Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Karajan on the music of today






This 1963 Stereo Review interview with Herbert von Karajan was tucked inside a copy of Curt Riess' 1955 biography of Wilhelm Furtwängler that I bought years ago from a rare book dealer. In it Karajan ranges from baroque to contemporary music. A fascinating document that is worth reproducing even though it is rather difficult to read in this format. Left clicking (in Windows) on the individual images does enlarge them. Sorry about the legibility and cropping, but transcribing the complete text is beyond even me. However the following exchanges do particularly demand to be captured:

Pendergast - 'In rehearsing the orchestra, you seem to put great emphasis on conveying the proper rhythms to the players. Is this perhaps the most difficult task for the conductor?'

Karajan - 'Yes, it is. It is very strange, but with our race and in our latitude, rhythmic control is the most difficult thing for a musician to achieve. There is hardly a musician among us who can play the same note five times without minor variations. Part of the fault is that rhythm is never taught correctly to young musicians. For the Negro or African, it comes naturally - this sense of rhythm. As for myself, I can tolerate wrong notes, but I cannot stand unstable rhythm. Perhaps I was born in Africa in another existence. Once in Vienna after we had finished a recording session, I surprised everyone by telling them I was going to hear a Louis Armstrong concert. When they asked why? I told them that to go to a concert and know that for two hours the music would not get faster or slower was a great joy to me.'

Herbert Pendergast - 'Do you think that the music of composers like Boulez and Webern will be easily understood by the musical public of the next generation?'

Herbert von Karajan - 'I am quite certain that the next generation will have no problem in understanding most of the music of today. Think of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. Twenty years ago it was considered inacccessible; today it is a classic. Think of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. When we perform it today, it sounds like a concerto grosso of Handel. With the decline of melodic inspiration in music, the serial techniques of today are a necessary self-imposed discipline for the composer...'

Pendergast - 'And those who listen to this music must impose upon themselves a discipline as great!'

Karajan - 'One is not born with an understanding of Beethoven, either!'

Karajan's Schoenberg, Berg and Webern featured here.
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5 comments:

JW said...

Geezus!!! Another member of the "White Guys Can't Jump" school. It never ends, does it?

Antoine Leboyer said...

It has became fashionable to look down Karajan by modern conductors and a few critics. We should just read this interview objectively to see what a great conductor he was.

davidderrick said...

Of course Karajan was a great musician: all the interviews are interesting. Btw, Bob, don't you use ReadIris or something similar? No need to type what you've scanned. Character recognition works pretty well these days.

Adair said...

Herbert Pendergast was a a great music critic living in the Washington, DC area. He had a legendary record collection. A book of his collected criticism was in the works just before Mr. Pendergast died in the late 70's, and the project seems to have been abandoned. One can only wonder where the manuscript is---it surely contains some of the best music criticism of the 20th Century.

Tone said...

Karajan, like many, realized one life, one level of existence, one set of personal traits, one culture, one perspective is too limited for our gifted and versatile lives. Herbie mentioned elsewhere how natural rhythms and tempos additionally and distinctly flavor so much that is pleasing to the musical palate, as well as time being one of the most important elements in music.

Man, it's just something life taught both Herbie and Satchmo as musical brothers.