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Leading German conductor of the 20th century.

Furtwängler and Schenker

Son of a well-known archaeologist, Wilhelm Furtwängler studied with Rheinberger and von Schillings. In 1913, while working as Kapellmeister in Lübeck, he first read Schenker's monograph Beethovens neunte Sinfonie (1912). Remembering his initial reactions, he stressed Schenker's renunciation of hermeneutics and historicism as having been revelatory for him, although he admitted that he was appalled by his polemics, which "in many cases went too far" ("Heinrich Schenker: Ein zeitgemäßes Problem," in Ton und Wort). However, it was not until May 1919 (the year in which he became conductor of the Viennese Tonkünstler-Orchester, after which he worked for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde) that he met Schenker, the latter's account in his diary being rather positive as Furtwängler had shown himself "willing to serve a timely mission" (diary, OJ 2/14, pp. 2065-2067, May 4, 1919; also Sbb 55 Nachl 13, [1], November 5, 1919). Schenker gave Furtwängler advice about analytical details, and the latter readily accepted and sought this advice, though he never became Schenker's pupil.

Their relationship soon transcended mere analytical instruction. Furtwängler and Schenker ultimately discussed all kinds of professional matters, sometimes even social, political, and religious questions. As he became increasingly influential in German musical life (as Generalmusikdirektor in Berlin, 1928, chief conductor at Bayreuth in 1931), Furtwängler repeatedly pleaded on behalf of Schenker's pupils (especially Hans Weisse and Oswald Jonas) and for publication of Schenker's writings, notably for the "Eroica" Symphony analysis for which he in fact paid 3,000 Marks in 1931 (diary, OJ 4/4, pp. 3623-3627, June 1, 6, 9, 12, 1931). In January-February 1933, he was in communication with Ludwig Karpath about the possibility of an appointment for Schenker at the Vienna Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst (=Conservatory), and around the same time he strove to bring Schenker to Berlin to teach a masterclass in composition due to fall vacant in September 1933 (OC 18/37-38, December 10, 1932; diary OJ 4/6, p. 3817, March 2, 1933), but this came to nothing with Hitler's installation as Reichskanzler on January 30, 1933.

However, Schenker became more critical of Furtwängler in the mid-1920s. Obviously deeming his successes to be too easily achieved, he accused him of superficial musical understanding, personal vanity, and greed for money (see eg diary, OJ 3/6, pp. 2578-2579, October 4, 1923). But aside from all the severe criticism, Schenker was aware of Furtwängler's outstanding talent, this double-edged assessment culminating in a remark uttered in his diary that it was "desolating to have to say that [Furtwängler] is and will be the premier conductor of our time!" (OJ 3/7, pp. 2808-2809, April 11, 1925). Although Furtwängler quit his post in Vienna in 1924, the two men stayed in regular contact, writing letters, and meeting whenever Furtwängler came to Austria.

Their difficult acquaintance became ever more complicated in the early 1930s. Having read some articles by Furtwängler in the Neue Freie Presse (see Furtwängler's articles "Verkannte Wagner"and "Lebenskraft" [insert links]), Schenker sketched an extensive, enthusiastic letter to the conductor in November 1931, writing about the fundamentals of musical aesthetics, the decline of modern music, and ways to rescue musical culture (in which Furtwängler was to be involved by establishing a Vienna festival similar to that of Bayreuth or Salzburg), drawing analogies from the worlds of finance, film, and religion, and signaling his overall, far-reaching approval of Furtwängler's ideas (OJ 5/11, [1], vsn 1: November 13, 1931; ibid., vsn 2: November 13, 1931). Written in the year of Furtwängler's financial support for Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, vol. III, this letter marks the apogee of Schenker's esteem for Furtwängler and a period of intensive communication.

Their relationship was, however, soon to be clouded by an incident from 1933: After Schenker had declined to give a speech for the Brahms centenary in Vienna (OJ 11/16, [12], September 22, 1932), he held it against Furtwängler that the latter plagiarized his ideas when the conductor himself delivered the address, "Johannes Brahms" (see e.g. OJ 4/6, p. 3833, May 16, 1933); Schenker's pupils seem to have confirmed him in his grievances. A severe inner rift resulted, though there is no evidence that Schenker ever took Furtwängler to task on this matter. On the other hand, the rise of the Nazi party and German anti-semitism did not have any direct effect on Furtwängler's private appraisal of Schenker. Although he decided not to publish an article on the theorist's works that he had for some time been planning to write and accepted the position of Vice-President of the Reichsmusikkammer, Schenker praised Furtwängler's behavior at the time of his conflict over Hindemith's music, which led to his resigning from all official posts.

After Schenker's death, Furtwängler kept in touch with Jeannette Schenker until at least 1937. In the later 1940s, he renewed contact with Oswald Jonas who helped him when Furtwängler was accused of Nazi allegiances. He finally published the long-awaited article on Schenker's theories in 1947, concentrating on the concept of Fernhören (distance-hearing) that doubtless influenced his way of perceiving and shaping music, but the text passed unnoticed in German music theory.

Correspondence with Schenker

Extensive correspondence between Furtwängler and Heinrich Schenker extends from 1919 to 1933, and survives as OJ 5/11, OJ 11/16, Sbb 55, Nachl 13, and OC 18/26, 37-38, 49-50, 55, 59, OC 54/296, 299-301, that with Ludwig Karpath regarding Schenker as OC 18/27-28, 46-47, 52 and OJ 35/4 and 71/11. Furtwängler corresponded with Moriz Violin (OJ 70/17, also 70/68), Oswald Jonas (OJ 36/19, also 69/11), and with Hans Weisse, whose progress in the US he watched closely.


  • Ton und Wort: Aufsätze und Vorträge 1918 bis 1954 (Wiesbaden: Brockhaus, 1954), esp. "Heinrich Schenker. Ein zeitgemäßes Problem," pp. 198-204
  • Aufzeichnungen 1924-1954, comp. G. Birkner and E. Furtwängler (Wiesbaden: Brockhaus, 1980); Eng. trans. by S. Whiteside as Notebooks 1924-1954 (New York: Quartet Books, 1989)


  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), pp. 106-133
  • Haffner, Herbert, Furtwängler (Berlin: Parthas, 2006)


  • Marko Deisinger

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