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Posted January. 13, 2007 03:00,   


“Listening to recorded music is like going to bed with Brigitte Bardot’s nude picture.”

Conductor Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) refused to record performances for his lifetime. Once music is captured by a machine, he believed, it is not living any more like a “copied nude picture.” Music or life is born to be consumed and gone forever.

The sound of his Munich Philharmonic was only known as a “legend” for a while. Only after he passed away in 1996 came to light the whole collection of live concerts (EMI), which was made from sound sources recorded for use as data, and a recording of Bruckner’s symphonies with Stuttgart Radio symphony Orchestra (DG). It is an irony that these albums made him more famous posthumously.

The sound of his Munich Philharmonic is an example of the “aesthetics of extreme slowness.” Especially, the Adagio of Bruckner’s symphony moves like vast sea waves to express sublime beauty and calm meditation. Fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism and Taoism, Celibidache used to say often, “The end is in the beginning,” to explain the synchronicity and ephemeral nature of music.

Scenes of his rehearsal can be seen in the movie "The Garden of Celibidachi" made by his son Serge Ioan Celibidachi or in Bruckner’s Mass in F Minor DVD movie. He liked to do “Taoist questions and answers” in his high-toned voice: “You can never say hello in the same way on the same day. It is because you are alive. Music is constantly moving with something that did not exist before. Enjoy the magic of music changing and moving moment by moment.”

He also defined music as “not beauty, but truth.” An album created by pasting pieces of recordings at a studio can be beautiful but false. He warned that the machine is killing music and makes great conductors disappear.

Everyone does not agree with him, but his insight is worth a second thought at the age of MP3. Why is the music market dying as music reproduction technology is more and more developed? Is today’s music better than in old times when people listened to piano performances at a salon? Have you never felt thrilled by a student’s piano performance at a small theater while you used to think music from an expensive audio set is the best?

Celibidache played an important role in rebuilding the Berlin Philharmonic after WWII. However, the Berlin Philharmonic chose Karajan with excellent business skills to succeed Wilhelm Furtwangler. Karajan gained fame and wealth through lots of recordings, while Celibidache remained a mysterious hermit focusing on training the Munich Philharmonic until the end of his life.

He is said to have meditated on Tibetan Monk Goncha’s words whenever he met a difficulty in life: “You will be just a fool! Life is not such a thing. Start over again!”