Hermann Scherchen’s complete Beethoven Symphonies, presented in an 8CD box set, are out now. Many of these recordings have been released for the first time on CD, and are also available digitally for the first time, remastered from the original mono sources.
Hermann Scherchen’s Beethoven Symphonies were originally recorded between 1951-1954 for the Westminster label with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. However nothing in this set sounds of its time – neither Scherchen’s captivating, almost contemporary approach to Beethoven, nor the sound quality suggest a purely historic reissue. This cycle, including the overtures and bonus content, is a prize gem celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year.
“Probably the most exciting Beethoven recording ever made”
The bonus content includes a rehearsal of Wellington’s Victory, overtures, and the famous 1958 Eroica in Stereo described by Die Zeit as, “probably the most exciting Beethoven recording ever made.” The cycle features the first international release of Beethoven’s symphonies 3, 5, 6 (mono), 7 and 9. The recordings are presented in their original covers and include new liner notes and rare Scherchen photos.
Hermann Scherchen was born in Berlin in 1981 and from an early age he was committed to modernism and contemporary music. As a conductor of the mainstream classical repertoire he soon earned himself the reputation of an anti-romanticist and a reformer of inherited traditions of interpretation. He held a deep respect for the composer’s written text, for example seeking to perform Beethoven’s symphonies at the tempi indicated by the composer, a totally unusual practice for the time. “When Beethoven’s instructions are observed,” he wrote in 1963, “the symphonies gain spiritual ardour and far greater intensity”.
Hermann Scherchen defined the conductor’s job as animating the music beyond the notes, writing in 1935, “A music devoid of any emotion, of any aesthetic pleasure or spiritual clarification may be of interest to the professional, but has no meaning whatsoever to the normal listener.”
“Music does not have to be understood. It has to be listened to.”
Scherchen’s interpretation is still breathtaking, demonstrating his personal principle, “Music does not have to be understood. It has to be listened to.”
Die Zeit noted, “Why did we have to wait so long for this resurrection? Because Scherchen was way too modern for his time.”
Hermann Scherchen’s Beethoven Symphonies 1- 9 can be bought here.