Superb, fully sympathetic life of fiery German conductor Wilhelm
Furtwangler (1886-1954), who was unfairly blackened as a Nazi
convert. Shirakawa, a filmmaker, presents a big, intense picture of
Furtwangler, who - as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for
three decades and of the Vienna Philharmonic for much of that time
- was Germany's foremost cultural figure of his day. A musical
Wunderkind, he had a phenomenal memory and as a child could play on
the piano, from memory, the complete quartets of Beethoven - or
anything else that he had heard even once. Furtwangler's power over
women was equally telepathic. His illegitimate children may well
have numbered 13, while he had five by his second wife. His
secretary "scheduled all Furtwangler's dalliances with all the
alacrity of a master taxi dispatcher." Even so, one young mistress
complained that he was always composing on the weekends she spent
with him. Though Furtwangler saw himself as a composer, Shirakawa
says, his three symphonies - large brooding works - still await a
conductor to bring out their magic. The author makes clear that
Furtwangler's specialty was a nervous drive that kept audiences on
the edges of their seats, a quality that is best captured on his
live radio tapes, although his studio Tristan und Isolde does show
the conductor at his most sublime. He fought Nazimania, had
shouting matches with Hitler, refused to join the Party, and would
not conduct in relation to any political activities - but remained
in Berlin rather than run off to America both to protect German
music from the Party and to help save Jewish musicians. During the
war, Furtwangler was bedeviled by the Wagner family and by his
rising young rival, Herbert von Karajan, a Party member backed by
top Party hacks. Excellent on Furtwangler's recording career and
worth owning for that alone. For all music lovers. (Kirkus Reviews)
Child prodigy turned conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler was a dominant figure in Central European music between 1922 and his death in 1954. Arguably the century's finest conductor, his decision to live and work in Nazi Germany drew accusations of collaboration, which led to his near-framing as a war criminal. This first comprehensive biography dispels the myth to reveal Furtwängler's selfless role in rescuing the German musical tradition from state service and the lives of hundreds of Jews and others from persecution.
Drawing on much previously unpublished material, this is a penetrating portrait of an uncompromising man, whose recordings remain as popular and influential as ever.
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