New online: When Karajan took over a concerto on live TV

New online: When Karajan took over a concerto on live TV


norman lebrecht

April 19, 2021

At a Paris concert in 1978 Herbert von Karajan replaced the pianist Alexis Weissenberg in the slow movement of Mozart’s 21st piano concerto K467.

The pair were intimate friends and the substitution (after 14:20 on video) appears to have been prearranged.

Karajan’s playing is very slow and imperfect, with more than a few slurred notes. Weissenberg returned in the finale.

This televisied concert takes place a few months before the conductor suffered a hushed-up stroke.




  • kh says:

    Very beautiful playing. He had a sensitive fine touch. It’s fascinating to hear him sustaining long, singing lines so well, which most pianists today, even (especially) those regarded as Mozart specialists, can’t do. Even the trills are quite musical. This is much better than I thought it would be and I’m very impressed.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Karajan performs the second movement around the same tempo as he conducted it for Dinu Lipatti. At the piano Karajan sounds like a good musician, but without the polish of a pro like Weissenberg.

    So why did he do it? Sadly, show off is the only explanation I can come up with. Musically it would have made better sense not to take Weissenberg’s place, and then perhaps played a duet with him as an encore. Plenty of conductors do that.

    • Concertgoer says:

      This partnership is not one of the strengths of Karajan’s legacy. And it lasted so long. Nobody listens to those Beethoven concertos, and the Rachmaninoff was an unmitigated disaster. Perhaps the Franck, but that would be all. Karajan was never much of an accompanist unless the voice was involved. His concerto successes all come with big personalities, from Brain to Menuhin to Richter to Lupu to Slava — collaborations that ended pronto.

      • M McAlpine says:

        The Rachmaninov 2 was a great performance. Brought out the best in them both.

        • Concertgoer says:

          You must be joking. I have never seen Karajan so bewildered and rudderless, apparently lacking any idea of R’s style and trying to phrase as he would for Tchaikovsky. Just awful.

          • M McAlpine says:

            Well you must have been listening to a different performance from the one in my collection!

      • Novagerio says:

        Concertgoer: why exactly is the Rachmaninoff an “unmitigated disaster”?

  • Edgar Self says:

    A delightful novelty. Norman; many thanks for posting it. I knew of it but had never seen or heard it. The tempo of the slow movement is about what I’m used to, especially since “Elvira Madigan”, and some are slower.

    The cadenzas are evidently Weissenberg’s. Edwin Fischer did not record this concerto. The earliest I know are by Schnabel and Casadesus, and later ones by Rosina Lhevinne and Rubinstein. Other conductors who recorded Mozart conceerti include Bruno Walter, Bernstein, and Andre Previn. There is also one by the composer Erno von Dohnanyi, grandfather of conductor Chreistoph. .

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Edgar’s mention of Elvira Madigan (the 1967 Swedish movie) and how it made the slow movement so popular at the time, reminds me that RCA Victor released one of those reissue compilations of classical music that the movies had made familiar but they had a problem with that slow movement: Arthur Rubenstein’s recording was the only one in their stereo catalog; Rubenstein had taken it at a true Andante and it sounded NOTHING like the Géza Anda recording used in the soundtrack (contrast Casadesus’ recording for Columbia, which did). So even though the RCA recording was supposed to be yet another way to cheaply exploit their current catalog, they found themselves having to call in Earl Wild to record just that movement with Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and presumably the marching orders were to sound like the soundtrack. It was the only new recording on the LP.

      • Edgar Self says:

        Thanks, Dave, for that good story of the “Elfira Madigan” sound-track. I’d never heard it, and didn’t see the movie, but heard plenty about it.

  • fflambeau says:

    He was no Bernstein.

    • Jarred says:

      Thank God! Bernstein was a very unattractive musical despot who bullied musicians and was ever the showman. HvK was I suspect persuaded to play the second movement by the production team as a bit of a stunt. Not like him at all. He was in fact very self effacing and serious about his conducting.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Like his interpretive approach or not, Karajan’s conducting skill should not be in question.

        But I see nothing self effacing in his video recordings, which were thoroughly focused on him. Let’s not get started about substituting visual footage of orchestral musicians with beards.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    Its kind of like Nelsons’ outings as a trumpet player in Boston. I doubt he could make the sublist for the Janacek Sinfonietta. But the man definitely has cojones.

    • John Kelly says:

      If he had a bit of time to practice I think he WOULD make the list for the Janacek. He used to be principal at the Latvian opera….

  • Wolfgang says:

    Your adjacent headline, “Keyboard Authority Is Accused of Misconduct,” fits nicely here.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “Karajan’s playing is very slow and imperfect, with more than a few slurred notes.”
    Absolute stuff and nonsense!
    Karajan’s playing is marvelous and fully up to technical requirements (with one exception, mentioned below), and his conducting, either from the podium or the keyboard, is that of a Mozartian master.
    “Very slow”? I think not, unless one compares this performance to those of the Formula One musicos of today.
    I noticed *one* slurred piano arpeggio and *one* imprecise woodwind entrance during the slow movement, and the opening of the final movement was a bit imprecise. The orchestra seemed to me to follow Karajan beautifully from the piano, and from the podium, Karajan was superb.
    Weissenberg was his usual commanding self in the outer movements. I’d be very interested to know what he felt about the platooning!
    This is a performance that, if I had heard it in person, I would remember fondly and count it as among my favorites.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Recently I saw an archive of him from the french tv in 1980. There was a show in prime time in Berlin only about him and for the occasion he directed La forza del destino and then talk in a perfect french for an interview. And he did several records in France I have a Ravel one from EMI.

    • John Kelly says:

      Plenty of time to brush up his French during the Occupation of course……………

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        True like Mengelberg, Karajan did several concerts Palais de Chaillot during “l’occupation”. Everybody is not like Toscanini! But it’s fair also to add that Krajan’s wife was french and that he has a house at Saint-Tropez.

    • microview says:

      With that tremendous La Valse!

  • M McAlpine says:

    The change-over comes at 15:41 note 14:41. Karajan’s playing is certainly imperfect but not particularly slow. Interesting to see him perform as a pianist although obviously when he was way past his best.

  • erich says:

    To me this seems to be an excerpt from the dress rehersal since Karajan is wearing a sweater, which he would never have worn in the concert.

  • Novagerio says:

    Both Karajan and Weisenberg were friends of French television host Jacques Chancel, who lead several impressive cultural tv-programmes with various celebrities. Once (I think it must have been 1980), Karajan even appeared with the entire Berlin Phil in the French tv-studio, accompanied by Mirella Freni, the teenaged Anne-Sophie Mutter and Weissenberg.
    On this clip, Weisenberg is sitting right next to Karajan who’s playing the slow Mozart movement. It was all followed by a fascinating interview, with both in perfect French.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    {{This televisied concert

    It was more probably a rehearsal

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      In fact I think it was during “Le grand échiquier” a french programm who was very famous in the 70’s and 80’s in France with a journalist Chancel who a fan of Karajan.

  • Jobim75 says:

    Hold your horses, that’s not a concert but a French TV show called ‘Grand échiquier’, a cultural show mixing artists for 2 or 3 hours long that million watched when there were only 3 channels. Terrible times isn’t it… Weissenberg was living in Paris at the time. The host Jacques Chancel , made a long interview with the maestro for public radio some time before I think. That was culture for masses….I think Karajan played the third piano in a Mozart concerto with Eschenbach and Justus Frantz (not sure about the latter) and he can be seen playing harpsichord in Bach Brandenburg concerts…. there is probably more….I don’t see it as an act of pride, because he must know he is not that good…

    • Alexander T says:

      Grand échiquier was a terrific program.

    • Novagerio says:

      Jobim75: In fact, there is a programme about great soprano Regine Crespin where you can see Karajan at the piano, coaching her and Thomas Stewart in Walküre, from the orchestral score, although barely glancing at it – wich by the way is what he actually was trained to do.

  • Novagerio says:

    Just try to enjoy it, you “Karajan haters”!…
    Karajan, the Berlin Phil and lovely Mirella, here at Jacques Chancel’s:

  • Edgar Self says:

    Karajan played a concerto by Vladiguerov for his conservatory graduation and once accompanied Schwarzkopf in a Lieder recital in North Africa. He also played harpsichord continuo in Bach’s passiona and concertos for three pianos by Bach or Mozart.

    Pancho Vladiguerov was Weissenberg’s teacher and “Bulgaria’s greatst composer, of COURSE!