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Elisabeth Furtwängler (1910-2013)


Elisabeth, Andreas & Wilhelm, 1954

Salzbourg / Salzburg



Elisabeth Furtwängler, widow of the Wilhelm Furtwängler, passed away in her house, in Clarens Switzerland, on 5 March 2013, she was 102. More on our page dedicated to Elisabeth Furtwängler...



Yehudi Menuhin back on stage in Germany, with Furtwängler, a great day in the History of music, 1947

Yehudi Menuhin back on stage in Germany

with Furtwängler, 1947



Introduction to Furtwängler's life


Furtwängler by Furtwängler

Furtwängler by those who got to know him

Furtwängler's heritage

Bibliography - Filmography

Photo galleries



Introduction to Furtwängler's life


Furtwängler was born on 25th January 1886 in Berlin and was deceased on 30th November 1954 in Baden-Baden. In between, the course of his life comprised a succession of episodes in which his personal desires vied with often tragic world events, contributing to make him a legendary conductor of the XXth century.

Furtwängler (1886-1954), in "In Memoriam Furtwängler", Tahra 2004

Furtwängler, a musical mystery by Stephane Topakian, 1994 (RTF file, 5 pages, 80 ko)

En Español : Wilhelm Furtwängler: El misterio de la música





1915. Mannheim, where Furtwängler's career began.

During World War II, Furtwängler told Friedrich Schnapp how his career began in Mannheim in 1915. The conductor Bodanzky was leaving, et a recruitment was organised. Furtwängler had various incidents during his conducting and then thought: “You’d better pack and go back home”. After having heard the other candidates, he was completely desperate by his own mistakes. But Bodanzky called him and gave him the position. Furtwängler was astonished and objected that the other conductors were better than him and did not have any incidents. “Well, I don’t care at all. You were the best by far. The others does not equal to you, that’s for sure”. And Furtwängler told Schnapp: “You see, he was a Jew, and one must… I shall one day write everything I owe to the Jews. They had indeed a sense of the quality, which was unique”.

Excerpt of an interview with Friedrich Schnapp, in booklet of CD SWF 921-2 (page 50), available on the members sites


1945. Elisabeth Furtwängler: "I remember very well the day when we saw for the first time pictures from the concentration camps. He took me in his arms and said : "We will never be happy anymore because this has been done by German people." He could not understand that the country of Beethoven, who he was considering as a Messiah, could have engendered such horrors".

Elisabeth Furtwängler. Ardente vestale (in French, subcription required), Le Figaro, 29th Nov. 2004

1945-1947. None of his biographers gives an entirely satisfactory account of the period between the end of the war and his return to the podium nearly two years later in April 1947. This period of retreat has given rise to the theory that he was the victim of a political will of the Allied occupation powers to prevent him resuming his career, to punish him for having performed Beethoven in Berlin still during the war, or by jealousy of his artistic fame. This theory is the one on which "Taking Sides" the play (1995) and the movie (2001) are based upon. But the reality is somewhat different.

Furtwängler's silent years 1945-47 by Roger Smithson, 1997 (RTF file, 7 pages, 50 Ko)

En Español : Wilhelm Furtwängler: los años del silencio (1945-1947)

Friederike Kunz, the happy illegitimate daughter of Wilhelm Furtwängler, actress and mother of 7 sons, tells about her time with her father Wilhelm Furtwängler. During her studies in Berlin she even lived together with Furtwaengler in Potsdam. With many photos of her archive and as background music excerpts directed by Furtwängler.

Watch the video of Friederike Kunz's memories on YouTube



Furtwängler by Furtwängler


Furtwängler à Paris -CD SWF 942-3


Fred Goldbeck interviews Wilhelm Furtwängler in April 1953 in Paris : "It must take a great deal of thought to come up with these associations; and yet things must remain spontaneous. You made such a nice remark in this respect during another of your Conversations concerning the rehearsals needed by a conductor, and the gist of what you said, I don't remember the exact words, was that: “One rehearses in order not to improvise during the concert more than necessary, but also no less than necessary". How true! Spontaneity must be preserved. 

Furtwängler: Of course! As I mentioned earlier - it's a matter of love. What would you think of a lover who worked out exactly in advance everything that he was going to say to his lady friend?!"

"Conversations about Conversations", available on our members page. Interview on French National Radio by Fred Goldbeck, 1953, included in CD SWF 942-3 "Furtwängler à Paris"  (DOC file, 9 pages, 70 ko).

See also an interview given in 1950 in Bremen, in booklet of CD SWF 921-2 (page 50), available on the members sites



n 25th Jan. 1933, personal assistant Berta Geissmar, pianist Edwin Fisher, violonist Georg Kulenkampf,

composer Paul Hindemith celebrate Wilhelm Furtwängler's 47th birthday.




Furtwängler by those who got to know him


Who is best placed to talk about music than musicians? Which musicians are best placed to talk about Furtwängler than those who have known him personally ?


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau makes clear his greatest influence was the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. "He once said to me that the most important thing for a performing artist was to build up a community of love for the music with the audience, to create one fellow feeling among so many people who have come from so many different places and feelings. I have lived with that ideal all my life as a performer."

"It is the start of the final episode", an interview in The Guardian, 20th May 2005


Paul Badura-Skoda: "Furtwängler has had a capital influence on me, up to the point of defining my career as a musician. I appreciated his humanity : he was not treating me as a small pupil but as a real artist. I remember that when we rehearsed the Concerto [i.e. the Piano Concerto n°22 by Mozart], he even asked my opinion on the tempo, on that nuance, at that time, and so on. He was a genius. Of course, this recording from 1952 is a testimony, with all the imperfections of a take which was not designed for a record : there was only one microphone... There were already recordings made in the 1940's, so the radio just wanted to keep a testimony of this evening , no more - which I so deeply regret. On this record, you also have a recording made in the same way of the Concerto for two pianos, K. 365, with Furtwängler's daughter, Dagmar Bella. His interpretation is unforgettable: you have to listen how he conducts the introduction of the Andante. If only for this, it worth the effort. I apologise, but I have to say that I did not play too badly that's evening... Also Furtwängler's art was to make you feel good, well prepared. True, when you play again this Concerto or other works by Mozart, you keeps the good things you have done in the past, certain moments of grace, which you try to find again - while not trying to copy these souvenirs, it's impossible. »

Excerpt from an interview in French given to Frank Mallet,  Classica-Répertoire, November 2004.


Aldo Ciccolini


Aldo Cicollini is a specific case because the concert he refers to in the two interviews below was not conducted by Furtwängler but by Ferdinand Leitner and the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome :


"I have been very lucky with the conductors, I have been working with Monteux, Cluytens, Silvestri, Münch, Kletzki or Knappertsbusch. I have been very much impressed by Furtwängler. Once I had to replace without notice Wilhelm Kempff who had felt ill to interpret the Beethoven's 4th Concerto. I was scared; he made everything to make my task easy. It was impossible to escape from the fascination for what he was doing so easily. It is one of the great moments of my life."

Aldo Ciccolini : «Il n'y a pas de compositeurs mineurs» (pay per view), Le Figaro, 19th July 2005


« 1950. Three concerts are due in Rome. Wilhelm Kempf will be at the piano, under the sight of the great Furtwängler. Then, Kempf fell sick. In panic, the staff makes phone calls around the world to find a substitute. And phones me, Aldo Ciccolini. I did not believe it. To be conducted by Furtwängler ! He in his own, he embodies the nobility of the musicians. We, the musicians, we serve an ideal. We serve the cause of imperishable  works. We are servants. It is a very worthy function which requires a lot of humility. We are nothing in front of music. We have not learned anything. Every morning, I wake up sincerely asking myself if I should not start it all again from sratch." »

In « Quatre temps forts dans la vie d’Aldo Ciccolini », Marianne (In French weekly magazine), 9-15 August 2008


Arthur Honegger wrote in the aftermath of Furtwängler's death : "The man who writes a work as rich as his second symphony cannot be discussed. He belongs to the race of great musicians".

Furtwängler et Honegger by Stéphane Topakian (published in French in the newsletter SWF1992) (PDF file, 3 pages, 500Ko)


Friedrich Schnapp was Furtwängler’s favourite recording engineer, for the simple reason that he was respecting the Maestro’s intentions. In his recordings the orchestra sounds as close as possible of what the conductor was achieving on stage. Schnapp was applying the same complete honesty to the other aspects of his relationships with Furtwängler, and a result he became one of his friends. Through four interviews given to Gert Fischer between 1966 and 1979, he talks about his first encounter with Furtwängler, how he was broadcasting concerts, the aftermath of WWII and discuss how Furtwängler would have adapted to the musicale of the late 50's if he had survived.

Excerpt of an interview with Friedrich Schnapp, in booklet of CD SWF 921-2 (page 50), available on the members sites



Also available, translated from a text published by our Society:

En Español : Furtwängler visto por los músicos




Furtwängler's heritage


Furtwängler, a man and artist from the first half of the XXth century siècle, in which his contemporaries were seeing a son of the XIXth romantic century, what can he tell us that we can hear today?

Vladimir Ashkenazi, Daniel Barenboïm, Valery Gergiev gives us their point of view. More...




Photo galleries


We propose selections of pictures of the Maestro on different themes, sorted by time.

Furtwängler conducting, from 1925 to 1954

Furtwängler and his orchestras, from 1928 to 1951

Portraits, from 1898 to 1954

Furtwängler with composers and artists, from 1925 to 1953

Scenes from day to day life

Furtwängler's family

Recent pictures of places linked to Furtwängler


We have also pictures and billboards listed by countries :



United Kingdom