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1998
1989 – 1998: The Bloom of Romantic Music
…Yet just like the power of the cold warriors collapsing, as though the state troops with their unflappable sense of mission could no longer cover up the system’s lack of substance, so too did the cultural bastions of the Ancien Régime succumb to the post war culture of the West. Despite the threat having been so close to home in 1988, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted a core piece from the classical repertoire just a few years later for the 1992 Salzburg Festival for the first time: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Harnoncourt took advantage of these new performance opportunities, not to consolidate what had been achieved, but instead to create an almost explosive departure. He used the chances given to him by promoters and the public to experiment and discover, going on expeditions to musical regions which brought him ever closer to the present, all the way to Alban Berg and Béla Bartók. One special place where he could do this has been the styriarte festival, founded in 1985 in Graz, Harnoncourt’s hometown. The festival offered him more and more opportunities to curiously explore new worlds. The result was a series of notable cycles with symphonic music, the recordings of which have delighted listeners the world over, especially the performance of all of Beethoven’s symphonies. In the nineties Harnoncourt dedicated himself in particular to the repertoire of the great classics. Regardless of whether it was music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Offenbach, Bruckner or Dvořák, Nikolaus Harnoncourt continuously tested his working method for critiquing the sources and for the fundamental examination of the original aspects of the pieces, of which it seemed everything had already been said, had already been discovered. It was all the more astonishing, terrifying even, when his interpretations mercilessly revealed how much routine, how much sloppiness, and above all how much convenience the greatest works of music history have disguised. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the eternal sceptic, naturally warns us again and again not to believe any one interpretation of music to be timeless and “authentic”. He even believes he can predict that in a few decades new audiences will laugh at his efforts just as we do now at the Karajan school which has only recently been overcome. This does not, however, discourage Harnoncourt from delving deeper into the original pieces to discover a truth that would be valid today, a truth that is the composer’s, the piece’s own – and not the truth of others riddled with prejudice. These prejudices can date back a long time. Sometimes even as far back as the time in which the pieces themselves were created. Robert Schumann, for example, was reproached by his contemporaries for his lack of musical fancy and command of instruments. In search of the soul of German Romanticism, Harnoncourt discovered a deep fondness for Schumann and anyone who witnessed the resurrection of Schumann’s Genoveva at the 1996 styriarte festival will never again doubt him as a composer, though they will doubt their own tendency to naively believe in clichésYet just like the power of the cold warriors collapsing, as though the state troops with their unflappable sense of mission could no longer cover up the system’s lack of substance, so too did the cultural bastions of the Ancien Régime succumb to the post war culture of the West. Despite the threat having been so close to home in 1988, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducted a core piece from the classical repertoire just a few years later for the 1992 Salzburg Festival for the first time: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. (read more) Harnoncourt took advantage of these new performance opportunities, not to consolidate what had been achieved, but instead to create an almost explosive departure. He used the chances given to him by promoters and the public to experiment and discover, going on expeditions to musical regions which brought him ever closer to the present, all the way to Alban Berg and Béla Bartók. One special place where he could do this has been the styriarte festival, founded in 1985 in Graz, Harnoncourt’s hometown. The festival offered him more and more opportunities to curiously explore new worlds. The result was a series of notable cycles with symphonic music, the recordings of which have delighted listeners the world over, especially the performance of all of Beethoven’s symphonies. In the nineties Harnoncourt dedicated himself in particular to the repertoire of the great classics. Regardless of whether it was music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Offenbach, Bruckner or Dvořák, Nikolaus Harnoncourt continuously tested his working method for critiquing the sources and for the fundamental examination of the original aspects of the pieces, of which it seemed everything had already been said, had already been discovered. It was all the more astonishing, terrifying even, when his interpretations mercilessly revealed how much routine, how much sloppiness, and above all how much convenience the greatest works of music history have disguised. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the eternal sceptic, naturally warns us again and again not to believe any one interpretation of music to be timeless and “authentic”. He even believes he can predict that in a few decades new audiences will laugh at his efforts just as we do now at the Karajan school which has only recently been overcome. This does not, however, discourage Harnoncourt from delving deeper into the original pieces to discover a truth that would be valid today, a truth that is the composer’s, the piece’s own – and not the truth of others riddled with prejudice. These prejudices can date back a long time. Sometimes even as far back as the time in which the pieces themselves were created. Robert Schumann, for example, was reproached by his contemporaries for his lack of musical fancy and command of instruments. In search of the soul of German Romanticism, Harnoncourt discovered a deep fondness for Schumann and anyone who witnessed the resurrection of Schumann’s Genoveva at the 1996 styriarte festival will never again doubt him as a composer, though they will doubt their own tendency to naively believe in clichés …
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