28 September 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Spotlight Schumann: The Fourth Symphony

“There is the sense – not just of a report on a concert but a visual interpretation that will give the public an added sense of the greatness of the music we are playing.”

Karajan to Henri-Georges Clouzot

The Fourth was Karajan’s favourite Schumann symphony. This is quite unusual. The “Spring Symphony” and the “Rhenish” are generally much more popular. More than that: the Fourth (which isn’t even the fourth but the second) is the piece of the entire German Romanticism that Karajan – by far! – performed and recorded most often. He conducted it 70 times in concert and recorded at least four versions that are still in the catalogue: in the studio with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1957 and 1971, a live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1987 and another live document of one of Karajan’s rare encounters with the Staatskapelle Dresden in 1972.

Schumann’s Fourth is also one of the five pieces that Karajan filmed with the French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot for the planned TV project “The Art of Conducting”.

The Schumann is particularly remarkable because it was the first (1965) of their films and it is “the only visual record we have of Karajan rehearsing an entire work in detail from end to end (Richard Osborne)”. The setting is unorthodox. It’s not a concert hall but a recording studio. Karajan and the Vienna Symphony are in everyday clothes. He says a few words about a “gramophone recording” on some other day (which doesn’t happen) and starts the rehearsal. It lasts about an hour. Afterwards, the complete piece is performed in the same setting. It’s the seemingly unintentional filming of a normal recording session. The workshop aesthetics and Clouzot’s unidealized style – sometimes he films the motionless, “uninspired” faces of the musicians – create “the most touching images of the conductor, probably because they were already indiscreet by Karajan’s standards. Nevertheless, he presented himself to the camera with the confidence that Clouzot, being much more experienced, knew what he was doing. (Peter Uehling)”

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