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One of the greatest and most celebrated performing artists of the twentieth century, Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) dazzled, intrigued, and intimidated the music world. As the young Karajan told his brother, "Whether it's conducting, skiing, or motor racing, I simply want to be the best." Richard Osborne draws on his own extensive conversations with Karajan, interviews wi One of the greatest and most celebrated performing artists of the twentieth century, Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) dazzled, intrigued, and intimidated the music world. As the young Karajan told his brother, "Whether it's conducting, skiing, or motor racing, I simply want to be the best." Richard Osborne draws on his own extensive conversations with Karajan, interviews with those who knew the conductor, and a treasure trove of primary sources to bring into focus the flamboyance and flaws of an extraordinary musician as well as the turbulent international music scene over six decades. The author debunks many legends about Karajan, particularly those relating to his membership in the Nazi Party, which he opportunistically joined in 1935 to obtain a conducting appointment. While the decision haunted him throughout his life, Karajan's career flourished after the war. A jet-setting superstar, he once held, simultaneously, six of the world's most prestigious musical posts, including director of the Salzburg Festival, artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, and conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic. After signing with legendary producer Walter Legge, Karajan achieved international fame through his best-selling recordings. He also embraced the challenge of adapting to rapidly changing technologies, and quickly mastered each new medium -- television, vinyl LPs, tapes, and CDs. This comprehensive, well-balanced, and objective biography will stand as the definitive work on this exceptional maestro.


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One of the greatest and most celebrated performing artists of the twentieth century, Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) dazzled, intrigued, and intimidated the music world. As the young Karajan told his brother, "Whether it's conducting, skiing, or motor racing, I simply want to be the best." Richard Osborne draws on his own extensive conversations with Karajan, interviews wi One of the greatest and most celebrated performing artists of the twentieth century, Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) dazzled, intrigued, and intimidated the music world. As the young Karajan told his brother, "Whether it's conducting, skiing, or motor racing, I simply want to be the best." Richard Osborne draws on his own extensive conversations with Karajan, interviews with those who knew the conductor, and a treasure trove of primary sources to bring into focus the flamboyance and flaws of an extraordinary musician as well as the turbulent international music scene over six decades. The author debunks many legends about Karajan, particularly those relating to his membership in the Nazi Party, which he opportunistically joined in 1935 to obtain a conducting appointment. While the decision haunted him throughout his life, Karajan's career flourished after the war. A jet-setting superstar, he once held, simultaneously, six of the world's most prestigious musical posts, including director of the Salzburg Festival, artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, and conductor for life of the Berlin Philharmonic. After signing with legendary producer Walter Legge, Karajan achieved international fame through his best-selling recordings. He also embraced the challenge of adapting to rapidly changing technologies, and quickly mastered each new medium -- television, vinyl LPs, tapes, and CDs. This comprehensive, well-balanced, and objective biography will stand as the definitive work on this exceptional maestro.

30 review for Herbert Von Karajan: A Life in Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    John

    I was quite excited to get into this biography, as big as it is (nearly 750 pages of text). Herbert von Karajan is probably my most listened-to conductor, and I was eager to learn more about his life and in particular get some new perspectives on his controversial past as a conductor working in Nazi Germany. This biography delivers positively on many levels. Osborne gives us a pretty satisfying portrait of the man from his childhood until his final years, having done a great job with the research I was quite excited to get into this biography, as big as it is (nearly 750 pages of text). Herbert von Karajan is probably my most listened-to conductor, and I was eager to learn more about his life and in particular get some new perspectives on his controversial past as a conductor working in Nazi Germany. This biography delivers positively on many levels. Osborne gives us a pretty satisfying portrait of the man from his childhood until his final years, having done a great job with the research and interviews a biography this size demands. His own interactions with Karajan are interesting to read as well. One highlight is the complex relationships that Karajan had with those around him, whether it be a recording mogul such as Walter Legge or an entire orchestra, especially the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics. But what I couldn't get past while reading this was that it seemed like one giant synopsis of Karajan's recordings and performances. Nearly every chapter is peppered with Osborne's opinion on this concert's result and that recording's style and power. I can definitely see the relevance of including critical receptions of Karajan's records from various journalists, but it seems like Osborne used this book as his own little newspaper column about classical records (or worse, Amazon customer reviews for classical CDs). And these "columns" are characterized by abstractions along the lines of "it was like the darkest shades of humanity coming out of the architecture" or some such. Maybe that is what the book was intended to be anyway; after all, it is subtitled "A Life in Music," which perhaps alludes to a focus on recording and performance synopses. Indeed, a large amount of time is spent on Karajan's recording career, a very significant part of his life. But if you go into this book expecting straight-up biography you might find it a bit of a slog due to this. Nevertheless, despite these gripes, I can recommend this book as essential to musicians, especially conductors, who wish to learn about the life of one of the greatest ever to hold a baton. Just get it and take your time with it, and you'll enjoy it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    DDC

    "The conductor has to try to understand the real sound and life of the score" Karajan holds a fascination to many, across several generations, that is hard to explain, or even place. More even so given that he is ever present in the world of classical music, being considered the best selling classical artist of all time. But how can this be? Unlike his peers, names like Mahler or Bernstein, Furtwangler who he succeeded as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, he did not produced original "The conductor has to try to understand the real sound and life of the score" Karajan holds a fascination to many, across several generations, that is hard to explain, or even place. More even so given that he is ever present in the world of classical music, being considered the best selling classical artist of all time. But how can this be? Unlike his peers, names like Mahler or Bernstein, Furtwangler who he succeeded as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, he did not produced original work; instead, he, in his own words, dedicated his impressive career in music "to understand the real sound and life of the score". This is a man that, through the array of pieces that compose the classical genre, fashioned a name for himself, to the point that it became a brand, a style, and icon. The question is, did he do it on purpose, some sort of long-term planned course, or is it a by-product of the times? As with so many revered personalities, Karajan suffered from the collective perspective, no doubt aided by his peculiar life style. But the music he produced, many considered to be reference interpretations, continue to stand the judgment of times. The most impressive aspect of this wonderful biography is that the author, who knew and accompanied Karajan for some years, does him justice by putting Karajan against Karajan. His work as a conductor, as an interpreter, is judged in itself as a whole. Recordings are compared to their previous attempts. The author does not try to present Karajan as the best, but only as the best version of himself as an artist. Although the book does not present us with a complete discography, which in Karajan's case would be welcomed as he recorded the same works several times (let us not forget that he produced no fewer than four complete Beethoven's symphonies cycle), it is a comprehensive guide to the prolific string of work that spanned his entire tenure. Impressive as well, is the human dimension that comes across, shattering or softening the image of the tyrannical, cold and distant maestro. You can glimpse the father like figure to "his" orchestra, the caring and pride in their collective ensamble. The wonderful work and initiatives they produced together. It is easy to forget that he took up office in 1956. In this line, to remain indifferent to the suffering Karajan endured in the later years is not possible. As from a certain point in the narrative one can sense that the end is near; as his pain and physical frailty take its toll, we are stricken with the urgency of his legacy, despite the fact that the considerable peak of his powers are, at this stage, considered long gone. However, the 80's would be the stage for his most visible of periods, as it encapsules the mass divulged image of Karajan. In this particular point, Karajan as the psychological case study, lies, in my eyes, the fascination. What drove him? How did he galloped through the adversity to the higher peaks? He certainly experienced difficulties, controversy that would follow him the year span of his life. This book was a wonderful read, specially so because this particular edition was very hard to come by and a joy to have been able to obtain it. I am sure it will be a book I will return to often, due mainly to the remark made by Karajan: "I have not been lucky in my biographers". Maybe through this one the maestro has finally got the treatment he deserved.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Outstanding.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kurt

    A genius is a genius is a…

  5. 4 out of 5

    Philippe

    This is probably the ultimate biography of a complex and controversial personality in recent musical history. The book is conventionally structured: it is based on a detailed chronology supported by a rich factual database on Karajan's accomplishments as an orchestra builder and manager, recording artist and film maker. Stretching to more than 700 pages, the rich detail of Osborne's account certainly is one of the main attractions of this book. We learn a tremendous amount about Karajan's workin This is probably the ultimate biography of a complex and controversial personality in recent musical history. The book is conventionally structured: it is based on a detailed chronology supported by a rich factual database on Karajan's accomplishments as an orchestra builder and manager, recording artist and film maker. Stretching to more than 700 pages, the rich detail of Osborne's account certainly is one of the main attractions of this book. We learn a tremendous amount about Karajan's working methods, contract negotiations, concert tours, recording schedules, casting policy, press reviews, etc. As the story progresses Osborne branches out in all kinds of directions, gradually weaving more and more threads into the basic narrative. Given the quality of Osborne's prose this never becomes tedious. And it really does learn us something substantial about the breathtaking speed, economy, tenacity and versatility of the Karajanesque genius. There is no doubt that the book as a whole transcends the merely anecdotal. What emerges is a rich, multifaceted, holographic image of a great artist. What is even more impressive about Osborne's book is that it gives us an idea of what constitutes the essence of great conductorship. Instead of being confronted with woolly and simplistic generalizations about a certain 'Factor X' that allows an individual to coax exactly the right sound from a full symphony orchestra, we see the conceptual foundations of this most elusive of disciplines emerge in all its technical, psychological and somatic richness. Therefore, this book is definitely a must-read for any classical music lover, irrespective of personal predilections with respect to the man himself. Comment

  6. 4 out of 5

    Isidore

    Osborne's vast tome lays out the facts of Karajan's career in exhaustive detail, but does not convey a clear picture of either the artist or the man. The latter was undeniably elusive, but one wishes Osborne had worked harder to define his view of Karajan's salient characteristics as a performer, how he changed over time, why he was important, why his detractors were wrong, and how he fits into the history of orchestral leadership. At best we catch tantalizing glimpses of these vital topics amid Osborne's vast tome lays out the facts of Karajan's career in exhaustive detail, but does not convey a clear picture of either the artist or the man. The latter was undeniably elusive, but one wishes Osborne had worked harder to define his view of Karajan's salient characteristics as a performer, how he changed over time, why he was important, why his detractors were wrong, and how he fits into the history of orchestral leadership. At best we catch tantalizing glimpses of these vital topics amidst a sea of gossip and minutiae. Far too much of the book is nothing more than a tedious diary of performances and business transactions, and far too often we are asked to accept snippets from Gramophone record reviews as a substitute for thoughtful analysis. Recommended only to diehard fans.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Manuel

    I have to say, I was a bit daunted initially by the sheer size and scope of this work, but, having just finished it, I have to say it's one of the finest musical biographies I have ever read. Filled with endless fascinating details about this seemingly enigmatic and highly-guarded individual, Osborne manages to give a very insightful and balanced rendering of Herbert von Karajan, the man, certainly a musical genius of the first order. Superbly written, one never tires of the exhaustive details o I have to say, I was a bit daunted initially by the sheer size and scope of this work, but, having just finished it, I have to say it's one of the finest musical biographies I have ever read. Filled with endless fascinating details about this seemingly enigmatic and highly-guarded individual, Osborne manages to give a very insightful and balanced rendering of Herbert von Karajan, the man, certainly a musical genius of the first order. Superbly written, one never tires of the exhaustive details of von Karajan's life. This is a well-paced, and hugely satisfying musical biography; it makes you want to pull out all your von Karajan recordings, and listen to them with fresh ears. A truly monumental work. My only quibble; it would have been nice to include a selected discography, although, understandably, given von Karajan's musical output, it might be too much to ask for.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cieocom

    Wonderful details of a great career and an opening to what music's subtle meanings and significances can be. Lots of background on K and others, as well. Reading this title is a little like being in Karajan's company and watching from the side, how prominent figures enter and exit his world, how deals were pushed through, enemies made, allies placated, and admirers were enthralled by the subtle magic of beauty, eternity, and the creative impulse in a musical world. One experiences many memorable Wonderful details of a great career and an opening to what music's subtle meanings and significances can be. Lots of background on K and others, as well. Reading this title is a little like being in Karajan's company and watching from the side, how prominent figures enter and exit his world, how deals were pushed through, enemies made, allies placated, and admirers were enthralled by the subtle magic of beauty, eternity, and the creative impulse in a musical world. One experiences many memorable and historic mileposts where musicians experience highs and lows, heaven and hell, but love their musical art, above all. Well researched, well written, well liked.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Wow, this took a long time to read. I've been getting into classical music lately so I picked up a biography of one of the most talented and notorious conductors of the 20th century. Although the book does a great job of looking at all angles of Karajan's personality and his various indiscretions, it is a little too packed with references to artists and works that I've never heard of. Not great for the beginning classical music fan, but it had its moments. Wow, this took a long time to read. I've been getting into classical music lately so I picked up a biography of one of the most talented and notorious conductors of the 20th century. Although the book does a great job of looking at all angles of Karajan's personality and his various indiscretions, it is a little too packed with references to artists and works that I've never heard of. Not great for the beginning classical music fan, but it had its moments.

  10. 5 out of 5

    MusicandBooks

  11. 4 out of 5

    HenryO

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aurelio

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ricardo S

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sibila

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  17. 4 out of 5

    Richard Larraga

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

  20. 4 out of 5

    Xiyuan Fang

  21. 4 out of 5

    Craig Zeichner

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pip

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bertie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hans

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sofia C

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mia

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dafydd

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul W

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Fernandez

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