Herbert (Heribert Ritter) von Karajan (April 5, 1908 –July 16, 1989) was an Austrian conductor, who was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for 35 years, generally regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, and a dominant figure in European classical music from the mid-1950s until his death. Karajan was born Heribert Ritter von Karajan in Salzburg, Austria-Hungary, on April 5, 1908, to parents Ernst and Marta (née Kosmač) von Karajan. The Karajans were of Greek or Aromanian ancestry. His great-great-grandfather Geórgios Karajánnis, was born in Kozani, in the Ottoman province of Rumelia (now in Greece), leaving for Vienna in 1767, and the surname Karajánnis became Karajan.
Karajan was a child prodigy at the piano. From 1916 to 1926, he studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Franz Ledwenke, theory with Franz Zauer, and composition with Bernhard Paumgartner. 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.
In 1929, he conducted Salome at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg and from 1929 to 1934 Karajan served as Kapellmeister at the Stadttheater in Ulm. His senior colleague in Ulm was Otto Schulmann. After Schulmann was forced to leave Germany in 1933, Karajan became first Kapellmeister. In 1933 Karajan made his conducting debut at the Salzburg Festival with the Walpurgisnacht Scene in Max Reinhardt’s production of Faust. In Salzburg in 1934, Karajan led the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time, and from 1934 to 1941, he was engaged to conduct operatic and symphony-orchestra concerts at the Theater Aachen.
Karajan’s career was given a significant boost in 1935 when he was appointed Germany’s youngest Generalmusikdirektor and performed as a guest conductor in Bucharest, Brussels, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Paris. In 1938 Karajan made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Berlin State Opera, conducting Fidelio. He then enjoyed a major success at the State Opera with Tristan und Isolde. Receiving a contract with Deutsche Grammophon that same year, Karajan made the first of numerous recordings, conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin in the overture to The Magic Flute.
On October 22, 1942, at the height of the Second World War, Karajan married Anna Maria “Anita” Sauest, born Gütermann. She was the daughter of a well-known manufacturer of yarn for sewing machines. Having had a Jewish grandfather, she was considered a Vierteljüdin (one-quarter Jewish woman). By 1944, Karajan was losing favor with the Nazi leadership, but he still conducted concerts in wartime Berlin on February 18, 1945. A short time later, in the closing stages of the war, he and Anita fled Germany for Milan, relocating with the assistance of Victor de Sabata.
Karajan was discharged by the Austrian denazification examining board on March 18, 1946, and resumed his conducting career shortly thereafter. In 1946, Karajan gave his first post-war concert in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic. That summer he participated in the Salzburg Festival. On October 28, 1947, Karajan, with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, performed Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem for a gramophone production in Vienna. In 1949, Karajan became 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. Starting from this year, Karajan began his lifelong attendance at the Lucerne Festival. In 1951 and 1952, he conducted at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, and in 1955, he arrived in New York City for a concert at Carnegie Hall.
In 1956, Karajan was appointed principal conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic as successor to Wilhelm Furtwängler. From 1957 to 1964, he was artistic director of the Vienna State Opera. Karajan was closely involved with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Salzburg Festival, where he initiated the Easter Festival, which would remain tied to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Music Director after his tenure. In 1971 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decided to propose adopting the prelude to the “Ode to Joy” from 4th movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as the European anthem, taking up a suggestion made by Richard von Coudenhove-Kalerg. Karajan was asked to write three instrumental arrangements – for solo piano, for wind instruments, and for symphony orchestra, and he conducted the performance used to make the official recording. He wrote his decisions on the score, notably those concerning the tempo. Karajan decided on minim (half note) = 80 whereas Beethoven had written crotchet (quarter note) = 120. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe officially announced the European Anthem on January 19, 1972, at Strasbourg.
The “Anthem of Europe,” based on “Ode to Joy,” is the anthem of the Council of Europe and the European Union and is played on official occasions by both organizations. It is not intended to replace the national anthems of the member states but rather to celebrate the values they all share and their unity in diversity. It expresses the ideals of a united Europe: freedom, peace, and solidarity. Due to the large number of languages used in the European Union, the anthem is purely instrumental. In February 1983, a bronze bust of Karajan was unveiled in the foyer of the newly built State Theatre in Berlin. In his later years, Karajan suffered from heart and back problems, needing surgery on the latter. Karajan resigned as the Principal Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic on April 24, 1989. His last concert was Bruckner’s 7th Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic. He died of a heart attack at his home in Anif, Austria, on July 16, 1989, at the age of 81.
My collection includes the following work by Herbert von Karajan:
“Anthem of Europe”–Ode to Joy or An die Freude after Beethoven (European Union), arr.