Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Merry Wives of Windsor

We're getting onto New Year's. Time to break out the Johann Strauss for his once-a-year airing. But more than anything by Strauss, this piece by Otto Nicolai is probably my all-time favorite piece of light classical music. Conducted by Carlos Kleiber, my candidate for the most gifted conductor who ever lived (which is different from saying the greatest). Only Thomas Beecham ever did this piece as well. I've always thought Kleiber's light music fetish would be a bit like Ian McKellen starring in a Judd Apatow movie (admit it, that would be AWESOME), but he really is just as fantastic at this as he is at Beethoven. If it doesn't put you in a good mood, nothing does.

...speaking of Ian McKellen....


  1. Most gifted conductor of all time? There can be little doubt.

    I think that part of the reason people are mystified by Kleiber's "light music fetish" is because they don't hear what he heard. In the years I knew and studied with him (1989 to the end), I came to find that he simply heard differently. Colours, timbral links, tonal energies found a home in his hearing that could make every piece a great piece. Do you know his Butterworth? Borodin 2?

    His repertoire was MUCH wider than most folks knew, because so rare were the circumstances in which he could work according to his standards. He actually only did the Vienna New Year's Day concerts twice in his life, but such was their impact that people imagine he was doing this all the time. In fact, most of these 'bon bons' were given as encores in Japan.

    Additionally, Carlos had an amazing sense of humor. This too paved the way. Fetish? I don't think so. Just sheer great fun.

    I've written a bio of CK ('Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber'), coming out in the summer at Rowman & Littlefield. It includes excerpts from the 200 or so letters, postcards, faxes, cartoons, musical examples etc etc he sent over 15 years, as well as a number he also sent his great friend Sir Peter Jonas.

    I think you'll find in his own words an accounting of what he found in this 'light' repertoire. Turns out there's more there -- far more -- than we imagined.



  2. Well sir, whoever you are I eagerly look forward to any Kleiber biography as I've been trying for years to get information on him that one can't find in a press release. But I think you're taking the use of the word 'fetish' a little too personally. I love the light repertoire, but I think anybody would find it odd that the world's most talented conductor would devote so much time to it when he only made a few appearances every year. I wish all those rumors of his doing a Mikado at the English National would have come to fruition. Our loss.

    And while I've never heard him direct either Borodin or Butterworth, I'm well aware that he conducted both and that he was in correspondence with all sorts of major figures about other music that he never performed live. Again, our loss.

    Best Wishes,


  3. Aaaaand this took me a second to realize but you must be Charles Barber. In which case I must say that I'm amazed and quite honored to find you commenting here. Please feel free to puruse and comment further at any point.

    Merry Christmas to You,