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Human rights, the persecution of Christians, religious freedom and international peace collaboration were some of the topics in the air when Pope Francis met the German Chancellor at the Vatican. But what set the musical Twittersphere abuzz was the box set of 107 CDs by the legendary conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler that formed part of the gift that Angela Merkel brought with her from Germany.
The private meeting took place in the Vatican Library with the aid of an interpreter and lasted 45 minutes. The Vatican Press Office announced that the two held “cordial talks” recognising “the long history of relations existing between the Holy See and Germany”.
When the moment came for the traditional exchange of gifts Merkel presented the Pope with a chunky box set of 107 CDs of recordings by the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. The “Legacy” set by the German label Membran (available for $100 on Amazon) contains all the works Furtwängler ever recorded for release on record as well as the live recordings he made for radio broadcast. The set contains no less than 12 recordings of Beethoven’s Eroica! Francis will be able to enjoy everything from Furtwängler’s very first recording (Weber’s Freischütz Overture, 1928) up to his last (Wagner’s Die Walküre, 1954).
“I don’t know if you will find the time to listen to these,” the Chancellor told the Pope whose eyes positively lit up as Merkel displayed the musical treasure chest. “You knew”, he said, referring to his description once of Furtwängler as “Germany’s most brilliant conductor and the greatest Wagner and Beethoven expert.”
Merkel also presented Francis with three books of poems by German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (the Pope had recently quoted the poet in one of his speeches. “You know him,” Merkel said to the Pope in German. The Pope reciprocated, by presenting Merkel with a, rather less imaginative, set of the sede vacante medals.
Francis’ evident delight with the gift might suggest that his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict, had cleaned out the Vatican Library of heavyweight German repertoire on his retirement earlier in the year. Or is that being uncharitable?