Schuricht and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde

by Mr. Benjamin Maso
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The concert scheduled for October 5 was the opening of the season 1939 - 1940. Of course, it should have been conducted by Mengelberg, but a few days before he sent a message from his summer home that being ill he had to remain in Switzerland and was unable to be in Holland in time.
It was not the first time Mengelberg cancelled, and in the years before, Bruno Walter and Pierre Monteux had replaced him already more than once at the opening night, but this time they were not able to free themselves at such a short notice.
The logical replacement should have been Van Beinum, but with the outbreak of the war a general mobilization had been proclaimed and being a reservist he was under arms. Another problem was that Martin Öhmann and Kerstin Thorborg had already been engaged for Mahler's Lied and the direction of the Concertgebouw didn't want to take the risk to engage one of Holland's young conductors to conduct such a complicated work. So the direction of the Concertgebouw decided to ask Carl Schuricht who, as a guest conductor of the orchestra's of The Hague and Utrecht, was already staying in Holland.
The Dutch papers weren't very happy about this choice. Schuricht was well known in Holland and much appreciated, and although they admitted that possible Dutch candidates, Flipse or Den Hartog for instance, were lacking experience, they still would have preferred if they had been given the opportunity to replace Mengelberg. They also doubted if Schuricht was really familiar with Mahler's work.
"We are certain that Schuricht doesn't have it on his repertoire since 1933",
sneered the socialist newspaper Het Volk for instance. That was the crux of the matter. Was it really wise to ask a German conductor to perform music of a Jewish composer which was forbidden in his own country? And risking to be snubbed, not for musical, but for racist reasons?
It was of course a great honour for Schuricht, General music director at Wiesbaden at that time, to conduct the famous Concertgebouw at the opening night, but he was prudent enough to ask permission from the German authorities to conduct a work of a Jewish composer. Which apparently he received.


Das Lied von der Erde was very well known in Amsterdam. It had been performed several times under the baton of Mengelberg and Bruno Walter. So it was obvious that most critics made a comparison with the performances they had heard before. This of course is for us the most interesting part of their reviews. Is Schuricht's recording perhaps the closest we can get to Mengelberg's interpretation of Das Lied von der Erde? The Dutch critics of 1939 didn't agree at all.
"Schuricht, who has the same view on Mahler as Mengelberg...",
wrote the Standaard. But the critic of the Handelsblad was of a quite different opinion:
"The performance of Das Lied von der Erde was insofar curious that it showed a view principally different from the view with which prof. dr. Mengelberg and also Walter have made us familiar. Schuricht is seeing more the broad outlines than the detail, he is just making music instead of romanticizing, with the consequence that he is sparse with rubato's and expressivo's. In some respects it had its advantages, because the hypersensitive and theatratical elements are less accentuated, but one is wondering if the most characteristic aspects of the work don't disappear that way (...). But the real Mahler we didn't see".
The Telegraaf however held an almost completely opposite view:
" .... concerning artistic mentality Schuricht is close to Mengelberg. His Mahler interpretation is therefore spiritually oriented the same way as "ours". It has the same love of sound, the same kinds of emotion, of joy and of sorrow. Its practice, its realization runs parallell to our tradition. Under the baton of Schuricht the orchestra can therefore play much more as it is used to than under Walter - for this art the very antipode of Mengelberg ( ...) Yesterday's performance differed only in details from Mengelberg's: the best definition is `reflection'". (...) which also means it was missing the three dimensions, the personality of Mengelberg's evocation".
The last point was perhaps the only one on which the Dutch critics agreed: according to them Schuricht was a very capable conductor (although most of them had some comment on his "wooden movements"), but in their opinion concerning his performance he lacked the enormous impact of Mengelberg.
" ... in the Concertgebouw we are used to a Lied von der Erde with more tension, charged with tragedy and sorrowful humour, a more saturated sound, more vigourous tempi, a broader elan, an intenser pulse" (De Tijd)
"We're used to a more impassioned performance of the same music... The deep core of Mahler's music remained absent. This style of maximum expressivo demands an intensive care for each detail. With Schuricht it was only a well-polished exterior... " (Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant).
"Although [Schuricht] didn't succeed to give it the same tension and expansiveness as Mengelberg, we must express our appreciation that at such a short term he succeeded to establish such a good relation with the orchestra ..." (De Nederlander)
"It was a clever and smooth performance, but one missed with these deliberate tempi the sharp tension, the grand elan, the dazzling vision we are spoiled with" (Gooi en Eemlander)

Concerning the singers, the critics were much more on the same line. Öhmann was good, but not an Urlus. Thorborg was also good, but being a mezzo instead of the usual contralto lacked the proper voice for Das Lied. One is wondering what they would have said about singers as Jessey Norman, Janet Baker or Waltraud Meier.

THE INCIDENT: "Deutschland über Alles, Herr Schuricht".

Not all the critics reported the incident and some of them hadn't understood the exact words of what had been said. But most of them agreed it concerned "a lady, or rather a member of the female sex" (De Telegraaf) or even "a bespectacled young lady" (De Courant) sitting in one of the front seats who stood up just before the alto should begin the second part of der Abschied, walked to the rostrum of the conductor, said calmly "Deutschland über alles, Herr Schuricht" (with a clear Dutch accent as can be heard on the recording), and left the hall.
Why? Didn't she agree that it was Schuricht who was engaged? Didn't she like Mahler? Was she an anti-fascist protesting against Nazi-Germany? Or on the contrary was she a national-socialist rebuking Schuricht because of he was conducting music of a Jewish composer? None of the critics was sure, and none of them was eager to pay much attention to it. Most of them simply wrote that nobody understood what she was saying, and that she must have been a bit overstrained.
Some critics noted that Schuricht hesitated before continuing, others wrote he looked back and shaked his head. According to another critic he became deathly pale. And the audience? "... by means of the applause it made perfectly clear that it doens't want to have anything to do with politics in the concerthall of a neutral country" (De Standaard). Which of course was exactly how the critics felt.

Live recording of this concert is available from archiphon (ARCH-3.1).

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