Reggie Goodall’s mighty last shout

Reggie Goodall’s mighty last shout


norman lebrecht

March 30, 2018

The last eleven minutes or so of Parsifal from the 1987 Proms mark the final achievement of Reginald Goodall, who fell ill soon after and never conducted again. He died in May 1990.

The wonderful Amfortas is Neil Howlett, still teaching at 83. This was the finest hour of English National Opera.

Shut your eyes and you’re in a better world.


And a video footnote:


  • Sue says:

    Any relation to Howard Goodall?

  • Bohm says:

    Shut your eyes to Reginald the Nazis sympathizer.

    • Maria says:

      Thank you for that mean spirited and not needed comment about this ENO performance. They are the ones you listen to and the likes of which have never been heard since.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Goodness yes, I wasn’t aware of that. No sooner had WWII started but he joins Moseley’s fascists. Outspoken opponent of Jewish refugee artists being given sanctuary. A holocaust denier. Just wondering if he ever took steps to renounce any of this later in life?

      • steven holloway says:

        No, he never changed. In the details he emerges as a true fanatic, and I doubt if any such do change.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Well what can I say, you have to draw a line somewhere, and Goodall is definitely on the wrong side of mine.

          • James says:

            Alright, but….so what? The man is dead, only his musical legacy remains.

            In war time it would have been simple to lock him up under Defence Regulation 18B which allowed for suspension of habeus corpus, that is, jailing one indefinately without charge or trial, as were Oswald and Diana Mosley. They were never charged with anything, simply locked up together with German, Austrian, and Czech antifascists and Jews who were all ‘enemy aliens’. The net cast was a wide one. Still, Goodall was not jugged.

  • Martin Furber says:

    I was at that Parsifal and will never forget it. I heard him conduct the Ring and Tristan too. The man was a legend. Good to see the wonderful Anthony Negus carrying on the Goodall tradition at Longborough and elsewhere – why doesn’t Royal Opera or ENO engage him, he’s one of the finest Wagner conductors on the planet?

  • Sixtus says:

    Whatever else he may have been politically, he seemed to be a remarkably consistent Wagner conductor, at least in terms of tempi — almost always too slow. The two commercial recordings of a Goodall Parsifal available now are extraordinarily close in overall timing (284:37 with the Welsh National Opera and 283:22 with the Royal Opera). But both are some 40 MINUTES longer than the Wagner-supervised premiere performances at Bayreuth (244 minutes, Levi 1882). Goodall’s tempi cannot be but a gross distortion of Wagner’s intentions. Again one can only lament the refusal of Wagner to publish metronome markings for any opera after Tannhauser (as discussed in Wagner’s pamphlet “On Conducting”). Such markings would prevent such gross distortions as Goodall’s. The tempo distributions for performances of the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique are much tighter than those of Wagner operas (or Mahler symphonies) and is at least partially due to the restraining influence of Berlioz’ metronome markings.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Yes, I think when you are running 12 minutes longer than Knappertsbusch’s ’51 Bayreuth performance that may be stretching things a bit. On the other hand practically all modern conductors take that most stunningly original, prophetic passage- the Flower Maidens scene, ridiculously too fast. I’ll trade a bit too much ponderous grandeur for that particular mis-judgement any day of the week.

      • Novagerio says:

        Goodall’s “slowness” was a complete travestry of Knappertsbusch’s deeply spiritual broadness, wich afterall had flow and exciting dramatic force.
        Kna had all his life been influenced all his life by his own master Hans Richter (who premiered the whole Ring in 1876), who perhaps also had misunderstood Wagner’s original concept regarding tempi. Goodall on the other hand, confused insanely dead slowness with “Germanness”.

    • Martain Smith says:

      The question is not how many seconds have ticked by, but whether the performance lives and moves.
      If this doesn’t for you, then move on – there are lots of others out there!
      And for those commenting on Goodall’s politics – if you’re all that precious, you shouldn’t be listening to Wagner at all!

      • Una says:

        So well said, Martain.

      • Sixtus says:

        I prefer my Wagner to live and move in relatively close proximity to the way Wagner intended his music to live and move, not according to the perverse tempos of an overrated conductor, Fascist, anti-Semitic or otherwise.

  • Hilary says:

    Shostakovich remarked that Lady Macbeth of M should be sung in the language where it is being performed. This extract doesn’t really endorse that viewpoint with regard to Parsifal as I only caught a dozen words at most. With that said, this is glorious music making. It never feels slow.

  • Brian B says:

    PARSIFAL is the Wagner Goodall was most suited to .It can stand very slow tempi. His RING and MEISTERSINGER though are absurdly slow, something Wagner never could have tolerated nor imagined. Furtwaengler and even Kna show up Goodall at every turn. Reggie is cult stuff.

    • Player says:

      Well done to Norman for overcoming his aversion to Wagner, and to the work of one who at one time held some unsavoury and wrong-headed opinions, and for highlighting a fantastic piece of work at the 1987 Proms.

      Have the critics listens to this? They seem to talk of everything else but the work itself.

      He was a great if flawed man.

  • tomas says:

    Was not a patch on Solti and Vickers….

  • tomas says:

    The provoc Solti comment didn’t generate the comment I expected.

    In fact if it hadn’t been for Reggie’s coaching, Solti wouldn’t have had soloists who were anything like as good as they were.
    Generations owe him a debt for that, with all the choirs …..

    Here’s another:-
    “I think when you are running 12 minutes longer than Knappertsbusch’s ’51 Bayreuth performance that may be stretching things a bit.”

    Goodall was present at Knappersbusch’s Bayreuth.

    He was a very shy self effacing man, who said himself, he saw other conductors better and more competent than himself, so until the end of his days, he said he was learning from others, especially Furtwangler who he admitted to be his great fascination.

    Goodall was sent to the army during the war.
    The nasty comments about him here, seem to be coming from people talking about a different person.

    He admitted to getting rid of the “Bayreuth Bark”, and put English opera on the same level or world leading, post war after the tawdry, miserable pre war years.

    When you look at the list of the greats that admired Goodall it’s like a who’s who of ROH’s golden period.

    Sir Geraint Evans, Howell, Tomlinson, Mcintyre, Linda E-G, and countless others, without counting Brittain, the Welsh national opera, and the great debt the Bournemouth orchestra had to him, when he went to work there for the price of his train fare.

    This must be one of the most fantastic insights into the man, at a time when the BBC were anything but its current “blingy” “gushing” ignorant and mass market current media.

    “rich warm sound” “Viennese trait”……”at 83 I still don’t have the end of Walkure right” after conducting it 40 times

    • Stephen says:

      Solti wanted Goodall to help him in rehearsal with a view to giving him a cycle to conduct. Goodall perversely didn’t respect Solti’s tempi when he went to the back of the theatre to listen to the sound. Edward Downes got the job.

  • Stephen says:

    According to Fritz Spiegl, Goodall suffered from deafness by the time he was in his sixties, hence his overslow tempi (which he himself acknowledged).

    • tomas says:

      It’s (painfully) obvious in the above BBC interview, his hearing was not good.

      Celibidache also slowed during his later years for different reasons, to the extent his Prokoviev R & J, live on the BBC R3 one evening became grotesque and terribly painful.

      I heard the Goodall ring on the BBC live I believe in the 70s, and the recordings are quite easy to get.

      I also saw Solti conducting in ROH in the 70s, it was the 1979 & 1980 Easter Parsifals, which remain really something to remember, as he was at the height of his mature late 60s powers.
      Norman Bailey, Gwynne Howell, Hoffmann

      All the other ones I saw during that period were Colin Davies or Mehta, with the Tristan of Vickers/Mcintyre/Howell/Lindholm being the summit of a mountain, and the “all star” Meistersinger” in 82, Popp, Geraint Evans, Howell, Tomlinson, Tear, being memorable.

    • Player says:

      Please explain. Deaf people need notes to be held for longer?

      • John Borstlap says:

        To check whether they are the right notes, they need more time, the same way people with bad eye sight need more time to figure-out what they are reading.

        • Player says:

          Well, I guess there could be something in this.

          But how does this relate to the traditional idea of the “klang” in Wagner?

          That all those who believe in this are deaf?

  • tomas says:

    Deafness obfuscates spatial and time dependent cues.
    It also truncates reverb.

    Deafness is so much part of the male aging process, that already by the age of 30, frequency response can be a good 6dB down on those of our female colleagues.

    Quite apart from hearing, aging also affects other muscle reponses, bone mass, and stiffens joints, affecting sight, and coordination.
    Wise is the artist (eg. Heifetz) that knows when the time has come to stop performing at that high level in public.

    I can’t comment about Beethoven who became deaf because of disease, and was unaffected in his creative genius to the end.

    It’s not my role to cast unqualified aspersions on Goodall.
    He had achievements in his lifetime which most of us can only dream of.
    N’est pas?

  • Player says:

    I have never ‘heard’ the dove hovering above Parsifal before, as here – do you hear it from 9:20 in? Do you? Just WONDERFUL.

  • Phillip Augar says:

    In early 2013, the Mother of one of my violin students remarked on the forthcoming Wagner Bi-Centenary orgy and expressed her reservations on the grounds of his political creed. I told her that in my opinion, Wagner was a rare genius, that music doesn’t have morality, and that once somebody dies, one should see their qualities, not their failings. I would so love to extend this principle to Goodall but somehow I can’t. I worked as an orchestral musician in London in the ’80s and ’90s after graduating from the RAM, admittedly not at ENO, but I know for a fact that there were Jewish and non-white musicians in that band, and for them to have known, as they surely must, that the man on the box openly stated that the Holocaust was a “BBC Jewish plot” must have been impossible to deal with. As a proud, lifelong MU member, I will always stand with THEM. He is regarded, by people I respect, as the finest of all Wagner conductors, but ultimately, his career progress was limited by his own pig-headed refusal to disown his distasteful ideas.

  • John Kelsey says:

    This was a powerful performance. My teacher Neil Howlett had always wanted to sing the role of Gurnemanz and eventually got the chance when he was in his 70’s. As for Reggie you have to separate the professional from the political. If someone comes to fix my plumbing I am only interested in their plumbing skills not their politics. Reggie was a consummate professional which showed in him conducting the premiere of Peter Grimes by a composer whose politics was at the other end of the spectrum. Whether he should have received a knighthood is perhaps more contentious.