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Joseph Keilberth

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Joseph Keilberth is a figure of cult in Germany, with a reputation of authority in the German repertoire. Keilberth was part of the German conducting tradition, in which a straightforward and dynamic presentation of the work in question was achieved with limited subjective intervention. None of these rare World War II performances for German Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft have been published before.


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JOSEPH KEILBERTH conducts Mozart, Haydn and Dvorák

1-4. Mozart: Symphony No. 33 in B-flat Major, KV. 319 [18:49]
I. Allegro assai [04:55]
II. Andante moderato [07:01]
III. Menuetto [03:43]
IV. Finale: Allegro assai [03:08]
Recorded ∙ 03 September 1942 ∙ Vienna ∙ Sendesaal ∙ Reichssender Wien ∙ Radio Studio Recording

5-8. Haydn: Symphony No. 55 in E-flat Major, Hob.I:55 [20:40]
I. Allegro di molto [06:39]
II. Adagio, ma semplicemente [05:19]
III. Menuetto – Trio [02:35]
IV. Finale: Presto 06:05]
Recorded ∙ 07 July 1943 ∙ Prague ∙ Karolinenthal ∙ Reichssender Prag ∙ Radio Studio Recording

9-12. Mozart: Serenade ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ in G Major, KV. 525 [15:36]
I. Allegro [05:22]
II. Romanze: Andante [05:31]
III. Menuetto: Allegretto [02:03]
IV. Rondo: Allegro [02:39]
Recorded ∙ 03 July 1944 ∙ Prague ∙ Rudolfinum ∙ Reichssender Prag ∙ Radio Studio Recording

13-15. Mozart: Serenade in D Major, KV. 239 [10:43]
I. Marcia. Maestoso [02:48]
II. Minuetto [03:43]
III. Rondo. Allegretto [04:11]

16. Dvorák: Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 [13:12]
Recorded ∙ 08 January 1945 ∙ Prague ∙ Rudolfinum ∙ Reichssender Prag ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Deutsches Philharmonisches Orchester Prag
Joseph Keilberth ∙ conductor

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“He was beloved by all the singers. Calm and very accurate, Keilberth was a genuine singer’s conductor and it was always wonderful to sing with him. Sadly, he died far too young, while conducting the prelude to Tristan in a Munich performance.” – Birgit Nilson

Joseph Keilberth was born on April 19, 1908 in Karlsruhe. His talents developed early. His father had been principal cellist of the Badische Staatskapelle under the noted Wagner conductor Felix Mottl. Keilberth pursued a general education and musical training in Karlsruhe studying piano, cello and composition. Keilberth began his performing career as a cellist and at the age of seventeen joined the Karlsruhe State Theater initially as a répétiteur, before he was appointed Kapellmeister of the Badische Staatskapelle. In 1935 he applied for the position of music director in his hometown and prevailed against his competitor Herbert von Karajan. During the late 1930s he also conducted frequent opera broadcasts for Stuttgart Radio.

In January 1939, he conducted a work of Igor Stravinsky with the Karlsruher orchestra, Stravinsky was referred to be cultural bolshevist by the Nazis and was normally rejected. In July 1940, on the recommendation of Wilhelm Furtwängler, he moved to Prague and became the General Music Director of the Deutsches Philharmonisches Orchester (German Philharmonic Orchestra). He conducted the Orchestra at about 400 performances and served as ‘Leader’ (Landesleiter) of the Reich Music Chamber in the ‘Protectorate’ of Bohemia-Moravia. At war’s end, his personal experiences must have been terrible, because his hair turned grey at age 37. After imprisonment and forced labor Keilberth was deported with his family from Prague to Saxony and reached on June 10, 1945 in Dresden. In July 1945, he was appointed to conduct the Dresden State Opera and the Staatskapelle Dresden, an initiative of the KPD leader in Saxony, Hermann Matern — a move that was sanctioned by Captain Peresvetov, the Soviet cultural officer in Dresden. The first issue of the Kulturbund’s internal newsletter, Die Aussprache, opened a debate on whether nominal Nazis should be admitted to the Kulturbund, arguing that the time had come for forgiveness. Keilberth opened the concert season on 16 July 1945. In 1946 Richard Strauss stated (with great satisfaction) in a letter to conductor Joseph Keilberth, that his opera. Die schweigsame Frau could again be performed in Dresden: Baden near Zurich, October 12, 1946: “So now, after 10 (11) years the honourable Sir Morosus has been liberated from the concentration camp of the Reich Theatre Chamber and been brought back to his birthplace, where twelve (11) years ago I had great trouble getting the name of the librettist on the programme.” It was too late for Zweig, who committed suicide together with his wife in Brazil in February 1942 at the age of sixty. Keilberth had held the position until 1949, but remained until 1950 in Dresden. In addition, he worked from 1948 to 1951 as chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin, which played at this time in Admiral Palace, as the Linden Opera was destroyed and re-opened until 4 September 1955.

In 1949 he became chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, formed mainly of German musicians expelled from post-war Czechoslovakia under the Beneš decrees. The town of Bamberg itself was not large enough to finance a symphony orchestra of the first rank, but the particular membership of the orchestra guaranteed it a place in public imagination of the Federal Republic. After 1949, it was groomed for work overseas. The Bavarian government wrote in 1951 to the Federal Interior Ministry that the orchestra was important for ‘cultural propaganda abroad’. By this time it was costing 349,000 DM annually in public subsidies, a figure that rose to 523,000 DM in 1953. In 1954, the orchestra began a series of intensive foreign tours. In March it played in Mexico City, and in April in Havana and New York. In 1955, it played in Brussels, Lisbon, Paris and the Hague. Keilberth’s concert programmes were overwhelmingly conservative, and were a huge success with audiences. The ambassador in Belgrade reported in 1955 on the extraordinary success of the Bamberg Symphony ‘at a difficult time’, with ‘a purely German programme, in which also the Meistersinger Overture was not missing. In 1955 he also conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival.

In 1951 Keilberth became director of the Philharmonic State Orchestra in Hamburg. He was a regular guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic since 1936, the Munich Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1943, the Vienna Philharmonic in 1944, the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo in 1965. In addition, there were numerous productions and concerts with the Bavarian Radio, the West German Radio in Cologne and the South German Radio in Stuttgart. He also appeared in 1957 at the Salzburg Festival and the Lucerne Festival and the Vienna Festival. From 1952 to 1956 Keilberth conducted a total of 56 performances at the Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. In 1955 he recorded the entire Ring cycle for the first time as a live recording in stereo on behalf of the label Decca. Keilberth succeeded Ferenc Fricsay as chief conductor of the Munich State Opera in 1959, playing a key role in the artistic development of the newly rebuilt National Theatre, the home of this opera company.
Some said that as Furtwängler had died in 1954, Keilberth would have become his successor. In fact Keilberth and not Karajan conducted the Furtwängler memorial concert with the Berlin Philharmonic and the premiere of his posthumous symphony. Joseph Keilberth told once Elisabeth Furtwängler why Pfitzner said bad things about Furtwängler. He hated the fact that Furtwängler had hundreds of women throwing themselves at his feet. Pfitzner loved women, but they were not attracted to him. He had a wonderful wife and a lovely daughter who committed suicide. He was a genius, but he was very complicated. Of course, it is not easy to live with genius because they can be exhausting—always something to do. But the other side of that is they give so much. But Pfitzner was a bit of a curmudgeon. He saw women throwing themselves at Furtwängler, but none of them threw themselves at him.

He collapsed while conducting a performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in Munich on July 21, 1968, and died next day. His final recording, a Meistersinger, came a month before his death—at the Bavarian State Opera on June 21. Keilberth was part of the German conducting tradition, in which a straightforward and dynamic presentation of the work in question was achieved with limited subjective intervention.

Decorations and awards: Title of Professor by the Saxon government (1945); National Prize of the German Democratic Republic, 1st class (1949); Commander’s Cross of the Order of the Phoenix, Greece (1956); Bavarian Order of Merit (1961); Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class (1964); Culture Prize of Winterthur (1967); Honorary Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo (as second conductor in the history of the orchestra) (1967).

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 5004
UPC barcode: 791154054222
Recording dates: 1942-1945
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 79:02

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Reinhard Niemann Collection
With special thanks to Dr. Reinhard Niemann
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic