In their twilight years, Ansermet and Monteux set their orchestras on fire. The Art of the Great.
On the one side, we have the mathematician, keen on theory, who came late to music and who writes erudite articles and long books (Les Fondements de la musique dans la conscience humaine); on the other side, the musician who started his career as a violinist at the Folies Bergères and whose bushy moustache is his trademark: he is debonair. Ernest Ansermet and Pierre Monteux have nothing in common, it seems. In fact, they have a great deal in common!
They both began their careers thanks to Serge de Diaghilev who hired them as conductors for the Russian Ballets, only a few years apart. For both of them, it was Igor Stravinsky who was to mark a decisive step in their lives as musicians: Ansermet meets Stravinsky in 1913 and becomes his friend. He premiered the Russian composer's A Soldier's Tale, The Song of the Nightingale, Pulcinella, The Fox and The Wedding. That same year of 1913 in Paris, on May 29, Pierre Monteux conducted the premiere of The Rite of Spring at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, provoking one of the greatest scandals in the history of music. He also premiered Stravinsky's Petrushka and The Nightingale. Finally, in this game of similarities, another one is obvious: they both played important creative roles not only with Stravinsky's work, but also by conducting the "premieres" of Major works by Debussy, Ravel, de Falla, Saint-Saëns, Prokofiev, Britten…
For both men this taste for adventure is combined with an insatiable appetite for conducting orchestras and all repertoires. Ernest Ansermet founded in 1918 the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande which he conducted until his death in 1969. Whereas Pierre Monteux conducted many prestigious formations in the United States, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. In 1961, he was appointed principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra where he remained until the end of his life in 1964.
The film shows Ansermet in 1967 in Paris conducting the Orchestra of the ORTF in a tense, incandescent Beethoven's Seventh Symphony of exemplary precision. Two years before his death, the Swiss conductor corrects all those who considered him not to be at his best in the Romantic repertoire. They should listen to this version of Beethoven's Seventh.
And one should also listen to how Monteux, at eighty-four, conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice. He is the sorcerer, and he literally sets the place on fire. A pure delight!
Orchestre national de la RTF, Eugen Jochum (conductor) - Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF, Serge Baudo (conductor) - Gerald Moore (piano)
New Philharmonia Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra - Orchestre Philharmonique de l’ORTF
Orchestre de l'Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Orchestre national de l'ORTF, Louis Frémaux (conductor)