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Directed by Gernot Friedel
English commentary with English, French and German subtitles
Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), one of the twentieth century’s most fascinating and complex geniuses, dominated the post-war classical music world like a colossus. He won unprecedented musical power and public acclaim; received far more adulation, sold far more records and made far more money than any other classical musician of his era. He also had many detractors -those alienated by his superstar status; those who found the purity and beauty of his music-making cold and superficial; those repelled by his headstrong ambition and endlessly demanding pursuit of his artistic ideals; and those for whom he was forever tainted by the shadow of the Third Reich.
Yet his musical playboy image was at odds with the private man who was, in reality, a shy, often solitary figure, possessed of great directness, simplicity and wit, who craved inner quiet and concentration, and was deeply loyal to his closest associates. He loved the peace and quiet of lakes and mountains as much as he did his private aeroplane and his fast cars. Charismatic and enigmatic, Karajan was also the construct that was ‘Karajan’. This film reveals the phenomenon of the man and his music. And it is Karajan himself, in archive interviews, who talks of events in his life and relates them to his work as a conductor.
Herbert von Karajan’s life, both on and off the podium, is charted. From the influential experiences of his childhood and student days; through his emergence as a young conductor with a reputation for being brilliant but difficult; to his years at the forefkont of classical music; and his last decade when, despite failing health, and beset by acrimonious musical politics, he continued to push himself to the limits of his creative and physical powers.
The documentary also touches on the controversial issue of Karajan’s membership of the Nazi Party; his rivalry with FurtwSingler; his fitful association with Walter Legge of EM1 and with the Philharmonia orchestra, founded by Legge in 1945; his fascination with science, technology, art and architecture in relation to music and his conducting style and rapport with his musicians. All are brought into focus and illustrated with a wealth of archive material.
And throughout the film there is Karajan’s music, drawn from the many sound and audiovisual recordings he made during the course of his extraordinary career. Extracts fiom works by Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, J.S. Bach, Puccini, Johann Strauss II, Mahler, Verdi, Richard Strauss and Schoenberg testify to the vast range of the classical repertoire he mastered and summon up the sublime beauty of his music- making.