Pierre Monteux: Five Historic Recordings

You may give an excellently played, genuinely felt performance of a movement, but because the engineer is not satisfied, because there is some rustling at one point, so you do it again and this time something else goes wrong. By the time you get a “perfect” take of the recording the players are bored, the conductor is bored, and the performance is lifeless and boring. … I detest all my own records. …

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Brahms’ First Symphony: Walking in the Footsteps of a Giant

I shall never write a symphony! You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you! Johannes Brahms was nearing 40 when, in 1872, he wrote these words in a letter to the conductor Herman Levi. The “giant” was Beethoven, whose nine game-changing symphonies loomed like a dauntingly impassible mountain range in front of every nineteenth century composer who followed. By this time, Brahms was already …

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