28 April 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan in Lucerne

Karajan and the Lucerne Festival – a story of constant fidelity. Except for the Salzburg Festivals, there was no festival that Karajan attended as assiduously as the Swiss music Mecca on Lake Lucerne.

Except for one single year (1960), Karajan came there every summer between 1948 and 1988, for many years even on the same two days (31 August and 1 September)! It is no exaggeration to say that he performed in Lucerne over his entire career after the war. He also installed conductor’s classes and workshops. Sylvia Caduff, one of the first female conductors and a protégé of his, recalled in an interview:

“Karajan was giving a conductor’s class here in Lucerne. I was listening through a window. One day, when he was leaving, I asked him if he ‘d think a woman could conduct. And he said: It depends how she would do it. (…) Usually, women don’t do it. But maybe you are the woman to do it. I’ll test you.’”

Karajan performed in Lucerne with all of “his” orchestras – Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Vienna Symphony plus the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Here are some memorable Lucerne concerts.

1948    First concert with Wilhelm Backhaus (Mozart K 319, Beethoven’s Fifth and Brahms 2nd piano concerto)

1950    Mozart K 467 with Dinu Lipatti. Lipatti’s last ever concert with orchestra.

1955    Bach’s BWV 1061 with Clara Haskil and Géza Anda, Honegger’s 3rd symphony and an all-Beethoven programme

1957    Brahms’ violin concerto with Nathan Milstein

1959    Bach’s BWV 1052 with Glenn Gould. Their last concert together. Gould’s last ever concert in Europe.

1964    Richard Strauss’ 100th anniversary. “Zarathustra” and “Don Quixote” with Pierre Fournier.

1967    Karajan’s second and last concert with the Cleveland Orchestra performing Mozart K 242 and Prokofiev’s Fifth. Cleveland’s chief conductor George Szell is present. In the interval, “Szell took the Cleveland cellos off to practise a tricky passage in the finale. Karajan was stunned by that (‘in the interval of my concert…now there is real dedication and real generosity’).” (Richard Osborne)

1969 Bach’s 3rd “Brandenburg Concerto” with the Berlin Philharmonic.

1980    Karajan’s only Chopin performance, the 2nd piano concerto with Krystian Zimerman.

1988    Last concert in Lucerne with Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” and Brahms’ First.



This is a fascinating project by the label audite in collaboration with our institute – “Herbert von Karajan – The Early Lucerne Years”. The CD box contains previously unreleased live recordings from the years 1952 – 1957. Karajan is joined by legendary soloists like Clara Haskil and Géza Anda, Nathan Milstein and Robert Casadesus. A treasure trove for every Karajanist! Available here and on our playlists with Karajan performing in Lucerne. Listen to them here.

Interview in ö1, 3 October 2021

Richard Osborne “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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