Herbert von Karajan

Life & Works

Karajan - Chief Musical Director Of Europe

Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) was called the “chief musical director of Europe” as he advanced from his hometown of Salzburg in a stellar career  to hold the most critical positions in classical music: after co-creating and forming the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, he became principal  conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for life in 1955. At that time he was already a regular conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, leading them on an unprecedented world tour in the late 50s, then becoming director of the Vienna State Opera and artistic director of the Salzburg Festival simultaneously. It’s not surprising that Herbert von Karajan was the one who arranged the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, “The Ode to Joy” in 1972 to become the European Hymn up until today.

Karajan The All-Time Top-Selling Musician

Karajan wanted his musical legacy to prevail after his death, so he worked relentlessly on recording his music on audio and video. The Karajan Institute now has a database of over 2,300 audio and video recordings by Herbert von Karajan. The fact that he recorded over 500 different classical music works makes his recording catalog an extremely valuable source for listeners from classical music fans to novices. This is also reflected in sales numbers: Karajan sold over 350 million records – more than The Rolling Stones and Queen combined – and 200 million streams and almost 60 Mio listeners yearly on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music & Co.

Karajan The Music-Tech and Business Visionary

Karajan had a lifelong fascination for technological innovation. He was a pioneer in recording technology, from very early stereo, followed by multichannel recordings, to playing an essential part in the development and promotion of the compact disc. In April 1981, Karajan invited all four companies that co-developed the CD  to come to Salzburg and present this new technology to the world. Additionally, his recording of the Alpine Symphony was one of the first CDs ever released. He also created a new genre of music film by inviting film directors from other genres to make classical music films with him and later even founded his own film company “Telemondial”. He envisioned bringing classical music, via modern technology, to a larger audience than ever would have fit into concert halls. He also famously said:” Unfortunately I was 10 years too early and will therefore miss so many of the technological advancements that are yet to come.” Karajan the visionary!

Karajan The Allrounder

From the very beginning of his career, Karajan was not only interested in the musical aspects, but was also focused on authoring complete productions on stage. Although he worked with famous directors like Franco Zeffirelli, Giorgio Strehler, and John Schlesinger, he actually directed most of his opera productions himself. The Salzburg Easter Festival, founded by Karajan in 1967, was the perfect platform for such plans. As he was the founder, manager, and financial producer all in one, his artistic decisions were completely autonomous. No wonder Karajan started his first Easter Festival with a work by Wagner, the inventor of the “Gesamtkunstwerk”. “The Valkyrie” was also performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera the same year – an early example of efficient co-production. Another innovative idea was to first record an opera with all the singers in the studio that would then go into rehearsal for an opera production with Karajan. Which had the advantage of the singers not having to strain their voices and being able to concentrate on stage direction as well as the fact that on the day of the premiere the record was already available in stores for sales.

Karajan The Mentor

Karajan was a mentor for young musicians all his life. Performing with him provided new opportunities for instrumentalists and enabled them to start a world career even as teenagers – for example, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Evgeny Kissin. In the 1970s, he initiated the “Orchester-Akademie der Berliner Philharmoniker”, a workshop for young instrumentalists to prepare for becoming members of major orchestras – not only for the Berlin Philharmonic. It was officially named “Karajan-Academy” in 2017. Karajan also helped young conductors by teaching them, using his connections, and establishing a prestigious conductors award. Many of today’s most important conductors like Mariss Jansons, Valery Gergiev, Seiji Ozawa, and Christian Thielemann owe him invaluable support. The “Young Conductors Award” at the Salzburg Festival is a living tradition of his legacy.

Karajan - The Explorer Of Musical Science

Karajan was fascinated by the effects of music on the human body and mind, and therefore funded scientific research in this field not only by giving money and resources but also acting himself as a guinea pig for research. In the photo, you can see Herbert von Karajan wired to an ECG device and to a device that measured the galvanic skin reflex, pulse rate, respiration, and muscle tone while conducting or listening to music. 

Every year a symposium on scientific research was held during his Easter Festival in Salzburg and a special research institute was founded first at the University of Salzburg and then moved to Vienna. 

Through Herbert von Karajan’s suggestions and initiative, the field of neuroscientific music research was co-founded.

Read More Karajan Stories

Agnes BaltsaAlban BergAlexis WeissenbergAnna Tomowa-SintowAnne-Sophie MutterAnton BrucknerAnton DermotaAnton von WebernAntonín DvořákAntonio MenesesAntonio VivaldiArthur HoneggerArtistsAstrid VarnayBalletBedřich SmetanaBela BartókBirgit NilssonCamille Saint-SaënsCarl Maria von WeberCarl NielsenCarl OrffCarlo BergonziCésar FranckCesare SiepiChrista LudwigChristian FerrasChristoph Willibald GluckClara HaskilClaude DebussyClaudio MonteverdiComposersDavid OistrakhDietrich Fischer-DieskauDinu LipattiDmitri ShostakovichDocumentaryEberhard WaechterEdda MoserEdvard GriegElisabeth SchwarzkopfEngelbert HumperdinckEvgeny KissinFelix Mendelssohn-BartholdyFerruccio FurlanettoFrancisco AraizaFranco CorelliFranz LehárFranz LisztFranz SchubertFranz Welser-MöstFritz WunderlichGeorge Frideric HandelGeorges BizetGéza AndaGiacomo PucciniGidon KremerGioachino RossiniGiulietta SimionatoGiuseppe TaddeiGiuseppe VerdiGlenn GouldGottfried von EinemGundula JanowitzGustav HolstGustav MahlerHans HotterHector BerliozHelga DerneschHelmut SchmidtHermann PreyHildegard BehrensIgor StravinskyInterviewIrmgard SeefriedJanet PerryJean SibeliusJess ThomasJohann Sebastian BachJohann StraussJohannes BrahmsJohn NeumeierJon VickersJosé CarrerasJosé van DamJoseph HaydnKathleen BattleKathleen FerrierKatia RicciarelliKrystian ZimermanKurt MollLeonie RysanekLeontyne PriceLucerne FestivalLuciano PavarottiLudwig van BeethovenMaria CallasMario del MonacoMaurice RavelMax RegerMichael HampeMirella FreniModest MussorgskyMstislav RostropovichNicolai GeddaNicolai GhiaurovOttorino RespighiPaata BurchuladzePaul HindemithPeter HofmannPeter SchreierPierre FournierPietro MascagniPlácido DomingoPyotr Ilyich TchaikovskyRenata TebaldiRené KolloRichard StraussRichard WagnerRobert SchumannRolando PaneraiRolando VillazónSeiji OzawaSena JurinacSergei ProkofievSergei RachmaninoffSpotlightStaatskapelle DresdenStoriesSviatoslav RichterThe European Union Youth OrchestraVienna PhilharmonicWalter BerryWilliam WaltonWolfgang Amadeus MozartWolfgang WindgassenYehudi MenuhinYo Yo Ma

Here you can download the full curriculum vitae of Herbert von Karajan!

Stay Informed