Cover image for Herbert von Karajan : a life in music
Herbert von Karajan : a life in music
Osborne, Richard, 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Northeastern University Press, 2000.

Physical Description:
x, 851 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Chatto & Windus, 1998.
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ML422.K22 O83 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML422.K22 O83 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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One of the greatest and most celebrated performing artists of the twentieth century, Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) dazzled, intrigued, and intimidated the music world. As the young Karajan told his brother, "Whether it's conducting, skiing, or motor racing, I simply want to be the best." Richard Osborne draws on his own extensive conversations with Karajan, interviews with those who knew the conductor, and a treasure trove of primary sources to bring into focus the flamboyance and flaws of an extraordinary musician as well as the turbulent international music scene over six decades. The author debunks many legends about Karajan, particularly those relating to his membership in the Nazi Party, which he opportunistically joined in 1935 to obtain a conducting appointment. While the decision haunted him throughout his life, Karajan's career flourished after the war. A jet-setting superstar, he once held, simultaneously, six of the world's most prestigious musical posts, including director of the Salzburg Festival, artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, and conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic. After signing with legendary producer Walter Legge, Karajan achieved international fame through his best-selling recordings. He also embraced the challenge of adapting to rapidly changing technologies, and quickly mastered each new medium -- television, vinyl LPs, tapes, and CDs. This comprehensive, well-balanced, and objective biography will stand as the definitive work on this exceptional maestro.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Karajan (1908^-89) was born to music. Blessed with an acute ear, the knack for envisioning a musical work as a whole, a sense of an individual musician's worth, and a keen memory, he shaped three of the finest twentieth-century orchestras. He made most of his early recordings with the London Philharmonia for Walter Legge of EMI, his later ones with Deutsche Grammophon because of DG's better technology and marketing. For Unitel he made many films of operas and symphonic music, and he directed the Salzburg festivals, using both the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. He is remembered as the shy perfectionist who always nurtured his fellow artists in cooperative music making. Because Karajan's career developed in Nazi Germany, Osborne dwells at length, though not to distraction, on Karajan's involvement with the regime and his postwar exoneration. Drawing on a vast variety of source materials and quoting some in full, Osborne takes us on the enthralling musical journey that was the life of one of the greatest of conductors. --Alan Hirsch

Publisher's Weekly Review

Von Karajan (1908-1989), an Austrian-born conductor who was a controversial figure because of his membership in the Nazi party at an early stage of his career and because of his lifelong autocratic behavior, receives an exhaustive, penetrating biography. Music critic Osborne, who published Conversations with von Karajan shortly before the conductor's death, has drawn on a huge number of sources to create a notably balanced account of a career that still divides many music lovers into energetic pro and con parties. Von Karajan spent his early years as a provincial opera conductor and orchestra builder in Aachen (where he joined the Nazis as a career move in 1933), then endured years of struggle during the war--when, Osborne convincingly demonstrates, his career was in fact held back rather than encouraged by the Nazis because his wife was partly Jewish. It was not until after the war, when British record producer Walter Legge hired him for a series of recordings with his new Philharmonia Orchestra, that von Karajan began to build an international reputation. After a drawn-out struggle with Wilhelm Furtwangler, von Karajan took the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic. This, combined with his vastly successful recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, finally established the conductor as a world figure whose wide-ranging recordings sold at almost pop-star levels. Osborne is particularly good at showing the wide swings in the quality of von Karajan's performances, from the totally committed to the polished but banal; his material on the conductor's now largely forgotten efforts (to which he devoted large sums of his own money) to immortalize his performances on videotape is riveting. Beautifully written, eminently fair-minded and full of enthralling anecdotes, this book will be catnip to any serious music lover. Photos. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Osborne, a respected British broadcaster and writer on classical music (Conversations with Karajan, LJ 4/1/90), here builds on documentation of Karajan's career compiled by the late Swedish writer and scholar Gisela Tamsen and adds information from his own decade-long research, including interviews with Karajan and Karajan's contemporaries. First published in Britain in 1998, this solid study aims to dispel many myths about Karajan, especially regarding his Nazi party membership. In 1935, he joined to obtain a conducting appointment, and Osborne provides the transcript of his "de-Nazification" hearing, attempting to clear Karajan's name once and for all. Karajan's recordings are his permanent legacy, and archives of recording companies were rich sources. The author reveals his musical taste and high opinion of Karajan's artistry; his gigantic book is both a chronicle of and critical commentary on a mighty musical career. Collectors of Karajan's recordings are the book's likely audience; recommended for public and academic libraries.--Bonnie Jo Dopp, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Osborne's exhaustive, detailed tome consists of 81 chapters, 63 pages of notes, 51 illustrations, and valuable appendixes (one, "The Rehearsal," is an excerpt from Karajan's never-completed book; the remaining two put into perspective his joining in 1935 the Nazi Party, a "formality" required prior to accepting the conductorship of the Aachen Orchestra and an early example of Karajan as a "musical idealist" and "professional careerist"). Rhythmic accuracy--"everything else is probably unteachable"--was fundamental to what one critic described as Karajan's "determination that everything shall sound as clear and as beautiful as possible " (in Karajan's words, "The musical content must be clean and pure"). The comprehensiveness of this definitive biography will impede the reader searching for a thumbnail sketch of the major junctures of Karajan's career (a chronology of his directorships in London, Vienna, Berlin, and Salzburg and of his recordings and films would have expedited tracking down sound documents). That caveat aside, readers will relish the insights into Karajan's personality and the illuminating reminiscences of those fortunate enough to have collaborated with music's best-selling conductor. All music collections. J. Behrens; emeritus, University of Western Ontario



Chapter One An atmosphere of war May you be born into interesting times. Old Chinese curse It was shortly before eleven o'clock on the morning of 28 June 1914 that the leading car in the motorcade inexplicably turned off Appel Quay into Franz Josef Street.     The Governor, who was travelling on the jump seat of the royal car, shouted that they were going the wrong way. The chauffeur brought the black open tourer to an abrupt halt by the kerb in front of Schiller's delicatessen, the very place where Gavrilo Princip happened to be standing.     Princip later said that he aimed indiscriminately, bewildered by the sudden unexpected appearance of the car, and the fact that it was the Duchess Sophie, not the Archduke, who was on the side nearest to him.     By what malign chance, then, did both bullets find their mark? The first pierced the door of the car and the Duchess's right side; the second passed through the Archduke's collar, severing his jugular vein before lodging in his spine.     The assassination had been elaborately planned and might have succeeded earlier that same Sunday morning in Sarajevo had the bomb lobbed by one of Princip's accomplices not rolled off the folded-down hood of the royal car into the road, damaging the car behind.     It remains one of the most bizarre of twentieth-century assassinations, and the most momentous. * * * The two Karajan boys watched the battleship Viribus Unitis thread its way through the narrow channel near the small island on which they were holidaying. Funeral-bedecked, escorted by destroyers, the battleship was bound for Trieste. There the bodies of Franz Ferdinand and his wife would be transferred to the royal train for the final stage of their return to Vienna.     The small island on which the Karajans were staying was owned by the Kupelwieser family of Vienna. In an era before the advent of mass tourism, it was still possible for a well-to-do family to acquire an island or two for its private use. The Kupelwiesers -- heirs to Schubert's great friend the painter Leopold Kupelwieser and long-standing friends of the von Karajans -- had purchased the island across the water from the fashionable resort of Brioni, had planted and irrigated it, and turned it into a small paradise.     The Karajan boys had arrived there with their mother, Martha von Karajan, for an extended vacation away from that unpredictable mix of torrid heat and torrential rains which is Salzburg in high summer. Wolfgang was rising eight, gangling and slightly unkempt. Heribert was six, smaller and sleeker, with a certain gamin charm. He had not previously seen the sea and declared it to be `enormously impressive'.     The family had barely settled into their rooms when Martha's brother unexpectedly arrived with a message from her husband, Dr Ernst von Karajan. He had remained at home in Salzburg attending to his medical duties. Now `something serious had happened'. It was imperative that his wife and children leave Brioni for a safer place.     Before they left, the family watched the water-borne cortège pass through the Fazanski channel. Karajan would later recall: When my uncle saw these ships -- I couldn't imagine why -- he said: `Now there'll be a war.' The word `war' meant nothing at all to me, but I had quite a strange feeling all the same. In the way children do, I probably grasped the atmospheric feeling of the word rather than the drama itself. I noticed that the adults were afraid, and that communicated itself to me.     The boys' uncle proved to be more prescient than many of his contemporaries. In Vienna, reaction to the Archduke's assassination was muted. He was not universally, or even widely, liked; and his morganatic marriage to the Duchess Sophie was a complicating factor when it came to the State obsequies, which were brief and low-key.     Yet Franz Ferdinand's death was a catastrophe in more senses than one. He had long been a moderating influence in the Austrian government, arguing that war with Serbia would mean war with Russia, the break-up of the fragile Austro-Hungarian empire, and the end of the monarchy. Now, ironically, his assassination threatened to provoke the very thing he most feared. Though Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II had shared Franz Ferdinand's circumspection, he now shifted ground, urging a resolute response by the Austrians to Serb aggression, offering full German military backing in the event of Russian intervention.     The people, too, seem to have been hungry for war. Through the long days and balmy nights of the unusually fine summer of 1914, crowds massed in the streets in increasing numbers. The German Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, had feared that neither he nor the Kaiser would be able to carry public opinion with him in the event of Serb rejection of the Austrian ultimatum of 23 July. He need have had no qualms. On the evening of Saturday, 25 July huge crowds milled about the streets of Berlin awaiting the Serb response. When it finally came -- a resolute `no' -- the crowds went wild. `Es geht los!' the cry went up. `It's on! The war is on!' Huge masses moved through Berlin's main thoroughfares singing Austrian and German marching songs. The Austrian embassy was besieged; the Austrian ambassador, Szögyény-Marich, was serenaded with a blustering rendition of `Ich hat' einen Kameraden'.     On 30 July, the Russians mobilised. The following day at 1.00 p.m. the Kaiser announced a state of drobende Kriegsgefahr (imminent danger of war). The crowds again went wild. * * * After leaving Brioni, the Karajan boys did not immediately return to Salzburg. They travelled north to Styria, `the green heart of Austria' as it is sometimes called, to the small town of Knittelfeld north-west of Graz. This was Martha von Karajan's home country. Her mother, Katharina Axterer, had been born there, and was to die there in 1944, aged 96. Martha's Serbian-born father, whom she barely knew (he died aged 46 when she was only three), was an agricultural accountant in Graz. Her sister had also settled locally, marrying Baron Leutzendorff, the owner of Schloss Prankh, a small estate near Knittelfeld. But she, too, had been widowed early. The baron had died in 1913.     The widowed baroness seems to have been as thrilled to have the Karajan boys staying with her as they were by the freedom the estate afforded them. They were halcyon days: Two lads that thought there was no more behind But such a day tomorrow as today, And to be boy eternal. For Heribert, though, happy days were accompanied by troubled nights. Though the word `war' evoked as yet only `atmospheric feelings', the idea of marauding Russian invaders was all too pressingly real. During his stay at Schloss Prankh, he fancied he heard shots in the woods at night. The assurance of the boys' nanny that if the Russians did arrive they would not advance beyond the Gasthof Dietrich was, not surprisingly, of little comfort to him.     The Russians didn't arrive. Yet fear of them was to haunt Karajan until well after the Second World War. In 1948, the year of the Berlin Airlift, he was actively making plans to bail out of Europe altogether.     One of the Baroness's recent acquisitions at Schloss Prankh was a newfangled player-piano. Heribert had started learning the piano proper at the age of three. Sibling rivalry had caused him to lurk, incubus-like, behind the curtains of the room in which Wolfi was already taking lessons. By the age of four, Heribert had (in his own estimation) overtaken his brother; certainly, he was good enough to play in public, beguiling a charity audience in a Salzburg restaurant in 1912 with a pert rendering of a Mozart rondo.     Yet his aunt's player-piano, with its accompanying piano rolls, was something other. It was a Hupfeld Phonola, an 88-note cabinet player that would have been pushed up against the keyboard of the Baroness's own piano. This would not have allowed Heribert to listen to what one writer has described as `original recordings by Rachmaninov and other great and important composers'. The Phonola, unlike the much rarer Hupfeld DEA, was not a reproducing piano; nor were Rachmaninov piano-roll recordings commercially available at that time. There were, however, hundreds of recordings being manufactured in the `hand played' or `machine cut' categories. These were relatively simple affairs. They reproduced the notes and allowed the player to pedal in a limited range of dynamic nuances. Here there was Rachmaninov in abundance: the C sharp minor Prelude and much else besides, music for which Karajan was to develop a lifelong passion.     `It goes without saying,' Karajan later observed, `that I spent many hours with this amazing apparatus.' Throughout his life he would talk of the latest advances in technology in a way that was almost proprietorial.     Fascinating as the player-piano was, the estate possessed another machine whose power was even more overwhelming to Heribert's six-year-old consciousness. In the grounds of Schloss Prankh there was a hut by a waterfall. In the hut was a generator, a water-driven turbine that provided power for the estate. Walking with the estate manager to unlock the hut (Heribert solemnly carrying the key) and switching on the turbine (Heribert helping plunge down the great lever) was an adventure beyond compare. The roar of the generator, light flaring out of darkness: a single gesture creating so powerful an effect. Even as an old man, Karajan would tell the story, as if still hypnotised by the memory. But, then, the old man knew what the six-year-old child could barely guess at: the existence of a profession in which a not dissimilar gesture could create epiphanies of sound and light as splendid as any known to man. Copyright © 1998 Richard Osborne. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

List of illustrationsp. viii
Forewordp. x
Part I 1908-1945
1 An atmosphere of warp. 3
2 Sunday's childp. 7
3 Teachers' boyp. 17
4 A Salzburg educationp. 26
5 Viennap. 33
6 A leader of suggestive powerp. 40
7 A young bandmaster from Ulmp. 45
8 Swastikas in the skyp. 61
9 Nearly in the dustp. 68
10 'Tell me, now: are you happy with me?'p. 76
11 Chess movesp. 83
12 General Music Director, Aachenp. 91
13 1938: The promised landp. 101
14 1938: Das Wunder Karajanp. 110
15 Peace and warp. 126
16 'More Diogenes than Alexander ...'p. 134
17 Down, down I comep. 150
18 City terrors and mountain vigilsp. 163
19 Flight to Italyp. 181
Part II 1945-1956
20 Captain Epstein's dilemmap. 189
21 Interrogationp. 200
22 An Englishman abroadp. 207
23 A capacity of taking troublep. 220
24 New music: a tantrum and a tiffp. 234
25 Londonp. 244
26 A tale of two Berlinsp. 251
27 Furtwangler: showdown in Chicagop. 258
28 Getting and spendingp. 262
29 The hypnotistp. 273
30 Hanging on to Karajanp. 278
31 Wiener Symphoniker and return to Germanyp. 282
32 Bachfestp. 290
33 Milan, Paris, and Bayreuthp. 295
34 Working with the Philharmoniap. 304
35 On recordingp. 310
36 Crossing the Rhinep. 318
37 The girl with the flaxen hairp. 328
38 Tristan and Luciap. 333
39 Brandy in Les Bauxp. 356
40 Death and successionp. 367
41 American journeyp. 377
42 Trouble at millp. 384
43 A resignation and three recordingsp. 401
Part III 1957-1964
44 Riding highp. 413
45 Incessant trafficp. 422
46 Three courtships and a marriagep. 431
47 Vienna and London 1959-60p. 440
48 Salzburg shenanigansp. 453
49 Controlling interestsp. 457
50 Vienna: the phoney warp. 469
51 Karajan's Circusp. 475
52 Berlin Philharmonicp. 481
53 A strange marriagep. 493
54 Pet Savagep. 504
55 Farewell, Viennap. 507
Part IV 1964-1975
56 Fresh woods and pastures newp. 515
57 Pilgrimage to Jarvenpaap. 522
58 Towards the Easter Festivalp. 525
59 Henri-Georges Clouzotp. 535
60 The Easter Festivalp. 545
61 Carmen and Pagliaccip. 553
62 An urge to educatep. 562
63 Mr Andry plays his acep. 575
64 Brave new worldsp. 591
65 A question of imagep. 601
66 Disc troublep. 606
Part V 1976-1989
67 Easter 1976p. 613
68 Close encountersp. 618
69 The man with the golden jugp. 625
70 Phoenixp. 636
71 Carpe diemp. 643
72 Pleasant diversionsp. 650
73 1982: Anniversaryp. 658
74 Pressing mattersp. 665
75 1982: Divisions in the kingdomp. 670
76 The Erlkingp. 676
77 War and peacep. 689
78 Soldiering onp. 700
79 Trouble over Taiwanp. 710
80 Resignationp. 719
81 A necessary endp. 726
Appendix A Herbert von Karajan, 'The Rehearsal'p. 733
Appendix B Karajan's membership of the Nazi Party and the trail of misinformationp. 742
Appendix C Karajan's deposition to the Austrian denazification examining board, 18 March 1946p. 748
Acknowledgementsp. 751
Notesp. 760
General Indexp. 825
Index of Performances, Sound Recordings and Filmsp. 844