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The Documentary on the occasion of his 100th birthday

Directed by Robert Dornhelm

This centenary video-biography of Herbert von Karajan (April 1908 - July 1989), the controversial conductor who bestrode the 20th Century is, as they say, 'riveting'; quite unusually for us, we watched it through in a single sitting, as it spanned his conducting career from its beginnings in provincial Ulm to despotic domination of the great orchestras of Vienna and Berlin and eventual physical decrepitude, as seen from the video of a final New Year's Day concert in Vienna. Himself deeply interested in technology, towards the end of his life Karajan voiced a wish he'd been born twenty years later to enjoy and participate in the innovations which were developing.

The dialogue, expertly edited by Dornhelm and colleagues headed by Christoph Engel, paints a broad picture of his life in the times; his Nazi party membership (twice) is briefly discounted in the context of his over-riding preoccuption with music, music and only music. Brief clips from many commentators, including singers Christa Ludwig and René Kollo, and conductors including Rattle and Ozawa (his pupil towards the end of his life), build a balanced picture. His interpretations were slanted towards "beauty" above all and he was unsparing of others in his quest for perfection as he saw it.

Controversy will be revived with this production, a notable landmark in musical biography. There are few reviews to be found yet; I came upon an American 100th birthday tribute/evaluation of "the one musician who epitomises the cliche of the godlike conductor on the podium" which is worth reading. Its writer, Marc Shulgold, quotes extensively from James Inverne, Editor of Gramophone. And the booklet with the DVD has a persuasive interview with Karajan's biographer Richard Osborne, who sums him up as as "an extraordinary man who lived through extraordinary times", and "a superb-craftsman who knew his trade". The latter quote is applicable also to Robert Dornhelm for the achievement of this recommendable film.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For a broader summing up of Karajan at 100, I recommend http://music.guardian.co.uk/classical/story/0,,2271876,00.html#article [Editor]