Herbert von Karajan

Austrian conductor (Salzburg, 5 April 1908 – Anif, 16 July 1989)

A legendary figure, Herbert Von Karajan is without a doubt one of the most influential artists of classical music of the second half of the 20th century. Constantly in search for perfection, the conductor established himself as a memorable and charismatic orchestral conductor.

Born in Salzburg on 5 April 1908, Herbert Von Karajan studied the piano with Franz Ledwinka. Following a visit of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Karajan decided to enrol at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna in the hope of becoming an orchestral conductor. In 1929, he financed and conducted his first public concert, and was later hired as a choirmaster at the Ulm theatre. There he made his debut with The Marriage of Figaro and was soon offered a position as permanent orchestral conductor.

In 1934, Karajan was hired as a conductor at Aix-la-Chapelle. A year later, he became the youngest music CEO in all Germany. His debut at the Vienna State Opera was in 1937 and he conducted for the occasion Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The following year, Karajan recorded for the first time for Deutsche Grammophon: this legendary collaboration would eventually result in hundreds of recordings.

Following those years, Karajan became the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1946. During this time he met Walter Legger, a producer for EMI who offered Karajan to record in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra that he had recently founded. Karajan also performed at the Salzburg Festival, and was appointed permanent director of the Berlin Philharmonic (1955-1989), replacing Furtwängler. This was the first time in the prestigious orchestra’s history that a conductor was appointed for life. The following year he was also named artistic director of the Salzburg festival (1956-1960).

During this time, the conductor mastered a vast repertoire spreading from the baroque period to the music of the 20th century – with the exception of contemporary music, a field of music in which Karajan never showed much interest. He displayed a particular passion for one work in particular, Pelléas et Mélisande, as confessed by the conductor himself during an interview with France Musique. His numerous performances and different recordings of the same work displayed his ability to always find a new manner of musical interpretation. Many of these recordings are still considered references in today's classical repertoire. 

Six important dates in the life of Herbert Von Karajan:

1934: Herbert Von Karajan hired as orchestral conductor at Aix-la-Chapelle
1937: Debut at the Vienna State Opera with Tristan und Isolde
1938: Karajan's first recordings with Deutsche Grammophon, starting point of a lasting collaboration
1946: Appointed director of the Vienna Philharmonic
1955: Appointed director for life of the Berlin Philharmonic
1956: Appointed artistic director of the Salzburg festival