Wednesday, July 09, 2008
BBC fails to find the real Karajan
Herbert von Karajan was born on April 5, 1908. So, unsurprisingly, most celebrations of the conductor's centenary took place in April this year. But BBC Radio 3 has decided, for reasons that escape me, to celebrate all things Karajan in the second week of July.
The BBC's centenary tribute kicked off on Saturday with The Real Karajan, a programme fronted by James Jolly that promised "to get under the skin of this controversial musician ... and (tell) how the Second World War affected his early career". Now Jolly is one of the less-awful of the current BBC presenters. (As I type these very words his fellow presenter Petroc Trelawny promises us, and I quote exactly "Mahler's Eighth Symphony, the Resurrection" tomorrow evening). But Jolly's day job is editor-in-chief of Gramophone, a magazine that has been the mouthpiece of the classical recording industry for decades and which comes from a publishing group whose other titles include Classic FM, PR Week and a slew of BBC magazines. So Radio 3's choice of James Jolly to get under the skin of a best-selling but surprisingly unpopular conductor was hardly visionary.
Predictably the resulting programme unearthed nothing new, but instead gave a number of industry talking-heads the opportunity to reassure us that the 'real Karajan' was just a nice guy with a taste for the simple things in life. (Like his executive jet seen in my header photo?). In Tim Winton's superb new novel Breath the narrator makes the penetrating observation that 'people are fools, not monsters'. The talking heads on the Real Karajan would have made their eulogy a lot more credible if they had admitted that although Karajan may not have been a monster he was, like many other great musicians, sometimes a fool.
For some reason nobody on the programme told the story that I published here back in 2005, so no excuses for repeating it. Karajan was conducting at Bayreuth at the same time as Hans Knappertsbusch. Backstage in the Festspielhaus there were just two lavatories at the end of a long corridor. Karajan's personal secretary, it is said, put a notice on one, 'For the exclusive use of Herr Karajan'. An hour later a notice appeared on the other one written by Knappertsbusch, 'For all the other arseholes'.
Talking of the Second World War Siegfried Lauterwasser was briefly mentioned in James Jolly's programme as "Karajan's personal photographer". The background music may have been the funeral march from Götterdämmerung, but none of the talking heads were allowed to rain on Siegfried's parade.
Photo credit of HvK with his Falcon 10 jet at Salzburg Airport to photographer Emile Perauer and comes from my Ein Heldenleben article. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk