Post by jrsnfld Post by aesthete8
When someone recently posted that, I could only wonder--how can
correct tempi NOT matter if the composer's intent MATTERS?
I made a comment very much like that in response to some post that, if
I recall, based Stokowski's fame and notoriety on his reputation for
tempi. He did do some weird things with tempo transitions, he was
somewhat free with his rubato, and yes, occasionally (like almost
everybody) Stokowski would pick a strange tempo (witness his Beethoven
8, which I mentioned a long time ago onrmcr). But the bottom line is,
any eccentricities of tempo were dwarfed by his fame as a magician of
sound. It was the "Stokowski Sound" that people loved to talk about,
not his treatment of tempi.
So, if you're responding to what I said (and your title is pretty much
what I said), then you're taking it out of context and asking a whole
different, needless question in return. That people didn't really make
much of Stokowski's tempi does not mean that "correct" tempi do not
I'll use an illustration of this that I've used before. Beethoven's
7th symphony has three classic performances on 78 (or at least 3
famous enough to be referred to by Dennis Matthews in a 1970 interval
talk on performance practice in the light of Beethoven's sketchbooks,
scores and contemporary account. James Loughran + BBCScSO gave
performances of the 7th symphony with all repeats, fairly swift, very
pleasant. Matthews discussed the slow movement- played excerpts from
Toscanini NYPSO- and judged that the flowing motion was consistent
with Beethoven's intent. I had this on HMV 78s and on an RCA Camden
LP. The 78s had a much greater dynamic range than the LP, but there
were thus no surprises for me in the Toscanini excerpts. Then he
played an excerpt from Stokowski Philadelphia 1927. In this case the
tempo was slow indeed, but it didn't drag. Dismissed as inconsistent
with composer's intent. Then Mengelberg- in this case the tempo was
slow but there was also a rhythmic alteration/distortion- a limping
effect. I was fascinated, because it also seemed to work.
Eventually I was able to get both Stokowski and Mengelberg, and they
do not disappoint. If Beethoven's intentions were fully described by
the notes on the page both fail to fulfill them. If, on the other
hand, Beethoven wrote with the ultimate intent of affecting the
audiences who heard the symphony, then both succeed brilliantly.
I have heard many other successful recordings or performances of
dubious faithfulness to the letter of the score, and some deadly (but
apparently accurate) performances and recordings too.
It appears to me that there is something other than accuracy at work
here and I lack the vocabulary to explain it well. I'll take a stab at
it though. Each spoken language can be spoken accurately by machine-
we are all familiar with the robocall or the Voice Response Unit. We
all understand what they mean, so to that extent they are successful.
However, few of us would choose to hear such a voice with its usual
program speaking, for example, a Shakespeare sonnet or reading aloud
the Beatitudes. The difference is in emphasis, both rhythmic and
intonational. Something similar makes Mengelberg and Stokowski
successful in much of their recorded legacy, and tempo alone really
doesn't have much to do with it. Both also recorded the Schubert
Unfinished symphony, successfully, but almost certainly way too slowly
However, as Harnoncourt said about Casals conducting, after a great
deal of study on H's part he reached the performance style that Casals
had years before. Perhaps Mengelberg's day in the academic sunshine
will come too.