INKPOT#61 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: SERGIU CELIBIDACHE – An Inktroduction
An Ink-troduction by Soo Kian Hing
Sergiu Celibidache was born in Roman, Rumania on July 11,1912. His childhood was spent in the Moldavian town of Iassy, becoming interested in musical composition at an early age. He studied mathematics, philosophy and music in Iassy, and later in Bucharest and Paris, and went to Berlin in 1936 to study composition at the Berlin Academy of Music (Hochschule fr Musik). Two years later he enrolled to study conducting under Walter Gmeindl, and subsequently graduated from the Friedrich Wilhelm University with a dissertation on Josquin des Pres (a 15th-century Flemish composer whose polyphonic works had great influence on 16th-century music). At the same time the young Celibidache became attracted to Zen Buddism, an ancient Chinese (and, later, Japanese) school of thought for guidance in the way of life.
After the end of World War II, Celibidache, fresh from university, was appointed conductor pro tempore of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946, filling in for Wilhelm Furtwangler (the latter was involved in controversies during the Nazi regime, leading to his withdrawal from the appointment as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic; his name was later cleared).
When Furtwangler resumed his post in 1948, Celibidache became co-conductor. After having rehearsed and conducted more than 400 concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, Celibidache looked set to succeed as conductor after Frtwangler’s death; the Orchestra, to his disappointment, chose Herbert von Karajan instead.
After leaving the Berlin Philharmonic, Celibidache directed, mostly without formal ties, various radio orchestras, including those in Stuttgart, Stockholm, and Paris. In June 1979, Celibidache was appointed general musical director of the City of Munich and artist director of the Munich Philharmonic, the orchestra being the only one he would conduct ever since (with very rare exceptions).
Celibidache was much sought after for both his style of conducting and his teaching of conducting. In interpreting works, he was known for his very original tempi, which he believed were necessary to let the complexity of sounds from a passage develop and be heard in a concert hall (a phenomenon called “epiphenomena”). Hence, the richer the music, the slower the tempo required; and especially in his later years, when his legendarily generous tempi helped to broaden the vision of the works performed under him.
In the art of conducting, Celibidache aimed to incorporate the philosophy of Zen Buddism. He was also actively involved in giving masterclasses to budding conductors. Enthusiastic students claim that they learnt more from simply observing him for an hour than in weeks of lessons. Inspired Celibidache-wannabes came away from masterclasses embroiled in Zen teachings, transformed from rigid human metronomes to conductors who move, beat and breathe with the innate natural rhythmic flow of the body.
The celebrated Maestro died in Paris on August 14, 1996, from the effects of a fall that he had suffered in Florence in May. Among the many honours and awards bestowed on Celibidache are the appointment to an Honorary Professorship of the Federal Capital Berlin and the Bavarian Order of Merit. He is also an honorary citizen of his hometown Iassy and a “doctor honoris causa” of the Iassy Academy of Art. On his eightieth birthday he was awarded the Great Cross of Distinction of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and honorary citizenship of the City of Munich.
Despite the many accolades and the great following he had, Celibidache was just as well- known for doggedly refusing do recordings. His main reason was that the epiphenomena, which added to the total experience of a “live” performance in a concert hall, could never be captured on record. Hence, the magic and uniqueness of a “live” performance would be lost in a recording, the artificiality of which he likened to going to bed with a photograph of Brigitte Bardot!
Such was his adamant eschewing of making recordings that his avid fans had to resort to circulating extremely poor quality, “unauthorised” recordings of his “live” performances. To address this, the conductor’s son, Serge Ioan Celibidache, has decided to authorise the release of recordings kept in the archives of the Munich Philharmonic, under the EMI Classics label; this release also coincides with the centenary year of EMI’s foundation. Other released material include video recordings, sanctioned by the Maestro’s in his late years, of his work with the Munich Philharmonic. And now: on to Celibidache’s “live” recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet – click here