Jascha Horenstein

1898 - 1973

From his obituary in the Times


The Times, - April 3rd 1973

He was a conductor of unusually wide sympathies coupled with unusually clear insights into music of varying styles. If it seemed natural that a conductor trained in Austria and Germany in the years immediately after the First World War should have a deep sympathy with the works of Schoenberg and Berg, it sometimes seems surprising that his approach to composers as remote from each other and from the German tradition as Janacek and Walton should be equally sympathetic. Accepted as a major conductor on the Continent by the beginning of the Second World War, in the late 1950s Horenstein began to make a deep impression in English audiences who had previously known him only from recordings as a conductor at home in the very different musical worlds of Bruckner and Mahler.

Jascha Horenstein was born in Kiev on May 6, 1898. At the age of six he was taken to Konigsberg, where he began to learn the violin. In Vienna, after 1911, he studied under Adolf Busch and, at the Conservatoire, under Josef Marx and Franz Schreker, combining philosophy, at the University with his musical studies. He began to conduct in 1919, when he founded the "Freie Orchester-Vereinigung" of students and amateurs. When Schreker moved to the High School for Music in Berlin, Horenstein followed him, becoming a member of the same composition class at Alyos Hába and Ernst Krenek. In 1922 he became conductor of the Berlin Schubert Choir and the Gemischter Choir.

Mov. 2 from Mahler's 1st Symphony
Recorded in 1969 in Barking, London
Horenstein and the London Symphony

Above: recording Mahler 3 at Fairfield Hall, Croydon, with the LSO in July 1970
His first appearance as an orchestral conductor was in Vienna in 1922 in a programme which included Mahler's then barely acceptable First Symphony. He conducted the Bluthner Concerts in Berlin in 1924, a series with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1926 and in 1928 he became chief conductor and later General Musical Director of the Dusseldorf opera. By the time that the coming of the Nazi regime drove him out of Germany - Horenstein was Jewish-he had built a reputation in France, and during the 1930s his activities ranged from Russia to Australia and New Zealand, taking in Belgium Israel and the Scandinavian countries. In 1941 he settled in the United States where he conducted all the major orchestras and those of South America.

In 1950 he was responsible for the first performance in France of Berg's Wozzeck, and at the Leeds Festival of 1958, deputizing for Otto Klemperer, he conducted a performance of Beethoven's Mass in D still remembered for its electrical vitality and shattering intensity. Shortly after that he was heard in London as conductor of a performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony, the first in London for many years, which did a great deal to help Mahler's music to its present English popularity.

Horenstein, by both training and temperament, seemed in many ways to be a German conductor rather than a native born Russian. He approached music with the seriousness of purpose and intensity of feeling which seemed to belong to the world inhabited by Furtwängler and Klemperer, though he seemed to relish Mahlerian grotesqueries more than any completely German conductor would and he gave fine performances of works like Janacek's Sinfonietta, which seem remote from any normal German attitude to music.

Tiny and apparently frail, he rehearsed and conducted with what one orchestral player described as " gritty persistence ", demanding complete accuracy and faithfulness to any composer's text as the foundation of an interpretation which aimed at intensity of expression, precise balance and organic growth, finding in the combination of these qualities a personal utterance which, paradoxically, seemed to reveal the nobility and power of the music rather than anything of Horenstein himself.

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