A Spirited Outburst on the Subject of a New Concert Hall

The English conductor Thomas Beecham (1879−1961) was one of the most famous conductors of his time. He was in addition a colourful personality about whom there were countless anecdotes. He was also no stranger to conflict − a number of his conductor colleagues bore a grudge against him − and vice versa.

The final concert in the Oslo Philharmonic’s season 1954/55 was led by Beecham. He conducted music by Handel (in his own arrangement), Mozart, Sibelius, Berlioz and his compatriot Delius, the latter a composer Beecham had a great part in making known.

Beecham’s visit on 19 June was one of the summer’s biggest events in Oslo, and it was followed by long-lasting applause. The conductor was known for his improvised, short speeches, and suddenly he made a sign to the audience to stop clapping. His speech was recounted as follows:

“I visited Oslo forty years ago, and people were talking about that, on my next visit, Oslo would have its own concert hall. I returned thirty years ago, and people were again talking about a new hall. Then I was here twenty years ago, and they were still talking about a new hall being built.

Now I’m here again, but there still isn’t a hall! Oslo should be ashamed of itself … (he flung open his arms). Now I won’t be back until a new hall hall is in place!!”

He later remarked to the orchestra’s general manager Eigil Beck: “I should rather have threatened to stay in Oslo until the concert hall is built”.

(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)

Sir Thomas Beecham

A Celebrated Visit − Right Before the Breakout of War

When the most important conductors in history are listed, Wilhelm Fürtwangler’s name is always among them. In 1922, at the age of thirty-six, he became Principal Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, a position he held for two periods for altogether twenty-five years.  

Like all leading cultural personalities of the time,  Fürtwangler was obliged to relate to the development of Nazism and its leaders. Due to the fact that he did not leave Germany until the end of the war, and conducted concerts arranged by the Nazis, he was heavily criticised and forbidden to perform following the end of the war.  

Fortunately, he was declared innocent in the process which followed the war. Fürtwangler had actually been in conflict with the Nazis ever since they first rose to power, and had helped many Jews both before and during the Second World War. The most prominent of these defended him against the accusations.  

Like his predecessor, Arthur Nikisch of the Berlin Philharmonic, Wilhelm Fürtwangler visited Oslo to conduct the Philharmonic Orchestra. The timing was remarkable: on 1 April 1940, German troops were preparing for the invasion of Norway, while the University Aula was packed with listeners who were there of their own free will, listening to the conductor direct a concert programme consisting of music by solely German-speaking composers.  

The concert, which was broadcast on the radio, started with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, followed by Richard Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung, and concluded with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. After several enthusiastic rounds of applause, an encore was performed: Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture.  

“Fürtwangler was warmly lauded yesterday, from the bottom of our hearts. He was witness to that, in our country, in times such as this, the sole consideration is art”, wrote composer and critic Pauline Hall of the performance.

The orchestra managed one more concert before the breakout of war, on 8 April. The programme was very international, with music by J.S. Bach from Germany, W.A. Mozart from Austria, Zoltán Kodály from Hungary, Ture Rangström and Hugo Alfvén from Sweden, and Maurice Ravel from France.  

Ironically enough, at the two first concerts after the breakout of war, on 28 April and 3 May, only Norwegian music was played.  

(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)

Dirigenten Wilhelm Furtwängler dirigerte i Oslo 1. april 1940. (Foto: Trude Fleischmann)