Vol. 1  VKJK

Edition Gewandhausorchester Vol. 1 VKJK 1109


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“Attention – attention! This is Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk! …”
“We are going over now to the New Gewandhaus in Leipzig!”
Sound cut in wax
Authentic sound
“Treat this confidentially!”
Unfamiliar tasks
“Twilight hour” …
More CDs with Hermann Abendroth



The New Gewandhaus of 1884
© Photo from Booklet – Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig



Hermann Abendroth and Gewandhausorchestra

Richard Strauss 1864 – 1949
1 Festive Prelude, op. 61 (for great orchestra and organ) Gewandhaus-Performace history
Recorded at Großer Saal of the New Gewandhaus  from 1884
Recording date: March 5, 1940

Produced by Reichssender Leipzig
Orgel: Walcker-Organ  of the New Gewandhaus  from 1884
The name of the organist is not knownIt could be Günter Ramin.
Originalquelle: Vier Rundfunkschallplatten von innen nach außen abtastend

Eugene d’Albert 1864 – 1932
2 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in C major, op. 20 Gewandhaus-Perfomance history
Adolf Steiner: Violoncello

Recorded at „Concordia-Festsaal“, Leipzig-Gohlis
Recording date: November 6, 1944
Produced by Reichsrundfunk Berlin

Magnetic tape 77,1 cm/s

Engelbert Humperdinck 1854 – 1921
Moorish Rhapsody Gewandhaus-Performance history
3 Tarifa:
Elegy at sunset
4 Tangier: A night in a Moorish café
5 Tetuan: Ride into the Desert

Recorded at „Concordia-Festsaal“, Leipzig-Gohlis
Recording date: March 12, 1945
Produced by Reichsrundfunk Berlin
Magnetic tape 77,1 cm/s

CD total time: 1:14:27



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The Leipzig market square and old town hall during the Spring Fair. Decorated with flags in the middle of the picture is the Alte Waage, home of the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk-AG until 1929. Leipzig had over 700,000 inhabitants at end of the 1930s.
© Photo from Booklet – Stadtarchiv Leipzig


“Dear listener, just consider:
Radio disseminates literature and music evening for evening, day after day, preparing the way for all the arts. That is where the cultural value of broadcasting lies. It does not deny artists an income, it gives them one, not only in itself, but by increasing the demand for art, which later needs to be satisfied in the concert halls and theatres.” (1930)

Julius Witte
Artistic director of the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk-AG [Mirag]


“Attention – attention! This is Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk! …”

www Mirag Alte Waage

A Mirag truck in front of the Alte Waage at the market square.

A truck clatters over Leipzig‘s market square in the summer heat of August 1928. It is carrying large chests and tall metal cupboards that have been stowed with deliberate care. That would be nothing out of the ordinary if it were not for the conspicuous “Mirag” in round letters adorning its side. The spoked-wheel vehicle does not have far to go, in fact it stops just a few metres further on in front of the impressive market frontage with the house number 8. A neon sign shows that this is where the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk broadcasting company – “Mirag” for short – is setting up its equipment in its new broadcasting and business premises. It is high time too, since the studios established in the building of the Leipzig Trade Fair authority (the “Alte Waage” at the market square) for the Spring Fair of 1924 have long been much too small for the expanding and forward-looking medium of radio. Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk can already boast having sold licences to 300,000 households, after all. Apart from the “gramophone record concerts”, all its broadcasting is live and local. Broadcasts of operas from the Dresden Semperoper, the National Theatre in Weimar and the New Theatre in Leipzig are the favourites.

Mirag even has a radio orchestra of its own for concerts – the Leipzig Symphony Orchestra. It performs at the Alte Handelsbörse on the Naschmarkt, which has been converted into a studio.

And what about the Gewandhaus Orchestra?
Its 1928 concerts have yet to be heard on the radio!
That is not in any way an oversight on the part of Mirag, since the concert repertoire is adequately covered by its own orchestra. However, for the wide-ranging audiences in Saxony, Thuringia and the Prussian province corresponding roughly with today‘s Saxony-Anhalt, the programme policy is clearly too narrow and in the long run indefensible, especially because the Mirag broad- casting house in Dresden already broadcasts two orchestras – the Staatskapelle and the Dresden Philharmonic!


The new Mirag premises in Leipzig at Markt 8 (Barthels Hof ), seen from the market side in about 1930

The move into the new premises at the market square is intended to broaden the scope of the Leipzig programmes.
In April 1929, the Leipzig Radio magazine Die Mirag wrote:
Anyone who pays Mirag a visit at the moment (…) and boldly explores the elegant old house‘s winding corridors that recall the tunnels of a mine will see many indications that the Leipzig radio station has expanded its programme (…).
Two huge floors are at the disposal of Mirag.

As newsworthy as the expansion of the broadcasting centre itself are the planned technical installations – a necessary prerequisite for the intended integration of new broadcasting locations into the programme …


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Verstärker- und Technikraum der „Mirag“ im Neuen Gewandhaus

“We are going over now to the New Gewandhaus in Leipzig!”


Antragsschreiben des „Mirag“-Intendanten Dr. Ludwig Neubeck an das Leipziger Theater- und Musikamt zur Genehmigung für eine Rundfunkübertragung des Gewandhausorchesters vom 20. November 1931

Now things moved fast. At the Gewandhaus (which still stood next to the Reichsgericht in the “Musicians’ Quarter”), Mirag hired several rooms between the main auditorium and the chamber music hall and fitted them out as a broadcasting studio.

The live broadcast of the Gewandhaus Orchestra‘s New Year Concert on January 1, 1930 proved that the new Mirag outside broadcasting unit was fully functional. On that evening, for the first time, listeners sitting around radio sets all over central Germany heard the Gewandhaus Orchestra under its conductor Bruno Walter join Thomaskirche organist Günther Ramin at the Walcker organ of the New Gewandhaus in Reger‘s Organ Fantasia op. 40 no. 1, in a concert that also included Mozart‘s motet “Exultate, jubilate” K165 and Anton Bruckner‘s Fifth Symphony in B flat major.

In that same year, the Great Depression would drive innumerable German companies into bankruptcy and push unemployment figures towards the six-million mark, threatening the existence of even such large cultural institutions as the Gewandhaus and the Conservatory in Leipzig.

That made Mirag‘s plan for regular broadcasts with the Gewandhaus Orchestra all the more welcome. In July 1931, after protracted negotia- tions, the director of Mirag and the Theatre and Music Department of the City of Leipzig – the body responsible for the Gewandhaus Orchestra – finally signed a contract stipulating that Mirag was to “record live and include in its programme three Gewandhaus concerts per year for 10,000 Reichsmark”.

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Sound cut in wax

heoretically therefore, the German Radio Archive actually ought to be well stocked with recordings of live radio broadcasts of the Gewandhaus Orchestra from the 1930s! That is unfortunately not the case, since it was technically not easy at the time to capture evanescent live music events on recordings. As magnetic tape had not yet been invented, radio technicians had to use the “disc cutters” they had developed for broadcasting purposes.

In spite of its weight and difficult handling, the wax disc had stood the test of time for a decade in radio recording. Its main drawback was that it could be played only once; for repeated use, a shellac copy was made, and at last it was possible for radio stations to build up record archives of their own productions.

Zwei Schallplattenschneideapparate (links) und zwei Plattenspieler bei der MIR AG, 1932

Recording smaller pieces of from three to four minutes‘ duration was no big problem, but long symphonies and operas presented almost insuper- able obstacles. Radio technicians feverishly sought solutions. How would machines have to function to enable smooth playback in broadcasts? Shellac discs and the recording waxes necessary for their production ran at 78 rpm, allowing at most four and a half minutes of playing time.

In order to eliminate interruptions, the recordings on the wax discs had to be made to coincide in some manner. The solution was to create an overlap area, meaning that the last 30 seconds of what would form one side of a disc also had to be recorded at the beginning of what would be the next side. That necessitated the simultaneous use of two disc cutters. The second machine was started shortly before the first ran out, so that both briefly recorded the same audio signal. The process was repeated until all the waxes required to record the work had been cut.

The broadcast playback of the recording was then effected with the aid of two turntables. The broad- casting technician had to start turntable “B” at the point when the stylus of turntable “A” reached the overlap area and then to judge the most favourable moment within the overlap area to switch over to turntable “B” – a laborious and quite risky procedure. And any overmodulation, clumsy handling or slight fault on one of the warmed wax discs during recording was enough to render the whole exercise useless. The overlap area – not present on commercial recordings – meant that it was not possible to replace one side of a disc by recording a new one. That would have interrupted the flow of the music and broken its continuity, which would have been untenable for a serious concert recording!

This complicated and precarious process would be common practice in radio studios and broadcasting companies for a whole decade until the late 1930s. It also presented archivists with a major problem. The recording of a symphony might take a dozen single-sided, very fragile shellac discs, a whole Wagner opera more than forty – representing an enormous weight (three discs with a diameter of 30 cm – the diameter of the usual long-playing record later – weigh about a kilo!). Each disc was produced in very limited numbers for broadcasting, so that the loss of just one disc often made the whole set unusable. This makes it easy to understand the huge losses to record archives caused by war damage.


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Two sets of original discs of the Festival Prelude have survived. One set is complete and consists of four single-sided shellac discs (3 of 30 cm diameter, 1 of 25 cm diameter). The third disc of the second set is missing.

Authentic sound

Miraculously, the recordings presented on this CD have remained intact despite the turmoil of eventful decades and repeated moves from place to place. Their labels – one sometimes pasted over another – tell an impressive tale.
The March 5, 1940 recording of Richard Strauss‘s Festival Prelude on four discs – with the groove beginning at the centre – is a real stroke of good fortune. This “echo of the past” is a unique docu- mentation of the acoustics in the “Great Concert Hall” of the New Gewandhaus, built in 1884.

Still more, it is the only recording of the Walcker organ in the Gewandhaus. That was the instrument on which Anton Bruckner gave an inaugural organ recital a day before the premiere of his Seventh Symphony in December 1884, and on which the Thomaskantors Karl Straube and Günther Ramin often displayed their virtuosity.



Die Walcker-Orgel im Großen Saal des Neuen Gewandhauses von 1884
© Foto aus dem Booklet – Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig

Richard Strauss: Festliches Präludium für Orgel und Orchester op. 61
Aufnahme: Reichssender Leipzig, 5. März 1940
Aufnahmeort: Großer Saal des Neuen Gewandhauses von 1884
Orgel: Walcker-Orgel des Neuen Gewandhauses von 1884
Der Organist ist nicht namentlich überliefert, vermutlich Günter Ramin
Originalquelle: Vier Rundfunkschallplatten von innen nach außen abtastend

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“Treat this confidentially!”

Let us return to the Leipzig radio programme in the late 1930s. Live broadcasts and radio recordings from the Gewandhaus now increasingly gave way to quite different tones.
Joseph Goebbels had “his” radio play marches which ever more openly announced the forthcoming campaign. Everything seemed to go well at first. Hitler‘s armies were victorious. Germany and its radio broadcasts conquered half of Europe.

As Jörg Clemen writes in the MDR programme magazine TRIANGEL: “The fatal consequence was that more and more men were conscripted into the Wehrmacht and more and more factories were forced to manufacture armaments, making it impossible for all the Reich broadcasting stations to operate at full capacity. The ‚unified Greater Germany programme‘ now replaced the individual regional programmes. In the initial stage, Leipzig productions like the broadcasts of symphony concerts were reduced to a minimum (one a week). That was ever more apparent in the reduced summaries of forthcoming programmes published in the radio gazettes.”
Apart from that, “the ongoing centralization of everything in Berlin and increasing conscription into military service reduced broadcasting in Leipzig to the point of meaninglessness in the course of 1941. On March 10, the Leipzig station broadcast a symphony concert with its own orchestras for the last time. Now it was only a small step to dispense with the orchestra and choir. The musicians and singers were either called up into the armed forces or assigned to other stations.
“A glance behind the scenes reveals a hand-written secret note of November 1942, part of the correspondence between the Reichsmusikkammer and the Reichskulturkammer, according to which ‘the Leipzig radio station is to be completely shut down, following the minister‘s latest decision! Treat this confidentially!’ The Propaganda Minister‘s considerations already went that far in 1942!”

The Leipzig station had already faced many cuts. Now it was to become a “donor of replacement parts” for “Greater Germany Radio”. Some 100,000 recordings from the Leipzig record archive were finally moved to Berlin in 1942 – almost a third of the recordings that existed in all of Germany! Our four discs containing the Festival Prelude were among them …
Then, in 1943, the people of Leipzig saw the ugly face of war in their city. The New Theatre on Augustusplatz burned out in the early hours of December 4, and the New Gewandhaus was hit by aerial bombs in the night of February 20, 1944.
Valuable orchestral instruments, the organ and the sheet music archive were destroyed by the flames.

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he burnt-out main auditorium of the New Gewandhaus looking towards what had been the orchestra platform and the Walcker organ
© Photo fro Booklet – Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig

Unfamiliar tasks …


Übertragungswagen des Reichsrundfunks, 1943

On the propaganda front, it was now high time for “Greater Germany Radio” to comply with its orders and distract the people from their everyday deprivations and losses, their sorrow over fallen loved ones and the horrors of the war. It sounds macabre, but never before had radio produced such huge volumes of music – and that in hitherto unknown audio quality. In terms of recording technique, the best conditions for new recordings now existed, the tape recorder having established itself and replaced disc cutting at radio studios.


Blick in den Übertragungswagen mit dem „Olympia“-Verstärker von 1936 und einem AEG „Magnetophon-Gerät“ unterhalb des Fensters.

Magnetic tape could reproduce sound far better than any shellac disc. At last it was possible to tackle complete recordings of large Romantic operas and extended concert works. What a quantum leap, both technically and artistically! But how were they to be produced? The station‘s own symphony orchestra and radio choir had been disbanded long ago!

Now it was time for the Staatskapelle of Dresden and the Gewandhaus Orchestra to step into the breach! One recording session after another was held in 1944 and 1945. The musicians will surely have altogether welcomed becoming a “radio or- chestra”, though the idea was still a little bizarre for them.
The new function was necessary for their survival – especially in the case of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, for it enabled Abendroth to prevent his musicians from being sent to the front. They literally played for their lives! Especially since the New Gewandhaus, their traditional performing venue, lay in ruins …

Haus Drei Linden in Lindenau and the Capitol Cinema on Petersstrasse in the inner city had served as temporary venues for the Gewandhaus orchestra up to the time when concert activity was officially discontinued at the end of September 1944 in the pursuit of “Total War”. Those provisional concert venues were however unsuitable for radio recordings. The former studio of the Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Handelsbörse would probably have been chosen for the purpose, had not that small building on the Naschmarkt burnt out in the same night of heavy bombing as the New Theatre on Augustusplatz.

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Die Concordia-Festsäle in der Gohliser Straße 30 stadtauswärts rechts eine Kreuzung vor der Friedenskirche

“Twilight hour” …


Schreiben der Reichs-Rundfunk GmbH an den Leipziger Oberbürgermeister vom 7. November 1944 mit der Mitteilung eines festen Sendeplatzes für die Aufnahmen des Gewandhausorchesters unter dem Sendetitel „Musik zur Dämmerstunde“.

Only from the production plans of the Reichsrundfunk do we learn that the microphones for the recordings of the Gewandhaus Orchestra were set up at the Concordia Halls in the Leipzig suburb of Gohlis. There, in a ballroom that was much too cramped for the Gewandhaus Orchestra and unheated because of the coal shortage, the musicians sat on creaking chairs, some of them playing borrowed instruments.
Microphone cables led to an outside broadcasting unit in the street, where tape machines recorded what was being played in the hall.
The recordings were broadcast on Fridays between 17.15 and 18.30 p.m. by Deutschlandsender Berlin – in a programme created specially for the Gewandhaus Orchestra and ominously entitled “Music for the twilight hour”.

The Cello Concerto by d‘Albert, re-released on this CD, and the Moorish Rhapsody by Humperdinck were both featured on that evening programme, transmitted to people sitting behind blackout curtains – provided the broadcast was not interrupted or cancelled by the announcement of “Enemy bombers approaching!”.

All that we have from that dark time are the tapes that have lain in archives for decades.
What was going on in the hearts and minds of the Gewandhaus musicians whilst recording the melancholy Humperdinck work on March 12, 1945 is something that none of us born later can even begin to imagine …


Steffen Lieberwirth
© Text from Booklet

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More CDs with Hermann Abendroth and Gewandhausorchestra

gewandhaus edition vol4 cover      

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