How Karajan discovered television

How Karajan discovered television


norman lebrecht

September 26, 2020

A fascinating reminiscence by his longterm sidekick Peter Csobadi.

‘Television did not interest him. I gathered all my persuasive powers and said, “we’ve got 100,000DM for you”. Then he became very interested.’



  • It’s always funny to watch a video of a concert of Karajan and to make a comparaison with the concerts of today : no images of the faces of the musicians and a Karajan always modest.

    • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

      James Galway’s beard was never filmed. Carry on had a phobia for baldies and beardies, he forced wigs on them! You could not make it up.

      • Champagne Charlie says:

        Yes I heard he made baldies in BPO wear wigs when making those vids. I would have worn a Handel one just for gas!

      • Paganono says:

        I asked Galway who he thought was the greatest conductor he had ever played with – “Stokowski” was his immediate answer. When we discussed how Karajan died, he said “I don’t know, but I hope it hurt!”

        • MJA says:

          This must be a different Galway to the flautist whose positive views on Karajan are well known in various biographies and documentaries.

        • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

          Yes Belfast Jimmy never really like him, there was no “craic” in Carry on at all.

        • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

          The sycophants always come out of the woodwork. They are picture frames nothing more. Their job is to simply to present without making themselves more important than the music and without imposing any of their odd mannerisms on the music, for example Mantovani legato.

          I think Sir Isaiah Berlin said it best reviewing two concerts at Salzburg in 1948.

          “Karajan seems to conceive music as a series of self-contained episodes, and these he articulates one by one with a clarity of detail and a strictly calculated imperious organization of tempi and dynamics which moves with the remorseless accuracy of a dive-bomber intent upon its prey.”

          (Lunchtime O’Boulez has a column in Private Eye).

      • The fact is that the more you learn about Karajan, his life, the way he managed the orchestras and his comportment with the others directors (Celibidache, Bernestein and Harnoncourt…) the more you don”t like his music and the man. I don’t want to organize a boycott I have many records I continue to play but it’s a fact for me.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          The more I hear about Karajan, the more I learn to see him as a human, not in black and white. He was exceptionally gifted and flawed.
          Many of his interpretations are not to my taste. Yet his best work, based on my highly subjective taste, is formidable and pretty wide ranging. His legacy is by no means limited to his countless recordings: it lives on among many musicians.
          With hindsight, I regret skipping some of his concerts. Back then I was an angry young man who focused on his flaws. I skipped the chance to listen to the Mahler 9th symphony live in the early 1980s, around the time when he made his legendary recording: my loss.

          • Interinsting that you talk about Mahler and Karajan. Karajan didn’t understood the importance of Mahler like Mengelberg Bernstein and Kubelic. He recorded only at the end of his life the 9th and I’am not sure at all that he recorded all the symphonies. Anyway Karajan was a giant of course and he was the first to understand the importance of music in Asia for the future. But he didn’t deserve the importance he had in the 60’s and 70’s. There was not enough space for the other directors of the moment. But with the marketing of DG he had a very powerful friend. It remind me what he live today with Lang lang and miss Wang

        • MJA says:

          Interesting. For me, the reverse is true – perhaps we’re looking in different places. Glad to learn you’re not going to “organise a boycott”…

        • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

          Agree. I sent all mine to War on Want!

        • Novagerio says:

          Mr.Concertgebouw79: Get some better cards to play with; Harnoncourt was a highly admirable musicologist, but hardly a real conductor!

    • J Morris Jones says:

      Yes, reminds me of the Waylon Jennings line ‘I’m a good ole’ boy/You know my mamma loves me/ But she don’t understand they’ll keep showin’ my hands and not my face on TV’

  • Alexander Hall says:

    I agree, this is a fascinating document. Not for the denigrators of this great conductor, however. They will not accept that Karajan had a very warm and human side, as Peter Csobádi reveals in many anecdotes, and was very supportive of Fricsay in Berlin and in the initial stages of the formation of the Philharmonia Hungarica. But what puzzles me is his lengthy discourse on Karajan and his relationship with the Soviet Union. Csobádi states that Karajan conducted Shostakovich 8 in Russia. Symphony No. 8. Really? He certainly conducted No. 10 on tour there, but to my knowledge he never publicly performed No. 8 anywhere. Is Csobádi’s memory faulty at this stage? Does anybody know for sure?

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    Heribert von Carry on was just in it for the money, we all know that, thankfully his Mantovani approach is gone for a Burton.

  • M McAlpine says:

    It would help those of us who don’t understand German if there were subtitles.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Picture frames, conductors and TV presenters should
    never make themselves appear to be more important than the subject they are supposed to frame, music they interpret and those they interview.

    The late raconteur Dave Allen is a model of how a TV presenter should be. Here he meet a number of English eccentrics. Notice he does not make snide comments or push himself into the limelight. He just lets the folk tell their respective stories.

    • Bob the Builder says:

      Agree completely. Gunter Wand was the complete opposite of Carry on, he hated the limelight, but he did like a glass of Claret!

      • Hilary says:

        Often forgotten, but Wand was a keen advocate of contemporary music as well.

        As for Karajan and the limelight- his music making and the glossy marketing surrounding it helped disseminate classical music to a much wider public than would otherwise have been the case. Nowadays the technically brilliant films which don’t look their age (not my cup of tea for the most part) of him conducting continue to do the same, but available for free via Youtube.
        Personally, I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
        He self-financed the 2nd VIennese School Box set after DG baulked at the idea so he wasn’t only in it for the money.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          I heard that the 2nd Viennese School set sold quite well! Is this true?

          • Hilary says:

            Correct. He calcated the sales amounted to the height of the Eiffel Lower .
            Without doubt, the most important conductor of the 20th Century. Not necessary the greatest. Among the K’s I prefer Kubelik in Mahler 4 .

        • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

          His on size fits all Mantovani sound is dated.

        • Boz says:

          Nope, his superficial records saturated the market blocking the competition, he was State subsidised. During the 1960s, you could not avoid them in record shops, now with record shops all gone so too are his, unless you want to poke about charity shops. I would say Wand is the better conductor his Missa Solemnis is miles better.

          The 2nd Viennese school is complete atonal tatt down a blind alley.

          • Hilary says:

            Uninformed/ fogeyish comment. Three of the pieces featured in that best -selling box are late romantic/chromatic.

  • Garech de Brun says:

    The Bielenbergs moved to Ireland after the war in 1948 and bought a farm and estate near Tullow county Carlow.

    They were our neighbours, my father was the local GP in Carlow and so he got to know them quite well, when on his rounds. They knew Furtwängler quite well, but they detested the upstart Karajan, apparently even Hitler disliked him after he made a complete Horlicks conducting Meistersinger in 1939 at Bayreuth without a score and got lost in it.

    Apparently he fumbled, lost his place, and the performance stopped briefly. Hitler, who was present, got angry and declared: ‘Herr von Karajan will never conduct again at Bayreuth’. And during the remainder of Hitler’s life, he didn’t.”

    The Bielenbergs often invited friends and neighbours in for piano and song recitals, Christabel was a good pianist, having studied in Hamburg and had sung with John McCormack.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Is this from recently? Is Csobadi still alive??? Wouldn’t he be well over 100 by now?!?!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    This “Lunchtime O’Boulez” character never misses a chance to denigrate Karajan on this website.
    His comments are infested with lame humor, misinformation, and stupidity.
    Musicians and true lovers of music know Karajan’s worth, and we can safely ignore this “Lunchtime O’Boulez” sciocco.

  • Bob the Builder says:

    That old bloke is the splitting image of Davros in Dr Who.

  • Nick2 says:

    Fascinating to hear of Karajan’s praise for Fricsay and also to learn that Fricsay’s masterful rehearsal video of Die Moldau was virtually the first TV video or orchestral music. But not surprising that he only became interested in TV recordings when a very large amount of cash was on the table.

  • Tamino says:

    „great conductor is also interested in money and publicity.“ is not a headline.

    „Great conductor is NOT interested in money and publicity.“ would be a headline.

    Btw what mostly swayed Karajan‘s attitude toward being filmed was not so much this, but the Japanese tour in the 1960s. It‘s all described in detail in the good documentary film ‚Karajan – The Second Life‘.

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    Thankfully no one listens to Carry on’s Mantovani versions of the classics anymore now we have HIP.

    Beethoven now wears the correct apparel of the early 19th century, rather than the trendy 1960s!

    • Bob the Builder says:

      That’s it in a nut shell Lunchtime. No wonder charity shops are always full of his CDs. They never make Building a Library either.

    • MJA says:

      Are you the same Lunchtime O’Boulez that writes in Private Eye, or have you just stolen the pseudonym? Either way, your comments here, along with your mate “Bob the Builder’s” are models of infantilism. The Mantovani comparison you seem so pleased with (at any rate, you keep repeating it) wasn’t even accurate or even that clever as a witticism when it was originally made by somebody else some time ago. However, like many of Karajan’s detractors, you seem strangely obsessed. As for HIP, it has its place but it’s certainly no substitute for inspired performances on their own terms so it doesn’t displace Toscanini, Furtwängler, z
      Klemperer, Walter, let alone Karajan – much as its puritan proponents must wish it did. And as for the person further up this thread who quotes Hitler’s musical judgements with approval, I’ll be charitable and suggest that they lack self-awareness and/or a sense of irony.

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    None of Carry ons records ever makes it to Building a library anymore they are so dated. They just gather dust in charity shops.

    A conductor making folk wear wigs cannot really be taken seriously!

  • M McAlpine says:

    Always amuses me how much Karajan’s legacy suffers from the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Nothing like success to bring out the derisive comments!

    • Bob the Builder says:

      Define success. You mean record sales. That is all he achieved, now they are completely obsolete and forgotten. His Mantovani sound is no longer valid.

      I would not have any of his on a desert island.

  • Edgar Self says:

    At a concert soon after the one that broke down for lack of a score, Karajan had a partitur on the conuctor’s desk and dutifully turned its pages as he conducted without incident. A curious audience member got a look at it afterward. It was the score to something else, and it was upside down.

  • Edgar Self says:

    No one liked or enjoyed Twain’s “The Awful German Language” more than bi-lingual Kaiser Wilhelm II, grandson of Queen Victoria. He had hundreds of copies printed to give his friends. Yes, he had some, even among the Dutch, who saved his chestnuts after he abdicated, and refused to give him up from exile in Holland for prosecution. He lived until 1940 and didn’t think much of his successor, preferring to chop firewood with his good arm.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Sppn after his performance broke down for lack of a score, Karajan led a concert with a partitur prominently before him, even dutifully turning its pages. A curious audience member go ta look at it afterward. It was the score to something else, and it was upside down.

  • Novagerio says:

    Mantovani-sound? You infantile vindictive a**holes, listen to some Karajan conducting some Wagner, Bruckner and R.Strauss before you let your historyless mouths spit out some feces from the wrong cavity.

    • karajanman says:

      Don’t look to Lunchtime O’Boulez nor his Baldrick’ Bob the Builder, for any kind of serious musical analysis. Their use of the Mantovani analogy only shows how out-dated they are. Lunchtime O’Boulez came up with it in a Trumpian moment to seek to be controversial and spark what Mrs. Merton used to call a “heated discussion”. This is the sort of pathetic way some people use the internet to try to cause ructions, all heat and no light! As my dear old Granny used to say: put one of these in a room on his own and he’d still manage to have a fight.

  • Tamino says:

    This thread got completely trolled.