Conductor / Composer  Werner  Janssen

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie



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Werner Janssen, 91; Led Philharmonic In New York in 30's

By JOHN ROCKWELL
Published: September 21, 1990, in The New York Times

Werner Janssen, the first American-born conductor to lead the New York Philharmonic and later an active film composer and champion of contemporary music on the West Coast, died on Wednesday at the Stony Brook (L.I.) University Hospital. He was 91 years old.

Mr. Janssen was born in New York, and attended Dartmouth College and the New England Conservatory of Music. He studied conducting in Europe with Felix Weingartner and Hermann Scherchen and composition with Ottorino Respighi. In the 1920's, he also played piano in New York cabarets and contributed numbers for the Ziegfeld Follies and other revues.

His international career blossomed when he conducted an all-Sibelius concert in Finland in 1934, winning glowing praise from the composer. He made many appearances as guest conductor in Europe and the United States, and later in 1934 was invited to lead the New York Philharmonic.

From 1937 to 1939, Mr. Janssen was music director of the Baltimore Symphony, but thereafter he shifted his base to Los Angeles. He composed scores for many films, including ''Blockade'' and ''The General Dies at Dawn.''

He led his own Janssen Symphony in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1952, and was chief conductor of the Utah Symphony, the Portland (Ore.) Symphony and the San Diego Philharmonic. He also made numerous recordings of venturesome 20th-century repertory.

He is survived by his wife, Christina Heintzmann Janssen of Stony Brook; a son, Werner Janssen Jr. of New York; two daughters, Alice Krelle of Lake Tahoe, Nev., and Jennifer Janssen of Stony Brook; two sisters, Dorothy Szlapka and Alice Knipe, both of New York; four grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.


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Though not the earliest-born of my 1600+ interview guests, Werner Janssen
’s birth date of June 1, 1899 makes him one of the group who sprang from the Nineteenth Century.  For anyone who is interested, the earliest is soprano Dame Eva Turner, who was born on March 10, 1892.  Next come several composers including John Donald Robb (June 12, 1892), Paul Amadeus Pisk (May 16, 1893), Leo Ornstein (December 2, 1893), Virgil Thomson (November 25, 1896), Vittorio Rieti (January 28, 1898), Ernst Bacon (May 26, 1898), Marcel Dick (August 28, 1898), Alfred Eisenstein (November 4, 1899); Elinor Remick Warren (February 23, 1900), Otto Luening (June 15, 1900), and Ernst Krenek (August 23, 1900).  Also in this date-specific group are lexicographier Nicolas Slonimsky (April 27, 1894), mezzo-soprano Sonia Sharnova (May 2, 1896), and publisher Hans Heinsheimer (September 26, 1900).  [Names which are links refer to my interviews which have been transcribed and are posted elsewhere on this website.]

janssenAt first, Janssen was somewhat reluctant to accept my request for a conversation, but near the end of July of 1987 he did allow me to call and, as you will see, things went very well . . . . . . . . .


Werner Janssen:    Hello?

Bruce Duffie:    May I speak with Werner Janssen please?

WJ:    This is he!

BD:    This is Bruce Duffie in Chicago.

WJ:    Hello!  You’re right on the button!   I was right ready for you!  Are you as hot over there as we are up here?

BD:    We had a little break, and I’m right by the lake, but it’s still very warm here in Chicago.

WJ:    We’re immersed in a pressure cooker!

BD:    We’ve had that all week.  I haven’t had the windows opened.  I’ve been running the air conditioner all day and night.

WJ:    That’s what we’re doing. 

BD:    Late last night we got a little bit of rain, and the wind shifted just a little bit.  Right along the lake it’s a little bit cooler, but it’s still not comfortable.

WJ:    I’m glad to hear that it is cooler...  [Both laugh]  Well, you’re right on the button, and I would just like to know what you want to do.

BD:    I want to speak with you a little bit about composing and about conducting because you’re been immersed in music for so many years.  I want to probe your mind a little bit, if I may.

WJ:    Well, I will do what I can!  It’s just that I dislike very much any kind of show business, or, as they call it, publicity!  But musical questions and so on, if I can answer them I will certainly oblige!

BD:    That’s fine.  I appreciate your graciousness.

WJ:    It’s just been a thing with me all my life, and I suppose I’ve been wrong about it because people tell me I’ve been wrong...

BD:    Not necessarily!

WJ:    Ah, well...  [Laughs]

BD:    Well, let’s talk a little bit about music.  Music seems to be going in so many different directions today.

WJ:    Oh, this would take hours, but go, ahead!  [Much laughter]  Are you talking of music per se, or are you talking about orchestras, or composers, or what?

BD:    Let us start with the general and then zero in on the specific.  Where do you think music is going today, or is that an impossible question?

WJ:    Well, it’s not going in the direction of music, put it that way.

BD:    Too much business?

WJ:    That’s the main trouble actually.  That’s one of the great problems, and I saw it coming twenty-five years ago.  I said that the way the orchestras are working their symptoms will rot.  That’s an indelicate phrase, however I assure you it’s been proven that the orchestras are in trouble.  There’s no question about it, and I’m speaking of financial problems.  There are one or two cities that are carrying on but I wonder for how long at the rate they’re going.  The demands of the unions are such that it’s a long haul.  It’s a large question, and I wouldn’t like to spend hours on it.  Nobody seems to be interested.

BD:    Is there any hope?

WJ:    There’s always hope.  Yes, there is hope.  It has to be done, but not just by raising money.  It’s a terrible thing to say, but you know it’s true.  The first consideration today is money, and while it does take money to unionize, to pay the various players in the orchestra, the salaries as quoted for people earning the money must keep pace with our inflation.  You’ve got to live!  A musician has to live, but there are other ways.  We did it in Los Angeles. 

BD:    With the Janssen Symphony you mean?

WJ:    The Janssen Orchestra of Los Angeles, which never took any money from anybody.   How did we do it?  It’s very boring, but it nevertheless it worked, and we gave more first performances of music than six or seven of the other big orchestras put together.  That, I think, we can be proud of today.  I dislike talking about it, but I do like talking about real musicians, composers who have done something.  You can name half a dozen or a dozen that we did first performances, and I am very proud to say they have made it on their own due to their work.  But they’re having a heck of a time now.  It’s people that don’t want to listen to modern music.  You have to go back to the old ones such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, which I was brought up on.  These are the same old dreary masterpieces that are marvelous masterpieces when we were younger, but to replay those is like telling a joke over 50,000 times.  You’ve heard it!  While you can hear that this man plays it faster, this man plays it slower, this man plays it with more strings going or whatever it happens to be, and the digital sound comes in and the most marvelous things happen, who’s been doing all that stuff?  I’ve learned one thing out of all this, and that is it does not help to bring about the music to put it into a showcase of certain composers that deserve better treatment and deserve a hearing.  It seems they’re not getting it.  I’m getting many letters about this from musicians.  I haven’t got an orchestra right now.  I jump around and guest-conduct.  I call that jest-conducting!  [Both laugh]  And by the time you get through, you haven’t got time enough to really rehearse.  So that is the great problem.  There are so many ifs and ands and buts which nobody will agree with me on, of course, but we did it for fifteen or twenty years in Los Angeles and never, never took a dime from anyone.

BD:    Would that same kind of set-up work today, either in Los Angeles or in any other city?

WJ:    Yes, it would!  They always have to sound bigger.  It’s more difficult to write a string quartet or a trio than it is for orchestra, because there you have a full palliate and you go to town.  Heaven knows, we did the first recording of parts of Berg’s Wozzeck, and, my goodness, more modern composers than just Mr. Berg.  But they were people that are recognized today, and the reason is their music.  They have something to say.


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BD:    When you’re running an orchestra and you’re bombarded with new scores, how do you decide which ones you will present, and which you will send back to the composers?

WJ:    That’s a good question.  I never cared about the public, never!  It’s true.

BD:    Not at all???

WJ:    No!  I always thought of the music first, last, and always.  Music to me is either music or it isn’t music.  I thought about music.  Stravinsky and I had quite a talk about one day.  His Danses Concertantes, which is dedicated to our orchestra, is one of the best ballet scores I’ve done.  We’ve done every one of his pieces, some a hundred times.  How did I pick that score?  I knew he was in another ‘home’ that week, that month or something.  He was always changing his style, and I noticed something.  There was a chamber quality to his music, which didn’t use, as I call, ‘the constipated orchestra’ where you’ve got the full blast going all the time.  That is all so out of date, so 1825.  You’ve got to modify it!  First of all, what we need in our country is a very outstanding chamber orchestra that was ours.  You only have to read any of the critics... well, only the top critics.  Don’t read anybody else!  They speak to the musicians, and also from the letters.  These are people like Hindemith, Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson.  I can go on and on speaking of the Americans, and as far as the foreigners are concerned, many of whom I brought to this country.


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BD:    You’re looking for works that you could do?

WJ:    Music!   I was looking for music!

janssenBD:    Real music?

WJ:    That’s right.  I consider several of Stravinsky’s works real music.  I consider Copland’s also.

BD:    This is what I’m looking for.  What makes it real music?

WJ:    That’s a very good question.  Oh, my goodness, I could go into that all night!  It’s what I call the feeling for key as well as the feeling of honesty throughout the score; the feeling of originality comes in, the thrust of the music.  The harmonization is perhaps least of all.  There’s something that finally edits into a long line, and that long line gives you something, and somehow or other it touches my backbone.  For instance, I don’t want to mention the name, but I found a score that I plan to do in Europe this year that I think is a departure, and yet he’s not trying to be, as they’re all saying, this new style.  You have to be an architect.  Today you have to be a factory player.  You have to be a practical technician today to get in.  They’re trying to imitate.  I have made two or three hundred records that we’ve done for Victor and for Columbia Masterworks, and I have driven the engineers insane because I’ve never gotten a real true string tone.  Never.  I’ve not heard it on any recording yet.  I don’t care who these people record digitally or whatever is the newest thing now.

BD:    So it’s only an approximation?

WJ:    It’s an approximation. That is a good word for it.  Regardless, that’s easy, but the string tone has never been faithful, as far as I’m concerned.  Even the Germans with their new system have never hit it right.  This is a question that you could go on for days.

BD:    If you are so dissatisfied with the sound that comes back, why do you make records?

WJ:    That’s a good question because I have been working with engineers for twenty-five years trying to achieve this tone that has never been achieved.  I thought some Germans had it last year, and I went to two or three cities to try out what they had.  They put an orchestra to my disposal and I tried it there, but I never got the real thing that I wanted.  When you come to divided strings, divisi, you have real problems
unless you don’t want to hear the things that are in there!  [Laughs]  You want to hear them, but given the way they’re reproduced today, I know the record companies will scream but it’s the truth.  They admit it!  Finally, they admit it!  The nearest that comes to it is Deutsche Grammophon, however they’re still seeking and working on it.  They may achieve it, I don’t know.  We, who have the best techniques in the world and finest engineers over here just haven’t seemed to get it right.  So why do I keep recording?  I’ve been working on it, and every time I drive the engineers crazy because they know that I work on that and I have never achieved it.  I’ve never been satisfied with very big string works that I’ve done.  I’m talking about some of the complicated works of Schoenberg or even Ives, which I’ve tried to differentiate from the usual.

BD:    On the record are you looking for an exact duplicate of what you would hear in the concert hall? 

WJ:    Sure, but it goes more than that because in the concert hall you’re running into trouble with the acoustics.  There you have problems because of the way it bounces off the walls.  Let me tell you a story...  There was a little piece that was written by a violinist in second violin section of the New York Philharmonic, and we did it on a Sunday afternoon.  This piece was published by Ricordi, and is a marvelous little piece for nine stands of fiddles.  The composer has written that he wanted to put an extra stand, so we had eighteen first violins.  Then we used an extra stand of violas in order to balance it.  I don’t know why he wanted that but he wanted that.  So we went with the composer’s request, and so we added the stand of the fiddles.  The piece only lasts eight or nine minutes.  I think I’ve only done it once more, and that was in Turin in Italy... which reminds me I want to do it again!   It’s really something.  Well, that piece was such a hit that afternoon.  His piece was such a success.  Here he was, buried in the second fiddles for all those years playing everything else, second fiddle parts, and we had for once, I thought, a string tone that I was envisaging and hearing in my ‘somewhere’.  But then, The New York Philharmonic audience at Carnegie for the first time in history heard a number repeated in the Philharmonic Symphony program!  I don’t know what happened but there was a real string tone throughout with the vibrato, which is an art in itself, and somehow or other they caught it.  On the front pages it all came out I did a horrible thing for repeating a number and breaking the tradition of the New York Philharmonic.  Oh, was I proud!  The composer was so delighted that he gave me a little lollipop after the concert.  I’ll never forget that!  But the story being, that the broadcast-recording of that piece rang a bell within me.  I played this for three recording companies, and I said I would do this piece for them, but nobody bought that, nobody.  I don’t say we could achieve it again.  Whether it’s a question of pulsations or whether it’s a question of fast or slow vibrato, or no vibrato I don’t know.  Yet I’m experimenting every day in hope that before the sun sets I will, somehow or other, achieve that.  Eventually some engineer will come up and get it.  Honestly I’ve recorded all over the world and attempted it all over, but I have not yet found it.  They all think what they are getting is good enough.  Well, maybe my ears are wrong.

*     *     *     *     *

janssenBD:    I want to ask you about your compositions now. You are still composing, yes?

WJ:    Well, no, I’m decomposing!  [Laughs]  Does that answer it?

BD:    I don’t believe it!

WJ:    Having dealt with what seems like 15,000 boards of directors in my life, I would like to say they have no sense of humor for the reason that they think of that almighty dollar, which is of course true.  We are asked to replay the Brahms symphonies over and over again.  My God, they’re masterpieces!  I did those when I was ten or eleven years of age.  Most of us know those backwards.  We’ve got to hear new music.  New things should be played, and the repertoire should have the accent on new music.

BD:    You’ve written quite a bit of music...

WJ:    Yes, I have, but I don’t like to talk about my own because I’ve never taken it seriously.  It’s just been for the fun of it.  Maybe it’s like a runner that has been running a great deal, and he’s out of breath!  It is then he says,
Oh gee, I just thought of something!  Wouldn’t it be nice to use the cello and the viola to double something?  These things, fortunately or unfortunately, occur to me, and so what have I done?  New York's Eve in New York got the Prix de Rome (1930).  You always have to have somebody sponsor you in this business, which I think is madness, but how is a composer to live? 

BD:    You say you don’t take that so seriously.  Do you expect the listener to take your music seriously?

WJ:    I’ve never taken my compositions seriously for the reason that I’ve probably been so absorbed in music of other people.  That’s funny or strange!  I’ve done five string quartets.  The Library of Congress gave the first performance of the Second String Quartet (1938).  It was Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge who commissioned that, and the marvelous Jacques Gordon, who was the concert master of your orchestra there, with whom I did my Ravinia performances later.  But he gave a really first-class performance of that.


When Jacques Gordon died on September 15, 1948, the musical world lost one of its most brilliant violinists and the Eastman School of Music one of its most beloved teachers. For years the solo appearances of Mr. Gordon were marked by tremendous ovations in response to his masterful interpretations of violin literature. For years also the famous Gordon String Quartet toured the country, giving concerts of the highest caliber and bringing chamber music to cities both large and small. Mr. Gordon's pupils at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, and the summer music school at Music Mountain in Falls Village were outstanding young artists and successful teachers.

gordonJacques Gordon was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1897. At the age of five he began the study of the violin, and by the time he was nine he was ready to appear in concerts as a child prodigy. At sixteen he made a continental tour of Europe, receiving many awards, among which was a gold medal given him by the Czar in 1913. He made his first tour of the United States and Canada during the 1914-15 season. Three years later Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge chose him to lead the Berkshire String Quartet, for in the meantime he had studied with Franz Kneisel, famed quartet leader, and had not only become acquainted with the standard repertoire but had become an enthusiastic chamber-music player as well. In 1921 he was appointed Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock; being twenty-four at the time, he was the youngest concertmaster in the history of that orchestra. His residence in Chicago lasted for nine years, during which he was head of the violin department at the American Conservatory of Music.

The first Gordon String Quartet was founded in Chicago in 1921. By 1930 the demand for quartet appearances had become so great that he resigned from his position in the orchestra in order to devote his entire time to the ensemble and to his own solo playing. In the larger cities where the quartet performed, the members were greeted by enthusiasts whose interest already lay in the standard works of chamber music and in the newer compositions being written for that medium. In the smaller cities where chamber music was practically unknown the quartet did much to introduce this literature.

In 1930 Mr. Gordon established summer residence in Falls Village, Connecticut. The Gordon Musical Association, established that same year, maintained a summer school of music called Music Mountain, where many students gathered to study repertory and chamber music and to hear performances by the Gordon String Quartet.

Jacques Gordon came to the Eastman School of Music during the academic year 1941-42, when he substituted for Gustave Tinlot, upon whose death he was appointed head of the violin faculty. The Gordon String Quartet subsequently became the quartet-in-residence at the school, where they played regularly on chamber music concert series, on radio programs, and for recordings.

--  Ruth Watanabe 


I did a work for Harvard Musical Association, which I called Octet for Five (1965)!  The one player had several doublings.  [Besides the usual quartet of strings, a wind player performed on alto flute, alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet.]  The man had so many doublings to do, he would be able to sit on the instrument to have it warm for the next entrance.  

BD:    Are you a better conductor because as you are also a composer?

WJ:    Well, yes.  I’ve learned a lot through my mistakes.  I’ve also done some 72 motion pictures, as you know, which is good practice, and that’s what kept the orchestra alive in Los Angeles!  During that whole period, those years I spent in Hollywood, all of the money that I earned for those motion pictures, every penny of my entire earnings went into the orchestra.  We had the Standard Oil programs, so with what we earned from that we never needed another penny.  I have some marvelous stories about the money.  When the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which I also had, were raising their money, the main lady, a wonderful lady whose name I forget right now came over and said she wanted to work for us.  I said,
Well that’s the most marvelous thing.  We need your spirit rather than your money!  She looked at me and she said she wanted to help.  She lasted one week because they made her life so miserable that she left the organization.  [Pauses a moment to reminisce]  In one edition of The Composers on Record, they said I was dead!  It said that I died in 1965!  But that’s the best thing that ever happened because I was going through my eye problems which caused me to re-think things I had to relinquish.  But I was still very much alive, as Mark Twain said!

janssenBD:    In the music for films you’ve incorporated some jazz into the scores.

WJ:    That’s very interesting that you mentioned it.  Yes, that’s true.  We should ask the composers what have we got left here?  What are we trying to do?  Architecturally are they trying to become electricians?  They’re forgetting that music has something to say.  They say it their way, and there are some very good men, very good men that are doing it.  I regret that I haven’t got a permanent orchestra right now to do a few scores that have come in that interest me.  I learn every score, every note, every word of it.  I can’t do it any other way.  I did, for instance, the first performance of John Alden Carpenter’s Sea Drift (N.Y. Philharmonic, 1934).  And while I’m speaking of that, I did the Dance Symphony of  Aaron Copland.  I’ve conducted many works that we are proud of, that we did before anyone else was interested.  But now the orchestras lack the courage or the means, or they haven’t got the rehearsal time.  I feel sorry for the conductors that way.  They haven’t got the rehearsal time in order to really go into a new work.

BD:    Let me turn the question around.  You’ve done many first performances of what are now great works.  Have you done any first performances of things that you would like to forget about?

WJ:    Let me say it this way, yes.  I would say out of the maybe one hundred that I have done, most I’m proud of, and I would say out of those maybe five or six I don’t think deserve a second performance.  Maybe I was a little bit too enthusiastic at the time for some things, and I wouldn’t want to mention names because I would never do that.  Especially one very important teacher who is a big name today just didn’t interest me sufficiently.  Maybe I was wrong, and I certainly can be, but maybe I was right, although it didn’t get a second or third performance.  For me a second performance is almost more important than a first performance.

BD:    Sure!

WJ:    It’s true.  Take one work, Dance in the Place Congo by Henry Gilbert.  I made a recording of it.  I first thought was a load of tinsel and noise shouting around.  Then we did it a second time.  I did it in Europe quite a bit, and that darn thing, well, rather to me it’s a good second-class work.  How’s that?  [Both laugh]  It’s a good second-class work, but it never really came through like many of the things we’d done that I’m really proud of.  But if I believe in a work, I will do it, I will really do it.  I think that I ought to probably get busy again, and I’m thinking about it.  So because I feel sorry for the composer of today, I feel sorry for myself that I didn’t or couldn’t do better work as a composer.  It’s my language and I just couldn’t continue.  Perhaps I knew too many scores.  I don’t know the answer to that one, and maybe time will tell.

*     *     *     *     *

janssenBD:    What did you learn from working with Ottorino Respighi?

WJ:    Oh, that’s a very marvelous question, and an important story for me to tell you.  When I got the Prix de Rome, I was in Rome about a week when Santa Cecilia called me.  They said  they had looked at two or three of my things, and would I come over and see them.  They said they’d decided to give me the  Rome Prize for three years.  It was three years then, and we got twice the money that they’re giving today.  I was given a post-graduate, too. So, coming back to Respighi, the Santa Cecelia offered me free tuition the whole time I’m there to study under this master of orchestration.  I had been scoring like crazy before.  I would do a whole Bach fugue for the fun of trying to put it into the orchestra, and all that before Lucien Cailliet (1891-1985) who did a fabulous job of it in Philadelphia.  I was doing these things as practice, and Respighi called.  We had a big meeting, and he asked me to come to his masterclass.  I was honored to do so, as a matter of fact.  So I went in there, and there’s a funny thing about that.  We called them the pigeons because the window would be opened and the Roman pigeons would fly in and make droppings on paper!  It was always music paper, of course, so we always had funny little gags about that.  But what did I learn from Respighi?  The simplicity of orchestration.  No matter how involved you are, no matter how involved the piece is, you still have to see it through.  He taught me that.  I was a graduate of the original Leipzig Conservatory, which is now in East Germany, and of course was the big place.  I worked there for three years as a kid, and I had mastered things to a certain extent, but not to satisfy myself unfortunately.  That is just what they teach you there.  They were so thorough back then, like the thoroughbass I always say, and they applied it almost all the instruments.  If you hear those tones which they taught you, you could believe you probably get somewhere.  Well, after a year of Respighi, I thought it was time to quit.  So I left Respighi’s place.  I was busy then because I was also doing the Rome concerts, and writing an opera and string quartets like crazy.  The experience of Respighi was one that I shall be always grateful for because he showed me the luminosity that there is in certain
modern works.  I hate the word because everybody speaks of a it as modern music or classical music.  It’s music of 1875 or 1986.  It’s that kind of music.  We’d speak of Mendelssohn at that age, of that time, or we speak of Brahms in his second period, or Stravinsky, who had the genius of being able to simplify.

BD:    Is this the advice you have for young composers, to learn the simplicity of orchestration?

WJ:    I have a very young student and I’ve looked at his writings.  He has a facility for putting down tones that don’t exist to the melody, or to the idea of the thematic material that he has, and that he thinks of.  He does a simple phrase, and he will then take sounds out of the universe and put them down.  As long as they sound beyond Alban Berg, to their ears they call it very modern.  Now this may be getting a little deep but he’s only twelve or thirteen and he needs real direction.  I haven’t the time because I am always studying new stuff.  He needs some real direction.  I have a man in Europe I want to talk about him, and maybe he’ll get over there because this boy may just go places.  His musical ideas are so refreshing, so simple that they will  grow by themselves.  He’s got orchestration under his belt, and I said to just forget those things.  I told him just start in and write what he has right now, and keep growing on that.  Well, he came back about a month later after I saw him the first time, and he really had something I became so excited about.  That ruined it for him, of course...  There is a terrific need in our country and throughout the world.  Hindemith almost hit it in his great book, just like I hope that I’ll hit that violin tone some day with an engineer.

BD:    Let me as a big philosophical question.  What do you feel is the ultimate purpose of music?

janssenWJ:    The ultimate purpose of music is to save civilization.  Curiously enough, it can save civilization because of it being
to use a very corny phrase we’ve heard a thousand times — the universal language.  I was in the war, and I remember one time there were three of us in a trench.  There was a Frenchman, an Italian-speaking boy, and myself.  I speak French and I speak Italian because I studied in Europe.  We were in a terrible spot, and they couldn’t commute because they didn’t know English.  Somebody had a record and an old machine, and he played the second movement of the Brahms Second Symphony.  He had these three people there and we didn’t have to talk.  We never talked again until the next shell.  That’s one way of communication.  I would love to work for a dollar a year, truthfully, survive on it, and help young people with their music. 

BD:    What advice do you have for aspiring young conductors?

WJ:    For heaven’s sake, get away from the mirror!  [Pauses a moment]  Does that answer you?

BD:    To have the conductors get off themselves and back to the music!

WJ:    That’s right.  It’s in your bowels, it’s in your head, and if it isn’t, God help you!  If the second oboe asks you if a certain note should be an F sharp or an F or an E, and then he watches your fingers go through the score to find what that note is, and you waste all that time because you don’t know the answer, you’re already finished!  You’re already dead!  We have to know the details, just as a musician should know what his partner is playing.  They are so busy reading notes, but you have to teach them how to listen the same way as with learning a language.  You know the language, but you must talk about the way they’re going musically.  I feel for the young composers.  I feel for elderly composers who are, I’m sure, writing good works and they’re not being heard, because here they don’t have the money around, or the conductors are not interested.  They don’t take the time to learn a new score, to digest it.  This is what I’m referring to, and I think this is a serious thing in our country.  Maybe with my 88 years I can talk about it!

BD:    This is why I contacted you
to get some of the experience of those 88 years.

WJ:    I’m pleased to meet you.  You are somebody that has intelligent questions.

BD:    Thank you for the compliment.

WJ:    Well, it’s sincere and it
’s the truth.  Of course, it’s near to my heart.  That’s why I started off by saying I never talk to the papers.  But you’ve been very nice on the telephone, and you intrigued me.  I wondered what you were going to ask me, and you aroused my interest.  That is something I appreciate, so thank you!

BD:    Thank you for spending this time with me today.

WJ:    Thank you very much, Mr. Duffie.  It went very well.



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© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on July 25, 1987.  Since the sound quality of the recording was poor, I used quotations from the conversation along with recordings on WNIB several occasions through 1999.  This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.