Saturday, January 2, 2010

In Praise of Tradition - part 3

Ah hell, more Johann Strauss. Why not? Nobody listens to him much after the first week of January. Might as well let him have his day in the sun.

Here's Erich Kleiber doing "The Artist's Life" in 1929 with the Vienna Philharmonic, only audio unfortunately. Again, this is how to play Johann Strauss, and it's fascinating that the Kleibers gave Strauss so much attention when so many of the other great German conductors refused to give Strauss his due (Herbert von Karajan actually being a shining exception). They all conducted him a little bit: even Furtwangler did from time to time, but neither Furtwangler or Klemperer or Bruno Walter or Fritz Busch seemed to view Strauss as more than a wonderful purveyor of encores. Very few musicians have ever given Johann Strauss the seriousness he deserves as a great composer. No, his music does not particularly plumb the depths, but there's far less harmonic variety in major keys than there are in minor keys. As in life, it's far harder in music to be interesting when you're happy. And any composer able to keep things interesting and light at the same time deserves all due credit.

And for anybody who thinks that Strauss is all fluff, there's a famous story about Brahms that a young Viennese musician once asked him for an autograph. Brahms, a close friend of Johann Strauss's, complied by writing in the student's notebook the opening theme from the Blue Danube with the inscription underneath "Unfortunately not by J. Brahms."

(A frail Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in Voices of Spring in 1987 with Kathleen Battle singing the often omitted solo soprano line.)

No comments:

Post a Comment