“Herbert von Karajan: Maestro for the Screen” is a film by Georg Wubbolt,
released by Arthaus Musik in 2008. Although only 52 minutes long, it is
essential viewing for those interested in Karajan’s career, especially
his penchant for perfectionism.
The main premise of the film is that Karajan was the first conductor to be
obsessed with leaving a “visual” or filmed legacy of his work. Film editors,
his personal secretary, the former CEO of the Sony Corporation, members
of both the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras,
the executor of Karajan’s estate, and various collaborating directors are
interviewed throughout. The information gathered is quite revealing.
To be sure, the portrait presented is that of a “control freak,” but also of
a man who would often spend his own money, if he felt it was necessary
to ensure a “perfect” product. One amusing anecdote revealed that
Karajan apparently had the bald members of the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra wear toupees while being filmed.
He was obsessive about achieving the right camera angles and lighting,
and kept up with all of the latest technological developments in filming
This DVD illustrates yet another facet of the man considered by many to
have been one of the most significant and influential conductors of the
20th Century. According to the media, only Leonard Bernstein seriously
challenged Karajan in this respect. For his part, Karajan considered
Bernstein to be something of an annoyance, at that time.
You’ll want to watch “Herbert von Karajan: Maestro for the Screen,” but
make sure that you use the “English subtitles” option if necessary, since
roughly 99 percent of it is in German.