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The Composer as Conductor

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Author Topic: The Composer as Conductor  (Read 236 times)
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« on: August 25, 2013, 10:42:41 pm »

Thanks (and there are a couple of comments on my Bliss "Beatitudes" thread as well Grin)

Morton Gould and Gunther Schuller should have been added to the names of American composer-conductors.

We can argue(or not) about specific individual cases and the particular qualities of a composer's recordings but two of the issues I raised still remain for me.

In reverse order-the apparent willingness of so many British composers to conduct their own music(or, in some cases, other people's) contrasted with American composers. I am not sure that it is a matter of temperament-as Kyle suggests Grin Britten was, probably, fairly "highly strung" but that didn't stop him conducting. Maybe it is pure accident Huh

Perhaps more interesting though( Huh) is my point about technique. Now....conductors would, presumably, claim that it takes decades of training and practise to acquire the necessary skills to conduct. Does it Huh What ARE the skills required of a conductor Huh seems to me(and I am not a conductor myself Grin) that he(or she) has to be able to "handle" the orchestra itself. This is particularly difficult for a young conductor-orchestras can be very difficult, the musicians may well have played a particular piece hundreds of times and think that they know it far better than the conductor. The days of the autocratic dictator-conductor(think Fritz Reiner or George Szell or even Georg Solti) are long gone.

With the composer himself on the podium this is much less of an issue. If the composer is well-established the orchestra is likely to respect the unique insights of the composer and, usually, rise to the occasion in terms of their commitment to the piece in question. That is why so many-but by no means all-of the performances on record or disc conducted by composers bring an additional intensity to the rendering-think RVW in his recordings of his own music.

On the other hand there are technical aspects to conducting-the basic ability to beat time, to cue orchestral musicians in: stick technique in short. If I stood up in front of an orchestra and flourished my baton at them the whole piece would come completely unstuck in seconds Grin Yet.....some composers clearly had the basic ability to keep the orchestra together but had a very indistinct and shaky conducting technique. The performance does not fall to bits but one wonders to what extent the orchestra is in fact "carrying" the conductor. As a result, not all performances of a composer's music conducted by himself turn out to be totally successful: both Walton's and William Alwyn's recordings of their own music have been-it is generally agreed-improved upon.

Then take the case of Sir Malcolm Arnold. Arnold(like John Foulds or Arthur Butterworth, to name but two) had played in an orchestra( as principal trumpet). He knew HOW to conduct. There is the quite extraordinary case of his performance of the Seventh Symphony(available on this site) where he, effectively, transforms the work into something entirely different from the later interpretations of conductors by extending it by over ten minutes. Is this really how he intended the symphony to sound Huh

I wonder..........
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