Herbert von Karajan (April 5, 1908 – July 16, 1989) was a Greek-Austrian conductor. He was one of the most prominent conductors of the postwar period and is widely regarded as the world's most recorded conductor. Karajan conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for thirty-five years.
Karajan played an important role in the development of the original compact disc digital audio format. He championed this new consumer playback technology, lent his prestige to it, and appeared at the first press conference announcing the format. Early CD prototypes had a play time limited to sixty minutes. It is often asserted that the decision to extend the maximum playing time of the compact disc to its standard of seventy-four minutes was achieved in order to adequately accommodate Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. This, however, is denied by Kees Immink, who co-invented the CD.
As was the case with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Karajan's membership in the Nazi Party and prominent cultural association with Nazism from 1933 to 1945 cast him in an uncomplimentary light after the war. While Karajan's defenders have argued that he joined the Nazis only to advance his own career, his critics have pointed out that other great conductors such as Bruno Walter, Erich Kleiber and Arturo Toscanini fled from fascist Europe at the time. It should be noted, however, that many famous conductors worked in Germany throughout the war years, including Furtwängler, Ansermet, Schuricht, Böhm, Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss, Rother and Elmendorff. Additionally, careerism could not have been Karajan's sole motivation, since he first joined the Nazi Party in 1933 in Salzburg, Austria, five years before the Anschluss. In The Cultural Cold War, published in Britain as Who Paid the Piper?, her book on CIA cultural policy in postwar Europe, Frances Stonor Saunders noted that Karajan "had been a party member since 1933, and never hesitated to open his concerts with the Nazi favourite 'Horst Wessel Lied.'" Additionally and in contradistinction to Wilhelm Furtwängler, Karajan had no objections to conducting in occupied Europe. Musicians such as Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman refused to play in concerts with Karajan because of his Nazi past. Some have questioned whether Karajan was committed to the Nazi cause given the fact of his marriage in 1942 to Anita Guetermann, a woman of clear Jewish origin, but it is only from that point that Karajan's star within the government dimmed.
Von Karajan has often been criticized for a performance that was too polished, especially in later years. "… opted instead for an all-purpose, highly refined, lacquered, calculatedly voluptuous sound…" (Harvey Sachs). However, there is widespread agreement that Herbert von Karajan had a special gift for extracting beautiful sounds from an orchestra.
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