YouTubin’ with Herbert von K.

Robert Reilly’s monthly musical articles nearly always produce the same effect on me: a mad scramble through either or YouTube to hunt down recordings of the music he’s talking about — so many worthy composers; so little time — and this month’s offering, “Merry May Music”, was no exception. The third paragraph, however, produced a particularly enjoyable and unforseen YouTube experience:

Not too far from that was a Deutsche Grammophon box with 38 CDs, offering Herbert von Karajan’s Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schuman, and Tchaikovsky cycles. The equivalent price jumped to only $2 per CD. I confess I folded, but I made sure to get my customs rebate slip to make these an even more outrageous bargain.

I’ve always been a von Karajan fan, particularly when it comes to his Beethoven symphonies. And the news that I could get my hands on this spectacular symphonic collection for just over $2 a CD was very exciting to my “obsessive classical music lover” side, if not to my long-suffering pocketbook. But it was the result of typing “von Karajan” and “Schumann” in YouTube’s search box that produced the real gem: a seven-clip playlist of von Karajan rehearsing Schumann’s 4th Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Rehearsal footage has always fascinated me. At times, it’s all too easy to watch the conductor waving his little white stick around in front of the orchestra in seemingly aimless fashion, and to think of him as little more than a distracting visual obstruction of the string section. With von Karajan, in particular, this would be an easy mistake to make; his conductorial style is probably best described as granitic. How much of an impact could von Karajan, a man who stubbornly refuses to even look at his orchestra and its musicians, really have on the sound they produce, anyway?

The answer to that semi-rhetorical question, made abundantly clear by this playlist, is: a profound one.


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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