Herbert von Karajan

Discussion in 'Orchestra / Solo / Chamber Music' started by Musician4077, Jun 13, 2005.

  1. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    Hey all,

    I was just wondering what everything thinks of Karajan. I, personally, regard him as one of the greatest conductors and my conducting idol. As an aspiring conductor as well as trumpeter (I can't choose between these two passions, so I figure, why not do both? :-) ), I find his recordings electrifying and exciting to listen to. I recently downloaded his 1812 Overture from iTunes. IT HAS A CHOIR OPENING! I never would have even thought of that. Just when you think you know a piece (I have to have listened to my Boston Pops recording of it under Lockhart a million times), here comes a recording that proves you wrong! This well known piece seems new and eerie in a way.

    I've read some stuff on Karajan, and recently ordered Richard Osbourne's "Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music" (it should be here soon, I hope, as I can't wait to read it), and I can see that many people have very different opinions on him. What're all your thoughts?

  2. robertwhite

    robertwhite Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 11, 2003
    HVK is unquestionably one of the giants. His leadership of the Berlin Philharmonic produced, first and foremost, a catalog of recordings that include some of the most significant renditions of such works as Debussy's "La Mer", Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and Mahler's Ninth.

    I think it's fair to say that his recordings are what made him famous, and rightly so. While some criticize a "cool" approach to music-making (whatever that means!) I nearly always find myself enamored by the sound of his recordings. He helped the Berlin Phil. develop the sound they are known for, which is probably singular in its beauty, power, clarity, and refinement even today. Furthermore, he helped advance recording technology in ways that led to digital recording media becoming the standard.

    He definitely propagated the "Maestro" image, and fostered a cult of personality. For better or worse, though, he was the real deal - a musician of the calibre that we will not see very often. I wish I had been able to see him conduct live.

    For an interesting bit of reading, check out "The Glenn Gould Reader" which contains collected writings by the great pianist. At one point, he describes witnessing Karajan conducting the Sibelius Fifth - and it's some of the best writing about what makes a compelling performance that you'll ever read.
  3. davidjohnson

    davidjohnson Piano User

    Nov 2, 2003

    my favorite karajan recordings are; the emi (angel) new world symphony with the bpo...late 50's i think, brahms #1 bpo on dg, and the early 60's beethoven set.

    if the 1812 you mention is with the don cossack choir, i love the screaming tenors & rumbling basses, but think it's among the worst trumpet playing ever recorded. the ending section is so out of tune i cringe!! :shock: you may be hearing a better one, though.

  4. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    Yeah, I got started on my Karajan kick when my brother-in-law, a fellow brass player, pointed me towards the EMI recording of both Dvorak's 8th AND 9th. I liked the 9th so much, I could never get passed it on the cd to the 8th, I would just repeat the 9th over and over! :-P A couple weeks ago though, after having had the cd for QUITE some time (talking MONTHS here) I finally forced myself not to hit "back" on the iPod, and finally listen to the 8th. HOLY COW! Methinks I like the 8th better! The brass parts in the 9th are sweet, but few and far between. Good ol' Antonin sure pulls out the brass stops on the 8th though, don't he?!?

    Yeah, I think we're talking the same "1812" dj. I let my teacher listen to it, and he couldn't get over the slides that the choir does. I also love the huge sound put out by the basses. It sure sounds sweet on surround sound, especially when the orchestra finally comes in at a nice full FF! Yeah, the trumpets get kinda carried away, but I sure can see how! Imagine playing that work, in that orchestra, in that setting, under that conductor! That must truly have been something. That's MY idea of a possible heaven at least! :-)

    Thanks for the comments, and keep 'em coming! I'd love to know more about this enigma of a conductor!
  5. brian moon

    brian moon Forte User

    The first thing that I think of is "Nazi bastard" but you are probably thinking musically. My first musical thought of him is rotary trumpets.
  6. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    You know, I've done a lot of research on Nazi Germany. A hobby/other interest of mine is history, specializing in the Nazi Third Reich. I find the whole period horrifying and at the same time fascinating. I find it difficult to damn someone for being indirectly involved. There were "good" Nazis (oxymoron, I know). Look at Schindler. Look at Erwin Rommel. Some people joined because they were forced to. Perhaps Karajan felt he needed to take that step, and I can see why he may have thought that. Advancement in the totalitarian society of the Third Reich was very controlled. If the NSDAP didn't particularily like you, you didn't go very far, no matter what field you were in. They wanted to control all aspects of culture and life, including music. From what I've read and heard of Karajan, I can see that his passion was music, and he was willing to do whatever it took to go far. If that meant join the popular political party of the day, then so be it. Remember, he left the party and later denounced it. Whether this was trying to save his own skin or not, it was still a good move. Also from what I've read (and again, granted, it's not much. I'm still waiting for my one biography of him, which I've heard goes into his Nazi days in detail) he did not subscribe to the Aryan Supreme train of thought. His last wife, I believe, was part Jewish.

    Whew, anyway. I'm not condoning Nazism, nor am I trying to make excuses for a conductor who may or may have not been the greatest guy in the world. I'm just saying that he may have felt that the steps he took were the neccessary ones at the time. Given the situation, I'd be pressed to agree. Now, would I have joined with Hitler's gang just to make music? Who knows, and who can really say without having been in the situation?

    Sorry for the long winded post. It's just a topic (well, TWO topics...Nazism and music) that I know a fair bit about and love to discuss. I just try to not judge someone on the card they carry in their wallet.

  7. adohanian

    adohanian Pianissimo User

    Feb 27, 2005
    You know, there were other musicians, and people in other disciplines who saw the Nazis for what they were and sought refuge in other places. Many of the most important scientists who developed the atomic bomb came from Nazi controlled areas and they CHOSE to leave. Imagine what the world would be like if they had lacked the courage to do so, closed their eyes and pursued their work in their homelands and helped Germany win the original nuclear arms race. If you look at Karajan purely as a musician, then this should not enter the discussion anyway, but it absolutely speaks to who he was as a person, as it speaks to that entire nation that somehow turned a blind eye to what their government was doing. You cannot ignore his past as insignificant, when there were others who had the courage to act.


    By the way, on the actual musical side of this, I agree with Bob's points about the importance and stature of Karajan as a musician.
  8. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    Very good thought. The scientists you speak had amazing integrity, and it is partly because of their flight from Germany that we won.

    Back on Karajan though, there is no doubt to his singlemindedness. He knew what he wanted, and he did not care what he had to do to get it. I believe that he should be remembered what he was first and foremost, a musician, and a darn good one at that.

  9. brian moon

    brian moon Forte User

    I will amend my previous statement.

    "Dirty Nazi Bastard with no integrity".
  10. Manny Laureano

    Manny Laureano Utimate User

    Sep 29, 2004
    To back up Brian's contention,

    It would be easier to forgive Von Karajan if there hadn't been so many other artists of the time who left Germany so as not to support Hitler's rule. Karajan stayed, Toscanini refused to conduct there. Furtwangler stayed, Hindemith left.

    Let's face it: well-known artists leaving Germany en masse in the late 30's would have made Goebbels' PR job harder.


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