Mozart Bi-centenary 1956

The final concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s European tour was on 6th February, 1956, celebrating two hundred years since Mozart’s birth*. This was the first time I had been to the Royal Festival Hall for a concert – although I remember the 1951 Festival of Britain when the concert hall was just one of a variety of spectacular structures on the South Bank.
In the concert there were two symphonies: no 35 the “Haffner” and no 41 “Jupiter”. Joining the orchestra for the A major piano concerto, no 23, was Clara Haskil, Rumanian born, and now stooping and looking frail. As various newspaper reviews make clear the performance belied appearances.
Clara Haskil was thought to be outstanding as a performer of Mozart and her recordings are still sought after. She became a close friend of another legendary Romanian musician, Dinu Lipatti. Haskil had become widely known quite late in her career, although many wonder why since she had started performing at an early age. As a young woman it is said that her performances had the same characteristics. After her death following a fall an annual piano competition was started at Vevey in Switzerland which had become her adopted home.
The 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth is fast approaching and we’re in a different world. Many Mozart performances in the mid twentieth century had become slow and over-refined. The rise of the period instrument movement, while initially unconvincing, led to a re-evaluation of performing which was a revelation and refreshment. It is interesting to read in Norman Lebrecht’s book “The Maestro Myth” how some of the leading conductors, notably Karajan, had held back the tide of people like Harnoncourt in a highly politicised commercial world of music.


The Philharmonia Orchestra boasted many fine players at this time. A link above* outlines concerts and recitals in which Dennis Brain took part as soloist and as first horn in the Philharmonia. On the list ias a concert of Beethoven’s music when Brain played on 23rd March, this time conducted by Otto Klemperer . This included the overture to Egmont the 5th and 6th (Pastoral) Symphonies. The list includes concerts during 1956 – 7 leading to the car accident which took his life while returning from the Edinburgh Festival.
Another concert listed is a tantalising reminder of that time. There was a performance of the Verdi Requiem conducted by Guido Cantelli who was to die in an air crash at Orly, Paris later in 1956. I only know his work through some outstanding recordings which testify to the quality of his musicianship: although some of the Philharmonia players, including Gareth Morris, principal flautist, found this a difficult relationship.

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