When Karajan phoned Barenboim

The death of Pierre Bergé reminds me of the unexpected consequences of the wealthy fashion mogul’s decision to sack Daniel Barenboim as music director of the new Opéra Bastille in 1988. The cause of dismissal was, ostensibly, Barenboim’s $1.1 million salary, which Bergé wanted to cut by half.

Bergé argued that Barenboim lacked operatic experience (true, at the time), that his programme was heavily weighted towards German operas (also true) and that he was too independent (tick that, too).

But when Bergé got on the phone and tried to hire a replacement, he ran into a wall of maestro solidarity. No conductor of any consequence would agree to replace Barenboim. Most shocking of all, Herbert von Karajan cancelled a concert he was supposed to give at the Bastille, saying (through a spokesman) that ‘as Daniel Barenboim has been fired in debatable circumstances, he is no longer coming. He will conduct in Paris, but not at the Bastille.’

Now Karajan detested Barenboim. Richard Osborne, in his biography of the conductor, relates that the old Nazi practically leaped up from his sickbed after a heart attack when he was told that the young Israeli might replace him at a couple of Berlin concerts. Karajan never met Barenboim, never invited to him conduct at Salzburg or Berlin and never had a good word to say about the circle of musicians who hung out in Daniel’s den.

Despite these prejudices, the conductor-for-life of the Berlin Philharmonic joined and actively led a boycott against the Bastille, outraged that a state-appointed dilettant like Bergé could impinge on the powers of a legitimate music director. In a passion, he picked up the phone and called Barenboim in Paris, asking what else he could do to support him. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, which Barenboim once shared with me (‘I was astonished,’ he said), but the essence of it was that all maestros must stick together or the whole of civilisation will fail.

In retrospect, this would prove to be the final roar of the maestro myth. Karajan died in July 1989.

Five years later, record labels sacked their conductors wholesale and the power of the podium was broken.

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  • Atonement for Karajan’s atrocious behaviour following the Nazi dismissal of his Jewish colleagues on April 7th 1933. The following day Karajan joined the Nazi party for the first time.

      • (a) No atonement could ever be adequate, so “inadequate” is a given. Also, from what is known of HvK’s personality, guilt seems to have been a foreign emotion to him, so the chances that this was some kind of act of atonement are vanishingly small. (Besides, he’d had 40 years by that point; if he was interested in “atoning,” he’d probably have done something before then.)

        (b) He responded to the situation because this was an attack on the power of conductors, not because he liked or respected Barenboim in particular.

        • And yet HvK was very much loved by the great Carlos Kleiber, whose father and mother left Germany in 1936 because of the Nazis. Carlos visited HvK’s grave in Salzburg regularly. Carlos Kleiber did not suffer fools gladly!

          • As far as I know, Kleiber held Karajan in high esteem for musical reasons, not for his personality. If you think otherwise, I’d be very interested to know of any related sources of information. Besides, Carlos Kleiber’s behavior was nowhere near the level of his musicality (or else he’d have to be a saint!).

          • He did not. But to Petros’ point, besides seeing him as a very able conductor (sitting in many of his rehearsals) Kleiber also admired Karajan’s power and prestige – including the jets, the ability to make money, the glamorous image. All of which was very much of the hetero, all powerful leader. Given this image, it is not likely that CK was consciously (or unconsciously) hero-worshipping such a father figure if he had actually been gay, perhaps especially given CK’s own tastes and habits.

  • My question is, did the post-war Karajan generally avoid cooperation with Jewish musicians or did he just happen to dislike Daniel Barenboim? I remember Semyon Bychkov was invited to conduct and record with the Berliner Philharmoniker when Karajan was still alive. He is a Jew.

    I think it would be unfair to bring his Nazi background into play here if his resentment was merely towards Daniel Barenboim as an individual.

    • Karajan recorded with Alexis Weissenberg, for example.
      About “the Nazi Karajan”, there is an interesting exchange between Weissenberg and Elie Wiesel (in French) in this Arte TV documentary, at 12 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4_NJPNo5co
      It show the deep artistic and human respect Weissenberg had for Karajan.

        • Wrong.
          They were close friends.
          Weissenberg said he would never have been able to associate with someone who was a Nazi.

    • Clearly after WW2 no one openly admitted to anti-Semitism and I have no idea what was behind Karajan’s dislike of Barenboim. However his (Karajan’s) solidarity with the fate of his colleagues, as in this episode with DB, is of interest when you consider his appallingly opportunistic, cynical behaviour back in the early 1930s. Besides, his reputation today is tainted by the political choices he made back then, and in my view these are legitimate fodder for discussion.

    • HvK also promoted James Levine, who appeared several times at the Salzburg Festival during the 1980s.

      I met Karajan only once, but the mutual friend who introduced us had known him for decades and never heard him make a single anti-Semitic remark. Joining the Party was the act of a careerist. In the short run, it probably did help his career, although not as much as he had hoped. In the longer run, it was of course a reputational disaster, as is shown by the fact that it is still being mentioned in this thread, 27 years after his death.

      • I met Furtwaengler in Edinburgh, a charming eccentric with odd table manners. He ate the oddest stuff on a saucer, it made the diners laugh at the restaurant I took him and his wife to. He did not much care for Bruno Walter’s Ein Deutsches Requiem which he said was too fast. Andomeda have released it and I agree.

    • While I don’t feel I am entitled to judge Karajan’s motivation as if I were a moral saint, I see nothing exceptional in his solidarity gesture towards Barenboim. Helping other conductors to keep getting overpaid is also helping himself. Well, maybe he didn’t really care about money at that age, but for sure he knew that earning some good posthumous fame and being a role model and father figure for the younger generations could not be a bad thing.

      I believe Karajan would have had even greater success in this social media age. Our time is actually ready for a great revival of classical music. Just nobody has yet the ability like Karajan to pull it off.

      • “Revival”? Despite many apocalyptic proclamations,including by Uncle Norman here, “classical music” is far from “dead”.

        • The recording industry as a whole as it had been until the late 90s or so is more or less gone. Because of internet downloads and the ability to copy anything in original quality now. That doesn’t just apply to “classical” music, but any genre. Most albums in the “popular” music world are primarily “promotional” now and artists and bands make most of their money (if they make any) from touring. And the recording industry as it has been until the decline will never come back.
          In the “classical” field, interesting new avenues are being explored, like orchestras releasing recordings of live concerts on various media, or the BP’s Digital Concert Hall.

          • Your doomsday hyperbole is not backed up by the facts.
            The music industry and its revenue grow in fact (again).

            In countries like Japan and Germany with a very strong classical music segment, physical sales are still the biggest share of the market. Even though physical sales are declining worldwide. Streaming is growing.

      • You are wrong, H v K was a conductor of the swinging 60s, he maximised his income stream to the detriment of classical music, he blocked others, he took not interest in early music. He should never have been given a life contract with BPO, he was off sick most of the 70s with various bone/back problems from over doing sports! He should have been pensioned off by 1972.

  • Karajan was not a Nazi. He was most ambitious about having a career under the given political circumstances and made a Faustian pact with the devil of the day. How often must that again being stated?
    Karl Böhm’s way of taking over Fritz Busch’ position in Dresden on the other hand…

    • Well, people went this far or that far at the time. No doubt both conductors must have felt deeply embarrassed about what happened and just hoped that, if not mentioned, people would somehow forget. It would have helped if HvK would have explained himself after the war so that people could understand the human factors and the circumstances, but that would have meant a profound humility and regret which were out of character – such thing would probably have broken him down, as a kind of mental suicide. Dumm! Thus, pride is punishing itself.

    • A violinist friend who went through Kristallnacht as a boy in Berlin and later returned to the Berlin Phil as an ass’t concertmaster and member of their self-ruling committee told me that HvK was not antisemitic and was easy to work with.

      • Hellmut Stern, obviously. No need to keep the name a secret as Stern said the same things publicly in interviews and he also wrote a great book (“Saitensprünge”) about his remarkable life story. He also addresses conflicts he had with Karajan in his role as one of the orchestra’s elected representatives, but I don’t remember if he specifically discusses Karajan’s NSDAP past there.

          • Or you could learn German. It’s pretty useful to know if you are seriously interested in “classical” music anyway. 😉

          • And how can that even be “controversial”? German is one of the most important languages to know in the field of “classical” music, if one wants to read the primary sources in the original, and it’s obviously indispensable if one wants to learn more about the history of performance and performers in the German-speaking world. Pretty bizarre, actually, that some people seem to think that’s somehow an “offensive” concept…

    • Karajan may not have been an arm band wearing Nazi, but he was a party member to aid his career which was in limbo during the war, since Furtwaengler ruled the roost. Furt detested Karajan as an upstart. Also Karajan once he got the BPO for life monopolised his position resulting in blocking anyone else, he also controlled Salzburg refusing to allow anyone in at the Grossefestspielhaus. His strategy with DG was to saturate the market with his recordings, few of which have ever been Building a Library or critics choice apart from some Strauss, Verdi, his mainstream Beethoven cycles all have flaws in some way or other. He liked to sail close to the wind and did cut corners. His domination of classical music from 1955 to 89 did harm to others careers. He took no interest at all in early music revival a la Leonhardt etc.

      • So much nonsense. First of all, he had a contract for six concert weeks a season with Berlin Phil. So Berlin Phil played about 75% of their concerts with other conductors. How could he ‘block anyone else’ if 75% and more were with other conductors?

      • Karajan conducted … Albinoni, Bach, Boccherini, Corelli, Dittersdorf, Gesualdo, Händel, Lassus, Locatelli, Monteverdi, Pachelbel, Palestrina, Torelli and Vivaldi.

        • and those performances show clearly that “He took no interest at all in early music revival a la Leonhardt etc.”

          • Yes, but he din’t have to, or what are you implying?
            Because someone wasn’t especially interested in 17th century performance practice for 20th century ears, that doesn’t make him a bad conductor, or does it?

          • No I’m simply agreeing with the early poster, he paid no attention to HIPP as it has become known, indeed his performances of ‘early music’ were very old fashioned even at the time.

    • Perhaps Karajan “was not a Nazi”, but at least he was a racist.

      Richter recounts how he told Herbert von Karajan that he was “a German, too”, and Karajan replied: “then I am a Chinese”.

      If you actually dig deeper Karajan’s Greek & Slovenian family roots you will find out that his family was coming from the Aromanian regions of Greece. (In other words: Karajan’s ancestors were speaking a Romanian dialect). I would like to hear Karajan’s comments on this ?

      • But that utmost despicable comment would then not be about race, ergo HvK not be a racist. It is a comment made in the hubris of cultural superiority. You could label HvK a ‘cultural supremacist’. Obviously both Richter and Karajan are of the same ‘race’?

        Actually the whole nonsense about race is false science to begin with. There are no races. The differences which exist are in phenotype and in cultural conditioning, not in genotype.

        • Well, if that be the case, I don’t understand what “cultural supremacy” would a conductor of Greek-Aromanian/Slovenian heritage have over a Ukrainian-born German pianist.

          But not my problem, really.

        • Anon you forgot many Slovenes and Ukrainians ended up in the SS running the camps, they were the rump left over from the old Hapburg Crown lands, clearly they felt hard done by.

      • That’s a bunch of nonsense, Jean. In fact, he did have a good point there, if he actually made that remark to Richter. It actually suggests he looked at that more from the point of view of what cultural environment one has grown up in, not from where one’s ancestors came from. That’s the opposite of “racism”.
        And Karajan did “comment” on his ancestry, it wasn’t a “secret” at all.

          • I have heard or read Karajan commenting on his background and his ancestors in multiple interviews, Jean. Basically he just told the story as it is confirmed in other sources, e.g. in Osborne’s biography.
            I don’t remember if he talks about that here (it’s been a long time since I watched it), but even if his ancestry doesn’t come up, it’s still an interesting interview which I think sheds some light on some of his views about various things.


        • Good point? Really not the case.
          Richter mentioned it in an interview shortly before his death.
          They just had recorded in Christuskirche and then played Beethoven Triple concerto in Philharmonie together. (D. Oistrach, Rostropovich, Richter) and in the usual euphoric mood after they went off stage, ready to go back for bows, he said – JFK’s ‘Isch been ain Berlineer’ soundbit in mind – ‘Heute bin ich ein Deutscher’ (today I’m a German), to which Karajan replied (according to Richter) ‘Dann bin ich ein Chinese’ (then I’m a Chinese).
          It is what it is. Ugly moment.

          • By the way, Karajan was not a German but an Austrian. So, strictly speaking, the silly remark does not seem to express ‘cultural suprematicism’. Obviously K saw Richter as a Russian which, in fact, he was. It is a crazy reaction anyway.

          • You weren’t there, “Anon”, so you don’t know if the story is true, and if so, in what tone both men made their remarks and how they came across. People often do misunderstand each other. So it’s pointless to speculate about how exactly someone made something. If you want to get a good understanding of what someone’s attitude towards a specific subject is or was, you need to look at testimony and evidence with more substance.
            And of course you have no idea what Richter really had “in mind either”.

          • “testimony with more substance”
            Get off the high horse. It doesn’t get more substantial than a first hand account by a very respectable persona on camera.
            And Richter was not someone who was very talkative or known to make up stories just for the heck of it.
            There are not too many ways to interpret this exchange. You seem to be a fervent fan of HvK, that’s all fine, but it doesn’t make you the best arbitrator in this.

          • Wrong again, “Anon”. I am not “a fervent fan” in the sense of being an uncritical admirer of Karajan at all. In fact, for a long period of time I had a probably way too negative view of him both as a musician (and in particular of many of his overly manipulated recordings) and as a person (to the small degree to which that actually interests me and to which it even makes sense to investigate that) even though I always understood that he was an extraordinarily competent conductor as far as the craftsmanship of music making was involved.
            You obviously have no better arguments here, nor do you seem to possess the basic skills of putting stories and bits of information into a bigger context to evaluate them properly, with the appropriate degree of healthy skepticism and taking into account that there *always* are at least two sides to *every* story.

          • Oh dear, tell me, what possibly could be the other side of the story, Karajan saying he is Chinese, if Richter wants to be a (musical) German while playing Beethoven? That for Karajan being a Chinese was the highest aspiration?

  • And some had principles, Toscanini among the most eminent. When he cancelled Bayreuth, his Jewish friend Bruno Walter wrote him to please continue, rationalizing the situation. AT responded, paraphrasing, ” I am a simple man, and not given to such complexity, NO.”

    From PBS blurb re “Orchestra of Exiles”:
    Music and politics were close to Arturo Toscanini’s heart, and he is a perfect example of artists and musicians who fight back against injustice and dictatorships. The most famous musician of the 20th century, the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini joined Bronislaw Huberman in his effort to save Jewish musicians from persecution by the Nazis. By associating himself with Huberman’s project to start a new orchestra in Palestine, the conductor drew welcome publicity to the cause. He volunteered to conduct the first season of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in 1936-37. His reactions to the public’s reception of the orchestra are included in “The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro” (2012) by Cesare Civetta.

    Toscanini was very popular in Germany, particularly for his appearance at the Bayreuth Festival, but once Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power, Toscanini refused to return as his rebuff to Fascism. Hitler even wrote to Toscanini personally in hopes of convincing him to appear at the festival, but Toscanini would not change his mind. “It is my duty to fight for the cause of artists persecuted by Nazis,” said Toscanini. The world-famous musician was equally outspoken against Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship in Italy.

  • Many of those making comments here have not read or are otherwise dismissing the impressive scholarship of Richard Osbourne on the subject. It pretty clearly supports Karajan’s own narrative, which is that he joined in 1935 so that he could secure the Aachen music directorship, and the application was backdated. Karajan made it clear that he would have signed anything to get that job.

    Those who love denouncing Karajan as a Nazi (in the sense of being a believer) conveniently forget that he married his second wife in 1942, Anita Gutermann, who had a Jewish grandparent and thus was seen by the regime as being a Jew. That’s not exactly how a real Nazi would endear themselves to the regime. And Karajan certainly paid a price for this.

    Further, look at the arc of Karajan’s entire career. The man was about music, first and foremost, from beginning to end, and was apolitical. He did not get involved in politics later in life when there were plenty of opportunities for that. That says something. The only involvement he had with politics was to secure his musical positions in Germany and Austria. Beyond that, nothing.

    I admit to being a huge fan of Karajan the conductor, who in my opinion was a great conductor, period, and by far the greatest conductor of Bruckner there has ever been. Having read a lot about this subject, other than a signed party application document, there is nothing Karajan did on the ground that suggests he had even an iota of real involvement with the Nazi party. He wanted to create music, and that is what he did, and if that meant he had to join the party to do so, he did so quite willingly. He didn’t care about the political, just the music. Those who knew him have all said that they never heard even one negative anti-Jewish word from his mouth. He had a number of close Jewish friends.

    It’s unfortunate that a lot of people see Karajan as a bogeyman for all things National Socialist. By all accounts, there were other leading musicians who really were Nazis and strong supporters who do not get this sort of treatment, such as Karl Bohm. Karajan is an easy target because he was likely someone who had Asberger’s, who was either bisexual or a closeted gay man, whose interpersonal relationships were never easy (probably related to the Asberger’s but to a lesser extent his sexual orientation), and yet who existed in the realm of genius and thus made music that set apart from all the rest, which surely created envy on the part of others because he was an extraordinary talent.

    Those of you who feel it necessary to denounce Karajan as a Nazi and otherwise slam him, go ahead if it makes you feel better. Don’t listen to his recordings or otherwise celebrate the many great achievements of this legendary conductor and musician. Deny yourself the many pleasures he can offer. It’s just a shame that Karajan has become for some a primary focus of all the (justifiable) anger at that awful period in history. While it may be emotionally justified, it also happens to be largely historically inaccurate.

    When horrible world events surround you, what would any of us do? Many want to say that they would do the defiant thing, at such great personal and family cost. Perhaps that’s true. But look at what’s happening in realtime here in the U.S. How many otherwise decent people are actually resisting the horrors of what are unfolding here in the U.S.? How may otherwise decent people are actually enabling in one way or another what is happening? It’s easy for people in hindsight to look back and say, what Karajan or anyone else did was morally reprehensible and I would have never done that. But is that really true? How many of us have actually had to live in those sort of dire circumstances? The evidence of what we see in human behavior, from other circumstances including ones that we have lived through (the run up to the Iraq war, for example), suggests that the truly principled persons who actually stand up in a meaningful way, and truly resist, are few and far between.

      • Klaus Lang: “Herbert von Karajan: Der philharmonische Alleinherrscher” may be what you are looking for, a well researched and critical but fair portrait – auf Deutsch!

        • The bizarre thing is that classical music does not lend itself at all for anything like power politics, it is supposed to invite for civilizational values, not to stimulate power-hungry conductors. A ‘power-hungry’ conductor is something like a bloodthirsty bhuddist, an impossible combination.

          • Hitler was obsessed with recording all of Bruckner, H v K conducted Der Orchester des Fuhrers in St Florian 1944.

          • There was no “Der Orchester des Fuhrers” and it’s *das* Orchester anyway. There was a “Reichs-Bruckner-Orchester” in Linz which was supported by Hitler but you obviously don’t really know anything about the background there. Don’t try to make up stuff in false German, it just signals to people that you want to pretend to know more than you do.

      • Hello Analeck,

        Here are the sources: Richard Osbourne’s voluminous biography of Karajan, and there’s a subtle, sideways discussion of the issue in Roger Vaughan’s biography. In the Osbourne book, he quotes Karajan’s second wife having told his third wife, Eliette, something to the effect of “you do know he’s a homosexual, right?”

        In terms of the sideways discussion from Roger Vaughan’s book, he openly states that Karajan’s inner circle of friends/confidants were all gay men. Here is where you can “do the math” as they say. Anyone can have a single gay friend or a couple, but when either your entire inner circle or nearly all of it consists of gay men, that indicates something. And I say this as a gay man myself. Can anyone think of a single hetero male they know, or know of, who’s entire circle of close friends are gay men?

        And by the way, while many here may not be aware of this, wife #2 (Anita) was one of Karajan’s closest friends for the remainder of his life. She did not go away. And yet Eliette never felt threatened by her. Guess why?

        That Karajan married three women and fathered two children means nothing as to his sexual orientation. Plenty of gay men, myself included, have had wonderful relationships with women, including sex. But at the end of the day, sexual orientation is not about the physical act of sex, but rather, emotional response. And for sure, a man who emotionally forms the closest loving bonds with other men, and does not form similar sorts of loving emotional bonds with a woman, is by definition a gay man. From everything I’ve gathered about Karajan’s story, he was a closeted gay man. Perhaps he was genuinely bisexual. But for sure, there is a very strong same-sex component to his story, which in that time and era almost certainly means he was a closeted gay man.

        Some people may nitpick this analysis to death, and that’s fine. I’m just telling you what I know from my own life experiences, and Karajan’s biography confirms so much of this. If others disagree, that’s fine, and anyone is welcome to their opinion. But there’s so much about Karajan’s life that fits the typical closeted gay man portrait, and to me it’s not even a close call.

        I had never heard that Karajan and Janowitz had an affair. Maybe they did. That doesn’t change anything that I stated above. And as to the person who thought that suggests why Karajan kept working with Janowitz, I have another thought–maybe it was because of her intensely beautiful voice, that to this day, is still so incredibly unique and memorable.

        • You POV makes the most sense for anyone being a bit informed about him and his surroundings.
          Also about Janowitz: Karajan had this idea to work with singers who had relatively weak but exceptionally enchanting voices – having kept some naturalness, not the ugly disappearance of vowel colors that ‘belcanto’ brings by default onto the stage, making every vowel sound like a sound between dark A and O – because he believed strongly in the meaning of recordings. And in the studio, those voices could be boosted over any orchestra of any size and level.

        • However interesting all this information may be, it is entirely irrelevant to the subject. If HvK had to cover-up his private interests, that is a mere private tragedy. It seems obligatory in our days to destroy any privacy, even posthumously, of ‘famous performers’, as if this would add to the understanding of their work. What if it is discovered that Bruno Walter suffered from constipation and could therefore be a bit grumpy at rehearsels? I saw a famous conductor (now dead) at a rehearsel in ridiculous little leather boots and a bunch of long-haired ephebe groupies waiting for him in the foyer, but what do such things tell us about interpretation? Nothing.

          • Totally agree! And the comments from somebody about homosexuals exclusively having male friends for intimacy isn’t correct since many homosexual men have a large number of very close female friends. In fact, that’s one of the markers that somebody is gay; they have close female friends who are, well, just friends. It is interesting to note that heterosexual men mostly have all-male friendships as well!!

        • No, Janowitz’s voice has a nasty jarring at the top end, listen to her in Ein Deutsches Requiem, Elisabeth Grummer far nicer.

          • In case you are referring to my earlier comment about anecdotes – I didn’t say they are useless most of the time because they don’t give us a “deeper” understanding of someone’s “art” – I said they are very often just freely made up, and that means in most cases, they don’t give us a better understanding of *anything*, including the artist’s personality. If anything, they only tell us a little about how the persons who are telling them want to see the person they are supposedly about.

          • @ MICHAEL SCHAFFER

            I am not sure whether your reply about anecdotes was referring to my comment, which was actually not referring to your comment, but to John’s. 😀

            The comment system here is really a mess. So confusing.

        • Who knows what he got up to after dark, but his manner was very camp. His conversation on the occasion I met him consisted almost entirely of Austrian theatrical gossip from the distant past. (‘Do you remember when so-and-so fell through the trap-door in the stage of the Festspielhaus during a rehearsal of *Jedermann* at the Festival of 1932?’ — Obviously not, since no one else present had been alive in 1932.) His coterie had to pretend to find all this side-splittingly funny, but their eye-rolling when he wasn’t looking suggested that they had heard these stories a thousand times.

          A rum chap, but a remarkable conductor — especially of opera.

          • He appeared to me to have no sense of humour at all, unlike his close friend Carlos Kleiber. The latter was in every way the direct opposite of HvK; perhaps more like Erich Kleiber!!

          • Except that “Jedermann” in 1932 (like in almost every year) was performed outdoors in front of the Salzburger Dom, not in the theater. No “trap doors” there. So you obviously made that story up. 😉

          • Just keep in mind that the vast majority of “wonderful anecdotes” that people tell turn out to be just freely made up (or uncritically repeated from dubious sources). Same about most “great quotes”. One hint that someone just made up an anecdote that he supposedly is part of himself is when people post those anonymously.

      • I don’t have much experience of marriage since I’ve been married only once, but I think I could somehow feel if a man would prefer his own sex. Marrying three times in a row shows he loved marriage, I would say.


        • I enjoyed your somewhat paradoxical opening comment!!!

          In various documentaries and things I’ve read about von Karajan he seems to have had few, if any, real friends. That’s why I find the coterie thing very curious indeed.

          • Karajan was very, if not most, concerned about his public image. So being married to a high society glamour girl finally gave him what he needed. Cover and protection from ambiguity. This all being speculation, possibly pointless, he might not have been a very sexual person to begin with, in the sense that he might not have sought physical proximity to other humans much. He seemed to be a mindset, who was quite content with being alone and unbothered, at least at the end of the day.
            One insight are his invoices to the hotel he stayed in all the decades of his Berlin reign. The invoices were sent to Berlin Phil who paid then for it.
            No hints of parties or excesses or even other people he catered to. Very modest consumption, maybe a beer here and then, a water, some applesauce.
            Or he might have been especially secretive, paying the expenses for the reported late night get togethers in his rooms with his acolytes always personally. I don’t know.

          • Correct, “Anon”. You don’t know. Nor do you know if the BP paid for Karajan’s hotel in Berlin. Or if that wasn’t just common practice for all conductors who came to work with the orchestra. But how would you know? Or that there was only “apple sauce” served at parties hosted by Karajan?

          • Because Klaus Stoll, retired bass player and former member of the orchestra board, has given a detailed account of his first hand knowledge about this in public domain interviews in a documentary film about Karajan. For someone reserving the right to give superior judgement about the truth of the stories others cite, you are too badly informed. Take it easy.

          • On the contrary, I am rather well informed about the subject because I grew up in Berlin at the time and knew a lot of the involved people personally. Including Klaus Stoll, who I knew quite well, and Wolfgang Stresemann, the Intendant of the BPhO thoughout much of the Karajan era. If you want to get a good first hand impression of what Karajan was really like, you should read his book “Ein seltsamer Mann”. It’s very critical and fair.
            I think I may also have seen the interview bits with Stoll you are referring to, but it is clear you are just taking some of his commentaries out of context. Or rather, you don’t *understand* the context here.

          • What’s your problem, why so bitter and full-of-yourself Mr. Schaffer? I know that book well. You are not the only one on this planet who knows a bit of interna.

          • Has nothing to do with being “bitter” or “full-of-myself” or “being a fervent admirer”. These emotional labels apply to most of your anonymous mud-flinging here, not to my skeptical comments. The difference here is that to me all that is just mildly interesting from a “historical” point of view as I grew up in the musical environment in which Karajan was at the time a significant personality, that’s all. But to you it seems to be more dramatic and important and you clearly have an “agenda” that’s not even well hidden behind your biased comments and anecdotes.

      • One of my former Berlin flies on the wall had an uncle who lived in the same street as one of the porters of K’s hotel, who told him this story: together with a young waiter from the restaurant, and disguised with a long beard and dark glasses, HvK would – after concerts in the Phiharmonie or after quite taxing recording sessions – disappear in Berlin’s night life to indulge in his secret obsession, of which even his wife did not know: playing chess well into the next morning in popular chess club ‘Das tapfere Pferd’.

        • LÖL – this is a good example for a story which is obviously completely made up, complete with the telltale signs like “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone”…

          • That was before the Turm was sold to a competing chess club who was better at chess. When you talk to elderly Berliners living around the Bleibtreustrasse about the Pferd, they begin to look grave and tell you about the riots in 1978 when different chess gangs were involved in violent clashes with each other and with the police. They tell you about the barricades made of chessboards, and the fierce throwing of chess pieces (one of the gang leaders had constructed a contraption which could shoot pawns like a canon) which caused quite a few black eyes. Although the neighbourhood was well-known for its tolerance and chess-friendliness, new regulations of chess clubs in Berlin got considerably stricter after that incident. The Pferd had very strict entrance regulations and you had to be a member to get in.

          • If they shot like Pachelbel canons, then it was quite a machine.
            Now I was told, the street where the club resided was named after HvK’s wife Elliot frequently called the owner from Anif/Salzburg asking: “Bleibt Herbert mir heute treu”? (Does Herbert remain faithful to me tonight?). So the street was nicknamed “Bleibtreu-Strasse”.
            The chess friendly mayor Willy Brandt, a closet chess player himself, then officially renamed the street.

    • I think you made a point you did not intend to make – What Karajan did and didn’t do to get ahead was morally reprehensible, on the same par as politicians in power in the US enabling the current situation is morally reprehensible, and neither are “otherwise decent people”. That said, he was a brilliant musician. No one needs to gloss any behaviors over.

  • Karajan was just 25 went Hitler took control of Germany in January 1933. Though youth can’t excuse his silence, then or after, IMHO Furtwängler’s atitude ( he was already 47 ) is much more to blame, specially when I watch his nazi film of the Meistersinger ouverture with all those swastikas.

    Karajan humanism can be found in nearly all his performances and recordings, and in the interviews of the artists who played or sang for him, such as Janowitz, Freni, Tomowa-Sintow, Zimerman, Mutter, etc.

    • You conveniently airbrush away the reality that the vast majority of Germans and Austrians thought Hitler was wonderful; the VAST majority.

      • If one tries to imagine how it must have felt, anno 1933, in Germany after a devastating economic implosion and all kinds of troubles a weak government was incapable of handling, then it may seem that – without the future which we now know – the little crazy fanatic with his speeches of ‘make Germany great again’ would have sounded like a Trump or Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders, and the uninformed and unthinking masses who suffered the most, would finally have found something that gave them hope. Add to that the theatricals, and mass hysteria does the rest (a phenomenon we can now also witness in the USA). If the allies in 1918 had done the same what the allies did in 1945: binding the country into the western political context and help it recover, all the following problems would have been dealt with very differently and the little fanatic would never develop beyond a Geert WIlders.

        • I know enough history (and have lived in Austria for a time) to understand exactly HOW the rise of Hitler occurred and why. I was simply making the point about his near-universal popularity, save for a few people like Erich Kleiber who was married to a Jewish woman and some other creative artists. The blatant anti-semitism and violence towards the Jews was the giveaway and yet nobody did anything about it because they already hated the Jews. They were easy scapegoats. In no way can this era be compared to Donald Trump or any other western democratically elected leader who has no ‘manifesto’ and professional thugs to beat up his racial nemeses and encourage people to boycott their businesses. Leave that to the Left, if you please.

          • Not true at all. The actively anti-semitic and violent were a minority. The problem and the enabling force was the silent majority who looks the other way. Out of fear, out of ignorance, out of lack of empathy, also being more than busy with their own problems and questions of survival, many reasons.
            It is always that silent majority, that enables the evil, anywhere, anytime.

          • @anon: The anti-Trump majority is not silent. Even the Republican party’s leaders have opposed or criticized Trump, most recently on his support of racism.

          • @Petros
            Well, the situations are not identical, apples and oranges. But opposition against Hitler was also fierce, until he established totalitarian rule.
            The current development in the US has all the signs of a proto-fascist direction toward fascism. And not only since Trump. They are just heating the water the frog is sitting in a bit slower.

          • Ruth Kleiber was not Jewish! This misinformation is obviously the result of a casual comment made by Ioan Holender after Carlos Kleiber’s death. His mother was born Ruth Baumgardner in Waterloo, IA. The Baumgardners were what is sometimes called Palatine Lutherans. They emigrated from the Palatinate to England in the early 1700s, and then on to the Colonies in the mid-1700s. Ruth’s mother was Allie Robie, of Scottish and English background. Her family was Methodist and Presbyterian. Allie married Louis Baumgardner, a railroad mechanic, and gave birth to Ruth. Louis died of illness a couple years later, then Allie married Stephen Goodrich, a cousin of Benjamin Franklin Goodrich of BF Goodrich fame. The Goodrich family had settled in Western New York, between Buffalo and Erie, PA. In the mid-1800s some went West. The Goodriches were of some means, but nothing like what their famous scion would indicate. Much of Ruth’s Iowa family had some local prestige, being successful farmers with substantial landholdings. So, Carlos Kleiber, this enigmatic symbol of Central European culture, was partially descended from plain, hardy Iowans. I know this because Ruth was my grandmother’s cousin.

          • Thank you, Erica. I have never seen this stated so clearly. What is certain is that Carlos considered English to be his first language, literally his mother tongue.

      • That’s not true!
        Hitler was voted in by about 27% of the German adult population in 1932 in the last free elections.

        44.3 mio eligible voters.
        80% of the eligible voters voted.
        35.5 mio eligible votes for all parties
        11.7 million votes for the NSDAP (Nazi party)

  • … Barenboim lacked operatic experience (true, at the time), that his programme was heavily weighted towards German operas (also true)

    Fwiw, he had these, at least, by 1988:

    Berlioz, Béatrice et Bénédict,
    1979, DG

    Berlioz, damnation de Faust, La,
    1978, DG

    Cimarosa, matrimonio segreto, Il,
    1975, DG

    Mozart, Don Giovanni,
    1973, EMI

    Mozart, nozze di Figaro, Le,
    1976, EMI

    Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila,
    1978, DG

    Verdi, Aida,
    1982, live in Berlin, Ponto

    Wagner, Tristan und Isolde,
    1983, DVD, Bayreuth, Philips

    • I had wondered about that too. I knew he had made several opera recordings in the 1970’s, which means he must have done many more performances that were not made into recordings.

      Maybe they meant he had little experience being in charge of an opera company? That makes more sense as an objection.

    • The Giovanni and Figaro recordings followed a series of live performances each over two years between 1973 and 1976 at the Edinburgh Festival. His mentor Peter Diamand was the Festival Director.

  • Sir Thomas Beecham once asked the Philharmonia who had been conducting them recently. The leader replied, H v K, to which Sir Thomas replied, ah a musical Malcolm Sargent!

  • Like Here Doctor I am also a huge Karajan fan and I agree 101pc in his what iwould call a rational summing up of the maestro and the awful times he lived in.yes he was ambitious and a supreme opportunist. but just listen to the results that produced over the years

  • I recently posted a comment on this thread and because of some glaring errors I wish to repost again with some editions. Whilst I would describe myself as a huge fan of Karajan he was ( and I fear will always be) a controversial figure, but in saying that I agree101pc with Herr doctor,Karajan lived for music and the joy it would bring to many people,ok he was and ambitious and an opportunist (as many others also were) but just listen to the results he achieved

  • I know there’s some question on here of whether Karajan would work with Jews (obviously he would and did), but the real question seems to have been whether Jews would work with Karajan. I remember reading that Perlman, Zukerman, Mintz, et al, declined invitations to perform &/or record with him.

  • I can see a good reason for not liking Barenboim: he isn’t all that good a conductor. Again and again he falls down when he reaches the climax of a symphony. Some of his interpretations are bland too.

    • Not true. Yesterday and the day before he conducted the Staatskapelle Berlin in superb performances of Bruckner 8 and 9 at the Philharmonie de Paris.

    • I dunno, I like him. He’s so prolific that it seems like everything he does must be glib & superficial, but then when I listen to his recordings they always sound really good. (Perhaps I lack discernment.) Never had a chance to see him live, though, and most likely never will; so my opinion is based only on recordings.

  • Hi Bruce I was lucky enough to see and hear Karajan live and treasure the memory for the rest of my life a legend

  • A response to the much earlier comment by Michael Schaffer who wrote on September 11, “The recording industry as a whole as it had been until the late 90s or so is more or less gone. Because of internet downloads and the ability to copy anything in original quality now.”

    That is not the primary reason, though. The unexpected rise and huge popularity of Naxos through an extremely affordable price point and innovative marketing pushed the majors down a long slippery slope. The majors themselves, by refusing to re-release at much lower prices their extensive back catalogues in fear that this would kill off what was left of the golden goose of their premium price CD labels (they had to be premium price due to the huge fees they paid to artists like HvK and many others), effectively dug their own grave.

    • Probably not true as DG and the other “major” classical labels had been doing just that, constantly re-packaging and re-releasing their back catalogs in mid and low price series, for a long time, at least since the 70s. They continued to do that in the 80s and 90s and it apparently didn’t hurt sales of new recordings all that much or at all as people were hungry for new versions on CD, so they re-recorded all the standard repertoire and much more once again, several times over in many cases. But that boom brought by the introduction of the CD trailed out in the early-mid 90s – just about the time when it became technically somewhat easy and cheap to copy CDs on PCs and standalone CD burners.

      • Sorry, but it is very true as several books and commentaries – including one by NL – attest. Yes, back catalogues were released – but only in a tiny volume with only a small number of titles. The undisputed fact was the labels had for ages agreed to pay monstrous fees for ‘star’ musicians and orchestras and therefore had to maintain much better sales of the recent releases to cover costs. Since the 1960s they had also tied themselves to high royalties payable to the artists and musicians. It therefore made zero sense for them to flood the market with cheap back issues and spend cash actually marketing them. Naxos changed the model – excellent engineering, low fees and no royalties – and soon flooded the market with new digital recordings at less than a third of the price whereas the majors were still stuck releasing lower cost analogue versions, most of them royalty-free. By the mid-1990s the majors had finally caught on and started issuing many more items of their back catalogue. But it was too late. In the face of the upstart Naxos and its new outlets in places like supermarkets and then later in digital access, their greed had all but destroyed their own market.

        • Keep in mind that the source you allude to here was so full of mistakes, the publisher actually had to withdraw the book after he lost a lawsuit – brought by Klaus Heymann, the founder of Naxos…
          I understand that this is an attractive scenario, with greed and vainglorious big stars who ruin everything, kind of a “Fall of the Roman Empire” thing, but the reality is probably much more complex and less dramatic. There was a time when making and selling “classical” recordings was a fairly profitable undertaking and big “stars” like Karajan, Solti, Bernstein and others were paid high fees and royalties by major labels, but the “forces of the market” were in play there, too, and these labels did know what they were doing. Karajan recordings did make DG tons of money back in the day, but he was still never quite in a position to “dictate his terms” to them either. You can read quite a bit about the complex relationships between labels and their big “stars” in Osborne’s book, it’s much more informative and credible than the simplistic doomsday scenario you are referring to here.
          DG, for instance, has had a very extensive back catalog of older recordings for lower prices at least since the 70s (“Resonance”, “Signature”, “Galleria” and others) but while a lot of their later stuff was indeed rather well produced, the earlier Naxos products were generally much inferior to what the “major” labels had to offer. They found a good niche with “rare and exotic” repertoire, too.
          But none of that has all that much to do with why the bottom fell out of the recording industry as a whole in the mid-late 90s. How much even the “popular” music recording industry was affected by that even though it is generally *much* more profitable than the “classical” music industry (and it has rather different dynamics when it comes to artists and repertoire, too) demonstrates that it is a far bigger phenomenon and it has more to do with the emergence of new content delivery methods than anything else.

          • Mr Schaffer, your first sentence is an outright lie. No body lost a lawsuit. I agreed to modify one page in the UK edition only, that is all. You may have read differently online, but those are the facts. You can verify them by comparing the page about Heymann in the UK edition with the US, German or any other. Now, since you are such a stickler for facts, please withdraw your statement and apologise. Quickly, before I get annoyed. NL

          • You mean technically the lawsuit was not lost, but ended with a settlement? Is the information here correct?

            “…when Heymann sued Norman Lebrecht, the firebrand British music critic who published false statements about Heymann and the company in his book Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry. An undisclosed sum to cover legal costs and damages, the pulling of all unsold copies of the book and a public apology was the price Lebrecht and his publisher, Penguin Books, had to pay.”


            Or here?


          • No, the information is incorrect. Heymann did not sue me. He sued the UK publisher, Penguin, which made an out-of-court settlement. IT applied only to the UK edition of the book. That is all I am prepared to say about this very old story. But your sweeping opening sentence is both untrue and offensive. Kindly apologise.

          • Thanks for clarifying that one detail (about the settlement which I guess *technically* does not mean the publisher *lost* the lawsuit) and sorry I misunderstood that detail, Norman. But I didn’t say Heymann sued *you* personally and as far as I understand, it doesn’t work like that anyway when someone wants statements made in a book retracted. Does it change the overall picture though? I recommend you google the old German expression “wer austeilt muss auch einstecken können”… 🙂

          • It completely changes the picture. Your refusal to withdraw the opening sentence is shameful. You write: ‘the source you allude to here was so full of mistakes, the publisher actually had to withdraw the book after he lost a lawsuit’.

            Factually untrue. The source is not full of mistakes. Nor did the publisher lose a lawsuit. You are a double liar, Mr Schaffer.

          • I have read Osborne’s excellent biography and I know something about the classical recording industry having worked in it for a while. The majors had real difficulty seeing the writing on the wall. They all but dismissed cheaper recordings and continued to put most of their eggs into their premium labels even when sales were falling off. You forget that Naxos was aiming at a totally different market – geographically and in terms of sales – in its early days. It did not expect to compete with the majors. The majors were also well aware that more recent arrivals like Sony were happy to lash out even vaster amounts to lure their ‘stars’ away. Unfortunately those stars had a habit of dying off before the investment could pay off. I maintain my scenario is correct. You clearly don’t. Further argument is futile.

  • I never recall reading that Karajan had a heart attack (other than the one that killed him in 1989) so not sure what you are talking about leaping up out of bed after a heart attack?

  • Just to remind that all of this started with a nice phone call from Karajan to a younger conductor who has been unjustly fired.

  • When reading the book “Herbert von Karajan: Der philharmonische Alleinherrscher” recommended by Herrn Schaffer, I learned that there exists a stunning stereo(!) recording of Bruckner 8 by Karajan and the Preussische Staatskapelle in 1944.

    Does anybody know when can I find this recording? Is it commercially available on CD?

  • Good day everybody, forgive me for interrupting but I must say a few words. I grew up in USSR, I am 49 now. Back than we had a strong structure, a fortress of unions and organizations, which were all under control of the communist party. In order to get somewhere in your career, one simply had to join the Union first, such as Writers Union of USSR, Artist’s Union, Composers, etc. in order at some point to join the club. Without that, one was under a great rick of getting to nowhere in the best case or to go far East, to work for free, they used to call it none conformism. Germany was not any different. Maestro had to join the party for the career growth, otherwise he was at great rick to end up a general without his army. Currently, I am writing my thesis, about Cappella Sistina. Due to the subject I had to reach for mostly unknown documents regarding Maestro Buonarroti. Trust me, if these materials would be widely published, people would begin to curse his name. Long story short, we are must look at the artist, at his achievements, at the influence he still has and will have . This is the most important. If he did any mistakes, like we are all do, we must forget those and look at the bigger picture. With all due respect.

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