Ambrose Hall Interview Part 6

Emergence of the conductor and the art of conducting


32 Can you hear the music in your head by looking at the score?

Yeah of course I can, I don’t think you would be much of a conductor if you didn’t.


33 Have you ever cracked jokes or say something funny to amuse the players?

Oh yes I have, occasionally, but not too often the players don’t like continuous jokes.

AEH: I just say something amusing off the cuff and it makes for a fun rehearsal people really enjoy it more.

CM: Yeah

AEH: Then I say we’ll go from here and we’ll get down to business and we do everything very seriously, so I like to blend the two.


34 Have you ever been accused of being aggressive while conducting?

Yeah I have yes, but you don’t need to be unpleasant and aggressive – there are many conductors that players used to be really frightened of you know, like Georg Szell, he and another Hungarian conductor called Fritz Reiner were very very unpleasant at rehearsals, and the players used to be actually frightened of them.


35 When did the conductor emerge in history and then the baton?

When Mozart talks about conducting, he means that he plays the harpsichord or whatever, and leads them, leads the players and gives the cues to the singers you know, from the piano or the harpsichord, and the players were lined up in a certain way, so that they could always see the conductor / director, pianist who was often the composer the contract that these composers had for writing operas was usually, that they would direct the first three or four performances and then leave it to somebody else. Lully apparently used to conduct, and apparently he killed himself, wasn’t it Lully?

AEH: Yes he stabbed himself in the foot with his bow, and died of gangrene.

CM: Was it Lully? Because he hit himself with his gouty foot but on the whole in the eighteenth century they used to lead from the harpsichord or fortepiano, then they started to actually conduct when there where choruses involved like oratorios or operas with a lot of chorus.

AEH: What sort of date would that be?

CM: That would be early nineteenth century, 1810, 1815 something like that, and then when the baton came in, there’s a picture of Berlioz I think conducting with a baton, ah I mean I don’t know exactly who was the first person to use a baton, we’d have to look that up. Mendelssohn used the baton, you can see a picture of him conducting with the baton, and Sullivan of course conducted with a baton but I don’t know the exact date or the exact person who invented the idea and it probably came very gradually you know.

AEH: Mendelssohn did have some type of a baton.

CM: We’d have to look it up but middle of the nineteenth century, these things don’t happen overnight you know they just happen gradually.


36 If someone asked you to define the art of conducting what would you say?

Well I would say it was inspiring, inspiring a lot of musicians all of whom had different training, and who have different lives and different problems and everything, inspiring them to play the music in the way that the conductor thinks that it should be, and bringing them all together to play in that same way, to play together, well inspiring them to play as the conductor thinks that the music should go.

AEH: Express things from what you’ve got internally about the way you feel about the music.

CM: Yeah.

AEH: So you would say that’s how you would define the art of conducting.

CM: Yes that’s right, it’s emanating what you feel about the music, and it’s important to note that all those musicians are all different people, with different problems and different personalities and everything, but they have got to be all together to play in the same way.


With enormous and grateful thanks to Charles.

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