Thursday February 22, 2018 10:40 am

FanFaire celebrates LEONARD BERNSTEIN

Unbewußt, höchste Lust

bernstein-lbseilerp21xBernstein’s last 10 years began in January 1981 with the legendary production for television and recording of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

In Seiler’s book, Martin Wöhr currently of the Bavarian Broadcasting Company who was then the sound engineer, writes: ‘We were fascinated by Lenny’s great seriousness, his positively philosophical understanding of Wagner’s music and his uncompromising interpretation of this love drama…. At the end of the production… we felt speechless and moved – Lenny was sitting in front of the score, weeping,

“Unbewußst, höchste Lust.”‘ *

bernstein-ONcover-Aug1983-300It was the climax of his collaboration with his beloved Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and he thought it to be his most important recording activity of the year. For him, Tristan was ” the central work of all music history, the hub of the wheel… I have spent my life since I first read it trying to solve it. It is incredibly prophetic, full of pre-Freudian insights.”

And when the project was completed, Bernstein was said to have exclaimed:

“My life is complete, I don’t care what happens after this. It is the finest thing I’ve ever done.”

For the project, Bernstein chose the tenor Peter Hofmann to be his Tristan; and for his Isolde, he chose the legendary dramatic soprano Hildegard Behrens. Thus began a musical partnership of which it has been written: “Bernstein’s partnership with Ms. Behrens, his exceptionally gifted Isolde, was one of the most thrilling sights ever witnessed on a concert platform.” *


Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde, Vorspiel Act 1

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde, Vorspiel Act 1
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Vorspiel Act 1
Leonard Bernstein
Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Herkulessal, München

Behrens, Hofmann & Bernstein perform “Tristan und Isolde”

Behrens, Hofmann & Bernstein perform “Tristan und Isolde”

Here is a snippet from the second of three 1981 concert performances that yielded the famous and controversial “Tristan und Isolde” recording led by Leonard Bernstein. This passage is from the oft-omitted “Day and Night” section of the Liebesnacht, usually cut in deference to singers’ stamina. Hildegard Behrens sounds just fine but most of the vocalism on display is from Peter Hofmann, in better-than-usual form. He wasn’t the greatest Tristan (or Lohengrin or Parsifal) but he looked the parts and heroic tenors were in very short supply 30 years ago.

Hildegard Behrens Liebestod Wagner Leonard Bernstein

Hildegard Behrens Liebestod Wagner Leonard Bernstein Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Hildegard Behrens (Isolde) and Leonard Bernstein. Yvonne Minton is Brangäne.

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde /Bernstein-Behrens-Hoffmann/

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde /Bernstein-Behrens-Hoffmann/

It is no surprise that Thomas Seiler asked Ms. Behrens to write one of the two forewords to his book (the other is by baritone Thomas Hampson). In her engagingly candid remarks, she shares with trademark spontaneity her most powerful memories of Bernstein the consummate musician and of versatile collaborations that crossed from the operatic – as in Isolde, into the symphonic – as in Kaddish, and into the theatric – as in Marlene Dietrich.

Ms. Behrens’ remarks are excerpted here, in full and with the requisite permissions, as an exemplar of the reminiscences assembled in the book — while the memories are unique to each writer, there is no flattery and self-promotion in the writing, only sincere and honest thought; and the words ring true because they are spoken from the heart.

*The last words of the “Liebestod” – Unconscious. Supreme bliss!
** from Leonard Bernstein, by Humphrey Burton: Doubleday, NY., pp. 462-63 (1994).

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