Karajan's ears, RIP

Karajan's ears, RIP


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2010

The studio man most trusted by Herbert von Karajan has died in Paris, aged 79. Michel Glotz was the maestro’s ears and eyes.

An EMI flak who fell out with the label’s British management when, after sacking Walter Legge, they proposed to replace Karajan with Sir John Barbirolli, he had been helping Maria Callas through her Onassis crisis when Karajan made him an irresistible offer.

As Glotz told Karajan’s biographer, Richard Osborne, over dinner in New York in 1965 he was asked ‘to coordinate all Karajan’s musical activities: conducting and touring, stage direction, recordings, films, television and, in particular, (founding) the (Salzburg) Easter Festival’ (Osborne, 531).

For the next quarter of a century, nothing significant happened in Karajan’s empire without Glotz’s say-so. He lasted longer with Karajan than any other close aide and was much resented by record producers when he second-guessed them in studio, prompting the maestro to reject an apparently acceptable take.

Never a whizz at technology or a pair of golden ears, Glotz had studied piano with Marguerite Long and possessed an aesthethic sensibility which, combined with his business sense and general good humour, was what earned him Karajan’s unwavering trust. A studio picture  by Lauterwasser shows Karajan shushing the orchestra wth one finger to his lips while Glotz, beside him, is thumbing his nose in mild mockery.

Part-Jewish by origin, Glotz went into hiding with his family during the Second World War while Karajan conducted the Horst Wessel Led in  Paris. Glotz’s brother joined the Résistance and was shot by the Germans.

But the past was not allowed to come between them. Glotz and Karajan spoke French or English together, never German, and Karajan was welcomed into Glotz’s family circle. Glotz told colleagues that the conductor was not an anti-semite and never a Nazi, just an opportunist with his eye on the main chance.  

Aside from Karajan’s affairs, Glotz ran a successful artists agency in Paris, with many Karajan allies as his clients. He was formidably discreet, deflecting my research inquiries with an affable courtesy, backed by a battery of lawyers. 

Michel Glotz was the last survivor of the golden era of classical recording, and his death, on February 15, has yet to be acknowledged by the corporate relics of that defunct industry.


  • David Murphy says:

    I can’t say that Glotz’s intrusion into the Karajan recording world was successful. I prefer all his prior recordings with Gerdes in the 1960s and early 1970s. Glotz’s recordings are distorted, hideously over spot miked and eccentric. Especially when these became digital in the 1980s. I just about heard the first movt of the Anne Sophie Mutter Brahms recording before giving up. Compare that with Ferras and Karajan and you’ll see what I mean. One is music – the other noise.