Conductor Edmond de Stoutz
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Edmond de Stoutz (Conductor)
Born: December 18, 1920 - Zürich, Switzerland
Died: January 28, 1997 - Zürich, Switzerland
The Swiss conductor, Edmond de Stoutz, studied law at the University of
Zürich. Then he switched to music and learned piano, cello, oboe,
percussion and composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater
in Zürich; later he pursued training in Salzburg and Vienna.
De Stoutz began his career as cellist in various ensembles, including
two years as a cellist and a drummer in the Tonhalle-Orchester
Zürich. In 1945 he founded the Hausorchester-Vereinigung (House
Orchestra Association). From 1951 this was the Zürcher
Kammerorchester (Zurich Chamber Orchestra), with which he toured widely
as a conductor. In 1962 he also founded the Zürcher Konzertchor
(Zürich Concert Choir). In his programs he invariably included
works by contemporary composers, especially Swiss. He was responsible
for several Swiss premieres of works by Frank Martin, Peter Mieg, Paul
Müller-Zürich, and Rolf Urs Ringger among others. In 1965 he
was awarded the Hans-Georg-Nägeli-Medaille of the City of Zurich.
He was also awarded the Prize of the Doron-Stiftung, and in 1991
Freiheitspreis (Freedom Prize) of the Max Schmidheiny-Stiftung. He
conducted the ZKO until 1996, a year before he died.
His discography includes many concertos by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Igor
Stravinsky, Giuseppe Tartini, and Othmar Schoeck.
In October of 1987, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra visited Chicago under
the leadership of its founder, Edmond de Stoutz. I arranged to
meet with him briefly before the concert for an interview. A
couple of times he grumbled that his English was not sufficient to
express what he was trying to say, but his ideas did seem to come
across quite well.
We only had a few minutes, so we got right down to the heart of the
matter . . . . . . . . .
Is it safe to assume that all of your work as conductor is done at the
Edmond de Stoutz:
Oh, no, no. The performance has its own rules. What I am
doing in the rehearsals is to give ground rules, fundamental advice,
and ideas which, if they wouldn’t be respected, the language would be
wrong. I’m terribly fond of having a musical language that has no
wrong accent, and in rehearsal I fix that, but I don’t fix the way we
would play it in the evening. The evening depends on so many
other things, like the mood of the moment, and the audience, and the
acoustic. The psychological situation of the evening is
unexpected enough to give every evening a new aspect of the same piece
we would play. So the rehearsal is for polishing the language
— not for deciding what we want to say but how we want to
say it. That’s quite another thing.
BD: So then
each night then you are inspired anew?
absolutely free, and that’s why there is a conductor. Otherwise
we could fix everything and let it go. No, the evening is the
moment. Every evening is a special evening and is a unique
evening. We always play here and now, and that’s only one
possibility. The next day, if we want to imitate what we did
yesterday it would be a dead concert. Every concert has its right
to be different, even if it is worse or longer or
shorter. That is not important. It has its own character,
like human beings. All human beings have the same program
— two arms and two legs and so on — but
all are different. Each person is an individual, and every
concert is individual. Beethoven proposes a symphony, but we make
it, and we make it differently every day. He accepts that and he
expects that. He gives us only the minimum of indications of what
we must do, and we make the living body of it. He gives the plan
of the symphony, and we make the symphony. But we are not
alone. The other half of the concert is made by the
audience. The audience listens, and the symphony really only
exists in the heart of everybody who is present. So half of the
work is done by those who listen. We are in contact with the
audience, and together we make a concert. We’re influenced by
BD: What do
you expect of the audience that comes each night?
expect that I will be able not to disturb them with my thoughts, but to
think of a way they can think with me. By making a symphony, I
try to get us to be of the same mind. ‘Concert’
is a Latin word that means we agree with each other. That is in
concert; it’s not a fight. It is to have an agreement, to agree
to find our way together. In French you say faire quelque chose de concert.
D'accord means to agree.
In German it’s Einverstanden.
We each can agree with what we say and what we do. That’s what we
try to find.
BD: How has
the audience grown over the last 20, 30, 40 years?
difficult to say, because I also became older. We change all
together. It’s always a question of human contact. I
changed terribly because I’ve become old, and the audience changed
because they become younger compared with me! This gives
different tasks to both of us. They must look at an old man, and
I must try to satisfy the hopes of younger people. There is no
recipe how to do it, but you must be always very open and very ready to
feel and to notice everything that is expected of you, as everybody has
to do. When people have to live together, they must always be
looking at what will be useful for the other one, not just for me.
BD: Do you
find that the public is different from city to city, or country to
little bit, but if you think of a concert now, it depends more on the
way of our playing to have a good or a collaborating audience. It
depends not on the city where it is nor on the nation nor on the
continent. In all continents you can have the feeling of
acceptance of each other. Of course there are places, especially
festivals, where people have less possibility to listen because they
look at the event more than at the music itself. It’s easier to
get to the point of the music in a modest town than in a big festival
because there it is not so much of the inner life of the surroundings
to look at. It’s more the outside look.
BD: Let me
ask a big philosophical question. What, for you, is the purpose
purpose of music to prove that life is more important than the days of
your life you live. When you live it as a limited life, or you
have the feeling it is a limited life because you appear when you’re
born and disappear in a way. But music is the proof
that life is always there, without us or with us, before us and after
us. And it’s one of the most beautiful proofs because everybody
is feeling that music is life because it takes time, it takes place, it
makes joy, it talks to every psychological facet of your person.
In fact, everybody’s programmed the same way, but not all of us know
their own program in the same way. We are not all informed the
same way of what we could feel and understand and do. In fact,
everybody could do everything, but not everybody knows it. We
have accents more here and more there. That makes the difference
BD: You say
each concert is unique. What about when you go into the recording
studio? Do you conduct differently there?
Yes. Actually no, I don’t conduct differently, but the record is
different to a concert. [Laughs] I have the feeling records
are mummies. It’s beautiful, but every time you look to it, it
doesn’t move. It’s always the same! The symphony, say the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, is on
the certain record, and every day it is the same way! That’s just
the contrary of the idea of a concert and of music. The record is
very interesting because it is for the information, but I don’t think
you see life in it. You see only the picture of life, a
photograph of life, and that is not the person itself.
an interesting distinction. Do you enjoy making
EdeS: In a
way, yes, because it’s a challenge. It’s very difficult.
It’s very difficult to try to get a really natural attitude in a record
because you are disturbed by the lack of audience, and you are
disturbed by all the people who are concerned, such as the engineer and
everybody who has a responsibility for something there. Your own
responsibility is a little bit too divided too much, so you are no
longer so free as in a concert. If you think of the life of a
symphony, it is 20 minutes or 30 minutes. Look at the way your
life as a human being would be if one day or one week of that life was
repeated three times or seven times. It would be
impossible. You would become crazy. Unfortunately, in a way
that is the result of many records. [Laughs]
obviously you must think that the benefits outweigh the determents,
because you keep making them.
EdeS: I do it
especially because there are many people who ask for our records.
When we play a concert, so often people say, “But couldn’t we have a
record only to remember it?” and that’s legitimate. I think
that’s good. If somebody wants to have a souvenir of his beloved
friend, then he takes a picture. That picture is a help, but it’s
not the person himself.
BD: You have the
entire gamut of music from the last three hundred years to choose
from. How do you select which pieces you will perform?
EdeS: I chose
always what is useful for my musicians. I hate the word ‘education’.
I mean, rather, it is for the development of every one of the
orchestra, including me. Our development depends on what we are
playing, and we must play as much as possible. There is a large
choice, and we must have a large view of the whole musical culture to
be able to speak an actual language. It’s not possible to play
Bach as it was played in time of Bach, and if somebody pretends to do
it, he’s a liar. Nobody can play Bach as it was played in the
time of Bach. That’s a simple lie. You must play it as you
now feel it and as you can play it with your own experiences. It
is the same with Tchaikovsky, and Mozart. Everything that
happened between Bach and me is influencing my way of playing Bach, and
must influence my way of playing Bach. If I say, “No, now I want
to play like Bach,” first, I don’t know how it was. Nobody
knows. Then it would be lying. It’s really a very
dishonest. It’s not honest to pretend to know how it was actually
Devil’s advocate] We
shouldn’t make the attempt to approximate?
of course, and we do it always, but it will stop at the
approximation. Do you need the same clothes, the same hair, the
same everything? That’s really the question. There are
people who think when they play Beethoven they must look like
him. They must make a face like somebody who is always angry, and
that has nothing to do with his music. It’s ridiculous to try to
make a museum for music. We must play with the spirit of the
music, and not the costume of the music. The spirit of the music
will be understood by people who live today, and if they like Bach
because it’s not as they expected, because it’s in a way strange, then
it’s no longer Bach. He wouldn’t like to be looked at as somebody
strange as a performer of two centuries back. Bach was actual,
and you must actualize him. We must make him actual, and not show
how old his music is, how much work it is, how efficient his music
is. I am saying this about Bach, but it’s ridiculous to take only
him. It is always so. You cannot pretend that you are not
living now, and the people who listen are not living now.
BD: Where is
music going today?
don’t know. The future is not something we must be preparing for
so terribly. We must live the now. Now and here is
important enough to try to do it. What music is now will maybe
not be in 50 years. It’s impossible for me to tell you and nobody
can say it.
BD: Then what
direction is it heading today?
EdeS: In what
respect? What aspect of the music do you mean? The
commercial aspect, or the style, or how we use music? There are
so many aspects for the question of music and its future that I don’t
know exactly how to answer. The style and the composers seem to
be trying to come back from a certain atonality to a tonality
again. They try to please some people who are afraid by so-called
modern music, but that’s not an answer to your question. Rather,
I would be a little bit alarmed by the music business. It is
possible that the business around music might become so industrialized
that even the audience can no longer go to concerts of living
performers for fear of comparing something. Then if you begin to
compare performances, it’s the same as if you want to buy a car.
You have to compare them. In music, you must not compare; you
advice do you have for composers today?
EdeS: To be
sincere. It’s difficult. It’s very difficult not only for
the composers, but also for the performers. For everybody it is
very difficult. We can never be really sincere because we’re
always speculating away. But we must try to be as sincere as
possible to save our dignity, if we have one. [Both laugh]
advice do you have for the conductors?
EdeS: It is
the same, and for me too!
BD: To be
Yes. I try. I always try. Of course, I cannot always
succeed, but I try, and it’s my hope, with time, to be always more
sincere. We are only human, and music is human music. We
must never think that music is more than a human music. The
music we will perhaps hear after our deaths should be something else, I
BD: One last
question. Is conducting fun?
Yes. Life is fun. No day of my life I would want not to
have lived. Even the heavier days are finally very positive and
very useful, and I am thankful for everything I ever saw and
lived. Really! And that’s sincere.
BD: Thank you
for spending this brief time today. I appreciate it. Good
luck with the concert tonight.
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 24,
1987. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990,
and again in 1995 and 2000.
This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this
at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
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