THURSDAY, July 23, 2020
First of all, the composition of this work is a complicated story. No one seems to even agree upon when it was written, but in addition we seem to only know that it was originally composed between 1839 and 1840. Then we know it was revised between 1843 and 1844. Then Wagner revised it in 1855, so there is a 16 year process that makes it rather difficult to assess the maturity or style. We can say that he probably started this around age 26 but was still working on it many years later, at age 42. So it has to be considered a fully mature work.
Can this old Toscanini recording be bettered?
I fear not. I always try to find a modern stereo recording for the sound experience, but this performance is incredibly intense. And it should be, since Faust is the character who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for knowledge and worldly pleasures.
This has to be over the top…
I don’t know why there are not more modern recordings to choose from, and everything else I’ve listened to sounds tame, held back, conservative. Apparently Wagner conceived of this as a concert overture, something to stand alone in a concert hall. I think I will eventually use a a date more like 1855 to place this is historical context. I have a strong feeling this is a very important moment in Wagner’s musical development, and there is a good reason why Toscanini is historically linked to this piece.