Karl Muck;   Serge Koussevitzky     (BSO Classics 171002)
Item# C0957
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Product Description

Karl Muck;   Serge Koussevitzky     (BSO Classics 171002)
C0957. SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY Cond. Boston S.O.: Stravinsky & Ravel; KARL MUCK Cond. Boston S.O.: Wolf-Ferrari, Berlioz, Wagner, Beethoven & Tschaikowsky. BSO Classics 171002, recorded 1928/'17, resp., partially Unpublished. Transfers by Ward Marston & Richard Warren. Long out-of-print, Final copy. – 723721986025


"Ten 78 rpm sides were cut [by Muck] during these first [1917] sessions, of which four were rushed to release within 90 days of recording. The rest were never issued. Why? It has nothing to do with the musical or technical quality of the recordings; indeed, years later that handful of Boston Symphony discs were regarded as some of the finest examples of orchestral recording of the time. Instead, the sad fact is that these discs were the victim of anti-German hysteria that swept the nation during the First World War....Now, more than 77 years after they were made, the Boston Symphony is releasing the complete surviving recordings (nine of the ten sides) of the Boston Symphony conducted by Karl Muck....These discs now join the originally issued sides (the earliest known attempt to commercially record a 100 piece symphony orchestra....)"


“Karl Muck was born in Darmstadt, Germany, on 22 October, 1859. While in Leipzig he attended the conservatory where he studied piano, and eventually made his début at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in the Scharwenka Piano Concerto in b-flat minor in 1880. Choosing not to pursue a career as a pianist, he instead accepted a position as chorus master of the Zürich municipal opera - one of the traditional stepping stones for a young conductor; he was soon offered a post as conductor there. Muck moved on to more important positions as a theater conductor in Salzburg, then Brno and Graz; while in the latter position a traveling opera impresario hired him for the Landestheater in Prague in 1886, as well as for his traveling Wagner company. Muck gained a reputation as natural leader, able to impose his discipline on an orchestra quickly and achieve intelligent, tasteful, and highly musical performances. His performances had a sense of authority and security, as well as warmth and logical structure.

By the age of 30, in 1889, he conducted a complete Wagner RING cycle in St. Petersburg and, two years later, in Moscow. In 1892, he was appointed first conductor of the Berlin Royal Opera, and appointed general music director in 1908. Meanwhile, from 1894 to 1911 he appeared every year as a guest conductor in the Silesian Music Festival in Görlitz. He was selected to conduct PARSIFAL at the 1901 Bayreuth Festival, and appeared there regularly thereafter until 1930. Before his 1908 appointment in Berlin, he was also a regular conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic (1904 - 1906) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1906 - 1908).

Muck returned to the United States to become conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1914, with remarkable success that continued until the United States entered World War I in 1917, making the conductor an enemy alien. A patriotic German, Muck did not temper his expressions of support for Kaiser Wilhelm II during the war. Also, his refusal to conduct the Star-Spangled Banner (traditional during the war), as well as his outspoken resistance to the wartime ban on German music (including that of Beethoven), made him the target of public outrage. These pressures, combined with those incurred through an illicit and very public romantic affair, proved too much for the board of the Boston Symphony, who terminated his position. Threatened with prosecution under a federal morals law called the ‘Mann Act’, Muck agreed to be arrested at his home on 25 March, 1918, as an enemy alien and was interned as such until the end of the war. The shameful episode ended with the war and in 1919, he returned to Germany where he obtained a position conducting the Hamburg Philharmonic from 1922 to 1933; this was his last post before retiring at the age of 74. He died in Stuttgart on 3 March, 1940.

Muck was a masterly conductor of Wagner and one of the greatest interpreters of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, whose works he conducted without cuts. He had the reputation of being unsympathetic to newer music, but a look at his career reveals that he programmed Mahler, Debussy, Sibelius, Schönberg, and Webern. He made some of the pioneering acoustic recordings of symphonic music, plus some acoustic and electrical recordings in the 1920s.”

- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com

“Sergey Aleksandrovich Kusevitskii (known in the West by the French spelling of his name, Serge Koussevitzky) was one of the great conductors of the twentieth century American orchestral scene and a champion of newer music. Born into a rural Russian-Jewish family of amateur musicians, young Sergei made a little money playing trumpet at weddings and fairs in a small wind ensemble. He moved to Moscow at the age of 14, accepting Christian baptism because Jews were otherwise barred from having careers. Choosing to study double bass, he won a scholarship to the Moscow Philharmonic Society's school and became one of history's great virtuoso double-bassists. He joined the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in 1894 and began touring as a double bass soloist in 1896. He wrote some compositions to enlarge the small repertoire of solo pieces for the instrument, even enlisting the assistance of Reinhold Glière to write a concerto for him. Meanwhile, he closely studied the great conductors he encountered as an orchestra player and at concerts, particularly Arthur Nikisch.

On 8 September, 1905, Koussevitsky married Natalya Ushkova, daughter of a wealthy tea merchant. Soon thereafter, he gave up the regular grind of theatrical orchestral playing and toured full time. In 1907, he had his first experience in conducting with a student orchestra. He was satisfied enough with his skill that he hired the Berlin Philharmonic to let him conduct at a public concert on 23 January, 1908. The appearance was so successful it led to his engagement as guest conductor.

In 1909, Koussevitzky went into music publishing, establishing the firm known in the West as Editions Russe de Musique, and organized his own symphony orchestra. In 1910, he took the orchestra up and down the Volga River on a chartered steamboat, bringing symphonic music to places where it had scarcely been heard of before, repeating the tours in 1912 and 1914. As a publisher and conductor, he championed the works of Scriabin, Stravinsky, Medtner, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev.

During the difficult years after the 1917 Bolshevik coup and the subsequent civil war, he continued to conduct in Moscow through 1920, when he permanently left for the West. He presented a series of concerts called Concerts Koussevitzky in Paris, again featuring new music: Ravel, Honegger, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. These concerts included the world premiere of the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION; it soon became a concert staple in both Europe and America.

In 1924, Koussevitsky was chosen as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. With the BSO, he continued his tradition of championing the new music he found around him, thus giving vital exposure to great American composers, such as Copland, Barber, Bernstein, Carter, Hanson, Harris, and a host of others over the years. During the 1931 season, he commissioned a series of commemorative works for the orchestra's fiftieth anniversary, yielding a treasury that included Stravinsky's SYMPHONY OF PSALMS and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Beginning in 1935, he annually brought the orchestra to the summer Berkshire Festival, organized by Henry Hadley in 1934, becoming its music director and making it part of the BSO's operation. Koussevitzky established the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood Music Center) in conjunction with the festival in 1940, making it into one of the premier American educational institutions where young musicians could polish their craft and network. After his wife died in 1941, Koussevitsky set up a foundation to commission works in her memory. Britten's opera PETER GRIMES was one of the first works that resulted.

Until his death in 1951, he continued to direct both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Berkshire Festival, recording frequently.

- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com