Are conductors necessary?

Steven Berryman

Haydn’s last visit in 1794-95 [to Great Britain] had marked both the climax of London’s public concert life and the beginning of its decline. The founding of the Philharmonic Society in 1813 by a group of professional musicians was a rare flash of light in an otherwise sombre scene. Although it helped to make London the kind of city that musicians such as Weber, Spohr and Mendelssohn wanted to visit, the concerts were handicapped by the lack of rehearsal time and the absence of a conductor…

(The Triumph of Music, Tim Blanning, p. 156)

The idea that concerts could be successful without a conductor seems unlikely in the early 19th century, yet performances before this often relied upon not one non-playing musician who directed from the front of the ensemble but leadership from within by players. It seems accepted that the conductor is an indispensable component of the large ensemble…

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