Wake up and smell the coffee

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  • The NY Phil sure doesn’t sound like that today, though one can still hear the DNA of that sound that this recording demonstrates: the brilliance, the assertive confidence. Today it’s brashness, harshness under lesser hands, without the sheen.

    They say van Zweden was a disciplinarian at Dallas, hopefully he can work on the NY Phil during his tenure there. But the NY Phil did not take to Kurt Masur’s discipline, and Deborah Borda fired him. So there’s that.

    • The attitude of the NY Phil player has always, for me, been exemplified by Stanley Drucker’s, the former principal clarinet’s, story that he was always packed and ready to catch the 5:16 back to Maspeth right after rehearsal, in other words: “We ain’t got time for no bullshit, conductor”

    • The Philharmonic doesn’t sound this way now is because they aren’t being heard on a film that is at the wrong speed.

      The reason why this performance is so “energetic” is that the film is clearly running too fast. It’s a good half step higher in key than it should be. Modern tuning differences can’t account for that. In fact, orchestras tend to tune higher now than they did back then.

      • Try clicking on the little gear thing next to “YouTube.” Click on “speed” and try .75. Maybe a little slow, but much better than “normal,” I think. What’s really fun is to click either of the slower speeds and watch Toscanini’s technique. Then, try using the speed settings while watching other videos, particularly ones showing the rapid-fingerwork of hotshot pianists.

        • That does slow it down, but it’s still almost a half step too high. I’m not saying this isn’t a great performance, it is, but clearly Toscanini and the orchestra did not play it at this tempo. So any comparisons with modern orchestras are moot, if one is going to rely on this piece of evidence.

          It would be interesting to hear the original film at the proper speed. There are other performances on Youtube by Toscanini and NBC that are slower, but they sound weird, like they’ve been manipulated. I get the feeling they are all this performance, but slowed down by some modern app.

        • It’s the NBC SO running at a half-step higher in pitch. Pitch is more affected than speed of interpretation. Lowering by a half-step wouldn’t noticeably affect speed. AT always played Forza that way. BTW, Jay Shulman’s comment is spot on since his father and uncle both played in the orchestra.

      • It’s only 20 cents sharp, which could be due to any number of factors, and is hardly enough of a speed increase, if it were the film projection, to make it seem frantic.
        Check it against a tuning meter.

        • My tuner shows the first note as an F hovering around 20-30 cents flat. It should be an E, but both of my tuners, really good ones, aren’t having it at E.

          I have to play it in an extremely sharp second position on my trombone, or a somewhat flattened first position from where I would normally play that note to get it to tune to the film, and I’ve played this piece many times with an orchestra that tunes up around 442-443. It’s way closer to my first position than to my second, where it should comfortably be.
          I can’t push my tuning slide in far enough to get my instrument to play in tune with this film in second position, but it works as an F in first position with the tuning slide all the way in.
          That amount of sharpness is certainly more than enough to assume the speed is slower than this film would have us believe.

          • really not trying to start a tuning fight, but I checked it against a tuning meter before posting. And yes, I too have played it dozens of times with an orchestra, sitting next to you as it were, in the tuba chair.
            The tuning meter is a Korg multi temperament tuning meter, calibrated at A 440, and it is reading the it as E, 20 cents sharp.
            Perhaps instead of playing along, simply take the root of the chord as you hear it from the recording, and check that against the tuning meter.
            I suspect that there may be someone rather horridly sharp inside the chord itself, that is affecting overtones.

  • from December, 1943 film of Toscanini and the NBC Symphony made for the Office of War Information, includes ‘Forza’ Overture and ‘Hymn of Nations’ with Jan Peerce.

  • I’m not sure why they stuck that footage of Menuhin in, talking about the NY Phil. Because this is the NBC Symphony, so no, the NY Phil doesn’t sound like that today, and didn’t back then either. But it’s a real tragedy that the NBC neither rehearsed nor performed in an acoustically-acceptable hall, and never achieved the kind of blend that it should have.

    • The NBC made quite a few recordings and concert performances in Carnegie Hall, deemed by many to be acoustically acceptable.

      Wikipedia:

      “…During the summer of 1950, NBC converted Studio 8-H into a television studio … and moved the broadcast concerts to Carnegie Hall, where many of the orchestra’s recording sessions and special concerts had already taken place….”

      • It is a sign of the times, and perhaps cultural decline, that Studio 8-H is today associated primarily with the television show “Saturday Night Live.”

    • Acoustics, especially reverb time, affected Toscanini’s tempi almost unconsciously. As far back as Toscanini’s appearances at Salzburg, Leinsdorf asked him about this, because Toscanini took different tempi (slower) for the same music, with the same orchestra, when he repeated a program in a hall with better acoustics. (per Harvey Sachs’s recent biography of T.)

      • Totally agree with you Mark. Acoustics with the old conductors had as much to do with tempi and articulation than anything else. Thank you for pointing that out!

        Hence we get:

        PHILLY/Ormany- Academy of Music – long and broad stacatto
        CLEVELAND/Szell – Severance – short crisp clipped
        CHICAGO/Riener – Orchestra Hall – bright with edge (hence allowing brass to define sound)
        BOSTON/Munch et al – Symphony Hall – pianissimo playing in the world’s second best hall (after Vienna MusikVerein)
        NY PHIL – post Carnegie – Stokie doing the first two chords of Eroica – and telling the board to rip down Lincoln Center/Avery Fisher/Geffen/ what ever……

    • This is from a long lamented Teldec series on great conductors. The actual footage of AT comes from a US Govt WWII propaganda film. You can find the whole film elsewhere.

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