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Karajan: the conductor who lived in the fast lane
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Will the real von Karajan please stand up?

He joined the Nazi party, loved Thatcher and flirted with Buddhism. But who really was Herbert von Karajan? Documentary-maker John Bridcut tries to find out

7:00AM GMT 05 Dec 2014

Herbert von Karajan was quite an anglophile. He spoke the language, though his speech was seldom clear, even in his German mother tongue. He relished being prised from his native Austria to conduct the Philharmonia in London, which with the record producer Walter Legge helped to rescue his reputation in the post-Nazi era. No honour pleased him more than the Oxford doctorate in music he was awarded in 1978: he reciprocated three years later by giving a concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre. And he liked hearing and retelling the risqué jokes of Sir Thomas Beecham, whose conducting he much admired.

The one bon mot he did not repeat was Beecham’s description of Karajan himself: “a sort of musical Malcolm Sargent”, six words with which Beecham neatly demolished both conductors. “Flash Harry” Sargent was always impeccably turned out, and was beloved of the Proms audience (whose applause he shamelessly milked). Karajan seemed cut from the same cloth: suave, handsome and glossy. But, unlike Sargent, he won the devotion of his orchestras, and the many singers and instrumentalists who worked with him.


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