Herbert von Karajan

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Herbert von Karajan in 1938

Herbert von Karajan (German pronunciation: [ˈhɛɐbɛɐt fɔn ˈkaʁaˌjan]; born Heribert, Ritter von Karajan; 5 April 1908 – 16 July 1989) was an Austrian conductor. He was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for 35 years. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, and he was a dominant figure in European classical music from the 1960s until his death.[1] Part of the reason for this was the large number of recordings he made and their prominence during his lifetime. By one estimate he was the top-selling classical music recording artist of all time, having sold an estimated 200 million records.[2]

Biography[edit]

Genealogy[edit]

The Karajans were of Greek[3][4][5][6][7][8] or Aromanian[9] ancestry. His great-great-grandfather, Georg Karajan (Georgios Karajánnis, Greek: Γεώργιος Καραγιάννης), was born in Kozani, in the Ottoman province of Rumelia (now in Greece), leaving for Vienna in 1767, and eventually Chemnitz, Electorate of Saxony.[10] He and his brother participated in the establishment of Saxony's cloth industry, and both were ennobled for their services by Frederick Augustus III on 1 June 1792, thus the prefix "von" to the family name. The surname Karajánnis became Karajan.[11] Although traditional biographers ascribed a Serbian or simply a Slavic origin to his mother,[12] Karajan's family from the maternal side, through his grandfather who was born in the village of Mojstrana, Duchy of Carniola (today in Slovenia), was Slovene.[11][12][13] By this line, Karajan was related to Austrian composer of Slovene descent Hugo Wolf.[14] Karajan seems to have known some Slovene.[11][12]

Early years[edit]

Herbert von Karajan's parents, Ernst and Marta (née Kosmač)

Karajan was born in Salzburg, Austria-Hungary, as Heribert Ritter von Karajan.[15] He was a child prodigy at the piano.[16] From 1916 to 1926, he studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Franz Ledwenke, theory with Franz Zauer, and composition with Bernhard Paumgartner. He was encouraged to concentrate on conducting by Paumgartner, who detected his exceptional promise in that regard. In 1926 Karajan graduated from the conservatory and continued his studies at the Vienna Academy, studying piano with Josef Hofman and conducting with Alexander Wunderer and Franz Schalk.[17]

In 1929, he conducted Salome at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg and from 1929 to 1934 Karajan served as first Kapellmeister at the Stadttheater in Ulm. In 1933 Karajan made his conducting debut at the Salzburg Festival with the Walpurgisnacht Scene in Max Reinhardt's production of Faust. It was also in 1933 that von Karajan became a member of the Nazi party, a fact for which he would later be criticised.[1]

In Salzburg in 1934, Karajan led the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time, and from 1934 to 1941, he was engaged to conduct operatic and symphony-orchestra concerts at the Theater Aachen.

Karajan's career was given a significant boost in 1935 when he was appointed Germany's youngest Generalmusikdirektor and performed as a guest conductor in Bucharest, Brussels, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Paris.[18][19] In 1937 Karajan made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Berlin State Opera, conducting Fidelio. He then enjoyed a major success at the State Opera with Tristan und Isolde. In 1938, his performance there of the opera was hailed by a Berlin critic as Das Wunder Karajan (the Karajan miracle). The critic asserted that Karajan's "success with Wagner's demanding work Tristan und Isolde sets himself alongside Furtwängler and Victor de Sabata, the greatest opera conductors in Germany at the present time".[20] Receiving a contract with Deutsche Grammophon that same year, Karajan made the first of numerous recordings, conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin in the overture to The Magic Flute. On 26 July 1938, he married operetta singer Elmy Holgerloef. They divorced in 1942.

On 22 October 1942, at the height of the Second World War, Karajan married Anna Maria "Anita" Sauest, born Gütermann. She was the daughter of a well-known manufacturer of yarn for sewing machines. Having had a Jewish grandfather, she was considered a Vierteljüdin (one-quarter Jewish woman). By 1944, Karajan was, according to his own account,[citation needed] losing favor with the Nazi leadership, but he still conducted concerts in wartime Berlin on 18 February 1945. A short time later, in the closing stages of the war, he and Anita fled Germany for Milan, relocating with the assistance of Victor de Sabata.[21][22] Karajan and Anita divorced in 1958.

Karajan was discharged by the Austrian denazification examining board on 18 March 1946, and resumed his conducting career shortly thereafter.[23]

Herbert von Karajan conducting in 1941

Postwar years[edit]

In 1946, Karajan gave his first post-war concert in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic, but he was banned from further conducting activities by the Soviet occupation authorities because of his Nazi party membership. That summer he participated anonymously in the Salzburg Festival.

On 28 October 1947, Karajan gave his first public concert following the lifting of the conducting ban. With the Vienna Philharmonic and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, he performed Johannes Brahms' A German Requiem for a gramophone production in Vienna.[24]

In 1949, Karajan became artistic director of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna. He also conducted at La Scala in Milan. His most prominent activity at this time was recording with the newly formed Philharmonia Orchestra in London, helping to build them into one of the world's finest. Starting from this year, Karajan began his lifelong attendance at the Lucerne Festival.[25]

In 1951 and 1952 he conducted at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

In 1955 he was appointed music director for life of the Berlin Philharmonic as successor to Wilhelm Furtwängler. From 1957 to 1964 he was artistic director of the Vienna State Opera. Karajan was closely involved with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Salzburg Festival, where he initiated the Easter Festival, which would remain tied to the Berlin Philharmonic's Music Director after his tenure.

On 6 October 1958 he married his third wife, French model Eliette Mouret; they became parents of two daughters, Isabel and Arabel.

He continued to perform, conduct and record prolifically until his death in Anif[1] in 1989, mainly with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. In his later years, Karajan suffered from heart and back problems, needing surgery on the latter. He increasingly came into conflict with his orchestra for an all-controlling dictatorial style of conducting that had vanished from use everywhere else. Karajan officially retired from conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, but at his death was conducting a series of rehearsals for the annual Salzburg Music Festival. He died of a heart attack in his home on 16 July 1989 at the age of 81.

A practitioner of Zen Buddhism, Karajan believed strongly in reincarnation and said that he would like to be reborn as an eagle so he could soar over his beloved Alps.[1] However, on June 29, 1985, he conducted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Coronation Mass during a Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and received Holy Communion from the hand of the Pope with his wife and daughters.[26]

Nazi Party membership[edit]

Karajan joined the Nazi Party in Salzburg on 8 April 1933; his membership number was 1,607,525. In June 1933, the Nazi Party was outlawed by the Austrian government. However, Karajan's membership was valid until 1939. In that year the former Austrian members were verified by the general office of the Nazi Party. Karajan's membership was declared invalid but his accession to the party was retroactively determined to have been on 1 May 1933 in Ulm, with membership number: 3,430,914.[27][28][29]

British musicologist and critic Richard Osborne states:

What are the facts? First, though Karajan was nominated for membership in the as yet unbanned Party in Salzburg in April 1933, he did not collect his card, sign it, or pay his dues, though the registration itself (no. 1607525) got on to the files and crops up in many memoranda and enquiries thereafter. Secondly, he did not join the Party on 1 May 1933 despite prima-facie evidence to the contrary. In the first place, the membership number 3430914 is too high to belong to that date. The highest number issued before the freeze on membership, which lasted from May 1933 to March 1937, was 3262698. However, during the freeze, various functionaries, diplomats, and others were issued cards bearing an NG, or Nachgereichte, designation. These cards were, by convention, backdated to the start of the freeze: 1 May 1933. Karajan's Aachen membership was an NG card, and its number accords with batches issued in 1935, the year Karajan had always identified as the one in which he was asked to join the Party.[30]

Karajan's prominence increased from 1933 to 1945, which has led to speculation that he joined the Nazi Party solely to advance his music career. Critics such as Jim Svejda[citation needed] have pointed out that other prominent conductors, such as Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, Erich Kleiber, and Fritz Busch, fled from fascist Europe at the time. However, Richard Osborne noted that among the many significant conductors who continued to work in Germany throughout the war years—Wilhelm Furtwängler, Ernest Ansermet, Carl Schuricht, Karl Böhm, Hans Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss and Karl Elmendorff—Karajan was one of the youngest and thus one of the least advanced in his career.[31] Karajan was allowed to conduct various orchestras and was free to travel, even to the Netherlands to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra and make recordings there in 1943.[32]

Musicianship[edit]

There is widespread agreement[weasel words] that Karajan had a special gift for extracting beautiful sounds from an orchestra. Opinion varies concerning the greater aesthetic ends to which The Karajan Sound was applied. The American critic Harvey Sachs criticized the Karajan approach as follows:

Karajan seemed to have opted instead for an all-purpose, highly refined, lacquered, calculatedly voluptuous sound that could be applied, with the stylistic modifications he deemed appropriate, to Bach and Puccini, Mozart and Mahler, Beethoven and Wagner, Schumann and Stravinsky ... many of his performances had a prefabricated, artificial quality that those of Toscanini, Furtwängler, and others never had ... most of Karajan's records are exaggeratedly polished, a sort of sonic counterpart to the films and photographs of Leni Riefenstahl.[citation needed]

However, it has been argued by commentator Jim Svejda and others that Karajan's pre-1970 manner did not sound as polished as it is later alleged to have become.[33]

Two reviews from the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs illustrate the point.

  • Concerning a recording of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, a canonical Romantic work, the Penguin authors wrote, "Karajan's is a sensual performance of Wagner's masterpiece, caressingly beautiful and with superbly refined playing from the Berlin Philharmonic".[34]
  • About Karajan's recording of Haydn's "Paris" symphonies, the same authors wrote, "big-band Haydn with a vengeance ... It goes without saying that the quality of the orchestral playing is superb. However, these are heavy-handed accounts, closer to Imperial Berlin than to Paris ... the Minuets are very slow indeed ... These performances are too charmless and wanting in grace to be whole-heartedly recommended."[citation needed][35]

The same Penguin Guide nevertheless gives the highest compliments to Karajan's recordings of the two Haydn oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons.[36] Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon, who wrote the notes for Karajan's recordings of Haydn's 12 London symphonies, states that Karajan's recordings are among the finest he knows.[citation needed]

Among 20th-century musical works, Karajan had a strong preference for conducting and recording pre-1945 works by such composers as Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartók, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Puccini, Pizzetti, Honegger, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, Hindemith, Hans Werner Henze, Nielsen and Stravinsky. In 1959, he performed with the Berlin Philharmonic Henze's Sonata per Archi (1958). Karajan also recorded Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony (1953) twice and premiered Carl Orff's De Temporum Fine Comoedia in 1973 with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. The New York Times writer John Rockwell wrote in 1989: "He had a particular gift for Wagner and above all for Bruckner, whose music he conducted with sovereign command and elevated feeling."[1]

Karajan had stated in an interview with the German TV-channel ZDF in 1983 that if he had been a composer instead of conductor, his music would have sounded similar to Shostakovich's, a composer whom he identified with at several levels,[citation needed] and met during a tour with the Berlin Philharmonic culminating in Moscow in May 1969.[not specific enough to verify]

Awards and honours[edit]

Statue in the garden of his birthplace

Karajan was the recipient of multiple honours and awards. He became a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic on 17 May 1960[37] and in 1961, he received the Austrian Medal for Science and Art.[citation needed] He also received the Grand Merit Cross (Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz) of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In 1977 he was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize. On 21 June 1978 he received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Music from Oxford University.[38] He was honored by the "Médaille de Vermeil" from the Académie française in Paris, the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, the Olympia Award of the Onassis Foundation in Athens and the UNESCO International Music Prize. He received two Gramophone Awards for recordings of Mahler's Ninth Symphony and the complete Parsifal recordings in 1981. He received the Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor from the German Eduard Rhein Foundation in 1984.[39] In 2002, the Herbert von Karajan Music Prize was founded in his honour; in 2003 Anne-Sophie Mutter, who had made her debut with Karajan in 1977, became the first recipient of this award.[citation needed] He was voted into the inaugural Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2012.[40] He has received the Picasso Medal from UNESCO.

In 1997 the "Herbert von Karajan Whitsun Festival" was inaugurated at the Baden-Baden Festival Theatre.

Karajan was an honorary citizen of Salzburg (1968), Berlin (1973) and Vienna (1978).

Books[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e John Rockwell (17 July 1989). "Herbert von Karajan Is Dead; Musical Perfectionist was 81". The New York Times. pp. A1. 
  2. ^ The Life and Death of Classical Music by Norman Lebrecht, p. 137.
  3. ^ Cramer, Alfred W. (2009). Musicians and Composers of the 20th Century-Volume 3. Salem Press. p. 758. ISBN 9781587655159. "The Life Herbert Ritter von Karajan (fahn KAHR-eh-yahn) was born to Ernst and Martha von Karajan, an upper-class family of Greek-Macedonian origin." 
  4. ^ Paul Robinson, Bruce Surtees (1976). Karajan. Macdonald and Janes. p. 6. "Herbert von Karajan was born in Salzburg April 5, 1908. Though an Austrian by birth, the Karajan family was actually Greek, the original surname being Karajanis or "Black John". The family had migrated from Greece to Chemnitz, Germany, and from there to Austria about four generations before Herbert." 
  5. ^ Ian Brunskill (2010). The Times Great Lives: A Century In Obituaries. HarperCollins UK. ISBN 9780007363735. "Born in Salzburg on April 5, 1908, Karajan was the younger son of a distinguished surgeon and his Slovenian wife. Originally called Karajannis, the Karajan family were Macedonian Greeks who had moved first to Saxony and later to Vienna where they held important academic, medical, and administrative posts." 
  6. ^ Metropolitan Opera Guild (1961). Opera news, Band 26. Metropolitan Opera Guild. p. 397. OCLC 1590631. "The thirty-five-year career began when Karajan was nineteen. He had been born on April 5, 1908, into a family of Greek ancestry that enjoyed considerable prestige in the Austro-Hungarian Empire." 
  7. ^ Kuhn, Laura Diane (1999). Baker's Student Encyclopedia of Music: H-Q. Schirmer Books. p. 850. ISBN 9780028654164. "Karajan, Herbert von [...] cultured family of Greek-Macedonian extraction whose original name was Karajannis. His father was a medical officer." 
  8. ^ Kater, Michael H. (1997). The twisted muse: musicians and their music in the Third Reich. Oxford University Press. p. 56. ISBN 9780195096200. "Karajan was born in 1908 in Austrian Salzburg, the son of a well-to-do physician of partially Greek-Macedonian ancestry whose forebears had been ennobled while in the service of the Saxon kings." 
  9. ^ Binder, David. "Vlachs, A Peaceful Balkan People" in Mediterranean Quarterly
  10. ^ John Rockwell (22 June 1986). "General Music Director of Europe". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2007. 
  11. ^ a b c "Herbert von Karajan-Karajan Family". Karajan Family. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c Branka Lapajne (4 April 2008). "The Shared Slovenian Ancestors of Herbert von Karajan and Hugo Wolf". Retrieved 5 May 2008. 
  13. ^ Matheopoulos, Helena (1983). Maestro: encounters with conductors of today. Harper & Row. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-06-015103-4. 
  14. ^ Lapajne, Branka (2006). "Hugo Wolf in Herbert von Karajan: potomca družine Lavtižar" [Hugo Wolf and Herbert von Karajan: The Descendants of the Lavtižar Family]. Bilten [Bulletin] (in Slovene) (Slovensko muzikološko društvo [Slovenian Musicological Society]) 24: 31–34. 
  15. ^ Osborne (1987)
  16. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica Article for Herbert von Karajan". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  17. ^ Artist Biography by David Brensilver, retrieved 31 May 2014 
  18. ^ Karajan in Paris in war time (Video). YouTube. 
  19. ^ The woman in the footage is Winifred Wagner.
  20. ^ Osborne (2000), p. 114
  21. ^ Osborne (2000)
  22. ^ Andrews, Deborah (1990). The Annual Obituary, 1989. St James Press. p. 417. ISBN 1-55862-056-7. 
  23. ^ Osborne (2000); Karajan's deposition is presented in whole as Appendix C.
  24. ^ Steinhage, Martin (1986). Chronik 1947 (in German). Dortmund, Germany: Harenberg Kommunikation Verlags- und Medien-GmbH & Co. KG. p. 178. ISBN 3-88379-077-X. 
  25. ^ Lucerne Festival homepage, Karajan Celebration 2008
  26. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeUjMagnJ_M
  27. ^ Fred K. Prieberg: Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933–1945 Kiel, 2004, CD-ROM-Lexicon, p. 3545f. The author inspected the files of Karajan (as part of the Reichskulturkammer) at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin (former Berlin Document Center). This background story was first published by Paul Moor in: High Fidelity Vol. 7/10 October 1957, pp. 52-55, 190, 192–194 (The Operator). In addition, Prieberg's opinion about the Karajan biographer Richard Osborne has been stated: "his knowledge of history is sadly very low" (p. 3575)
  28. ^ Karsten Kammholz (not quite with the accuracy of Prieberg): "Der Mann, der zweimal in die NSDAP eintrat"; in: Die Welt, 26 January 2008
  29. ^ Ivan Hewett (2008-03-13). "Herbert von Karajan: save us from the resurrection of that old devil". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  30. ^ Richard Osborne, "Conversations with Karajan", Oxford University Press, 1991.
  31. ^ Osborne (2000), p. 85
  32. ^ "Herbert von Karajan—the first recordings". Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Retrieved November 2012. 
  33. ^ Staines, Joe, The Record Shelf Guide to Classical CDs and Audiocassettes: Fifth Revised and Expanded Edition (Insider's Guide to Classical Recordings) (0086874505919): Jim Svejda: Books, Amazon.com, ASIN 0761505911 
  34. ^ Penguin Guide to Compact Discs; 2005, p.1477.
  35. ^ These recordings are no longer mentioned in the 1999 edition of the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs.
  36. ^ The Creation is listed first on pp. 656–7 of the 1999 Penguin Guide to Compact Discs, and the comment reads: "Among versions of The Creation sung in German, Karajan's 1969 set remains unsurpassed, and now reissued as one of DG's 'Originals' at mid-price, is a clear first choice despite two small cuts..." The Seasons is, by 1999, listed in the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs in third place on p. 661, and the text states "Karajan's 1973 recording of The Seasons offers a fine, polished performance which is often very dramatic too. The characterization is strong ... the remastered sound is drier than the original but is vividly wide. etc. ..."
  37. ^ "von Karajan Maestro Herbert" (in Italian). Presidency of the Italian Republic. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  38. ^ LAP. "Herbert von Karajan – Visits to Great Britain". Karajan.co.uk. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  39. ^ "The Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor Recipients". Eduard Rhein Foundation. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  40. ^ "Herbert von Karajan (conductor)". Gramophone. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 

External links[edit]