Herbert Von Karajan: A Biographical Portrait

Roger Voughan, Author, Roger Vaughan, Author W. W. Norton & Company $16.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-393-02224-7
Right from the start it is apparent that Karajan is a biographer's nightmare. Vaughan, who came to the maestro's attention as a yachtsman (he acknowledges straightaway that anyone with musical expertise wouldn't have had a hope of access), talks in his introduction about the contrast between writing a biography of the living and the deadwithout, however, making clear the extent to which Karajan, a controlling personality if ever there was one, had any say over the contents of the book in return for making himself occasionally available. In any case, the portrait that results from what seems like an oddly uneasy relationship is the most complete we have of a remarkable and rather unappealing personality. Vain, driven and ruthlessly ambitious, the conductor clawed his way to the top of Germany's musical life during the Nazi years and, after the death of Wilhelm Furtwangler in the early 1950s, has been at the summit of European music ever since. With his two great orchestras, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, his staggeringly opulent opera festivals at Salzburg and his hundreds of recordings, Karajan has been for 30 years a powerful, streamlined juggernaut only now, in his mid-70s, beginning to show signs of wear. Vaughan does his best to elucidate the Nazi past, though parts of it seem likely to remain ever mysterious. In the end the portrait he has drawn is more that of a master politician whose field happens to be music than that of a truly creative being; and perhaps that is what he intended. (April 21)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1986
Release date: 05/01/1986
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