While Weber, Spohr, Mendelssohn, and Berlioz were all conductors of repute, it was the thoughts and practices of Richard Wagner that laid the foundation for the modern virtuoso conductor. Though he was more celebrated for his dramatic operas, Wagner’s experience as a conductor brought a set of practices and principles that affected the interpretations of future generations, and conductors continue to pursue his example today.
This book examines Wagner’s conducting career and the principles of his musical performance. It then tracks the central European style through some of the greatest figures of modern music—Nikisch, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Weingartner, Furtwangler, Toscanini, Walter, Klemperer, Beecham, Boult, and others through to von Karajan, Bernstein, and George Szell. In each case Holden, himself a professional classical conductor, traces the rise from apprenticeship to international acclaim, comparing rehearsal technique, the baton, eye contact, repertoire, tempo, recordings, vision, style, and performance practice. The result is a deeply informative, intriguing, and highly readable portrait of the finest exponents of the conducting tradition.