Artist Profile: Herbert Von Karajan, A Legendary, Though Controversial, Conductor

By David Salazar

Herbert Von Karajan was one of the great conductors of all time.

Born on April 5, 1908, he was a child prodigy at the piano and between ages 8-18, he studied at the Mozarteum. After graduation, he continued his studies a the Vienna Academy.

He made his conducting debut at the Salzburg Festival in 1933, the same year he became a member of the Nazi party. In 1938, he debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic and Berlin State Opera; he also received a contract with Deutsche Grammophon that year, an association that would continue for decades.

Despite being a Nazi member, he started losing favor with Nazi leadership due to his marriage to Anna Sauest, who was of Jewish descent. He and his wife fled Germany in 1945 and arrived in Milan. His Nazi membership remains a blight on his impressive resume.

In 1956, he became the principal conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic. Between 1957 and 1964 he became artistic director of the Vienna State Opera.

His final performance came on April 24, 1989 and he died on July 16 of that same year.

He is widely considered one of the top selling recording artists of all time, selling over 200 million records.

He won a plethora of awards in his life time from the Italian, Germany, and Austrian government to name a few. He was given an honorary doctorate from Oxford University and won two Gramophone Awards for recordings of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and “Parsifal.” He also received the Picasso Medal from UNESCO and had a few awards named after him.

Signature Works

Von Karajan was a master of a wide range of composers and forms and in opera he conquered all the major composers. His interpretations of the works of Wagner are undeniably among his most iconic with his recording of “Tristan und Isolde” among the most beloved of that particular work. His “Parsifal” recording earned him a Gramophone Award.

Read More on Karajan

A Look at His Historic Recording of “Die Fledermaus”

His Connection with Gundula Janowitz

Watch and Listen

Here is a live performance recording of “Die Walküre.”

Here is a performance of Verdi’s Requiem to get a sense of his style.


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