HERBERT VON KARAJAN: A Biographical Portrait by Roger Vaughan

HERBERT VON KARAJAN: A Biographical Portrait

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Despite his concern that his lack of musical credentials ensured a non-technical portrait, journalist Vaughan serves up a perceptive, delectable pastiche of frank interviews and insight (the first authorized in English) the notoriously press-shy, revered and hated 77-year-old Austrian conductor, a giant of the vanishing autocratic school, which bred the unique aura of musical dictatorship and awed respect for genius that surrounds the great maestros. Vaughn spent two years travelling and conversing extensively with this powerfully arrogant, self. styled ""commander"" whose carefully calculated six-decade plus career has awarded him a unique ""God's"" monopolistic control over German and Austrian musical life. This wunder-kind, who began as a child piano prodigy, directs the Vienna Philharmonic, and has been, at various stages, director of the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg and Easter Festivals, the London Philharmonic and the German wing of La Scala. But it is his nearly 30-year ""marriage"" to the Berlin Philharmonic, the crown jewel of his vast operatic and orchestral influence and one of the world's premier ensembles, that best reflects his musical ""mission."" Under its ""lifelong director,"" the Berlin has accomplished the purist, ""literalist,"" approach to re-creating the great scores, through a magnificent, lush pristine precision of sound, which has been acclaimed an exquisite musical marvel, but criticized for its cold passionless ""brillance. . .shining translucency of a perfectly formed icicle,"" which some would call a perfect mirror of its ""father."" This accomplished pilot, sailor, skier, mountain climber, yoga and Zen enthusiast, and filmmaker has dedicated his life to rigidly enforcing his personal credo of control, order and perfection; he places himself above reproach, completely intolerant of any contradiction, flippantly dismissing charges of dictatorship with blatant insistence that autocratic power is essential to superior musical leadership, hence performance. Most of the vast cast that he uses--musicians, recording technicians, production people, operatic soloists--have finally bowed to his control, relishing the honor of working with a master, and, with few exceptions, his reign has been an astonishingly unchallenged solo flight of power. This arrogant attitude also explains his lifelong refusal to apologize for having joined the Nazis during WW II, an episode which has invited colleagues' loathing and plagued his otherwise spectacularly charmed career, and about which he speaks at length here for the first time. As promised, this isn't the standard scholarly biography, but rather a privileged glimpse into the Karajan world, a fascinating ""insiders"" portrait; accomplished only with the cooperation of Karajan and his intimates, as well as the author's objective humor and critical insight, the result is a tasty, detailed, view of an unapproachable musical icon.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1986
Publisher: Norton