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Symposium Review I
Richard Wagner: »On [my] conducting« (1869) - From beginner to interpretive conductor
In the first half of the 19th century, conducting a larger-scale ensemble was neither an already-established, institutionally-taught profession nor did it warrant recognition as such. Thus, Richard Wagner was also compelled to »eyeball« the skills of active conductors such as Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, François-Antoine Habeneck and Gaspare Spontini in order to develop his own. This began during his studies in Leipzig through, for example, copying out Beethoven’s 5th and 9th symphonies and by listening to the conservatoire orchestra during a stay in Paris in 1839. Here, Wagner had the opportunity to familiarize himself with Habeneck’s intensive rehearsal methods with the orchestra that served as the groundwork-forming inspiration for the 1846 performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony in Dresden – enhanced by his insights acquired by that time such as his notion of Melos. The aim of the group, orchestra, choir and ultimately general dress rehearsals based upon a previous, meticulously-executed study of the score was not only to achieve an excellent performance through intense rehearsal work but also to realize and solidify the conductor’s interpretation of ideas. Fostered also by Franz Liszt, the idea that a conductor, with his means, must form an interpretation as would a pianist, encompasses not only tempo modifications but expressive presentation as well. Such preparation and implementation based upon this idea may certainly be recognized as the foundation of the new art of conducting.
Translation: Jennifer Smyth