PLATTER PERSPECTIVE: Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt

As I am writing this on May 5, I wish to pay tribute to conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt who was born on this day 124 years ago and passed away on May 28, 1973, at the age of 73 .

Some background: he recorded a number of 78s for the Telefunken label during the 1930s, worked during most of the Hitler years, yet avoided Nazi party membership; in 1936, for obvious reasons of safety, he sent his Jewish wife and their two sons to live in England and was separated from them until the end of World War II.

He conducted with a clear beat and an astute sense of the beauty and power in a piece of music, and recorded distinguished Beethoven Symphonies 3, 4, 7 and 9 with the Vienna Philharmonic during the 1960s. The 3rd Symphony, better known as the Eroica, had an especially spellbinding quality in its blend of heroic nobility, pulsating rhythmic pacing and melting lyricism rarely equalled by the many other performances in its recording history.

I also highly recommend a Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony from the early 1950s with the Hamburg Radio Orchestra, a recording which I listened to yesterday.

Jascha Horenstein

While on the subject of celebrations in May, I wish to point out that May 6 is the 126th birthday of conductor Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) while May 14 is the 139th of Otto Klemperer (1885-1973); Schmidt-Isserstedt, Horenstein and Klemperer are three of six conductors who died in 1973, the others being Karel Ancerl, Istvan Kertesz and Paul Kletzki. 1973 was a horrible year for the loss of truly great conductors.

May 7 commemorates the birthdays of composers Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). In 1889, Tchaikovsky was in Hamburg, Germany, for a performance of his 5th Symphony. Brahms attended the rehearsal, initially disliked the piece but then grew to like it.

A piece of Brahms that I listened to over the weekend was the Alto Rhapsody that he composed out of his secret love for Julie Schumann, the daughter of fellow composer and mentor Robert Schumann and his wife Clara (1820-1896), an attraction that caused Brahms much inner sorrow, only intensified when Julie became engaged.

The Rhapsody was scored for either mezzo-soprano or contralto, a men’s chorus and orchestra. Brahms told Clara and Julie to consider it a Bridal Song/wedding gift. The recording I listened to was a 1962 Angel LP featuring mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig with Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, and a performance of uniquely spellbinding beauty.

A younger friend of Brahms was conductor Felix Weingartner who recorded the composer’s 4 Symphonies along with Beethoven’s 9 on 78s over a 15-year period from 1925 to 1940. A particular favorite is his interpretation of Beethoven’s 5th which I have played several times since July. Weingartner died at the age of 79, on May 7, 1942.

On May 7, 1747, the 62-year-old composer Johann Sebastian Bach arrived in Potsdam, Germany, at the expressed invitation of Frederick the Great to perform for the Emperor, himself a composer and musician of considerable talent. The visit resulted in two masterpieces from the composer before he died in 1750 – the Musical Offering and the unfinished, sublimely inspired Art of the Fugue.

The above music and performances can be heard via YouTube.


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