KARAJAN by Robert C. Bachmann


Notes on a Career
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 The debeautification of a lonely, self-dramatizing, praise- seeking colossus, conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-89), whom Swiss musicologist Bachmann esteems as a very great European conductor but a man trapped in fairy tales. While not focusing on Karajan's aesthetics, Bachmann makes clear that the set of 43 videodiscs now being released, which Karajan edited himself and which he hoped would enshrine his image as conductor for forthcoming generations, focus too largely on Karajan's minimalist conducting style in his final period and are far from spellbinding. Not always the clearest writer, Bachmann attempts to avoid a ``psychogrammatic'' view of Karajan and yet not settle merely for a rehearsal of the career. Karajan was a child prodigy, giving piano recitals at age four. His first important post was as musical director of the Stadttheater in Ulm, followed a few years later by a similar appointment with the Aachen Stadttheater (in ``the FÅhrer's city''). Two things are important here. He had seen Toscanini conduct Falstaff and been overwhelmed by the Italian's symphonic integration of stage work and orchestra. And he made his Faustian pact, foreseeing the value of joining the Nazis in Ulm and insuring his political rise in the musical world. Joseph Goebbels, interested in promoting a rival to Wilhelm FurtwÑngler, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, appointed Karajan as State Kapellmeister, from which post he spread German music as State publicity--for motives that he hid from his later hagiographers, at whom Bachmann scoffs. The author strains to suggest that in 1940 a farsighted Karajan married his second wife, Anita, who was part Jewish, as a postwar safeguard for washing himself clean of the Nazis. The need for power drove Karajan to build the world's greatest recording and performing musical empire, featuring in Salzburg, his birthplace, Karajan festivals to himself. At his death, no one could replace him in his multiplicity of major posts. Despite an air of superiority, a compelling read--and excellent on Karajan's conducting style. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40628-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991