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Play list (samples c/o Deutsche Grammophon using RealOne Player)
About the music
2002 was the 50th anniversary of Wilhelm Furtwängler's return to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1952, following his enforced stand-down in the immediate Post-War Years. Unlike many of his famous artistic contemporaries, such as Thomas Mann, Furtängler remained in Germany during the Nazi years. The degree to which Furtwängler "collaborated" with the Nazis in order to keep his position has been the subject of controversy to this day.
A highlight of the Soundtrack album is Furtwängler's original 1943 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the 2nd movement (Andante con moto) from Beethoven's fifth symphony.
The film TAKING SIDES not only depicts one of the darkest hours in the life of a legendary public figure, but also addresses the difficult issue of the artist's role in a totalitarian society. Wilhelm Furtwängler is widely regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century, a monumental figure in the world of classical music whose name still has almost mythical resonance for music lovers and record collectors throughout the world. In this penetrating look at a critical chapter in Furtwängler's life, it is not the genius of the man that is under scrutiny, but rather his moral stance and behavior in the face of a brutal, repressive regime - The Third Reich.
In the film, Furtwängler says: "I walked a tightrope between exile and the gallows", and indeed the story of his life under the Nazis is a mass of contradictions, contradictions that highlight the moral dilemma of an artist when his homeland falls under the rule of a criminal political system. To leave or not to leave, to perform or not to perform, to intervene or not to intervene, to fight or not to fight - these are the questions that haunt good people in terrible times. Furtwängler's tightrope walk with the Third Reich almost certainly saved the lives of many other people, notably Jewish musicians in his orchestra, but his decision to remain in Germany is still controversial. Given his prominence and the Nazis' attempts to exploit his talents, Furtwängler ultimately faced a no-win situation.
After the Nazis came to power, he visited Arnold Schoenberg, who was Jewish and had already emigrated. He asked the famed composer whether he too should leave Germany. Schoenberg told him: "You must stay, and conduct good music." By staying he could fight the system from within, use it to save others. Many artists of the twentieth century have been faced with this same dilemma, and of course not only during the Third Reich. The great Russian composer Shostakovich's precarious situation in the Soviet Union is another example. István Szabó himself, the renowned Hungarian director of Taking Sides, knows very well what it was like to live and work as an artist under the yoke of a repressive regime. There are those who say that Furtwängler's musical interpretations took on a unique quality during these dark years - more daring and iconoclastic - that he grew as an artist, perhaps owing to his own inner turmoil. His concerts during the Third Reich were considered by some as islands of resistance and for many ordinary Germans a reason for staying alive.
At the end of World War II, the Allies attempted to ferret out the Nazis and their collaborators. This "denazification" process was aimed not only at politicians, businessmen and civil servants, but also at artists like Furtwängler, who were interrogated about their activities during the Third Reich and, in the case of performers, banned from appearing professionally until their case had been reviewed and decided. Taking Sides is a fictional - albeit meticulously researched - recreation of Furtwängler's interrogation (Ronald Harwood's screenplay is based on his internationally celebrated play of the same name). After finally being cleared in 1947, he was offered the post of chief conductor by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the next year, but a massive propaganda campaign mounted against him, with threatened Chicago Symphony boycotts by a number of leading artists, forced him to withdraw from the appointment. He never performed in America again after the war and died in 1954.
The main works on this soundtrack are by two composers - Ludwig van Beethoven and Anton Bruckner - with whose music Furtwängler had a particularly close association. During the war, in June 1943, he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony at a concert in the old Berlin Philharmonic Hall, soon to be destroyed by bombs. The first movement of that performance has been recorded again for the film's opening scene in what may be an unprecedented attempt to re-create a historical musical event. Daniel Barenboim, music director of the Berlin State Opera "Unter den Linden" and of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a lifelong Furtwängler admirer, has aimed at reproducing the older conductor's tempi and nuances, directing the Berlin Staatskapelle (the Berlin State Opera's concert orchestra) with headphones in order to replicate as far as reasonably possible for the digital age, the unique sound and dramatic intensity of Furtwängler's interpretation. (Interestingly, Furtwängler himself was once offered the post of chief conductor of the Berlin State Opera - in 1946 by the Soviets, who then controlled the sector of the city in which the theatre is located - but he rejected their proposal.)
Both Barenboim's re-creation and the original recording are included on the soundtrack. The film actually uses Furtwängler's original in certain dramatic scenes. It was among numerous wartime radio broadcasts confiscated by the Soviets after the war and rediscovered in the West in 1986. These performances, which were quietly issued on records in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, were returned to Berlin Radio (SFB) in 1987 and first released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1989. (The complete Beethoven Fifth Symphony performance heard in Taking Sides is available in CD-set 471 289-2.)
The second major musical work in the film, the Adagio from Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, plays a decisive role in the story, because this was the music broadcast by the Nazis immediately after Hitler's death. The film's American interrogator uses that fact in an attempt to show how beloved Furtwängler was by the Nazis. Although the Adagio's deep and searching spirituality is in fact the antithesis of Nazi brutality, its use in the film, from a performance recorded in 1949 - there was actually a wartime recording conducted by Furtwängler, of a performance from 1942, but it has survived only in fragmentary form - underscores their exploitation of great music for their own ends.
The Adagio from Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C major makes for a stark contrast to the chaos of postwar Germany. Played in the film at a bombed-out church, this profound slow movement, written shortly before its composer's death, has an incredible poignancy, an almost yearning quality that embodies at the same time both hope and regret. It serves as a balm, healing the war-shocked Germans and the Allied occupiers in the audience, which includes Furtwängler, as well as the two young characters in the film who are present at his interrogation.
Another kind of contrast is provided on this CD by four pieces of American popular music - Bobby Troup's exuberant "Route 66", performed by the Israeli singer Rinat Shaham, who also sings the lush, romantic "Embraceable You", by George and Ira Gershwin. Both of these songs are played by the Swing Dance Orchestra, who also perform Glenn Miller's classic "Moonlight Serenade" on the disc. In Taking Sides all three of these pieces are played at the officers' club where the American military staff can celebrate the end of the war in their own musical vernacular. Rounding out the selection on this disc are a violin improvisation by Marie Belin, used in the film in a brief shot of a violinist playing for donations at a Berlin market; "Kalinka", a traditional Russian song arranged and played on the accordion by Denis Grare; and the traditional melody "American Patrol", arranged by Wolfgang Vetter-Lohre and played by the André Carol Orchestra.
Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon
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