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„And that is how my first records appeared under the name of Dr Richard Strauss“

George Szells und Richard Strauss’ Einspielung von Don Juan (1916)

Studia Musicologica
Author: Thomas WOZONIG

Abstract

The paper deals with the first recording of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan, of which the first half (i.e. the first two of a total four sides of this 1916 78-rpm recording) has repeatedly been said to be conducted not by Richard Strauss, but by George Szell who served as Strauss’s assistant at the Berlin court opera at that time. By a close examination of written accounts, I wish to clarify the background of this narrative which Peter Morse, somehow misleadingly, has called an “old story” as early as in 1977, though it seems that it was not given currency prior to the late 1960s when Szell himself mentioned the recording en passant during an interview. In a second step, comparative analyses of certain sections from both this 1916 and Strauss’s later recordings of Don Juan will not only proof Szell’s participation, but aim at determining the respective interpretational concepts in their differing performance choices. Finally, further comparison between Szell’s later Don Juan recordings (1943, 1957, 1969) and selected performances by contemporary conductors intends to help situate Szell within the Austro-German Espressivo tradition, whereby the detailed analysis of tempo-dramaturgical strategies in these recordings will itself contribute to a differentiation of the frequently simplified notion of “Espressivo.”

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