Fritz Busch and Dresden [3/15]
“He is the right one!”
I had one of the best times in my life in Dresden.
I continue to recall in bliss the glorious sound and all the wonderful qualities of the orchestra,
which made the period a special experience for me …
I will always feel honoured to conduct again in Dresden. Fritz Busch to Theo Bauer on December 13, 1920
Fritz Busch to Theo Bauer on December 13, 1920
The “Royal Musical Chapel” of Dresden had been looking for a new principal conductor since Ernst von Schuch’s death in 1914. The city failed to attract the young Budapest-born Fritz Reiner, who had been warmly recommended by the fêted Dresden singers Friedrich Plaschke-von der Osten and his wife Eva (who sang Octavian at the premiere of Rosenkavalier); Reiner’s career really took off later in America. In the summer of 1920, solo cellist Georg Wille, an acknowledged mine of information within the orchestra, sug- gested that Fritz Busch, about whom he had received good reports from southern Germany, be invited to conduct a concert (the only person in Dresden who knew Busch at the time was an orchestral assistant, who had performed dance music with him). That was how Busch’s first encounter with the orchestra – by then styled the “Saxonian Staatskapelle” – came about.
Fritz Busch was already much in demand as a guest conductor when he took the rostrum in the Semperoper on December 10, 1920 (“… if I am to come to you at the end of December, I shall have to turn down a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra …”) and, at the age of just thirty, was undoubtedly regarded as a man who had made his mark conducting operas and concerts.
Notwithstanding the very early hour, six gentlemen of the Staatskapelle board were waiting at Dresden’s main railway station and welcomed me with some solemnity. They accompanied me to the hotel for breakfast, during which two speeches were given. The first was addressed to me and had to do with the honour it would be to conduct such a celebrated orchestra, one whose history went back over four hundred years to the time of Martin Luther. In the second, I replied to the effect that I would make every effort not to disappoint the expectations such an illustrious institution had of me.
At the glorious opera house I found the entire Staatskapelle, all 127 musicians, assembled in the orchestra box to welcome me. Those who were not required then seated themselves in the stalls, and I began to conduct the Brahms Se- cond Symphony. When I ended the first part of the splendid rehearsal session after one-and-a-half hours of intensive work, the board members followed me into my dressing room to deliver another speech, informing me that the orchestra had just unanimously decided to offer me the direction of their six coming symphony concerts, if I would do them the honour of accepting. For all my experience with various orchestras, I could not help feeling special pleasure and excitement during that rehearsal. The Dresden Staatskapelle enjoyed the uncontested reputation of being one of the premier orchestras in the world. The very richness and variety of its instrumental forces was astonishing. I was surprised, never before having experienced such beauty of sound and such outstanding bowing technique in the string sections, and have since hardly heard such perfection in any other orchestra …
I returned to Stuttgart from that first Dresden concert as if drunken, with the glorious sound of the orchestra still ringing in my ears …
Fritz Busch arrived in Dresden on the morning of December 8, 1920 for the first rehearsal. He was a stranger to us all … What took place in that three- hour rehearsal was wonderful … In the Brahms Second Symphony … we seemed to have been transported into another world. Fritz Busch forced dynamic nuances upon us that were completely strange and unknown … In agogics and interpretation he developed such forceful suggestive power that we were without a will of our own and could only follow his baton. At the end of the rehearsal the senior musicians in the orchestra assailed Theo Bauer, the Staatskapelle chairman who had conducted the negotiations with Busch, with the words: “Bauer, get on with it! He is the right one!”
commemorating Fritz Busch on what would have been his seventieth birthday
He came back more enthusiastic and more blissfully happy than I have ever seen him and has since then given the rare impression of a person who, as he himself puts it, feels he has arrived.
Grete Busch to Gustav Havemann, December 14, 1920
It was wonderful beyond all measure, by far the most wonderful day of my life. You cannot imagine how they performed and how they swept the audience in the opera along with them (both dress rehearsal and concert were sold out). I do not want to boast, but know that it will make you happy to learn that senior musicians embraced me on the rostrum, that they shouted and called: Stay! Come back! etc.
Fritz Busch to Anna Schönbrunn, December 13, 1920
… I only now get down to conveying to you, respected Mr Bauer, and to the rest of the gentlemen my most cordial thanks for delighting and honouring me with your proposal that I assume the permanent direction of the symphony concerts. Having consulted with the theatre direction here, I accept the appointment with great joy …
Being appointed to conduct your concerts … fills me with profound satisfaction!
I hope I will prove equal to the trust you place in me and become the leader and friend you expect me to be.
Fritz Busch to Theo Bauer, December 21, 1920
Fritz Busch’s debut in Dresden was enthusiastically received by both the audience and the press.
Musicologist Richard Engländer who, like Busch, was later forced to flee Germany, above all considered Busch capable of giving the orchestra the continuity that was so important to it:
“… but the conclusive element was the impression he gave of having an elective affinity with Schuch in his basic approach to orchestral language and to the responsibilities of a conductor. Those who said they have not heard such enchanting orchestral piano and such fine woodwind sound for a long time were merely concentrating on superficial details. It was a thoroughbred musician who stood there, bursting with youthfulness, for whom conducting seemed to be one of the necessities of life like breathing and speaking, who had been born with every instinct for the technicalities of each species of instrument, but first and foremost for the technicalities of conducting. It was that which established his real bond with the orchestra.”
In 1922 (against serious reservations on the part of the soloists) he was appointed director of the opera and general music director; one of his conditions had been the prior appointment of Dr Alfred Reucker as the artistic director who “possessed the necessary personal authority in the hierarchy to be able to carry through artistic goals together with the musical director and economic issues by himself“.
Busch’s achievements in the ensuing period, the intensity and consistency with which he asserted his artistic ideals as regards programmes and high quality, are hardly conceivable today. He inspired and controlled, demanded and supported in a manner which restored Dresden’s international musical standing within a short (but economically extremely critical) time. He restored the orchestra’s “unity, virtuosity and magnificent sound” and achieved what this normally rather modest man with some pride called “all the brilliance and musical perfection that is possible for a premier German opera orchestra within the bounds of the existing system“.
Fritz Busch • A multimedia portrait of a music-maker
→ 1/15 Foreword
→ 2/15 The Busch Family
• 3/15 “He is the right one!”
→ 4/15 In search of great voices
→ 5/15 Staatskapelle concerts
→ 6/15 Correspondence between Richard Strauss and Fritz Busch [only in German]
→ 7/15 First concert tours
→ 8/15 First Gramophone recordings 1923 “Played into the horn”
→ 9/15 In Front of a microphone for the first time 1926
→ 10/15 “On Air!”
→ 11/15 Cinema film with photographic sound “Fritz Busch conducts Richard Wagner”
→ 12/15 “Over!”
→ 13/15 Only as a guest
→ 14/15 Welcome home: Sinopoli’s “homage”
→ 15/15 FACTS AND FIGURES The Busch era [only in German]
→ CONTENTS OF THE MULTIMEDIA BOX “Fritz Busch” Vol. 30