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1979 – 1988: A New Generation
…While in Western Europe green parties were moving into parliament and civil protests against communist government parties were awakening in the East, for many young musicians historically informed performance practice became an alternative to a bourgeois music culture that was indiscriminate, unquestioned, conservative and in love with vain representation. Although Nikolaus Harnoncourt was not politically active beyond arguing through music, he represents a spirit of optimism influenced by historical critical method. After all, his 1982 book Musik als Klangrede was the first to comprehensively describe the theory of historically informed performance practice. He emphasises again and again that when making music every idea must develop from original sources. He demands that his musicians be ready to discuss, that they ask questions; indeed, he expects objections. This is what automatically makes him the antithesis of the traditional conductor who never justifies his decisions to the “lower orchestra musicians”, but rather enforces his will autocratically. The figurehead of this stance is Herbert von Karajan, whose “kingdom”, the Salzburg Festival, was the epitome of established society events in the eighties, and which celebrated art as a kind of High Mass for the financially elite. As long as Nikolaus Harnoncourt and historically informed performance practice insisted on more “uncommon” Baroque music pieces, ridicule and scorn regarding “homemade and poorly tuned instruments” could, almost in passing, separate urchins from the true elite. However, this was no longer so easy once the Zurich Opera House decided to offer Harnoncourt a Mozart cycle starting in 1980, after the worldwide success of the Monteverdi cycle. Harnoncourt broke into the repertoire of classical music, which he saw as his personal property, and saw himself compelled, against his will and intention, to take on the role of the revolutionary. Like the Monteverdi performances, his Mozart interpretations became a singular sensation opening entirely new worlds of sound. The opposition to these interpretations grew, but so did their success. A Fidelio who endured countless intrigues on the stage of the Hamburg State Opera, for example. was a revelation. This was followed by an invitation from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam to record – as a conductor – pieces of Viennese Classicism with a modern orchestra, the key performance of which was Mozart’s Prague Symphony. That recording was the next severe shock to the so entrenched world of classical music, eventually resulting in an unintended showdown in 1988 at the Salzburg Festival. Pianist Friedrich Gulda had been invited, along with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, to perform the day before the opening of the Festival at the Residenzplatz. However, the press and festival management had polemicised Harnoncourt so much before the event that Gulda cancelled all of his festival performances and the evening became an alternative event to the festival, a kind of protest rally the like of which could only be understood in the troubled times of the late eighties …
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