Skip to content

Arnold Schoenberg

Stokowski conducts ‘Gurrelieder’ at the Edinburgh Festival

1961. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK
Composer Arnold Schoenberg
Conductor Leopold Stokowski
Singers Gré Brouwenstijn, James McCracken, Nell Rankin
Ensembles Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, London Symphony Orchestra
Genre Symphonic concert

It is traditional that the Edinburgh International Festival should open with a
large scale choral concert at the Usher Hall. The deployment of massive forces,
including the Edinburgh Festival Chorus or the Edinburgh Choral Union as it
was in 1961, guarantees that the Festival starts with a bang.

George Harewood announced his first Festival as Director by pioneering as a
theme the exploration of a major composer’s work. His choice of Arnold
Schoenberg, the inventor of serialism, the fearful twelve-tone music he
introduced to the world in the early 1920s, was even bolder in 1961 than it
would appear today, and it initiated a serious reappraisal of one of the giants
of 20 th century music. But Schoenberg was more than a serialist and his vast
Gurrelieder dates from the beginning of the century, its orchestration being
completed during its first decade before its successful first performance in
Vienna in 1913. Gurrelieder looks back as well as forward, its first two parts
influenced by Wagner as well as Schoenberg’s contemporaries and supporters
Strauss and Mahler, while part 3 anticipates the future. The whole structure
requires expert vision by its conductor in coordinating the unprecedented
forces, which in turn demand power and stamina from the leading singers.

Harewood later confessed that it was Patricia Tuckwell, the young Australian
violinist who only later in the decade became his second wife, who
emboldened him to programme Gurrelieder and to invite the legendary but
self-exiled Englishman Leopold Stokowski to conduct it. For the doomed lovers
Tove and Waldemar, modelled on Isolde and Tristan, he invited one of his
favourite sopranos, the Dutch Gré Brouwenstijn who had memorably played
Desdemona in Otello and Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos during his time at
Covent Garden, and the emerging American Heldentenor James McCracken
who was later to create a sensation when jumping in as Otello at Covent
Garden. The crucial role of the Wood-Dove, whose baleful warning to the
lovers echoes Brangäne’s, was taken by the eminent American Nell Rankin, the
centenary of whose birth falls in 2024. Covent Garden company bass Forbes
Robinson (later in the decade to play Schoenberg’s Moses for Solti) and tenor
John Lanigan perform Peasant and Jester. The notated but spoken part of the Narrator in the final section was given to the then-famous BBC announcer Alvar Liddell.

This live recording of the performance on 20 August 1961 comes from
Harewood’s own collection and is a record of a unique occasion and the start
of an unparalleled five years of his direction of the Festival.


Nicholas Payne

Arnold Schoenberg 1874 – 1951


Part 1

  1. Orchestervorspiel
  2. Nun dämpft die Damm’rung (Waldemar)
  3. O, wenn des Mondes Strahlen (Tove)
  4. Ross! Mein Ross! (Waldemar)
  5. Sterne jubeln (Tove)
  6. So tanzen die Engel (Waldemar)
  7. Nun sag ich dir zum ersten Mal (Tove)
  8. Es ist Mitternachtszeit (Waldemar)
  9. Du sendest mir einen Liebesblick (Tove)
  10. Du wunderliche Tove! (Waldemar)
  11. Orchesterzwischenspiel
  12. Tauben von Gurre! (Waldtaube)

Part 2

  1. Herrgott, weisst du, was du tatest (Waldemar)
  2. Erwacht, König Waldemars Mannen wert! (Waldemar)
  3. Deckel des Sarges Klappert (Bauer)
  4. Gegrüsst, O König (Waldemars Mannen)
  5. Mit Toves Stimme flüstert der Wald (Waldemar)
  6. ‘Ein seltsamer Vogel ist so’n aal’ (Klaus-Narr)
  7. Du strenger Richter droben (Waldemar)
  8. Der Hahn erhebt den Kopf zur kraht (Waldemars Mannen)
  9. Orchestervorspiel
  10. Herr Gänsefuss, Frau Gänsekraut (Sprecher)
  11. Seht die Sonne (Chor)

Recorded 20th August 1961 at the Edinburgh Festival

From the Harewood Collection

  • Gré Brouwenstein
  • Nell Rankin
  • James McCracken
  • John Lanigan
  • Forbes Robinson
  • Alvar Lidell
  • Edinburgh Choral Union
  • London Symphony Orchestra
  • Leopold Stokowski

Browse the collection

Music Preserved offers you the choice of listening to many of the rare, historically and artistically interesting recordings in its collection.