Compleat Conductor by Gunther Schuller
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A world-renowned conductor and composer who has lead most of the major orchestras in North America and Europe, a talented musician who has played under the batons of such luminaries as Toscanini and Walter, and an esteemed arranger, scholar, author, and educator, Gunther Schuller is without doubt a major figure in the music world. Now, in The Compleat Conductor, Schuller has penned a highly provocative critique of modern conducting, one that is certain to stir controversy. Indeed, in these pages he castigates many of this centurys most venerated conductors for using the podium to indulge their own interpretive idiosyncrasies rather than devote themselves to reproducing the composers stated and often painstakingly detailed intentions. Contrary to the average concert-goers notion (all too often shared by the musicians as well) that conducting is an easily learned skill, Schuller argues here that conducting is the most demanding, musically all embracing, and complex task in the field of music performance. Conducting demands profound musical sense, agonizing hours of study, and unbending integrity. Most important, a conductors overriding concern must be to present a composers work faithfully and accurately, scrupulously following the score including especially dynamics and tempo markings with utmost respect and care. Alas, Schuller finds, rare is the conductor who faithfully adheres to a composers wishes. To document this, Schuller painstakingly compares hundreds of performances and recordings with the original scores of eight major compositions: Beethovens fifth and seventh symphonies, Schumanns second (last movement only), Brahmss first and fourth, Tchaikovskys sixth, Strausss Till Eulenspiegel and Ravels Daphnis et Chloe, Second Suite. Illustrating his points with numerous musical examples, Schuller reveals exactly where conductors have done well and where they have mangled the composers work. As he does so, he also illuminates the interpretive styles of many of our most celebrated conductors, offering pithy observations that range from blistering criticism of Leonard Bernstein (one of the worlds most histrionic and exhibitionist conductors) to effusive praise of Carlos Kleiber (who is so unique, so remarkable, so outstanding that one can only describe him as a phenomenon). Along the way, he debunks many of the music worlds most enduring myths (such as the notion that most of Beethovens metronome markings were wrong or unplayable, or that Schumann was a poor orchestrator) and takes on the cultish clan of period instrument performers, observing that many of their claims are totally spurious and chimeric. In his epilogue, Schuller sets forth clear guidelines for conductors that he believes will help steer them away from self indulgence towards the correct realization of great art. Courageous, eloquent, and brilliantly insightful, The Compleat Conductor throws down the gauntlet to conductors worldwide. It is a controversial book that the music world will be debating for many years to come.
Publication Date:
16 / 10 / 1998

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