Friday, April 10, 2009

The maestro and the magic

On the Leonard Pennario blog today we were talking about the "Good Friday Spell" from "Parsifal." And Prof. G sent me this link to a 1928 "Parsifal" performance.

The conductor was the legendary Wagnerian conductor Karl Muck. Prof. G writes: "Apparently one of these excerpts allows you to hear the original Bayreuth temple bells which were destroyed in World War II. Wagner had a lot of trouble coming up with convincing bells for the temple. Nothing quite satisfied him."

I regret the loss of those bells. So many things, lost in the madness of World War II. In one book I read how the Wagners, at Bayreuth, were desperately worried about the safety of the Wagner/Liszt correspondence. They packed half of it off in one car and sent that car off in one direction, the other half in another car headed in another direction. The hope was that at least half the collection would survive.

Terrible days.

Maestro Muck was quite the character from what I have read about him. I am flying to work at the moment so I do not have time to look this up but I am pretty sure it came from one of New York Times critic Harold Schonberg's books: A violinist was asking Muck's advice about a pain he had in his arm. "Cut off your arm then," Muck said. Or something like that. What I remember is how the author -- Schonberg, I think it was -- described him. "Turning away with vast indifference."

I also recall reading from the same book that Muck's career at Bayreuth ended without fanfare. "The sorrowful old man crept away. No effort was made to keep him there." I am pretty sure I remember that from Schonberg's book word for word.

The trivia we music fans wind up carrying around in our heads!

That is Karl Muck up above. He is obviously inspired by Wagner! In the picture it is as if he and Wagner have become one.

Here is Maestro Muck without the hat.

Here is a historic Bayreuth program.

Wagner, not a nice guy. Karl Muck, not a nice guy. But the music, so beautiful and transcendent!

I am glad I do not have to be the one to sort all this out in the afterlife.


  1. You are right about the Schonberg book "The Great Conductors". I think it's out of print. Toscanini hated Muck, but that may have been mutual ethnic animosity, plus a very real professional threat. Artur Schnabel and Paderewski had unqualified praise for him. He was a victim of Great War (I'm using your terminology) hysteria while he was conductor of the Boston Symphony and the experience left permanent scars. Bruno Walter found a sensitive man underneath the sardonic mask, but isn't that often the case? There is a saying that cynics are actually brokenhearted idealists.

    Anyway, the 1928 recording features, I think, quite good sound, and a beautiful, flowing performance. But I'd better shut up...I'm weaseling into your music critic role!!

  2. That is so sad, about Maestro Muck and the Great War. I do love that term Great War, by the way! We should always use that, along with "Mendelssohn Bartholdy."