Herbert von Karajan
Visitor Comments and Gallery
Since starting this site in June 2003 I have been contacted by fellow Karajan admirers from all over the world, many who have signed my Guest Book. But I now feel that there should be a dedicated section
on my site where other enthusiasts are able to write in more detail about Karajan and his musical interpretations. It will also be an opportunity for other collectors to show a particularly favourite item of Karajan memorabilia.
I never had the opportunity to see Karajan in concert so my experiences relate only to audio and video recordings.
I had always enjoyed listening to classical music, although not being able to read music or play an instrument; I had, therefore, always felt that the finer details of
understanding were inaccessible to me. In 1991 we bought a Laserdisc player and the first disc I played was Karajan's 1973 Unitel version of Brahms First Symphony. I found the whole experience totally
absorbing with the filming not distracting but positively aiding me to a better understanding of the music. I bought other
Karajan films and CDs read biographies and became, for want of a better word, "hooked".
My musical tastes are basically Austro-German romantic orchestral music particularly Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss but Sibelius is also a great favourite of mine.
To me, the rhythm, the phrasing, the whole Karajan sound with its attention to detailed precisely balanced tone and dynamics makes the music last forever in my head. Particularly
in the music of Sibelius and Bruckner I get an overwhelming sense of completeness and "rightness" at the end of a symphony. For example, I feel Bruckner Symphony No 8 conducted by Karajan
in 1988 is like an epic journey and no matter how many times I hear it I am never disappointed at the end, the conclusion always leaving me overwhelmed. With Sibelius the rhythmic drive is
not only heard but also "felt" with transitions between movements in Symphony No 2 and particularly in Symphony No 5 inducing once again this sense of absolute inevitable "rightness". How often I
feel that Karajan performances are not only heard with our ears but felt deep inside.
Date: April 4th 2012
I have received the following email from James Jolly, Editor in Chief, "Gramophone".
"I thought you might be interested to learn of a new initiative from Gramophone: the Hall of Fame which celebrates the men and women who made the classical record industry what it is. After voting by our readers,
Karajan emerged (easily) in Poll Position. Our May issue will contain details of all 50 people, championed by 50 more (Mariss Jansons writes about Karajan), the issue will also have a CD of the Philharmonia
Beethoven 5 and Brahms 2, and our website will re-present many of our archive interviews with Karajan and much more."
With best wishes
Editor in Chief, Gramophone
Click on the logo above to see the Karajan page.
It all started in 1963 when a colleague lent me a couple of records from his new set of LPs. The discs were of course the now legendary 1962 recordings of the Beethoven Symphonies, and as I listened it was apparent that these were
remarkable performances by a master conductor with a truly superb orchestra.
During the coming weeks and months listening to these recordings became almost an addiction and I decided that I must make the effort to hear these forces in a live performance.
As it happened their next visit to the UK was scheduled only a few months later, and I was able to obtain tickets for the Brahms cycle consisting of 3 concerts in London in January and February 1964.
Since then I was privileged to have attended 22 of Karajan's 30 concerts in the UK, including his final appearance in London on 6th October 1988, only 9 months before his death. I also visited Salzburg for the Easter Festivals in
1968, 1971 and 1972, and the Summer Festivals in 1967 and 1969.
I think that Karajan's conducting was absolutely unique, and although the orchestra was always contained by his grasp, it was never too tightly held or overridden, so that for example a wind soloist always had ample time to excel, without rushing,
whilst still remaining part of the whole. Karajan's appreciation of orchestral balance and tone was also exceptional, so that during his time one of the glories of the Berlin Philharmonic was the splendour and lyrical vitality of
the double basses, the sight of which even seemed to add another dimension to the thrill of the playing.
A favourite live performance? - possibly the St. Matthew Passion in Salzburg on Good Friday in 1972, with a breathtaking array of soloists including Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Fischer-Dieskau, Peter Schreier and Walter Berry.
This was a very profound experience; Richard Osborne recounts in 'A Life in Music' that Janowitz ranked the 2 performances of this work in Salzburg at Easter in 1972 as one of the high points of her musical life.
A favourite recording? - very difficult to decide, but probably the 1973 recording of the Four Last Songs by Strauss, again with Janowitz. Karajan achieves here a most wonderful evenness of line, producing what is for me possibly
the most beautiful music I have ever heard.
|I obtained this autograph of Herbert von Karajan as he entered the Royal Festival Hall
in London on 13th June 1977 before conducting a performance of Mahler's 6th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic.
||I obtained these autographs of two of the outstanding
musicians in Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic following a chamber concert at Stonyhurst College, near Clitheroe, Lancashire in 1969; they are of concertmaster, Michel Schwalbe and incomparable oboist Lothar Koch.
I first became interested in HVK when I was 17/18, my father used to play the record of the DG recording Opera Intermezzi. I recall my fathers comments how Karajan made the violins ‘sing’ and this is still the case today when I play these pieces.
I started to buy every record that I could and this helped me to understand not only the music but how Karajan shaped it, to me making the music more interesting, almost a sound picture.
Although I love the recorded music my preference is for the ‘live’ concerts.
Fortunately with DVD releases and the transfer of my cassette recordings of radio broadcasts to CD I now have a large collection of live concerts, with assistance from other Karajan fans around the world I have also been able to obtain CDR copies of many other live performances.
My mother has always been interested in Opera and we soon started to go to the Royal Opera House, although we did not see Karajan, many of the great singers he used performed at the Royal Opera House during the 70s and 80s, Domingo, Pavarotti, Freni, Ghiaurov, Kollo, Behrens, Vickers etc.
In 1976 I discovered how to get tickets for the Berlin Phil with HVK at the Festival Hall in London, we were lucky enough to attend all of the HVK concerts in London up to the final one in 1988. My most vivid memories of these concerts was after the orchestra had taken their seats the
anticipation and electric atmosphere created prior to Karajan’s arrival on the podium was unbelievable I have never experienced anything like it before or since.
However the highlight for me was in 1978 when I obtained tickets for Salzburg summer Salome and Don Carlos.
I can remember to this day the overwhelming emotion I felt during parts of these performances, and in the climaxes in Salome the auditorium shook with the sheer power of the sound.
||After one of the Festival Hall concerts, on our way out, my father thought it a good idea to take the two posters
which measure almost a metre by half a metre from one of the advertising stands in the foyer. Carrying them along the streets was fun.
He had the Oxford one framed and the other I gave to Linda Perkins.
||Name: Heather Hooper
Location: Bournemouth UK
Date: December 9th 2004
I remember the first Karajan concerts my husband and my son went to we had to queue
all night with sleeping bags. The Festival hall in London is right on the front of the
River Thames and as it was winter the weather was freezing, but it was worth it in the end.
At some of the concerts we would meet John Hunt who my son John was very friendly with.
In the 70s John Hunt worked in specialist classical record shops and it was he who introduced
us to many of the Karajan recordings that we collected over the years, of course he has gone on
to produce the excellent Karajan Concert Register and Discography books.
My favourite music is Opera, when I was young I heard various bits on the radio.
After I had my children I joined a library and borrowed the only 2 records they had,
“Il Trovatore” and “Carmen”, later on I did buy the “Trovatore” not realizing at the time
it was the famous Karajan, Callas EMI recording.
Maria Callas has always been my favourite soprano, however Agnes Baltsa is my all time
favourite, her performance in the ‘Live’ Karajan "Don Carlos" DVD is probably the finest
of all time.
From the Tenors I have always loved the voice of Rene Kollo, we had the pleasure of seeing
a performance of “Lohengrin” at the Royal Opera House where his singing was mesmerising.
Another favourite DVD concert which my daughter Gillian always likes me to play is the 1988
Berlin concert of the Tschaikowsky Piano Concerto No 1. Karajan looks so happy and well, ironically
only a few months before his death.
In August 2004 my son John took me on my first trip overseas, this was to the wonderful
city of Salzburg, we went a Vienna Philharmonic Concert and to a performance of “Der Rosenkavalier”.
I now want to go to Vienna, Milan and possibly Rome.
The Karajan DVDs and CD collections allow me to re-live some wonderful memories and to enjoy music of the highest quality produced by a genius the likes of which we and future generations will never see or hear again.
||Name: Renee Bouineau
Location: Carmel, California U.S.A.
Date: January 8th 2005
Unfortunately I don't have a lot to contribute concerning Karajan, only that I did have the extreme good fortune to see/hear, him in Berlin, once and at no cost to me!
A friend of mine who is a harpist, (Domenica Reetz) was studying at the time, with a Berlin Philharmonic harpist who made a couple of free tickets available to her.
I felt as though I had been whisked away to another world! It was Mahler's, Das Lied von der Erde.
Other than records and CDs, the only other "contact" I had with the Maestro was when a close friend of mine had a T-shirt made for me, (just for fun) with a conductor's
baton on the front with the words: "Karajan uber alles". I considered making about 100 of those and sending them to the Berlin Philharmonic, but that would have run into
considerable expense so I just mailed the one I had to the Maestro himself and he was kind enough to send a "Thank You" note with his signature which really surprised me.
Apart from that I can only say that I have actually taken "leisurely" strolls past his rustic Austrian farm house in Anif, just outside Salzburg. He never gave me the
satisfaction of being outside in his garden at the time! Other than that, like the rest of us, I adored and respected him from afar!
"I am very pleased about the T-shirt
and especially like your good wishes.
With my sincerest thanks.
Herbert von Karajan"
Karajan in China 1979
You know, China just opened in 1979, You can see the Berliner Philharmoniker was written
Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester. That was witness of occlusion. I saw one concert by TV in 1979, as I was a student.
The program of 3 concerts are:
1. Mozart Symphony No. 39 / Brahms Symphony No. 1
2. Dvorak Symphony No. 8 / Mussorgsky Pictures at an exhibition
3. Beethoven Symphony No. 4 / Beethoven Symphony No. 7 (with member of China Central Symphony Orchestra)
||Name: John Hunt
Location: London UK
Date: April 30th 2005
I first experienced the conducting of Herbert von Karajan on 21st August 1957 in a performance of Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Salzburg Festival.
There followed his last three concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1958, 1959 and 1960 as well as his first ever London appearances
with the Berlin Philharmoniker in November 1958. All these events were turning points in Karajan’s progress to holding an unrivalled position in
Europe’s classical music hierarchy and, in addition, my personal initiation into a standard of excellence which was otherwise unheard of in London’s concert life.
For this reason I remember the concerts meeting with a certain degree of resentment (even incomprehension) from established music critics at the time.
It was my privilege to attend a total of 187 concerts and opera performances conducted by Herbert von Karajan over the 33-year period from 1957 until his death in 1989.
These took place principally in Salzburg and London, but also embraced unforgettable events in Edinburgh, Lucerne, Paris and, in the later years, in Berlin itself.
Therefore I counted myself very lucky when I was asked, in the years following Karajan’s death, to assist and advise on the archive material being assembled for
the newly established Karajan Centre in Vienna. My qualification for the task was that I had compiled a number of discographies and concert registers of his extensive
career, in which every recording is accounted for and virtually every public appearance is documented.
The really difficult thing in surveying an artistic achievement of such magnitude is to select a short-list of personal favourites. Among the recordings I would not be
without are “Hansel und Gretal” (EMI), “Philharmonia Promenade Concert” (Columbia 33CX 1335 – not yet published on CD), Beethoven Symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon 1962),
Mozart Divertimenti K287 and K334 (Deutsche Grammophon), Wagner “Lohengrin” (EMI) and any one of the versions of Bruckner Symphony No 8. And among actual concerts attended
(how lucky we are that so many of these are preserved in unofficial recordings), I would single out the Salzburg stage performances of “Boris Godunov” and “Meistersinger”
and, above all, a miraculous evening in the Salzburg Grosses Festspielhaus in April 1974 with Mozart Divertimento K287 and Strauss “Sinfonia Domestica”.
Note: John Hunt is the author of the following books on Herbert von Karajan:-
"From Adam to Webern: The Recordings of Herbert von Karajan" Published in 1987
"Philharmonic Autocrat" (Discography & Concert Register) Published in 1993
"Philharmonic Autocrat 1"(Discography)Published in 2000
"Philharmonic Autocrat 2"(Concert Register) Published in 2001
Added 12th February 2008
A response by John Hunt to Norman Lebrecht's London Evening Standard article
("Don't turn a monster into a myth" on 30th January 2008)
Lebrecht's hatred for the twentieth century's key conducting figure is by now well-known, and is almost as recurrent a theme
in his journalistic hack-work as the prediction of classical music's imminent collapse.
I first came across Lebrecht in 1990 at a public lecture he gave in London's Wiener Library, in which he set out to demolish the significance of
not only Herbert von Karajan but also Wilhelm Furtwängler. I subsequently sent Lebrecht a list of the factual errors which largely invalidated his
monstrous argument that both conductors had been official representatives of the National Socialists.
The current article again illustrates Lebrecht’s disregard for factual accuracy, reducing his argument to the rantings of an envy-ridden obsessive.
Just to cite a couple of the incorrect assertions, Karajan was not “booted out” of the Philharmonia, nor did he exclude Bernstein, Solti, Harnoncourt
and Barenboim from conducting concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker. And on the subject of a £200 million fortune, is Lebrecht aware of the vast
amount of Karajan’s money which was ploughed back into the record industry for purposes of technological research?
Anyone who has actually interviewed the current holder of the Berlin conducting post would have learned that Simon Rattle could not be
further from claiming Karajan as a mentor!
One wonders if Lebrecht’s condemnation would be so harsh if Karajan had been Jewish?
Note: Please click here
to view Norman Lebrecht's highly contentious article.
Added 22nd March 2008
Herbert von Karajan: the EMI Recordings 1946-1984
Assembled here on compact disc, in two convenient and space-saving volumes of 88 (Orchestral) and 71 discs (Opera and Choral) respectively,
are almost all the recordings ever published by EMI.
Whilst feeling incredibly grateful to EMI for making the sets available, even more so at such a bargain price, the completist in me
immediately sets to work to see if anything is actually missing. We are given the live Lucia di Lammermoor with Callas and Vier letzte
Lieder with Schwarzkopf, so why not the live Missa Solemnis, Deutsches Requiem, Verdi Requiem and Bruckner Te Deum from the Salzburg
Festival (1957-1960)?; the Ponchielli Dance of the Hours, mono version,
is actually tucked away with miscellaneous opera intermezzi and arias in the Opera and Choral volume; Meistersinger Wahnmonolog
with Hotter is, as far as I can ascertain, an unpublished recording which was never actually completed (Hotter’s name inadvertently
appears in the booklet’s track listing for the Wach auf chorus; his published version of the Wahnmonolog from 1949 was made with the
conductor Meinhard von Zallinger). Ironically Kodaly Hary Janos Intermezzo appears twice, first in a mono Bartok programme and later
grouped with other intermezzi on CD 46. Various unpublished items from EMI’s archives which could have been included but are not,
must be the subject of a separate discussion later: all we are given here is a very brief Bartok rehearsal extract (1949) and the
two piano concerti by Kurt Leimer.
Where possible EMI has drawn on its previous CD masterings in volumes devoted to Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics and to the
Philharmonia, re-mastering for this issue only those items which are being re-coupled. A little unfortunate, therefore, that
those early CD editions of mono Philharmonia recordings in particular had a glassy brilliance which was quite alien to the
original LP records. The Beethoven Symphonies suffer in this respect, so we must still hope that another editor will present
them faithfully (maybe Naxos?). Similarly, if you already possess Great Recordings of the Century CD issues of the mono Philharmonia
opera recordings (Ariadne auf Naxos, Cosi fan tutte, Hansel und Gretel, Die Fledermaus), do not discard them, because the
masterings now presented in the new edition are the earlier inferior transfers, and also lack the informative booklets
(we are told that track listings and libretti for the new edition are to be found online).
Special highlights of the early Columbia catalogue were those LP collections like Ballet Music from the Operas (33CX1327),
Opera Intermezzi (33CX1265) and Philharmona Promenade Concert (33CX1335), so it is a pity that in order to maximise the
full playing time of the compact disc, many of those items are extracted to provide fill-ups rather than being presented
in their original permutations.
Now if Universal was to bring together all the Deutsche Grammophon and Decca material into a similar edition, we would
have a comprehensive monument indeed to an artist who is arguably the most accomplished and consistent in classical recording history.
Added 19th December 2008
Herbert von Karajan at the 1957 Salzburg Festival
For record collectors and concertgoers with long memories, one of the benefits of the proliferating market in issues of live performances
is having one’s recollection either confirmed or repudiated. Were the musical events which we recall through the audio equivalent of
rose-coloured spectacles really as outstanding as we claim, and do they justify being preserved at all?
The Orfeo CD label has just published official editions of Herbert von Karajan’s concert and opera appearances in the year in which he
took over as master-mind of Salzburg’s august institution: orchestral concerts (C773 084), Beethoven’s Fidelio (C771 082) and Verdi’s
Falstaff (C772 082). The two operas have of course long been available in pirated copies of the original Austrian Radio broadcast tapes,
and Falstaff had already circulated in an exemplary transfer on the Andante label, coupled with Toscanini’s famous 1937 Salzburg
performance of the same work.
When I arrived in Salzburg for the first time in August 1957, direct from my German studies at the University of Würzburg
(actually stopping on the way to attend a performance of Wagner’s Meistersinger in Bayreuth), I knew little of the Salzburg Festival’s
history and that this was, for example, Karajan’s return to his home town after a seven-year absence dictated by his eminent antipode
Wilhelm Furtwängler. Having succeeded, on Furtwängler’s death, to the conductorship of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and also having
taken on directorship of the Vienna State Opera, it seemed to be yet another accolade for the 49-year old Karajan when he assumed
conducting (and later also administrative) duties in Salzburg.
Traditionally it had been the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra which had bestrode almost all opera performances and orchestral concerts
in the Salzburg Festival, and it was now one of Karajan’s first suggestions that visiting orchestras should relieve some of the burden
by taking over certain concerts. Naturally in 1957 it was the Berlin Philharmonic, who played no less that six programmes, two of which
Karajan himself conducted (the other conductors were Szell, Kubelik and Sawallisch). The two Karajan concerts are included in Orfeo’s
new set, one a Mozart programme with a Jupiter Symphony played with Toscanini-like gusto, the other a contemporary programme concluding
with one of Karajan’s really great specialities, the Third Symphony of Honegger.
I attended the performance of Verdi’s Falstaff in the modest-sized Festspielhaus (the Grosses Festspielhaus had not yet been built),
whilst the performances of Beethoven’s Fidelio and Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem (both also in Orfeo’s set, the Brahms having previously
appeared on EMI) were given in the Felsenreitschule. In those days this venue was, weather permitting, an open-air auditorium overlooked
from the students’ hostel on the Monchsberg, from which we could enjoy the performances without charge.
Whilst it was most appropriate that Karajan should direct the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1957 Festival’s opening orchestral concert,
with a repeat of the performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony which they had successfully given in the Austrian capital a few months
earlier, Orfeo’s annotator fails to make it clear that on that night Karajan was standing in for Klemperer, who had been taken ill
only days before the concert. Orfeo manage to fit the 81-minute marathon onto one disc.
In that busy August week I also heard Böhm conduct Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Mitropoulos Strauss’s Elektra,
but it is without doubt the Karajan performances which left the most indelible impressions on a young music-lover, impressions
which are now endorsed by Orfeo’s publication. Is it too much to hope that the company will go on to document Karajan’s subsequent
years of activity for the Salzburg Festival?
Added 4th February 2009
Karajan in Moscow
Between 28 May and 8 June 1969 Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker undertook a mini-tour of concerts in the Soviet Union,
London and Paris. For both conductor and orchestra this was a third time in Russia – Karajan had been there briefly in 1962 with the Wiener
Philharmoniker, and again with the company of La Scala Milan in 1964. For the Berliners, however, this appears to have been their first
concerts there since appearances in 1899 and 1904 under the conductorship of Artur Nikisch.
During the 1980s Melodiya had published three separate LPs with works drawn from the three 1969 concerts given in the Great Hall of the
Moscow Conservatory (LP catalogue numbers C10 21227 009, C10 21423 000 and C10 27621 004). Now they have gone a step further and issued
the three programmes in their entirety on CD. CD10 01512 contains the Beethoven programme of 28 May (Coriolan and Symphonies 5 and 6),
CD10 01513 the concert of 29 May (Bach Brandenburg Concerto 1 and Shostakovich Symphony 10) and CD10 01514 the programme on 30 May
(Mozart Divertimento 17 and Strauss Ein Heldenleben). The last mentioned is a 2-CD set.
Keen anticipation and political controversy surrounded this visit to the Soviet Union by an ensemble which was culturally representative
of the Federal Republic of Germany rather than the Communist East German State, and it is reported that at least one of the concerts an
announcement had to be made to make it clear that the Orchestra was from West Berlin, a fact apparently not stated in the printed programme
books. Works from the Moscow concerts were then repeated in those given in Leningrad on 1 and 2 June, and it was one of these which
Shostakovich himself attended to hear the performance of his Tenth Symphony (I was wrong when I stated in my 2001 Karajan Concert Register
that Shostakovich was present at the Moscow concert). The London and Paris concerts which followed were made up of almost entirely
different repertoire to the Russian ones.
The sound quality on these CDs is of acceptable mono broadcast standard, and therefore does not rival that on various commercially
published versions of this core Karajan repertoire. However, the frisson of live performance more than makes up for any sonic deficiencies,
for me particularly in the Bach and Mozart works, defiantly played as mainstream orchestral pieces – this may not be to the taste of
the baroque specialists, but is certainly to mine! Where we can all agree is in the case of the Shostakovich Tenth, a performance often
recalled by previous commentators and broadcasters on the strength of that rare Melodiya LP but now thankfully made available to a
I am not a musicologist, nor am I a musician. But I am an ardent lover of music, and I have always found the recordings of Herbert von Karajan to be life-changing, even shattering experiences.
Like so many others who never had the chance to hear the great conductor live or attend any of his performances, I adored (and still adore) from a distance.
I cannot listen to his superlative recording of the Brahms Deutsche Requiem (with Gundula Janowitz) without being overcome by emotions and images too deep and intense to articulate.
It is a recording which has personally lifted me out of some of the darkest moments in my life, for the beauty, power and conviction with which Von Karajan controlled this work, and its truths.
For me, this was surely one of his supreme accomplishments, and I know that it was also one of the works to which he returned periodically - it obviously held an immensely strong attraction for him.
Many have noted that the maestro was particularly drawn to "farewell" music....
It is 16 years today since the world lost this extraordinary man, and yet every time I listen to any of his recordings, I know that we have not lost him at all. Nor can we ever.
May God bless him, and may he rest in peace and light. I think also of his family often, who I think were blessed too in having him in their lives. I pray that they are well and happy.
My first encounter with Herbert von Karajan's work coincided with my
burgeoning interest in Classical music when I was a teenager. Over a few
months in 1992-93, I borrowed many recordings from my local library,
including Karajan's recordings of J.S. Bach's Messe in h-moll (1950),
Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni (1970), Beethoven's nine symphonies (1962),
and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1966).
When I began buying recordings of Classical music shortly thereafter,
Karajan's recordings figured prominently in my collection. I continued
checking out items from the library for comparison with the recordings I
purchased and to explore different composers. After becoming conversant
with several accounts of Beethoven's symphonies, including recordings by
Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, and Wilhelm Furtwängler, I
began to realize how remarkable Karajan's interpretations really were,
especially for their time. His tempos were ideal, and he took full
advantage of a modern orchestra's sonority and lush tonal palate without
ever sounding heavy, turgid, or cloying, as Furtwängler, Walter, and
Klemperer occasionally did.
As my listening interests expanded, I continued to prefer Karajan as a
guide because he always added an extra dimension to the music: the
smoothness of line and luxuriousness of sound made each work sound fresh,
even after repeated listening. Karajan is often underrated as a conductor
who could breathe new life into compositions that are difficult to perform
effectively, such as Robert Schumann's four symphonies.
Karajan excelled in much more than the traditional Austro-German Romantic
repertoire that he inherited from his predecessors at the Berlin
Philharmonic. Equally excellent were his performances of Italian and French
opera, as well as orchestral music from many other nations. I also find his
approach to Baroque music, especially J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the
Brandenburg Concertos, and the Orchestral Suites thoroughly convincing, even
when compared with the widely-acclaimed recordings of Karl Richter and more
recent accounts by period-instrument ensembles.
Even when music (e.g., that of Tchaikovsky) has been performed exquisitely
on many occasions by other conductors, Karajan had something to add to our
understanding of it. Evgeny Mravinksky's legendary (1960) recordings of
Tchaikovsky's Symphonies Nos. 4-6 are classics of the gramophone, but
Karajan's, which followed in their wake, convey the emotional intensity and
delicacy of these works equally well, and with more elegant and precise
orchestral execution to boot.
On a final note, I would like to comment on Karajan's performances of Anton
Bruckner's symphonies. As much as I love Eugen Jochum's landmark cycles on
Deutsche Grammophon and EMI, Karajan gave accounts of the Fourth, Seventh,
and Eighth Symphonies that have never been (and may never be) surpassed. In
Jochum's hands, the Eighth Symphony is a glorious statement to be sure, but
Karajan's (1988) performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker endued the same
work with an unprecedented emotional and intellectual depth, lending
Bruckner's epic masterpiece a new sense of proportion and direction.
Whereas Jochum's interpretation emphasizes the symphony's cathedral-like
structure, Karajan's feels more like a spiritual odyssey, perhaps conveying
the programmatic significance of certain passages that Bruckner described in
some of his letters.
||Name: Umberto Nicoletti Altimari
Date: September 5th 2005
I began to listen to classical music when I was 12. Beethoven 5th conducted by Karajan was
my first purchased LP. Since that time Herbert von Karajan has been my favourite conductor.
I started my collection of recordings, at the time on LPs, and to dream to go to one of his
performances. As I am Italian I was not lucky in that sense as Karajan, after a long term relationship
with my country, interrupted his presence in Italy. I waited until I was able to go to
Salzburg in 1980 (I was 20) where finally my dream became reality with an unforgettable Bruckner 7th
with the Vienna Philharmonic. On that occasion I was lucky to find a ticket also for the open rehearsal
in the morning. During the following years I have been again to Salzburg both for the Easter and
Summer Festivals meaning new occasions to listen to Karajan on the podium conducting Operas (Lohengrin,
Falstaff, Carmen, Tosca, Don Carlo) and concerts.
As a concert and opera-goer I never found the same results even with other great conductors.
Karajan has been the last witness of a glorious tradition coming from Germany but also the very first
modern conductor open to new ideas and repertoire. With him the Berlin Philharmonic achieved a
performing standard that is not comparable with others from both the past and the present time in
terms of technique, power and beauty of sound.
From my experiences I can’t forget his Bruckner (I listen to the 5, 7, 8 and 9 Symphonies) his
Tchaikovsky “Pathetique”, Strauss Alpensinfonie and Heldenleben, Brahms Deutsches Requiem and also
Falstaff and Lohengrin. I was also surprised from his French concert with Debussy’s La Mer and
Prelude à l’aprés-midi and Ravel’s Bolero. I regret to have not listened to his Mahler, Prokofiev,
Verdi Requiem and Sibelius works and I also regret that he never conducted some works very close to
his sensibility and repertoire such as, for example, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Trittico,
Brahms Piano Concerto No 1, Strauss Capriccio, Shostakovich 5th and of course more Mahler and
Critics are invited to have a deeper look to his career considering that he was not a
conservative musician (he conducted works from Pendercki, Messiaen, Ligeti, Henze, Martin, Orff,
Berg, Webern, Schoenberg, Blacher, Stravinsky, Barber, Ives, Ghedini, Pizzetti, Hindemith, Britten)
at the time in which they have been considered “modern”. He was always very open to the young
musicians and colleagues inviting at the Salzburg Festivals all the best young conductors at the time
such as Maazel, Mehta, Abbado, Muti, Sinopoli, Chailly, Ozawa and a lot of young instruments players.
Thanks to his huge work in the recording studios and to his videos making a lot of persons all around
the world has listen to classical music for the first time. In our time of sponsorship and globalization
it seems ridiculous to criticize his work for the media and to consider it only as an easy way to
increase his richness. I think that he gave to all of us a contribution to our personal interior
richness and that is the supreme achievement for any artist.
A concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert
von Karajan made an indellible impression on me. At the time I was a
Sophomore Electrical Engineering student at the University of Kansas.
The University provided numerous opportunities for an extended
introduction to live performances of serious music. Until then, I
lived in a very sparsely populated region of the U.S. high plains. We
only had one AM radio station with good reception during the day, and
at night we could receive several AM stations, including those in
Denver, New Orleans, Chicago, and station XELO which broadcast
English language programs from Mexico. No FM stations were available.
About the time I entered high school in 1950, I decided that there
had to be something better than the usual broadcast fare, which was
pretty much limited to pop, Western, and Hill Billy (that's really
what it was called). Western and Hill Billy later merged into today's
country music, which to my ear is more like Hill Billy than the music
of Western singers like Roy Rogers and quartets like Sons of the
Pioneers and Riders of the Purple Sage. None of the AM stations had
much in the way of classical music. I finally found a one-hour Sunday
afternoon classical music program on the daytime AM station. That
immediately satisfied my quest for something better, so I knew to be
present when the Berlin Philharmonic came to the University on 1
The initial impression made by Karajan and his orchestra was both
exhilarating and disheartening.
As an appreciator of serious music, I found it exhilarating to
experience the power and precision of a great orchestra playing great
music. Never had I heard such detail and such clarity in music.
Karajan's orchestra produced sound as if from a totally unified
organism. There was no discernible deviation of any individual
instrument from exact, synchronized rendition, shaped by Karajan's
interpretation. The flawless precision and cohesion was a startling
new experience for me. Until then, most of my listening was to the
monaural LP records of the day. I suppose I had a case of what was
called "Victrola ear", wherein my musical listening experiences were
so steeped in the limited reproduction technology of the day that I
thought a good LP produced what music really sounded like. My
university roommate was similarly afflicted, or maybe more so. On
hearing music performed on the newest high fidelity equipment of the
day, he concluded that violins were so screechy that he couldn't
understand how they ever became popular. He didn't bother to attend
As a student electrical engineer interested in music reproduction, I
was disheartened by Karajan's performance in that so much of the
effect of serious music was lost as it passed through even the latest
recording equipment and then to high-end home reproduction equipment.
I knew there was no way for me to duplicate that experience at home.
That was pretty disheartening. It seemed that the technical
challenges were insurmountable. The University FM station took
special attention to produce a few programs each week that were
devoted to broadcasting the finest music quality possible. A part-
time job at the station permitted me to see what that required. Such
things as the record players with massive flywheels in the cabinet
below the turntable, and the big Ampex open-reel tape machine were
far beyond the means of the typical household, further depressing my
mood. And about that time, a couple of the University professors made
careful measurements and found that the audio power from a piano
peaked at about 200 watts. They concluded that affordable amplifiers
would never be able to faithfully reproduce music with that power.
The Berlin Philharmonic certainly produced a powerful sound well
beyond that of a solo piano, even to my listening location near the
back of the hall.
Today, of course, reproduction equipment has more than enough power
to match any live performance. The faithfulness of the reproduction,
however, is still a matter of gradual technological evolution. I
encounter this in one of my sidelines, mastering compact discs of the
concerts of the local regional philharmonic orchestra. I like to keep
my ear in tune by hearing as many live performances as practical. And
I hope I am avoiding the opposite extreme of Victrola Ear, which is
Musician's Ear, where the brain knows so well how instruments and
orchestras sound in live performance that it augments reproduced
music to create in the listener an experiential similitude of live
||Name: Simon Clark
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Date: October 31st 2005
At the Heart of Bruckner
Many conductors have tried to climb the heights of Bruckner. Few have actually made it.
The problem is that most attempt the task by clambering up the sides of the Bruckner mountain.
This affords them glorious views from time to time but too often their attention is fixed on scrambling
over scree and boulders, the details. They also run the risk of being run down by avalanches and
finding real trouble with the vertical walls of rock and ice closer to the summit. Most turn back
Few – very few – approach Bruckner from the inside, where the real heart of the composer exists.
Tunneling through the core is a much more difficult task and requires detailed, devoted planning.
Sure, these conductors miss the vistas on the way up, but once at the top, they can see the
Karajan is one of these.
I was brought to Bruckner by the 1957 EMI recording of the 8th Symphony under Karajan. I have yet to
hear its equal, even in the many other live and commercially-issued performances that I have attended
or to which I have listened. Even that final live DG statement with the Vienna Philharmonic, truly
wonderful as it is, cannot quite match that earlier essay.
From the opening tremolando, the closing of the finale is already signaled. The symphony is seen whole,
the summit is already mastered. Yet it constantly surprises. In its first review in 1958, The Gramophone
critic – Nevile Cardus, I think – remarked that the performance was of four slow movements. They certainly
are slower than I have heard from almost any other conductor. Yet one is unaware of the timescale.
Because the symphony hangs together as an inevitable whole.
Tempi are sustained. There is no rushing of crescendi. The tension therefore never sags.
Nothing sounds episodic. This is especially evident in the Adagio where each of the more relaxed
episodes relates directly to the tempo of the opening and where the temptation to speed up as the
violins trill on every other semi-quaver in the build up towards the final climax proves irresistible
to every other conductor I have heard play this symphony.
Karajan also gives an extraordinary demonstration of the Brucknerian pianissimo in this recording.
Mysterious, rich, often built on a resonant bass, yet – and how does he achive this? - clear.
Tense when required – and genuinely quiet.
He additionally understands the importance of pauses, and the timing of those pauses, in this – and
all other – Bruckner symphonies. His ability to lengthen a pause, just so-very-slightly, heightens
anticipation almost to breaking point. But not quite. Bruckner’s symphonies are often described as
being built from blocks of granite. The pauses are the mortar that holds them together. Karajan knew
this as no other.
Karajan’s exceptional mastery of Bruckner encompasses particularly, to my mind, to the 7th and 9th
symphonies as well as the 8th. I keep returning to that last performance of the 7th as well as to the
much earlier EMI recording. In the former, my reactions may be somewhat influenced by the circumstances
of the performance - there does seem to me to be an awareness in his interpretation that this would be the
last time he searched for the heart of Bruckner.
Karajan’s performances of the 9th are remarkable to me for their consistency. He does not perhaps
allow as much spontaneity into his readings of this work as he does in the 7th and 8th. And it is
here that I personally allow other conductors to compete with him. The 1934 Klemperer performance in
the first NYPO box set is cut from a single piece of granite, performed with a single-minded grimness
that is a million miles away from Karajan’s approach where light and shade are more evident. Jochum’s
last performance with the Munich Philharmonic in 1987, occasionally available on Japanese CD-R issues,
is an exercise in stoicism and final resignation that is unique.
Tennstedt, a conductor I admire above all others in Mahler, did not, it seems, perform the 9th after
his ‘discovery’ by the Boston Symphony in 1974. This does not surprise me since his temperament seems
more suited to more free-wheeling structures. For this reason, his performances of the 7th and 8th,
also fail. They may be more able to bear Tennstedt’s passion than the 9th, but they still cannot take
his willfulness with tempi. The 8th, especially, simply falls apart. The 4th symphony, however,
especially in live performance, is a glorious experience under Tennstedt, certainly a rival to
Karajan’s usually more straightforward approach.
Celibidache was the master of the occasional vista in Bruckner but too many of his effects seem to me
to have been over-calculated (and over-rehearsed, perhaps). Furtwangler, closer to Tennstedt in my
view, is often cited as the Bruckner-conductor par-excellence. He is a member of my pantheon, like
Tennstedt, but I find his Bruckner over-romanticised, the pauses too long, tempi whipped up
unnecessarily. The mountain collapses – but I wish more existed of his 1941 7th whose extant
fragments promise a remarkable performance.
Other than that NYPO 9th, Klemperer’s Bruckner cannot stand up to Karajan. Praised as the master
of the long view, his Bruckner seems to me to be a succession of paragraphs that expose the composer’s
somewhat fragile structures. Even his 6th, in both live and (legendary) commercial performance, is
spoiled by an Adagio that races past. In fact I have yet to hear a truly convincing performance of
that symphony from anyone – but perhaps that’s my fault.
The intellectually challenging 5th is not perhaps Karajan’s own. He seems, like most, to be unable to
reconcile the whimsy of the opening of the finale with the remainder of the movement. Not so Jochum
who I would have thought would make a dog’s dinner of the work, stopping and starting in all the wrong
places. Try any of his performances – the Philips version is the finest commercial issue – and this
monster of a work, with its extraordinary twists and turns, for once comes off.
I find many other conductors impossible to listen to in Bruckner – Solti, all flash, little substance;
Mehta struggles to get off the lower slopes; Asahina, whose multiple recordings I admit I have not all
heard, seems incapable of performing at less than mezzo-forte (let alone of creating a Brucknerian
pianissimo); and Welser-Most lives up to the soubriquet bestowed on him by the London Philharmonic
during his brief reign as their chief, of ‘Worse-than-Most’. Forget Boulez who reduces Bruckner to
a close relative of the French impressionists. Herreweghe shows occasional glimpses, as does Rattle,
but in both cases I wonder whether we’ll ever hear a performance that is not in transition.
Harnoncourt, for me, is right out of court, demonstrating little understanding of the Bruckner idiom.
And Wand is a kappelmeister, a routinier, in Bruckner, making him, to my ears, sound pompous and a
Bruno Walter produced a clutch of warm 9ths but that is only part of the Bruckner story – and certainly
only a fraction of what the 9th demands in performance. His 4th and 7th are equally warm and are
certainly worth a listen. Kubelik is a consistent lightweight in Bruckner, surprisingly so.
Knappertsbusch is his total opposite on consistency – every one of his performances reveals only a
single aspect of the composer; but a different one every time. Giulini is astonishing in parts,
long parts, but is prone to produce sound for its own sake from time to time. Horenstein spoils a
fine 8th with the LSO with overdrive but his 9th, any performance, is one to live with.
There’s a fragment of a Beecham 7th that sounds as if he’s sleepwalking through it.
Koussevitzky rehearsing the 7th is interesting if not stimulating and how he could ever let
himself perform such a savagely truncated 8th is beyond comprehension – perhaps he felt it
his duty to expose the public to the composer; his performance certainly sounds as if this was
So for me, Karajan remains the supreme Bruckner interpreter, on his own in the 8th, occasionally
rivaled – even surpassed - in the 4th, 7th and 9th. In the 6th he is perhaps the safest allrounder
while his 3rd, where Bohm puts up strong competition, is ultimately my own first choice. I don’t
think he really gets to grips with either the 1st or 2nd symphonies – possibly the reason he did not
perform them live – but he is not alone in this. The 5th is Jochum’s.
But is there anyone else who has produced such a wealth of great Bruckner performances?
I cannot think of any whose range would encompass the symphonies from 3 to 9 with Karajan’s
level of love and dedication. Truly, Karajan reached to the heart of Bruckner and showed us
the ultimate view from the top of that vast mountain.
HERBERT VON KARAJAN
Occasionally - perhaps two or three times in a century - there emerges a
man or a woman whose life enhances the decades in which they flourished,
and whose name and accomplishments will be revered as long as records
remain. Shakespeare, Newton, Dr. Johnson, Voltaire, Florence Nightingale,
Beethoven, Lincoln, Churchill would surely be included in such a Hall of
One who assuredly merits a place in such a list of luminaries is Herbert
von Karajan. A man of remarkable genius, whose volcanic energy and
unlimited versatility made an electrifying impact not only in the musical
world, but in many areas of life
Karajan's unqualified integrity and magnanimous personality shine forth
throughout his vast performing legacy, gifting to the world a testament of
boundless Beauty and an extraordinary statement of Love for all Humankind
SOME PEOPLE REMEMBER WHERE THEY WHERE ON THE DAY JFK OR PRINCES DIANA DIED (TO NAME A FEW)
BUT ON THE DAY MAESTRO KARAJAN DIED I WAS OUT CYCLING OF COURSE I WAS SHOCKED WHEN I HEARD
BUT REFLECTED WHAT A GENIUS HE WAS AND WHAT A LEGACY HE HE LEFT US AND TODAY 17 YEARS ON HIS
RECORDINGS AND DVDs ARE STILL SELLING AND INDEED ARE OUTSELLING MANY ANOTHER CONDUCTOR BECAUSE
KARAJAN HAD ALL THE INGREDIENTS THAT GO TO MAKE UP A GREAT CONDUCTOR THROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF HIS
CRAFT AND AN ACUTE EAR FOR SOUND AND THE ABILITY TO MAKE THE BERLIN PHIL INTO ONE OF THE WORLDS
GREATEST ORCHESTRAS. HE ALSO EXCELLED IN THE OPERA HOUSE AS WELL BEING AT ONE TIME IN DEMAND ALL
OVER THE WORLD. KARAJAN WORKED WITH SOME OF THE GREATEST SINGERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY SOME OF WHOM
BECAME GREAT INTERNATIONAL STARS BECAUSE OF HIM. I HAD THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HIM LIVE IN LONDON
AND FOR ME THAT WAS A MARVELLOUS EXPERIENCE AND I KNEW THAT I WAS IN THE PRESENCE OF A LEGEND
I AM A KARAJAN FAN AND ALWAYS WILL BE BUT AT THE SAME TIME I KNOW HE HAS HIS DETRACTORS WHO COULD
NOT SEE WHAT ALL THE FUSS WAS ABOUT AND OF COURSE LIKE TO REFLECT ON HIS MURKY PAST AND BEING A
MEMBER OF THE NAZI PARTY BUT I THINK THERE WERE A LOT MORE PEOPLE WORSE THAN KARAJAN AROUND I SAY
TO THEM LISTEN TO HIS MANY RECORDINGS
My name is Paul Aron and I have been listening to the genius of Herbert von Karajan for more years that
I can think. I have the complete "Ring" of Wagner conducted by von Karajan. As I am writing this email,
I am listening to his recording of Mozart, the Clarinet Concerto in A major K.622, the Oboe Concerto in
C major K.314, and the Bassoon Concerto in B flat major K 191 all performed with the Berlin Philharmoniker.
When Shakespeare in his play " Julius Caesar" said, ".. why he bestrides the earth like a Colossus
" he was describing Von Karajan. He will always be the giant who bestrides and circumnavigates the world.
We shall never see the likes of him again. I have a large photo of Von Karajan on my wall - if there would
ever be such a thing as a God, Von Karajan, is he. The COLOSSUS will always inspire and we can only hope,
as ordinary mortals, to understand the beauty of his genius.
I am Andrea Colombini, aged 39, from Lucca, Tuscany, the town of Giacomo Puccini, and am Artistic director of three festivals (please visit www.puccinielasualucca.com and www.musick.it), all dedicated to Opera and Symphonic Music.
Our Easter Festival and Whitsun Festival are of course dedicated to HVK (we created them in 1999 and 2000) and personally I am a huge collector of Karajan memorabilia and recordings. Furthermore I have officially co-operated with the
Herbert Von Karajan Centrum - Vienna as Italian referent and held almost 50 conferences and symposiums all over Italy about the figure and work of Herbert Von Karajan. In 2000 and 2001 I invited the Berlin Philharmonic Chamber Groups
(Brass & Percussions + the Scharoun Ensemble and Hansjorg Schellenberger) to perform exclusively for my festivals in honour of Herbert Von Karajan birthday and death day. And, as a conductor myself, I intensively work with the Sofia Philharmonic
and Symphony Orchestras, dedicating many concerts to the memory of the Maestro. Following his path I also created a small musical film production company and we have now produced 14 dvds mainly dedicated to the repertoire Karajan loved.
We are going to start a new cycle of conferences in March (dedicated to HVK's 100th birthday) and a huge Easter festival and Whitsun Festival series, which will include almost 40 concerts dedicated to all the masterworks Karajan loved
(including Mozart's Requiem, Strawinsky's Sinfonie de Psaumes, Ein Deutscher Requiem and others).
I go to Anif every year and if you go there in July, around the 16th, you will notice a huge flower wreath with read and white roses with my name on. The wreath has always been 10cm larger than the one of the BPO, we use the same florist in Salzburg!
I still retain close touch with the BPO and when the HVK centrum was still active on the Ring, I was the first one to see, unveiled, HVK's face and hands deathmasks (a rather impressive and moving thing indeed).
This is the 150th birthday year of Giacomo Puccini and Karajan was the greatest Puccini's interpreter ever. This is why we are going to dedicate this year ALSO to his 100th birthday, in the certainty that his supreme legacy in Opera and
Symphonic music will always be remembered in connection to our greatest citizen Giacomo Puccini.
Since 2000 I have been attending Salzburg Festival, even though, needless to say, I never found the same great quality of music making Karajan delivered during his entire career. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity of listening to him live but, as
many of the Berliners remarked to me more than once, many of his live recordings can still bring up the warmth and musical grandeur of HVK's interpretations. I know, live music is different but alas...
Anyhow it was during a Bruckner's 8th Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta in Vienna, at the Musikverein, in Sept 2000, that I decided to become a conductor, such strong was the impression of that music on me. Not a sheer chance this was the symphony he loved the most...
Here is my list of favourite recordings by Karajan:
many quoted Bruckner's 8 with the Vienna Philharmonic. Surely it is top of my List. I also add the Wagner Gala with Norman and the VP, the film of the Eroica for the BPO centenary concert, Ein Alpensifonie (the live recording on DVD), the Vier Lezte Lieder with Janowitz, "La Bohème"
with Freni and Pavarotti, the splendid Saint Saens' 3dr Symphony, Tschaikowsky's 3 final symphonies (both in the Berlin versions - 3 - and the Vienna versions - 2), Die Meistersinger (Dresden), Ein Deutsches Requiem (whatever version you may prefer of the at least 6 recordings), Sibelius'
Violin concerto with Ferras and the live recording of the Valse Triste, and Mahler's 9, live, totally obscuring Bernstein and Walter's renditions.
And, last but not least, Handel/Harty Water Music with the Philharmonia, a superb example of noble British sound!
So many other recordings I have in mind and would love to quote but the list would be too long.
I still remember, when asking the same choice to Alessandro Cappone (the son of Giusto Cappone, the former Principal Viola of the BPO: Alessandro, his son, is now in the First Violins along with his splendid wife, Eva Maria Tomasi), he said the same thing: too many concerts to be quoted all. But, and it was a great pleasure as a Puccinian through and through as I am, he added that the live performance of Tosca, Salzburg 1988, with Pavarotti and Barstow at the Easter Festival, with the Old man moving his jaws and arms together in an almost frantic way during the torture scene, was
something so unbearable that also the memory had an immense force in his mind even after so many years (we were then in 2000, in Lucca). And for him, that WAS Karajan. Many others on the orchestra told me about a Liepzig performance of the Alpine Symphony (during the Centenary tour of Germany in
1982, I think) which was unbelievably stunning, with the Old Man crying during the finale. Many others told me about Don Giovanni at Easter Festival, Ein Heldenleben or the Parsifal, still at the Easter festival. But the Tosca recollection is the dearest to me, no doubt. Someone (no name this time, please!)
told me that at the dress rehearsal, Pavarotti, as Cavaradossi, was shot by the firing squad but he refused to fall down, with the obvious fear to hurt himself in the proceedings.
Karajan promptly whispered the orchestra "Look at that a*****e there!" and all laughed merrily! Another one (this time on stage, not in the pit) told me about the constant requests Karajan turned to Eliette, sat in the audience during the rehearsals, to know if the sound and balance were right,
almost in a childish way, something which really surprised the man who told me this (a famous singer of the Italian repertoire).
Well, this Tosca must have been a great show indeed, both in rehearsals and performances!
As a child I would lay for hours on the floor of our basement playing with HO-scale trains and soldiers and listen to my mother's
old scratched Command Classics LPs of William Steinberg's Pittsburg Symphony recordings of Wagner and Brahms. These recordings
inspired me so much though that, as soon as I was old enough to know better, I bought the famous early 1960s LP release of Beethoven's
Fifth Symphony on Deutsche Grammophon with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. It was my first LP purchase and I will never part with it.
Later, during my first year at the University of Kansas, I bought the boxed set of Karajan's 1970s Beethoven Symphonies and began my
love affair with Karajan and his work.
Later in college in the 1980s my friends and I bought all of the Karajan LPs we could lay our hands on with our limited funds.
We excitedly opened every new issue of Gramophone magazine searching for the new Karajan releases and almost squealed with joy for
each we found. When the CD player was first introduced I rushed out to buy one at the exorbitant cost of $450 just so I could hear
Karajan's recording of Strauss' Eine Alpensinfonie in the new format. It was the first CD I bought and, even though I now have the
Karajan Gold release of the same, I will also not part with it.
I eventually sent two fan letters to Karajan requesting autographs. I received two beautiful autographed photographs. One hangs here
in my office at home and the other I gave to a very good friend who is also a huge Karajan fan. The autograph, and another I bought
recently on ebay, and several huge framed DG Karajan and Berlin Philharmonic posters are among my most prized possessions.
I had a really good ticket to see Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic on tour in Chicago in October 1986. Unfortunately, though,
he contracted a case of Lymes Disease and had to cancel. The concert went on with James Levine conducting Strauss' Four Last Songs
with Jessye Norman as soloist and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. As good as it was, it was nothing to compare to Karajan conducting
Strauss' Metamorphosen and Ein Heldenleben as originally planned. To my dying day, I will regret this lost opportunity to see the
Maestro in person, especially conducting works with which his life's work is so closely tied.
I regret also now that, as a graduate student, I didn't have the funds to fly to New York City in February 1989 to see Karajan and
the Vienna Philharmonic in his last visit to the U.S. I heard that his programs, one comprised of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony
and Strauss Family waltzes and polkas and the other of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, were unbelievably moving and very well received.
I am happy, though, to have almost all of his recordings now in my CD and LP collection. I am also very excited for new releases
coming out during this centenary year. Even with all of the new recordings of the Karajan repertoire coming out performed by
various artists, none move me like a great Karajan recording. Even at his worst (if there is such a thing!) he was better than
anyone before or since!
I am Rossana, from Italy
First of all, I'd like to thank Linda strongly, to have created this important space when we can tell our experiences or our thoughts
about the Maestro Herbert von Karajan. It's our duty and great pleasure to keep alive and vital his legacy. This was his dream and his
desire. He was dedicated his entire life to follow and offer an Ideal of Beauty, it was always valid over the time; us, that every day
we are astonished to the immense gift, we have task hand down this, to those who didn't experience about the art of being happy: this was
the desire of the Maestro. So, the first gesture of affection toward the Maestro, is listen to his voice through Music.
* * *
Now, I try to talk him, of the strong emotions that I arouse its interpretations, so unusual, not directly, because I cannot find words
suitable nor to enter into his world.
My passion for Music was a shoot that I had inside of me, who was born and grew up with me. When I was four or five years old, usually in
the evening, listening to the radio; my Mother liked the Opera very much, she told me the story and I learned to memory the entire Opera
easily. Often happened that the speaker said: "...conducts... Herbert von Karajan ". Silence. Karajan was Conductor for excellence, without
taking away his illustrious Colleagues. I wanted to understand what he had of special. Sometimes I felt that his interpretations were
" slow ". I remember perfectly a recording of " Ballo delle Furie " from Orfeo ed Euridice by C. W. Gluck or the " Overture " of the
La forza del destino by G. Verdi. Really beautiful, very intense perhaps by virtue of those times dilated. Soon the Theatre became my home;
even today it's so. Never I saw Herbert von Karajan! I was very young and I had determinated that it was not the time to have (to feel) everything.
Since then I filled my life with music. Herbert von Karajan never stop fascinate and surprise myself. There are millions of things to say about the
art of Karajan, a thousand emotions caused by his extraordinary talent, from his tenacious desire to interpret in the best way the Idea of the Composer.
The Great Illusion of all conductors. The Dream prosecuted for their whole lives and never reached. Karajan gave us his Dream. That's his legacy.
He has worked tenaciously, hoping that something remains of his Idea of Beauty. Without fears of falling in the obvious, I must admit that I love the
pairing Beethoven-Karajan, for me inseparable. Listening to Beethoven's Symphonies conduct by Karajan, it's a need for me. For example, while Mozart
is the Absolute Genius, I listen kidnapped, Beethoven drag me in the jungle of human passion with terrible strongly, Karajan succeeds in the venture
perhaps better than would have done the same Composer! I could to go to infinity, but since I'm a member of the Forum of this Site,
I continue to " explain the inexplicable ",relying on benevolence of my Colleagues.
All the love that is hidden in the words of my simple writing is for you, dear Maestro... with love.
Mr. Lebrecht has often tried to ridicule Karajan in various essays, lectures etc. It reminds me of all those writers that have the same
with Wagner. There are many valid reasons not to like these giants of music, but the problem remains that people like Lebrecht always want
to link their disdain (on human and political grounds) with the artistic qualities of these men. However, if you ask a real musician
(like Rattle or Gergiev) you will rarely get a negative judgment on the artistic qualities of these giants. They became giants because they
were actually very good or very special in their art. A figure like Wagner can be accused of many human defects, but no real musician will
ever put in doubt his musical genius. Cannetti once spoke with disdain of Wagner to Alban Berg when he still was an angry young man.
Berg smiled and said that Cannetti wasn’t a musician. Later in his life Cannetti understood what he had meant. The same goes for Karajan.
Most of his colleagues will immediately confess to admire his musical skills. Most musicians that worked with him have shown their
admiration, even those that may not have liked the personality of the man. Celibidache is one of the well-known exceptions, but he had all
the reasons to carry a personal grudge against Karajan.
It is completely valid for anyone not to like Wagner or Karajan, but it becomes highly pathetic if one tries to ridicule the extraordinary
artistic qualities these men possessed. In the case of Mr. Lebrecht, he has always sought to come up with extra-musical aspects like
politics or finance to give proof for his theory of Karajan lacking artistic qualities. This may be a proven method for the tabloid press,
but if Mr. Lebrecht wants to be considered a serious music critic he should come up one day with something better. There are several
aspects of Karajan’s music making that deserve more scrutiny, in both positive and negative ways, but Mr. Lebrecht has never tried to
delve into these and come out with a more sophisticated judgment. Instead, he prefers to revert to a populist stand by repeating cheap
“facts” that have often proved wrong or at least less straight forward than they appeared to be.
If Mr. Lebrecht would like to be taken serious on this, he should take the trouble of giving us a profound study of a few of Karajan’s
interpretation, in which he points out what he likes and what he rejects. That would make his contribution valuable. So far, he has only
repeated the cheapest of accusations. Or is Mr. Lebrecht too well aware that tabloid writing pays more handsome? Unfortunately for him,
even this populist approach will not bring him the wealth that some successful musicians acquired, and which seems to be the underlying
reason for his rather vulgar attacks on those that had the success so bitterly und unjustifiably denied to Mr. Lebrecht.
Here are some memories I have of my fleeting contact with Herbert von Karajan:
In 1974 I joined the conducting course in The Salzburg Mozarteum's Sommerakademie, which was led by Carl Melles.
The highlight of the course was the day Herbert von Karajan came to lead the class. A student orchestra was provided by
the school during our course, and it was this ensemble which played while the Maestro Karajan observed the work of the
student conductors. Brahms Symphony #2, Stravinsky Suite for small Orchestra, and Beethoven Lenore # 3 Overture were
the pieces rehearsed. Maestro Karajan made no comment about the conducting of any of the conductors. He indicated that
2 Bassoons should play a certain passage in the Stravinsky, and he walked amid the players to the bassoonists and
talked quietly with them. They played the passage again, repeating it several times in a "loop." Maestro Karajan
talked quietly with them - we couldn't hear what he was saying. He approached two violinists in the back of the 1st
violin section and spoke quietly with them, and asked them to play a passage together; he stopped them. He was
indicating a fingering and a bowing. They repeated the passage several times. He walked around and through the orchestra
in this manner for about 30 minutes, talking quietly and matter-of-factly with this group or with that group, having
them play this or that passage and offering quiet instructions and comments. At one point he asked the orchestra to
play a particular tutti fortissimo chord. He didn't raise his hand, give an upbeat or make any gesture. He just looked.
Bang! A shattering, perfect together crashing chord. Maestro Karajan's assistant intervened and said that the Maestro
would now meet with the members of the conducting class - about a dozen students - in the School director's office.
We all headed out. Going through the door I found myself beside Maestro Karajan. He looked at me and said " Must I speak
English?" I replied "of course not! We all speak German." ("we" all didn't, it turned out, and I got some verbal abuse
for that later!) So the whole group and Karajan trooped down the hall of the Mozarteum from the Liedertaffel, where the
classes were held, to the office of the director of the Mozarteum. Maestro Karajan must have made that trip many times,
light years ago, when he was a student at the Mozarteum, studying with Dr. Paumgartner. We barely fit into a small
chamber just off the director's office, and there was just one couch, upon which Maestro Karajan sat. I sat beside him,
as did one other student - everyone else stood during the 20 minutes or so that Maestro Karajan held forth - furioso!
about conducting an orchestra. He gave no advice or instruction - he spoke rapidly and passionately - and earthily - about incidents he'd witnessed that illustrated
musical points, some of them rather sarcastic in tone. His energy, his spontaneity and sincerity were inspiring.
He was concerned with the essential. Not the peripheral, not just the surface of rehearsing.
I believe that in his work with the student orchestra, Maestro Karajan was giving an object lesson - what counts is not
stick technique and gesture. What counts is intimate knowledge of the music itself and finding ways to make the actual
players sound better! One of the thing he said in his torrent-like monologue to us in the director's office was that
he didn't give a damn about technique. Get the situation in the palm of your hand, control the situation, the money,
the spaces, the hall, whatever - and you will have success. The orchestra wants to play well. Let them do so!
They will, given the right inducements, and conducting technique is merely one of them. I had the impression that
Herbert von Karajan was a good person, and sincerely interested in getting those student players to play well.
Years later I sent a booklet about the Alexander Technique to him when I knew he was having back problems.
The method had helped me greatly. I got a nice letter back from Lore Salzburger sending the Maestro's thanks,
and saying that he was going to look into it. I wonder if he did. This man was a person who strove to make the
orchestra play as beautifully as possible - everything was done to that end. I get continual inspiration from his
recordings and videos. He made a magnificent contribution to the cause of music, and the Salzburg Festival was at
it best when he was there.
My dad used to work for Karajan during the 80's. I was about 5 or
6 when I met and had dinner with Karajan. I can remember him touching my
face and smiling like a happy grandfather or so :). My dad also got to drive
his cars. All I can remember is that the Quattro was super fast and super
scary!. Anyways just thought I would share :).
Mahler’s glimpse of the eternal
Thirty years ago, a mere lad of 25, I was already a veteran classical music and jazz fanatic. I bought LPs, attended classical concerts with the Miami Philharmonic, recitals by some pretty great pianists, operas, and heard great jazz at the many venues we had in South Florida back then. I never learned to read music, nor did I play an instrument, but my love of music was—and is—unbreakable.
That year, 1982, I lucked in to what was to be my most memorable life changing musical event. On a Sunday morning that summer I was reading the music and arts section of the Sunday New York Times and read an advertisement that Herbert von Karajan—my favorite conductor at the time, and still in my top three—would be conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in four concerts in New York at Carnegie Hall that October. Tickets were going on sale the next day. I resolved to plan a week long vacation in the Big Apple to attend the four concerts. Karajan and the Berlin would be performing works by Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler. Unfortunately, my week-long vacation plan turned into a three day trip. I called the ticket office the next day and learned that the first two concerts on Tuesday and Wednesday had been sold out in minutes. As luck would have it I couldn’t snag tickets to hear my favorite Brahms symphony, the Fourth, but managed to snag tickets to the Friday (the Brahms Third and First) and Saturday (the Mahler Ninth) concerts. The New York Times described the upcoming concerts on October 17, 1982:
I flew in to New York City alone as was my custom for most concerts and recitals; I hadn’t met any attractive ladies in my age group willing to indulge a classical music fanatic and audio freak like me. I spent most of my first day full there, Friday, visiting the sites. I went to the late, lamented World Trade Center towers, ate at the Carnegie Deli, walked around and gawked at more buildings, and, of course, ate hot dogs. I visited some great record stores in Midtown and Downtown and bought a bunch of LPs that I still have in my collection. I was eager with anticipation for the night’s concert.
New York is a crossroads for the great orchestras of the world, but a visit here by the Berlin Philharmonic remains a rarity. Its last concerts in New York came six years ago. This week, as part of its 100th birthday celebrations, the Philharmonic returns to Carnegie Hall for four long-since sold-out concerts under its music director since 1955, Herbert von Karajan. At this late stage of his career (he is 74 years old), Mr. Karajan is still widely recognized as a master of late Romantic repertory from Wagner through Shostakovich, and the first and fourth of the concerts at Carnegie will give us a taste of that repertory. Tuesday night, following Stravinsky’s “Apollo,” there will be Richard Strauss’s gorgeously excessive “Alpine” Symphony, and Saturday offers Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. In between, Wednesday and Friday, Mr. Karajan and the orchestra will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Brahms’s birth with the complete Brahms symphonies. (The orchestra will offer only four other concerts on this American tour, all in Pasadena, Calif., at the end of the month.)
The Brahms Third and First were given excellent performances. Interpretively, Karajan’s standard-setting 1964 recorded cycle is still my favorite, but I was enthusiastic, as I knew this was a once in a lifetime event. The Third, my second favorite of Brahms symphonies, was brilliantly performed. (I love that final movement!) The First was given a fine performance as well. (The New York Times reviewed the two concerts.) After hearing this magnificent orchestra playing Brahms in the pre-renovation Carnegie Hall that first night, I can say that the hall deserved every bit of its reputation as one of the most acoustically perfect halls in the world. I heard every note and phrase clearly in that space, regardless of fortissimo or pianissimo. A marvel, absolutely superb. Gusman Hall in Downtown Miami, my sum total of concert hall experience until then, was but a shadow of what Carnegie was, despite its problems.
After another day of sightseeing and more LP buying on Saturday, I gave myself an additional treat that last evening. Before the concert I had dinner at the original Russian Tea Room, next door to Carnegie Hall. I drank cold vodka, had a superb lamb dish, and drank tea served in a traditional Russian tea glass.
After I finished my dinner I walked next door to Carnegie about an hour early for the concert and started chatting with other fans that were already there. We talked about Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven, Brahms, Karajan, Furtwängler, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, Leonard Bernstein (of course), our favorite recordings, and so on. It was wonderful to share my love of classical music and opera with folks (other than family and a couple of acquaintances) and not experience the deadened eye rolls of those whose favorite music comes in loud, monotonous, three-minute rhythmic chunks.
The only work on the Saturday program was Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, an hour-long symphony that was fated to be Mahler’s final completed symphony. I had not listened to all of his symphonies back then. I knew the First and the Second, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, Das Lied von der Erde, and, of course, the Ninth. I had heard two versions of the Ninth before the concert: Karajan’s Deutsche Grammophon studio recording from 1980, and one of my treasured recordings, Bruno Walter’s EMI recording with the Vienna Philharmonic from 1938—the famous Anschluss Ninth, performed and recorded live just two months before the Nazis took control of Austria forcing Walter to flee. As much as I liked the recordings I had listened to, nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the experience of hearing this work performed live by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.
The frail Karajan, seventy-four years old and ailing from back surgeries, walked out slowly to thunderous acclaim for him and his orchestra on their last night in New York. After the applause it was deathly quiet; everybody in the hall was on pins and needles waiting for the two “heartbeats” to begin the first movement. Once they did, the symphony unfolded itself in such a way that it was impossible not to give rapt attention to everything going on in the score. The first movement Andante was played brilliantly, full of longing and pain; the Ländlers and Rondo-Burleske were amazing as well. But it was the final movement, that glorious Adagio, the most difficult of symphonic movements for a conductor and orchestra to sustain through its final pppp moments, that hit me like a thunderbolt. Mahler had glimpsed what the other side was and had written it down for all of us to hear. Those last twenty-five minutes unfolded as if from the heavens above until the strings of the magnificent Berlin orchestra faded out and Karajan put his baton down. I was, quite literally, in stunned silence at the end. So were many others. The ovations were many and long.
This was the greatest concert I have ever attended, bar none, and the passage of time has not diminished my vivid memories of it. Its effect on me has been mystical, spiritual, other-wordly. I don’t know quite how to explain it other than the music moved me and reached inside my soul and shook it up forever. A live performance by Karajan and the BPO at the Berlin Festival, recorded that year and released on Deutsche Grammophon a few years later, was the very first compact disc I ever purchased—and I hated compact discs with a passion. Not a month goes by since I purchased it that I don’t listen to it and remember that night. I have fourteen versions of this symphony in my collection (including the two by Karajan): two by Bruno Walter, three by Leonard Bernstein, Sir John Barbirolli, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Valery Gergiev, Carlo Maria Giulini, Jascha Horenstein, Bernard Haitink, and Riccardo Chailly. Some are excellent, and some are okay—I especially like the Concertgebouw and Berlin Bernsteins, the Horenstein, and the Berlin Barbirolli—but only the live Karajan comes close to what I heard that Saturday night.
This symphony has at times been apocryphally described as Mahler’s premonition of his doom (he died in 1911 at age 51); maybe it was Karajan’s premonition as well. After the series of concerts in which he conducted the Mahler Ninth, an interviewer asked Karajan why he never conducted it again. He replied that the music had shattered him in such a manner that he could not open the score again. He is quoted by his biographer Richard Osborne as saying that the music in the symphony is “coming from another world, it is coming from eternity.” I know what he meant and his interpretation bears it out. It is devastatingly beautiful music, full of sadness, longing, and resignation—and, yes, a little anger. Today, at almost 56 years of age, I believe I’m beginning to understand what Mahler was trying to tell us about love, about life and beauty, about spirit and transcendence, about impermanence, about farewells, and about death.
If you want to hear what it was like to be at Carnegie Hall that chilly October night, listen to the live Karajan recording of the symphony—but especially the Adagio—in a darkened room, as quiet around you as you can get it. This is as close as you’ll come to matching what I experienced thirty years ago tonight.
Have some tissues handy.