Herbert von Karajan



by Alice Lechner
June 27, 2023
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Herbert von Karajan, whose birth name was Heribert Ritter von Karajan, was born on April 5th, 1908, in Salzburg, Austria. As a child, Karajan showed exceptional musical talent and began piano lessons at the age of four. He demonstrated remarkable progress, and by the age of six, he was already performing in public concerts. His talent and passion for music were evident, and his parents nurtured his musical development by providing him with the necessary resources and support.

At the age of eight, Karajan enrolled at the Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, where he studied piano, composition, and conducting. He studied under several notable teachers, including Bernhard Paumgartner, who recognized his exceptional talent and encouraged him to pursue a career as a conductor. He was encouraged to concentrate on conducting by Paumgartner, who detected his exceptional promise in that regard. In 1926 Karajan graduated from the conservatory and continued his studies at the Vienna Academy, studying piano with Josef Hofmann (a teacher with the same name as the pianist) and conducting with Alexander Wunderer and Franz Schalk.

He made his professional conducting debut in 1929 at Salzburg, and he was appointed to a conducting position in Ulm, Ger., later that year. He remained in Ulm until 1934 when he was appointed Kapellmeister at Aachen. Karajan was in Aachen until 1941, also occasionally conducting the Berlin State Opera during that period. He fled to Italy in 1944. He helped found the London Philharmonia in 1948, and in 1955 he became music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.

The Nazi Era

During the Nazi era, Herbert von Karajan’s association with the regime and his activities have been a subject of debate and controversy. Karajan joined the Nazi Party in 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. It is important to note that his membership was not uncommon among artists and musicians at the time, as joining the party was often seen as a professional necessity.

Karajan’s rise to prominence during the Nazi era was facilitated by his connections and support from Nazi officials. In 1933, he became the conductor of the Berlin State Opera and the director of the Aachen Opera House. These positions provided him with significant opportunities to further his career and gain recognition. His success as a conductor continued during World War II, and he conducted numerous performances for the German military and high-ranking Nazi officials. His relationship with the regime was facilitated by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, who recognized Karajan’s talent and saw his artistic prowess as a valuable tool for promoting Nazi cultural policies.

After the war, Karajan faced scrutiny and underwent a de-Nazification process. He was initially banned from conducting in 1945, but the ban was lifted in 1947, and he resumed his career. Karajan maintained that his involvement with the Nazi Party was primarily for professional reasons, and he distanced himself from any political affiliation.

However, the extent of Karajan’s true beliefs and motivations during the Nazi era remains a matter of speculation and controversy. Some critics argue that his involvement with the regime was more extensive than he admitted, while others suggest that he was primarily focused on advancing his career and took advantage of the political climate.

Postwar years

In 1946, Karajan gave his first postwar concert in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic but was banned from further conducting by the Soviet occupation authorities because of his Nazi party membership. That summer he participated anonymously in the Salzburg Festival. On 28 October 1947, Karajan gave his first public concert following the lifting of the conducting ban. With the Vienna Philharmonic and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, he performed Johannes Brahms’s A German Requiem for a gramophone production in Vienna. In 1949, Karajan became the artistic director of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna. He also conducted at La Scala in Milan. His most prominent activity at this time was recording with the newly formed Philharmonia Orchestra in London, helping to build them into one of the world’s finest.

Conducting style

One of Karajan’s signature skills as a conductor was his ability to extract exquisite sounds from orchestras. His biographer Roger Vaughan observed this phenomenon while listening to the Berlin Philharmonic play in 1986, after nearly 30 years under Karajan’s direction, noting that “what rivets one’s attention is the beauty and perfection of the sounds. The softest of pianissimos commands rapt attention. The smooth crescendos peak exactly when they should. The breaks are sliced clean, without the slightest ragged edge.” Herbert von Karajan’s conducting style was characterized by precision, technical brilliance, and a strong emphasis on sound quality and orchestral balance. He was known for his meticulous attention to detail and his ability to shape the sound of an orchestra according to his interpretation. His gestures on the podium were clear and expressive, enabling him to communicate his musical intentions to the musicians. He had a distinctive and controlled conducting technique that involved precise movements of his hands and baton, conveying the desired dynamics, phrasing, and articulation. One of Karajan’s trademarks was his pursuit of technical perfection. He demanded a high level of precision and discipline from the musicians under his direction, and his intense rehearsals were focused on achieving a polished and unified performance. He would often work on refining the nuances of a musical passage, aiming for the utmost clarity and accuracy.He was particularly attentive to the balance and blend of the orchestral sound. He paid meticulous attention to the individual instrumental sections and their interaction, seeking a cohesive and blended sound that showcased the unique qualities of each instrument while creating a unified musical whole.

Furthermore, Karajan was known for his ability to shape the overall architecture and structure of a musical piece. He had a keen sense of pacing and phrasing, highlighting the musical structure and narrative. His interpretations were often characterized by a sense of grandeur, with expansive and sweeping interpretations of symphonies and orchestral works. In addition to his conducting technique, Karajan was an advocate of utilizing recording technology to capture the best possible sound quality. He embraced innovations in audio engineering, working closely with recording engineers to create recordings that were technically impeccable and sonically captivating.

Karajan’s concerts came to be considered major cultural events. In a 1982 tour of the United States, musical stars from Zubin Mehta and Seiji Ozawa to Frank Sinatra attended his Carnegie Hall concerts. Karajan was less interested in publicity or legacy than in building the cultural institution of music. “When I am on the podium, I forget all about the public,” he said. “I am not interested in publicity. I can only hope there is an advantage to my being known in the world, that through the interest people take in me, they will then move on to an interest in music.”

Personal life

Karajan was married three times. His first marriage was to Elmy Holgerloef, an operetta singer, in 1938, but they divorced in 1942. In the same year, he married his second wife, Anna Maria Sauest, but they divorced in 1958. On October 6th, 1958, Karajan married his third wife, Eliette Mouret, a French model. They had their first daughter, Isabel, in 1960, and the second one, Arabel, in 1964. After Karajan’s death, Eliette continued his musical legacy by founding of the Herbert von Karajan Centre in Vienna, now in Salzburg and known as the Eliette and Herbert von Karajan Institute. Her numerous projects focus particularly on the development of young people, and she is a patron of the Salzburg Easter Festival.

Outside of music, Karajan had a passion for cars and driving. He won several regattas aboard his racing yachts christened Helisara. He piloted his Learjet, and was a great sailing and car enthusiast, particularly fond of Porsches. He ordered a specially configured Type 930 with Martini & Rossi livery and his name on the back of the Porsche 911 Turbo.

Karajan experienced health issues in the later years of his life, including heart problems. Despite his declining health, he continued to conduct and perform until shortly before his passing. He passed away on July 16th, 1989, in Anif, near Salzburg, Austria. He was 81 years old at the time of his death.


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Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner comes from a music-loving family. Her first encounter with the opera universe was at the tender age of six. The grandeur of the stage productions and costumes, the backstage chatter, and last, but definitely not least, the music left her in awe, beginning with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The overall feeling that opera awakens in anyone who gets a glimpse into this part of artistic eternity, that each and every day passes the test of time, was what drew her to stay and be a part of this world. The Opera House of Brașov became her second home, and the people who worked there were her second family.

Since then, Alice has devoted her spare time to maximising her musical knowledge through instrumental studies, studying both piano and violin for a short time. In the following years, her number one passion stepped out of the limelight and graciously gave way to Law Studies.
Since 2018 she has been studying Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Her passion for opera, even if it is no longer her top professional priority in terms of career, it has most definitely become her priority during her free time. Wanting to experience the best of both worlds and extend her musical horizons, she regularly attends opera performances throughout Romania and abroad.
With OPERA Charm Magazine, Alice aims to nurture her creative side to help it flourish and bloom and to discover, alongside the magazine’s readers, the fascinatingly complex world of opera.

Currently, she is an LL.M. in Business Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Oana Zamfir

Oana Zamfir is a second year MA student at the “George Enescu” National University of Arts, at the Department of Musicology.

She studied violin for 12 years at the “Stefan Luchian” High School of Art in Botosani, later focusing on the theoretical aspects of music. In 2019 she completed her bachelor studies in Musicology as a student of the National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” in Cluj-Napoca. Her research during 2018-2019 brought to the forefront elements of the archaic ritual within works of composers who activated during the communist period, giving her the opportunity to start a research internship at the “Carl von Ossietzky” University in Germany. In this context, she recorded conversations with members of the Sophie Drinker Institute in Bremen, and had access to documents directly from the Myriam Marbé archive.

Since 2019 she has been a teacher of Music Education and Theoretical Music Studies, making full use of interactive methods in the musical training of students and working, at the same time, with the children’s choir founded in the first year of her activity.

Her interests include pursuing a degree in interior design in 2020.

Alexandru Suciu

Alexandru Suciu inherited his passion for art growing up in a family of several generations of musicians. He began his musical studies at the “Augustin Bena” School of Music in Cluj, where he studied piano and guitar. Even though his main study direction was philological, his passion for music prevailed. He began his academical journey at the Faculty of Letters of the “Babeș-Bolyai” University, studying Comparative literature and English. He continued by studying Opera Singing at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy. He also graduated the Musical Education section, followed by Artistic Directing at the Musical Performing Arts department.

His multidisciplinary education opened the doors towards research, which is seen both through his participation in national and international conferences and symposia, such as the Salzburg Easter School PhD-forum, organized by the Salzburg Universität or the Silesian Meeting of Young Scholars, organized by the Institute of English at the University of Silesia, as well as the collaboration with Opera Charm Magazine.

During his student years, he won several prizes, including the Grand Prize at the “Paul Constantinescu” National Musical Interpretation Competition, the Romanian Composers and Musicologists’ Union Prize at the same competition, the First Prize and the Schubert Prize at the “Ada Ulubeanu” Competition.

He further developed his artistic skills by specializing in courses and masterclasses held by personalities such as Vittorio Terranova, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Marian Pop, Ines Salazar, Riccardo Zanellato, Paolo Bosisio, Valentina Farcaș and Manuel Lange in contexts such as the Internationale Sommerakademie für Operngesang Deutschlandsberg, Corso Internazionale di Canto Lirico I.M.C. Licata or the Europäische Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Montepulciano. Besides his activity on-stage, he currently teaches Opera Singing Didactics, and Pedagogical Practice within the Department for Teacher Education and Training at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy.

Cristina Fieraru

Cristina is a 24 year-old Romanian soprano & a student at the National University of Music Bucharest, where she pursues the MA program in Vocal Performance.

She made her debut in Pamina from “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at only 19 years old at the Bucharest National Opera House, as a member of the Ludovic Spiess Experimental Opera Studio. Over the years she made her debut in roles such as Contessa d’Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Mimì & Musetta (La Bohème), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) in her university’s opera productions.
Her passion and experience extends in the field of choral music, too.

She has been part of our dream team since the fall of 2021. For a good period of time she took care of OPERA Charm’s social media and took you on the monthly journey through the history of opera through our Legends rubric – and a few times through the Theaters around the World rubric.

Her little soul rubric – from 2021 to present – is definitely the Conductors of the Future, where, every month, she gives you the chance to meet a young star of the world of conducting and, of course, to find out what’s the most charming feature of opera in these artists’ views.


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