Karajan "The vienna Years"

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RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

hewett_dick wrote:

Hindsight is 20-20, and it's all too easy to accuse an ambitious person (and who isn't?) of being a Nazi, so try living in a totalitarian regime, see what decisions and compromises you have to make in order to survive and get on, and then come back and make your comments.

It's one thing to live in a totalitarian state and make the best of it, keeping politics out of the way as much as possible while pursuing a purely musical career, and trying to keep the rich musical tradition of your country alive, even if the country itself has changed for the bad. Choose this option and you'll face a situation where you're forced to flee your country because the dictator's henchmen start to notice your lack of enthusiasm for their ideology, and because you've been trying everything that's in your power to protect members of a certain minority that are listed for eradication. Your reward will be a long and painful de-nazification, which will take several years, taint the rest of your career and even harm your posthumous reputation.

It's another thing to use your party membership to boost your career as early as 1933, using your elbows to get up in the ranks and finally getting so morally corrupted that you try sending off a rival conductor to the eastern front (and to a certain death) in order to take over his position as chief of the dictator's elite orchestra. Choose this and you'll be "rewarded" with a quick and superficial survey of your wartime activities, an "all ok!" stamp in your passport and the prospect of a splendid career in the post-war world.

Of course it's hard to say what you would have done yourself in such a complicated situation - but that doesn't mean it should be forbidden to come to a moral verdict regarding certain famous people, based on historic facts (one of the facts being that HVK was definitely a Nazi, it isn't just an unfounded accusation.)

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

TedR wrote:

Was it unequivocally the "best" orchestra in that era? I would have thought that strong cases could be made for Boston/Koussevitsky or Philadephia/Stokowski amongst others

What is your evidence that Furtwangler was responsible for the orchestra reaching "top form" technically - weren't they already considered great to some extent when he took over? (Certainly they sound as good under e.g. Abendroth from the same era.)

I guess you could say that Nikisch was responsible for giving the orchestra the strong foundation on which Furtwängler could build - and of course comparing the BPO to their American contemporaries is like comparing apples to oranges. Maybe Boston or Philadelphia were even better technically speaking - but my point was that people who parrot the DG record sleeve propaganda (approved by the Maestro Himself) and claim Karajan was solely responsible for the famous "sound" of the BPO are blistering ignorants who probably never heard Furtwängler's wartime or 1952-1954 recordings with the orchestra.

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

"...and claim Karajan was solely responsible for the famous "sound" of the
BPO are blistering ignorants who probably never heard Furtwängler's
wartime or 1952-1954 recordings with the orchestra" (50milliarden said)

 

all is relative dear milliarden, we cannot be so categorical, because (and I think youll agree with me at this point!) during Furtwanglers conduction logically the BPO had his own identity and own sound, but that wasnt precisely a "refined" sound, because Furts style was characterized fundamentally by naturality and spontaneity, and not by a refined sound. During Karajans period instead, the BPO reach a new personality and a more cleaner and purified sound. In short, we can say that both were inmense musicians, but each with his own merits and characteristics.

About what Karajan supposedly had profited from his nazi filiation for his nomination, I think that is wrong, because Karajan reach the post of Berlin Orchestras conductor in 1955 or later, date in which the nazis had left the power in Germany, and also the country, and inclusive....the continent!. I remember here that Hitler in person, because of a Wagners "Tannhauser" bad conduction by Karajan, said "As long as I live I will not allow that this "dwarf" conducts in Bayreuth any more!", or something like that, jajaja (laughs)

Now, Im listening Schuberts "The Great" symphony, with Karajan and the VP, from the same collection, a vigorous and electrifyng performance, and Im enjoying it very much, till the point that Im thinking that this would be one of the better recordings of this work that Ive heard!

Best regards. oscar.olavarria

 

 

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

HvK again at the center of the debate (good for him!).

Well, once more I can only reiterate what has been stressed ad nauseum on previous posts: an overrated conductor who cared much more about his image than to his work and served the market better than the classical music and his colleagues. BPO's trademark sound under his conducting fits some composers very well - we must admit it - but gives us a distorted, coloured view of many others. IMO HvK&BPO have failed to leave an outstanding reading of Brahms or LvB' symphonies: there are good renditions (LvB's sixties cycle and Brahms' cycle from late 70s are ok) but imo they're far from the readings of a Furtwangler, Reiner, Klemperer, Monteux etc. His R. Strauss and Sibelius, just to name two, are much better.

HvK is vey good when a large gesture fits, when greatness, pomp, emotion and melodrama are demanded: that's why I associate him w/ the likes of Sibelius, Strauss, Tchaikovsky...... and above all w/ operas where imo he is very good: among the best. Oddly enough, I like his Bruckner: yes, he lacks introspection as he swaps this for impact and grandeur but I tend to admit that Bruckner's symphonies require that to a good extent.

I don't know but I fear that his earlier orchestral recordings on EMI and Decca are of a better quality than his later readings: just a hunch from the ones I own.

Another point: let's not forget that prima donna conductors were and still are in fashion (anyone could name a few past or PRESENT conductors that fit the profile, couldn't they?) therefore we should not give too much credit to those capricious behaviour: let's focus on music.

As to his political ties, let me tell you something: I care, but not too much: the political bias or philosophical views of some composers on the other hand are far more important to me and leave me concerned many times. This is a topic for another thread(s) but let me ask in advance: can we appreciate/enjoy the work of this or that famous composer (no need to name any of them) who said and professed such a nonsense? This is indeed THE question to be debated: the interpreters imo are of a minor significance...

To sum up: all the negative comments on HvK apply but imo he was/is much more than " .....that Coca-Cola conductor" (Celibidache?). One could easily say: un grand chef d'orchestre malgré lui.

 

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

Well spotted, Oscar, well spotted! However, I doubt it can make any difference to the "opponents" of Maestro Karajan.

What they cannot maybe comprehend is that the popularity (if not the reputation) of Karajan was not only a result of marketing. The "marketing" exploited something that was already too good to sell. The "same forces" of market have tried both in the past and now to use their "means" to promote other conductors but not with the same success.

I'm sure that the conductors before Karajan were better in almost any possible way, but Karajan was one of the best in his time, at least for what he managed to achieve. The first Hi-Fi sound of the Orchestra comes with his era and the maestro worked hard to create the "sound of BPO". The first recordings of the 60's show a more rough, much less refined, orchestra (as Oscar suggests). Passion and urge, however, come as huge returns from the past. Throughout his tenure, Karajan transforms the BPO to the most refined one I have ever heard, providing some of the best soloists, particularly in the winds (Leister, Koch, etc.) and solid sound from every section of the strings and the brass.

After his death, his successors benefit from the level of the orchestra and, despite their "innovations", they never changed this tradition of refinement of sound, even in the more dramatic moments of a work (e.g. Mahler's Ninth). Even this poor safe bet called Rattle exploited the sound of the orchestra, but he didn't dare to radically change...(to what?).

Finally, despite Karajan is not one of the conductors I cherish most, I highly appreciate the guts he had to pursue his convictions in such a bold way, so that Classical Music may become a more popular genre and the wider public may enjoy it. I don't know many other conductors who managed to do so, creating, at the same time, a lasting legacy for an orchestra, a tradition for a city and huge sales of their products.

Parla

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

There was a programme on the beeb last night about 'easy listening music', music for elevators. Music that could be put on in the background while you did something else, easy on the ear, no effort needed, no dissonances, music that said nothing and asked nothing of it's listener, music that was used to exploit the new advances in hifi technology. Music for people who didn't really like music or needed their hand holding. I fully expected Karajan to appear at any time. If Karajan created anything it was easy listening classical music for your hifi.

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

78RPM wrote:

 an overrated conductor who cared much more about his image than to his work and served the market better than the classical music and his colleagues. BPO's trademark sound under his conducting fits some composers very well - we must admit it - but gives us a distorted, coloured view of many others.

How do you know he cared *much more* about his image than his work? (As opposed to him caring about his image to a large degree at the same time as caring about his work to a large degree - for instance although Karajan clearly controlled his image, I have never read anything that suggested he didn't work hard at what he did with orchestras in rehearsal and in opera.)

Also most people who heard him live seem to agree that the BPO's trademark sound you are referring to here was not the same as the BPO's real trademark sound (in concert) but was instead the result of the very manipulated studio sound Karajan sort on his later recordings. So IMHO you can have a discussion about Karajan's records and his approach to recordings but it is more difficult to have a discussion about him as a musician.

Ted

 

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

oscar.olavarria wrote:

(...) during Furtwanglers conduction logically the BPO had his own identity and own sound, but that wasnt precisely a "refined" sound, because Furts style was characterized fundamentally by naturality and spontaneity, and not by a refined sound. During Karajans period instead, the BPO reach a new personality and a more cleaner and purified sound. In short, we can say that both were inmense musicians, but each with his own merits and characteristics

I agree, Oscar - but isn't this the ultimate proof that we cannot uphold the image of HvK as a "great" conductor anymore? For in recent years nearly every critic has come to the conclusion that his best work was done in his youth, with the English orchestras and the early years with the BPO. And those were exactly the years where there was still much of the Furtwängler "sound" present. So, who are we praising now when we praise HvK's first Beethoven cycle? Himself or the ghost of Furt?

He who stands on the shoulders of a giant, can not be a giant himself.

So seen in that light, by all means, please do enjoy those performances, because they're often great. Karajan is at his very best when he's at his most impersonal.

Quote:

I remember here that Hitler in person, because of a Wagners "Tannhauser" bad conduction by Karajan, said "As long as I live I will not allow that this "dwarf" conducts in Bayreuth any more!", or something like that

If I remember correctly that happened with a Meistersinger performance (with Hitler present), which went so badly that the music had to be stopped at one point. He fell out of grace with Hitler because of that but one has to realize that at that point his reputation was firmly established already and there were people who were more influential than Hitler himself when it came to cultural affiars: Goebbels and Göring, the later being HvK's biggest fan.

78RPM wrote:

Oddly enough, I like his Bruckner: yes, he lacks
introspection as he swaps this for impact and grandeur but I tend to
admit that Bruckner's symphonies require that to a good extent.

My ideal Bruckner is one without testosterone injections...

TedR wrote:

Also most people who heard him live seem
to agree that the BPO's trademark sound you are referring to here was
not the same as the BPO's real trademark sound (in concert) but was
instead the result of the very manipulated studio sound Karajan sort on
his later recordings. So IMHO you can have a discussion about Karajan's
records and his approach to recordings but it is more difficult to have a
discussion about him as a musician.

Interesting point, Ted - but with a conductor who valued recordings so much, his records should be regarded as the nec plus ultra - he polished them till they had the exact right sound. I suspect he only regarded live performances as an intermediate step, useful for fixating the interpretation, but the real work was to be done in the studio.

So who's the real Karajan? I fear it's the control freak in the studio who kept yelling "more strings!" at his technicians.

I also fear that the people who keep defending Karajan are guilty of cherry picking: carefully selecting that handful of recordings that aren't disfigured by his over-polished sound or that feature repertoire where Mantovani-strings aren't a big no-no. Like 78RM says, he was at his best in opera (probably because there his huge ego got company from other big egos and didn't get the chance to chew the scenery on its own?) For instance, I value his Debussy's Pelleas as probably the best thing he did in this field, much better than his excursions into Mozart and Wagner.

But then again, there's also the Karajan of the "Hi-Fi Karajan" LP's, which shared a spot in my dad's cupboard with James Last and Mantovani. Same genre, same sound. How believable is a clown who, after doing the same cheap tricks for years suddenly bows over to the audience and says "now let's get serious for a change."?

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

oscar.olavarria wrote:

during Furtwanglers conduction logically the BPO had his own identity and own sound, but that wasnt precisely a "refined" sound, because Furts style was characterized fundamentally by naturality and spontaneity, and not by a refined sound. During Karajans period instead, the BPO reach a new personality and a more cleaner and purified sound

Frankly, what do we know of "Furtwängler's sound"? Have any of you been in his concerts or are we comparing digital stereo recordings (Karajan) with anaologue mono recordings (Furtwängler)? I would argue that the sound under Furtwängler was just as "clean" and "purified" as under HvK, if not more so. He (Furtwängler) treated the orchestra as a chamber ensemble and achieved maximum transparency in the sound, judging from what those who knew him well have told me, one could hear every instrument in the orchestra. This is all hidden by the microphones. There is a single experimental stereo recording by Furtwängler, of the Freischütz, and that's very revealing, it gives an entirely different idea of his "sound" than the commercially widely available recording of the same performance which is in mono. 

So, let's be careful when we try to judge how the sound was in the past.

Ultimately sound itself however is not alone what makes anyone a great musician...

RE: Karajan "The vienna Years"

I don’t think that name-calling is an appropriate way of criticising anybody.  It is disappointing to see it on a serious forum like this.

I don’t doubt that Karajan was a member of the Nazi Party but he was scarcely alone in that.  Indeed Fascism was rather popular throughout Europe and here in Britain the Daily Mail was rather in favour of it (some would say it still is lol).  If you are going to take the line that you don’t listen to somebody’s music on the basis of their politics then that would rule out Wagner as his racist and anti-Semitic views are surely unacceptable to a 21st century sensibility.  I would stick to criticism of the music!

And when it comes to Karajan’s music I have some sympathy with the doubters.  When I was first exploring serious music in the 1960s and 1970s I had lots of Karajan recordings but I don’t have many now.  I think the reason was that in the end I found them to be too “smooth”, they didn’t have the emotional impact of others, whatever their technical merits.  The one that I do still listen to is his Prokofiev 5th Symphony (1969?) which I think is a great performance.

Chris

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