Laboratory trials in 1951
The production of Fidelio that marked the opening of the large auditorium of the Dresden Staatstheater in 1948 [Semperoper Edition Vol. 2] was broadcast live [Live-Übertragung] and recorded in situ. The Dresden broadcasting station followed a more sophisticated path in 1951, when it recorded the Staatsoper production of Der Freischütz that marked the 125th anniversary of the death of Carl Maria von Weber. It decided to assemble the Staatskapelle, the Staatsoper Chorus and the so- lo ensemble in its large recording studio and to record the production there.
At the time, that studio was still a makeshift in the Steinsaal of the Dresden Hygiene Museum. It presented the music director and recording supervisor Hans Hendrik Wehding with better conditions than the constantly booked-up multipurpose theatre. At the Steinsaal, in the immediate vicinity of the broadcasting centre, it was also possible for him to conduct initial experiments in “pseudo-stereophony”.
With its Wolf’s Glen scene [Wolfsschluchtszene] and numerous dialogues, he felt that Der Freischütz offered the ideal artistic prerequisites for his first Dresden “laboratory” experiments in creating spatial effects in recording. He had got the idea when the conductor Hermann Scherchen presented the Art of Fugue in Dresden on February 3, 1949. In connection with the radio recording, Scherchen had told the sound engineer of the Dresden broadcasting centre Gerhard Steinke that he should “occupy himself intensively with stereophony in order to heighten the artistic effect by extending greater transparency to hitherto monophonic opera recordings“.
Scherchen, who was acting as musical consultant to radio, had delved deeply into the advantages of stereophonic recording. Its implementation was still a long way off, particularly since stereo tuners were not available to receive broadcasts at home. Steinke, an inventive “Jack of all trades” in radio technology, still becomes starry-eyed when asked about details:
“Once magnetic tape technology was established, we already began thinking about ways to heighten the transparency of sound by means of primitive stereophonic technology in 1943. And after the first successful stereo recordings in 1943/44 and the experiments in stereophony at the Berlin broadcasting centre in Masurenallee in 1947/48, we would have liked to produce the recordings of Rusalka, Salome and Der Freischütz stereo-phonically at the Dresden broadcasting centre, but lacked the technical prerequisites. Nonetheless, we did develop pseudo-stereo-phony.
“It was not until the introduction of stereo broadcasting in 1963 (in both East and West Berlin) that it became possible for us at the Berlin broadcasting centre in Nalepastrasse in 1965 to experiment with producing a special stereo version of the Wolf’s Glen scene from Der Freischütz under the musical direction of Kurt Masur and so exploit the enormous advantages of spatial separation for theatrical action.
“It therefore seems justifiable to emotionally heighten the listening experience of historic, artistically significant recordings, which – like our Freischütz – could only be produced in mono, by means of the cautious use of pseudo-stereophonic processing.”
The special history of the Dresden tapes adds weight to Steinke’s argument. As important “evidence”, they were transferred to the Broadcasting Research Centre in Berlin in the early 1950s, where they were kept as an “experimental Dresden recording“.
After the successful CD release of Antonín Dvorák’s Rusalka [Edition Staatskapelle Vol. 6], Steinke in 2008 arranged for the historically unique experimental and demonstration tapes of Der Freischütz to be made available for public release in the “Semperoper Edition” as evidence of the willingness of Radio Dresden to experiment.
Holger Siedler’s pseudo-stereophonic restoration of the dialogues from the Dresden Freischütz production – recorded in the manner of a radio play – is very much in the spirit of Steinke’s original intention and “is an outstandingly successful example” of the technique, as the Dresden broadcasting pioneer assures us.
For providing the tapes and information we would like to thank:
Gerhard Steinke, audio consultant and former director of the Central Office for Radio and Television Technology in Berlin-Adlershof
Paul Arnold, formerly of the Broadcasting Research Centre in Berlin
Volkmar Andrä, head of music and recording supervisor at B.T.M. GmbH Musikproduktion Berlin
Dieter Kranz from GDR RADIO BROADCAST interviewing Karl von Appen.
Extract from the GDR Radio broadcast of 1965
Karl von Appen about Wolf’s Glen scene 1951:
Rudolf Kempe presented a Freischütz production at the time.
How did you present the Wolf’s Glen?
I believe that Der Freischütz is one of the most difficult challenges there are for a scenic artist.
Yes, I think that’s true, it is really difficult.
Where do the difficulties lie in your opinion?
There are many elements in it. It is also a mixture of many colours. There are French elements in it, Romantic influences as well. There are mixtures that are difficult for us to present today.
Well, the scenic artists I know are mostly too involved with naturalism. They believe they have to set up whole trees, whole canyons and the forester’s whole house. How did you do it?
The Wolf’s Glen was reduced.
I omitted all the animated owls and Catherine wheels that no longer impress anyone these days, since the war.
And we also omitted Samiel, setting the whole in a fe-verish atmosphere which emphasized Max’s horror.
Does such a solution not risk forfeiting Romantic naivety?
No! I had spent a night in Swiss Saxony with the director Heinz Arnold, with whom I was originally to do Der Freischütz but who then went to Munich. While roaming around in the moonlight for hours, in the Schwedenlöcher [an area of canyons] and on the bastion, we experienced a strange phenomenon: if one has a fever or is very fearful, one can see bizarre or frightening figures cast on the bizarre rock formations by the shadows of branches or trees moving in the wind. That certainly does not mean that one must leave out naive Romanticism!
A glimpse from first act with Bernd Aldenhoff as Max, Werner Faulhaber as Kuno and Kurt Böhme as Kaspar from the “Dresden broadcasting experiment” 1951