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Second coming

Wilhelm Furtwängler's reputation suffered after he performed for Hitler. Now the great conductor is finally getting his due, says Martin Kettle
Wilhelm Furtwangler
Furtwängler... blacklisted in the US

Half a century after Wilhelm Furtwängler's death at the age of 68, on November 30 1954, the claim that he was the most influential and important orchestral conductor of the recorded era (a claim he never made himself) has never been stronger.

Daniel Barenboim, who played for Furtwängler in Salzburg in the summer of 1954 at the age of 11 and who was allowed to attend his Don Giovanni rehearsals, must be among the youngest of those who heard Furtwängler play live. Bernard Haitink, 75 now, also recalls the special intensity of hearing Furtwängler five years earlier.

"I went to Fidelio in Salzburg in 1949 with tremendous expectations. I was trembling with excitement. It was in the old Festspielhaus. And into the pit comes this strange-looking man who started the overture, and it was not entirely together, and I thought, 'Well, is that the great Furtwängler?' Then, all of a sudden, with the start of the quartet Mir Ist so Wunderbar, something happened, and it was as if there was suddenly electricity throughout the auditorium, and it stayed, and it just built up. The next morning there was a Furtwängler concert of the Bruckner Eighth and again I had this same fantastic experience, and I walked along the Salzach afterwards feeling totally emotional."