Orchestrating the myth

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  • Published 20050805
  • ISBN: 9780733314537
  • Extent: 268 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

IN OCTOBER 1938, the state-controlled German newspaper Berliner Zeitung am Mittag carried this headline, “In der Staatsoper: Das Wunder Karajan” (In the State Opera, the Karajan Miracle). It referred to a production of Tosca conducted by the 30-year-old Austrian conductor, Herbert Von Karajan. That day, a star was born. “Das Wunder” was to dominate the European music scene for the next 50 years in a way that no other cultural figure on that continent has been able (or allowed) to do since.

Herbert Von Karajan’s capacity for reinvention – a necessity after the Second World War, when his Nazi Party membership loomed like a Sword of Damocles – and ability to control every aspect of the classical music industry were second to none. In the course of his postwar career, Von Karajan turned orchestras in the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria into personal fiefdoms, was allowed unfettered freedom by recording companies to ensure the production of state-of-the-art sound and notoriously nearly sent a video company broke by shooting 20,000 feet of film for a 1982 edition of the Beethoven symphonies. When he took over the Salzburg Festival in 1957, Von Karajan made it abundantly clear at his first meeting with the festival’s board that he would not only control the artistic input but also the financial and marketing deals.

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