In search of great voices
His job was very demanding. “I leave the opera only when I go to bed“, he said and, in a personal confrontation after the disaster of 1933, even Posse, the district art warden of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) who participated decisively in Busch’s dismissal, had to concede to him that he had worked “like a dog“.
Records show that in the 1925/26 season Busch conducted no fewer than 104 opera performances, including several Dresden first performances, world premieres and four new productions of repertory operas. In addition, he conducted eleven subscription concerts (with a public final rehearsal in each case) and two special concerts.
On top of that came rehearsals with the singers and with the orchestra, the reading of numerous scores that had been sent in, the study of new works and the fulfilment of all his administrative obligations.
In a petition to the directors, Busch pointed out that the burden of work threatened to overtax his physical and emotional strength permanently.
In 1928 his health did in fact break down, but very little changed. In 1930/31 he conducted 98 opera performances, including nine new productions and the adoption into the daily repertoire of two works, the premieres of which Pfitzner and Strauss conducted. (These figures exceed by far the obligations music directors are willing to accept nowadays.)
The offers he received to take over artistic responsibility under far more favourable conditions at the State Operas in Vienna and Berlin and with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig must sometimes have been greatly tempting to him. Busch nevertheless remained loyal to Dresden.
Fritz Busch had everything fully under control, from the engagement of guest conductors, stage directors and set designers down to checking the evening’s takings. He engaged personalities like Strauss, Pfitzner and Stravinsky for guest appearances, had Erhardt, Gielen, Mora, Toller and Dobrowen produce operas and got Slevogt and Kokoschka in to do the stage design – all top-ranking men. When he was not conducting himself, he frequently attended the performances as a critical observer, and his performance reports (with conclusions) leave nothing to be desired as regards clarity. He was particularly interested in preserving the special sound of the Staatskapelle. The orchestra was obviously equal to every difficulty and went along with his concert and opera planning with unequalled flexibility and stylistic authenticity; he saw in it the basis of all his work. In order to ensure that it would continue developing, he supported the founding of an affiliated orchestra school to further the practical training – if possible by members of the orchestra – of the junior musicians in his charge. Whenever he had the time, he played chamber music with musicians of the orchestra in the “Tonkünstlerverein”. He set high artistic and personal standards at auditions and frequently accompanied the nominees himself. Almost in accordance with the church choir regulations of 1548, he was a true “taskmaster” who demanded discipline in the execution of duties and asserted his will uncompromisingly, but he also knew how to use humour and affability to create a relaxed atmosphere.
He formulated his ideal as follows: “There is nothing more gratifying for the observer than a conductor who enjoys not only his musicians’ highest respect but also their love.”
Busch also devoted a great deal of his attention to the ensemble of soloists, auditioning over 6,000 singers whilst in Dresden. Here too, he set high standards and applied them uncompromisingly. The final result was a large solo ensemble that compared with the best in the world. He attentively followed his singers’ development, in many cases making notes of their progress over a period of several years. He gave them new roles systematically to promote their growth, and he would meet the protagonists in his room for a rehearsal before every performance under his direction. “Even when it was twentieth in the repertoire, we all had to come to him and go through the whole opera once again … sloppiness could never take hold in such a regimen,” recollected Erna Berger.
When Maria Cebotari, whom he had discovered, made her debut in the part of Mimi, he gave her an optimal start by appearing at the rostrum himself, although he had never before conducted La Bohème in Dresden.
In addition to making selections from the enormous repertoire of up to 75 works ranging from Mozart to Wagner, Lortzing to Johann Strauss and Rossini to Bizet, Busch liked to introduce unexpected items when planning the opera seasons. In the field of contemporary works, he presented over 20 world premieres, among them Hindemith’s Cardillac, Weill’s Protagonist, Busoni’s Doktor Faust and Schoeck’s Penthesilea, as well as important German first performances like Puccini’s Turandot and Dresden first performances of some 30 contemporary operas. A second innovative aspect in his programmes was carrying on Dresden’s Strauss tradition, which under his baton climaxed in the world premieres of Intermezzo and Die ägyptische Helena as well as a celebrated new production of Ariadne auf Naxos. He also promoted Russian opera with productions ranging from Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina and The Queen of Spades (Stravinsky claimed the latter was the best he had ever seen) to Petrushka. Busch additionally focused on the works of Verdi in highly successful productions which caused a stir far beyond Dresden. While Falstaff, Don Carlos, Otello, Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera and Rigoletto were regarded as exemplary, Busch’s presentation of La Forza del Destino was nothing short of sensational and greatly contributed to the opera’s international popularity. Toscanini, who had never been successful with the work in Italy, travelled to Dresden just to experience the production (but because of Meta Seinemeyer’s sudden indisposition he had to make do with Don Giovanni instead, finding even there ample food for discussion with Busch).
Fritz Busch • A multimedia portrait of a music-maker
→ 1/15 Introduction
→ 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