he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Univ. of Heidelberg. His debut as an opera conductor in Berlin took place on June 13, 1929, when he conducted Le nozze di Figaro at the Berlin Festival. In 1929 the German government awarded him the medal Pour le Merite in recognition of his outstanding contributions to German musical culture. In 1930 he resigned his position with the Vienna Phil, having been named Generalmusikdirektor of Berlin. In 1930 he was made music director of the Bayreuth Festival. He made his first appearance there conducting Tristan und Isolde on July 23, 1931, but resigned his position at the close of the season. He then made his debut at the Berlin State Opera on Nov. 12, 1931, conducting the local premiere of Pfitzner’s Das Herz, and in 1932 was appointed its music director.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, they moved quickly to appropriate Furtwängler’s stature as Germany’s greatest conductor for their own propaganda pur-poses. He was made vice president of the newly organized Reichsmusikkammer and then was appointed one of the newly created Prussian State Councilors, an honorary lifetime title which Furtwängler refused to use. He also refused to join the Nazi party. Early on, he began to encounter difficulties with the authorities over personal and artistic matters. He opposed the regime’s policies against the Jews and others, and did all he could to assist those who sought him out, both musicians and non-musicians alike, often at great personal risk. For the 1933–34 season of the Berlin State Opera, Furtwängler scheduled the premiere of HindemitiYs Mathis der Maler, even though the Nazis had branded the composer a “cultural Bolshevist” and a “spiritual non-Aryan” (his wife was half Jewish). The Nazis compelled Furtwängler to withdraw the work, but he attempted to defy them by conducting a symphonic version of the score with the Berlin Phil, on March 11, 1934. It elicited a prolonged ovation from the audience, but drew condemnation from the Nazi press as a contemptible example of “degenerate” music. The ensuing polemical campaign against Furtwängler led him to resign all of his positions on Dec. 4, 1934. (As a propaganda ploy, the Nazis would not accept his resignation as a Prussian State Councilor since this was a lifetime “honor” granted by the regime.) Furtwängler’s devotion to what he considered to be the true (non-Nazi) Germany and his belief that it was his duty to preserve its great musical heritage compelled him to make an uneasy peace with the regime. On April 25, 1935, he returned as a conductor with the Berlin Phil. Although he appeared regularly with it in succeeding years, he refused an official position with it so as not to be beholden to the Nazis. In 1936 he was offered the position of conductor of the N.Y. Phil, in succession to Toscanini, but he declined the offer in the face of accusations in the American press that he was a Nazi collaborator. In 1937 he was invited to London to participate in the musical celebrations in honor of the coronation of King George VI, where he conducted the Ring cycle at Covent Garden and Beethoven’s 9th Sym. On Aug. 27, 1937, he made his first appearance at the Salzburg Festival conducting Beethoven’s 9th Sym. In 1939 he was honored by the French government as a Commandeur of the Legion d’honneur. After the out-break of World War II on Sept. 1, 1939, Furtwängler confined his activities almost exclusively to Germany and Austria, principally with the Berlin Phil, and the Vienna Phil. In 1944, after learning that Himmler had placed him on the Nazi’s liquidation list, Furtwängler sent his family to Switzerland for safety, while he remained behind to keep his conducting engagements for the 1944–45 season. However, after conducting the Vienna Phil, in Jan. 1945, he too fled to Switzerland. His decision to pursue his career in his homeland during the Third Reich left him open to charges by the Allies after the war of being a Nazi collaborator. Although the Vienna denazification commission cleared him on March 9, 1946, as a German citizen he was ordered to stand trial in Berlin before the Allied Denazification Tribunal for Artists. Following his trial on Dec. 11 and 17,1946, he was acquitted of all charges; it was not until March 1947, however, that he was formally “normalized.” On May 25, 1947, he conducted the Berlin Phil, for the first time since the close of World War II, leading an all- Beethoven concert to extraordinary approbation. On Aug. 10, 1947, he also resumed his association with the Vienna Phil, when he conducted it at the Salzburg Festival. He made his first postwar appearance at the Berlin State Opera on Oct. 3, 1947, conducting Tristan und Isolde. In Feb. 1948 he returned to England for the first time in more than a decade to conduct a series of concerts with the London Phil. He also became active as a conductor with the Philharmonia Orch. of London. When the management of the Chicago Sym. Orch. announced Furtwängler’s engagement as a guest conductor for the 1949–50 season, a campaign against him as a Nazi collaborator compelled him to cancel his engagements. However, in Western Europe his appearances on tours with the Berlin Phil, and the Vienna Phil, were acclaimed. In 1950 he made his debut at Milan’s La Scala conducting the Ring cycle. With Flagstad as soloist, he conducted the premiere of Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder in London on May 22, 1950. On July 29, 1951, he reopened the Bayreuth Festival conducting Beethoven’s 9th Sym. In 1952 he resumed his position of music director of the Berlin Phil., but increasing ill health and growing deafness clouded his remaining days. He was scheduled to conduct the Berlin Phil, on its first tour of the U.S. in the spring of 1955, but his health further declined, leading to his death in the fall of 1954; Herbert von Karajan was elected his successor.
Furtwängler was the perfect embodiment of all that was revered in the Austro-German tradition of the art of conducting. As its foremost exponent, he devined and made manifest the spiritual essence of the great master-works of the symphonic and operatic repertory. His often refulgent and always-inspired interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, and Bruckner, many of which have been preserved on recordings, attest to his greatness as a recreative artist of the highest order. Furtwängler was also a creative artist who composed in an expansive Romantic style. Sketches for an early sym. (1903) were utilized in a mature sym. (1937–41), premiered in Marl kreis Recklinghausen on April 27, 1991, Alfred Walter conducting. Another sym. (1943–7) had 3 of its movements premiered in Berlin on Jan. 26, 1956, Joseph Keilberth conducting. Among his other works were a Te Deum (1910); Piano Quintet (1935); Symphonic Concertante for Piano and Orch. (1937); 2 violin sonatas (1937,1940).
Johannes Brahms und Anton Bruckner (Leipzig, 1941; 2nd ed., 1952); W. Abendroth, ed., Gesprache uber Musik (Zurich, 1948; 7th ed., 1958; Eng. tr., 1953, as Concerning Music)’, Ton und Wort (Wiesbaden, 1954; 8th ed., 1958); M. Hurlimann, ed., Der Musiker und sein Publikum (Zurich, 1955); S. Brockhaus, ed., Vermachtnis (Wiesbaden, 1956; 4th ed., 1958); E Thiess, ed., Briefe (Wiesbaden, 1964); E. Furtwängler and G. Birkner, mi-helm Furtwängler Aufzeichnungen 1924–54 (Mainz, 1980; Eng. tr., 1989); R. Taylor, tr. and ed., Furtwängler on Music: Essays and Addresses (Aldershot and Brookfield, Vt, 1991).
R. Specht, W. F. (Vienna, 1922); O. Schrenck, W. F. (Berlin, 1940); F. Herzfeld, W. F.: Weg und Wesen (Leipzig, 1941; 3rd ed., rev., 1950); B. Geissmar, Two Worlds of Music (N.Y., 1946); W. Siebert, F: Mensch und Kunstler (Buenos Aires, 1950);C. Riess, F: Musik und Politik (Bern, 1953; abridged Eng. tr., 1955); B. Gavoty and R. Hauert, W. F (Geneva, 1954); M. Hurlimann, ed., W. F: Im Urteil seiner Zeit (Zurich, 1955); D. Gillis, ed., F Recalled (Tuckahoe, N.Y., 1966); idem, F and America (Woodhaven, N.Y., 1970); E. Furtwängler, Uber W. F (Wiesbaden, 1979; Eng. tr., 1993); K. Hoecker, Die nie vergessenen Klange: Erinnerungen an W. F. (Berlin, 1979); P. Pirie, F and the Art of Conducting (London, 1980); J. Hunt, The F. Sound (London, 1985; 3rd ed., 1989); J. Squire and J. Hunt, F and Great Britain (London, 1985); B. Wessling, W. F: Eine kritische Biographie (Stuttgart, 1985); G. Gefen, F: Une Biographie par le Bisque (Paris, 1986); J. Matzner, F: Analyse, Dokument, Protokoll (Zurich, 1986); E Prieberg, Kraftprobe: W. F im Dritten Reich (Wiesbaden, 1986; Eng. tr., 1991); H.-H. Schonzeler, F. (London, 1990); S. Shirakawa, The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of W. F (Oxford, 1992).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire