True genius or just megalomaniac ? The story of Herbert von Karajan is a very sulfurous one. Considered as the image of the romantic Orchestra conductor, he was one of the most proliferous conductor of all. Deutsche Grammophon released this month a collection of 82 CD’s recapitulating the 1970’s of Karajan. Titanic work!
On this amazing collection of 82 Cd’s you can find the best concerts of Karajan in one decade. From Christmas concerts, to operas and concertos, all the finest work of el Maestro. The collaboration is mainly with the Berliner Philamorniker.
Herbert Karajan, the man
Like him or hate him, this man does not leave you completely insensitive. His reputation of super-star attitude make a lot if ink flowing in newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, it is quite complicated to summarize such man in a couple of words.
The early years
Herbert von Karajan was born in Salzburg, Austria in April 1908. He was a child prodigy at the piano and with only 8 years old he studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. His teacher pushed him to become a Orchestra conductor as he spotted exceptional promise in that regard. At 21 years old he conducted his first opera, Salome at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg. In 1935, Karajan’s career got a real boost as he was appointed Germany’s youngest Generalmusikdirektor. He was only 27 years old. Since that year, he performed in all Europe.
1933 to 1945, Karajan complexity
A lot of stories talk about the membership of Herbert von Karajan to the Nazi party in 1933. Musicologists as Richard Osborne or even Harvey Sachs never proved any active relationship between Karajan and the fascist party. Historically speaking, Karajan has a member card since 1933 but he has always denied any support. Probably what makes things suspicious is the great ascension of his career from 1933 to 1945. We let historians deal with this topic as we would not dare going in this direction for now.
The Post-war period, 1950’s and 60’s
In 1955, Herbert von Karajan was appointed Music Director for life of the Berliner Philamorniker. He kept his connection to Salzburg as Artistic Director of the Vienna State Opera. This period was an important one as it was when Karajan started to pay attention to recording and staging. It was during these years that the “Karajan style” was founded. From this period, he kept his specific musical signature and attitude towards the orchestra.
1970’s, the marathon with the Berliner Philarmoniker
The 70’s was a hyper-activist decade for Karajan. He recorded so much during those years that we wonder when he rested. The new release by Deutsche Grammophon covers that period in which his name was for ever associated with the one of the Berliner Philarmoniker. The highlights of this decade:
- Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: The Hebrides, Op.26; Symphony No.3, Op.56
- Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Op.20 – Suite; The Sleeping Beauty, Op.66a – Suite
- Beethoven, L.V.: Symphony No.9, Op.125 “Choral”
- Bach, J.S.: Brandenburgische Konzerte Nr.1 – 3, BWV 1046, 1047, 1048
- Mozart, W.A.: Requiem In D Minor, K.626
Here is the full video in HD of the last Mozart Requiem that Karajan accomplished. A masterpiece.
Until his death in 1989, he performed at the best opera and concert houses in the world, from the Scala di Milano, to Vienna Opera House, Berlin, London, Lucerne, Paris… He is probably still one of the most well known orchestra conductor by the public. His style will last for ever.
The Karajan Style
Herbert von Karajan changed the way people would listen to music. Not only he worked every single detail with the orchestra in order to fullfill perfection at stage during a concert, but he also helped to improve a lot the recording techniques.
The Maestro rules
Everybody knows that playing in an orchestra under Herbert von Karajan was a true challenge. Everything needed to be perfect. He was very dictatorial and nothing could be left without control. Discipline and strong leadership were his secret to accomplish a virtuoso impression. When Television got interested on concert’s recording, Karajan saw the opportunity to use this new media at his advantage. Every camera, every movement was perfectly operated and this would contribute to his image as a Romatic Orchestra maestro. The gestures, the eyes closed, the haircut and the famous black neck-pull-over. Never before, or even after, a Maestro was so highlighted.
He used to say: “Those who have achieved all their aims probably set them too low“.
The Karajan Sound
Many music experts used to say that Karajan had the gift for extracting the most beautiful sounds from an orchestra. His style was considered as:
- Highly refined
- Calculatedly voluptuous
- Exaggeratedly polished
Some experts would define this style as artificial because it would not respect the original will of the composer. Herbert von Karajan used to apply his style on every concert, as if it was his signature. From Bach and Puccini, or Mozart. Was he the inventor of “Remastering” ?
Here in this video from 1965, you can see how Herbert von Karajan worked with the Orchestra. We can see he had a precise idea of the sound he wanted to accomplished. It is impressive how strong his vision was. Very interesting video.
Original video source: www.karajan.org
Concerning the collection released by Deutsche Grammophon, please visit the official website for more information and details. You can also see where you could buy it in your country.
Genius or not, Herbert von Karajan finger-printed the history of classical music and Opera by opening a modern window into the great classics. He inspired many generations of Orchestra Conductors and also the presence of classic music concerts on television.
Info sourced at Deutsche Grammophon website, wikipedia, karajan official website, youtube. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.