Exclusive: The shocking state of Karajan’s grave

Exclusive: The shocking state of Karajan’s grave


norman lebrecht

March 23, 2023

One of our readers makes a pilgrimage to Herbert von Karajan’s grave at Anif whenever he visits Salzburg.

This is the shocking sight that greeted him yesterday.

The 20th century’s wealthiest and most powerful conductor lies in utter neglect.

The elite Easter Festival he founded should do something about it.

Here’s how it looked two years ago (photo: Anthony Kershaw):


  • Pedro says:

    This is a shame indeed. Karajan was by far the best musician whose performances I attended,. 146 until his very last one in 1989, between operas, concerts and rehearsals. Salzburg and Austria owes him a lot of money and prestige. His family too, and the three festivals in which he was involved (Summer, Easter and Whitsun) as well. They together should clean this mess immediately. Deutsche Grammophon and Warner could sponsor it, if the others are short of money…

  • Gerry says:

    His family is responsible for maintaining it not the tax payer in Austria! Why does his trophy wife and daughters not fix it.

  • Alan says:

    Why isn’t his wife taking care of it?

  • Serge says:

    If this is the grave, where is the tomb stone?

  • Ulick Magee says:

    His family have pots of money to pay for a caretaker to maintain it for heavens sake. Why does his wife and daughter not sort it out? Most families have to maintain their own graves. He cannot expect to be subsidised after death.

    • henry williams says:

      ulick. some rich people do not like
      to spend money. what happens in
      the uk you leave money and the
      government take 45%

      • Des says:

        He is pushing up the daisies pal. This is Austria not UK, different tax set up. That Foundation has loads.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          For some of us that will be the most exercise we ever get!!!! 🙂

        • Hal Sacks says:

          Could it be his family doesn’t care enough to pay their respects at his grave site? “Pushing up the Daisies” was Maestro Bernstein’s frequent refrain in his later days.

  • Player says:

    Yes, that is rather sad.

    Carlos Kleiber once slipped away from a gathering in Salzburg, and no one knew where he had gone. He was found later, by Karajan’s grave in Anif, paying his respects.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      This statement tells us two things about Kleiber: firstly, that he revered HvK and, secondly, that social functions bored him.

  • Eric from Stanmore says:

    A great musician but an affirmed Nazi whilst it suited him from the mid 1930s to 1945. That doesn’t mean that his grave should not be tended but his legacy is forever somewhat tainted.

  • Yorick says:

    Graves look like this when the stone is being replaced or reinscribed. Perhaps Eliette has died. Once it is back, no doubt there will be new plantings for the season. This is a role of the family, not of the festival.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    Whether his grave is attended to or not, he lives on in the outstanding body of work he left behind, and in the hearts of those like me so deeply moved by his music-making. Not a week goes by where I don’t put on at least one Karajan recording of something. The list of great Karajan recordings/performances is so long. Earlier this week it was Bruckner 8/VPO.

    To my ears, Karajan is the greatest Bruckner conductor that ever lived. And certainly one of the finest conductors in much of the Austro-Germanic canon.

    I feel privileged to have nearly his entire CD output in my house.

  • Bone says:

    I’m honestly curious about the custom of gravesites: does visiting a place that was likely not visited by the deceased while alive somehow bring a different solemn remembrance than visiting a place cherished by the departed? Or, in the case of an artist, listening to or viewing a piece they created?
    I do visit my mother’s gravesite, btw, so I’m aware of the compulsion amongst family to follow this custom.

  • erich says:

    False alarm. The family is merely having the entire area renovated in time for Easter.

  • Gustavo says:

    Last summer’s drought severely affected forests, gardens and grave yards across Europe.

    Many places of worship appear deserted (including Mahler’s hut in Toblach).

    However, the replacement of the signpost on Karajan Square while being sponsored by the ruthless German car industry supports suspicions that the festival’s managers today are ignorant and short-sighted.

  • A.L. says:

    Disgraceful. Would that today we had someone, just one please, within 10 miles as great.

  • Carlo Ruzzoni says:

    They did the same years ago in downtown Vienna, as soon as the rent agreement for the Karajan Center at the Ringstraße was over they didn’t renew it and they were gone just like that!

  • MacroV says:

    Are we surprised? He only needed it for three days.

    Seriously, though: Under whose management does the grave sit?

    • Pedro says:

      Warner should remaster all his opera recordings in 2023 in a single box as it did a few years ago for the orchestral ones. This year marks his 125th birthday on April 5. Hurry up!

  • MMcGrath says:

    Why the festivals – summer even more so than Easter was where he had his cumultive greatest impact? How about just complaining to his wife? One would think she has both time, money and inclination to take care of this?

  • Peter X says:

    Do send Eliette an email at
    Possibly she can explain the situation.
    “The family is merely having the entire area renovated in time for Easter.”????

  • Gerard says:

    Could be that it’s just being renovated? Don’t make such a fuss so soon, please.

  • Des says:

    I see loads of ex-Karajan CDs piling up in Oxfam & War on Want shops. You never see any of them getting picked on Building a Library. His style was just for the 1960s, the Mantovani sound does not work in 2023.

  • samach says:

    Mozart’s grave is a lot worse. At least we know where Karajan’s body is.

  • mel says:

    Use the example of Hans von Bülow’s grave. A consortium of conductors, including HvK, helped get it restored when they found it in horrible shape at Hamburg’s Ohlsdorfer Friedhof:

    Gerd Albrecht, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein, Karl Böhm, Pierre Boulez, Aldo Ceccato, Colin Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Alberto Erede, Michael Gielen, Heinrich Hollreiser, Eugen Jochum, Herbert von Karajan, Kirill Kondrashin, Rafael Kubelík, Ferdinand Leitner, Lorin Maazel, Igor Markevitch, Yevgeni Mravinsky, Eugene Ormandy, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Paul Sacher, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Maxim Shostakovich, Georg Solti, Horst Stein, Otmar Suitner, Klaus Tennstedt, and Hans Zender.

    Not a shabby list. Now let the 2023 version of this cohort do the same.

  • Doc Martin says:

    The Karajan family have a Foundation, in addition they must have some type of Trust set up in Switzerland etc.

    I would have thought Karajan would have managed to obtain a vault in Salzburger Dom.

    My ancestors are all in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, my final resting place with be opposite Dr Jonathan Swift.

  • MacroV says:

    I’m kind of surprised by the simplicity of it. I would have expected some kind of mausoleum.

  • Gustavo says:

    Perhaps there are concerns that it could become a place of pilgrimage for male chauvinists, narcissists, or neo-Nazis?

  • Gustavo says:

    Judging by the picture from two years ago, Karajan’s grave seems to have been actively desecrated.

  • Doc Martin says:

    I once met Karajan at a reception at the Irish Embassy in Vienna, when I was invited to give a talk on Sir William Wilde FRSI and his time spent in Vienna to improve his knowledge of ophthalmic and aural surgery, with Profs Rosas and Jäger and Ignaz Semmelweis who he corresponded with for many years.

    My overall impression of him was that I found him a somewhat cold stiff icy person lacking any human warmth.

    I recall there was a famous 1948 review by Sir Isaiah Berlin of a pair of concerts Karajan gave with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival:

    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.

    Sir Isaiah also remarked, about Karajan a genius with a whiff of sulphur about him. My colleagues in the field of gastroenterology would indeed find that comment amusing.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Karajan was nothing more than a time beating demonstrator. He merely “demonstrated” a Beethoven, Brahms or Bruckner symphony, he did not recreate it.

    For that you really need folk such as Rudolf Kempe, Gunter Wand, Carlos Kleiber, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Felix Weingartner. The latter two were both composers.

    Listen to one of Karajan’s Beethoven 9s, eg 1962 then listen to Furtwangler live, VPO 30 May 1953 on ICA which has both atmosphere, spontaneity and presence, something always lacking with Karajan.

    Here is Gunter Wand Bruckner 8 in Lubeck.


  • Richard says:

    It is shameful no one is maintaining Karajan grave. It’s not that hard to take care of a grave site. His family should take responsibility for this.