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Herbert von Karajan 'Piano'
Size :95H x 145B
About the painting :Commanding the podium with his slender figure, theatrical shock of hair and penetrating blue eyes, Herbert von Karajan projected the hieratic image of the conductor as officiant of some quasi-mystic rite. And anyone who ever saw him conduct live or on his many audiovisual recordings will agree that in his performances, music did indeed become a religion and Karajan its high-priest.

Born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1908, he became the city's most famous son after Mozart. Raised in a cultivated musical environment, he studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg before entering the Vienna Music Academy. He made his conducting debut in 1928 and became chief conductor in Ulm, Germany, before moving on to the larger city of Aachen in 1935, where he was appointed Germany's youngest general music director. He made his debut at the Vienna State Opera in 1937 and at the Berlin State Opera in 1938. In 1955 he was appointed music director for life of the Berlin Philharmonic, which he honed into arguably the best orchestra in the world. Simultaneously at the helm of the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival and the Berlin Philharmonic for a time, and closely connected to the Vienna Symphony, London's Philharmonia Orchestra (which had been created especially for him) and Milan's La Scala, Karajan became known as the "General Music Director of Europe" from the 1950s to the 1970s. He towered over European musical life as no one had done before. Herbert von Karajan died in Salzburg on July 16, 1989.

Karajan embodied classical music in the general consciousness as an epoch-making conductor, media star, opera producer, festival director and festival founder. But in spite of his Promethean and widely varied activities, he remained a superb conductor, with a grasp of the standard orchestral and operatic repertory from Mozart to Schönberg that was unsurpassed among his peers.

If Karajan continues to be such a looming presence in the classical music world today, then it is not only because of his more than 800 records and CDs, but also because of the many hours of video recordings which he produced over the course of many years - many of them with Unitel. Nothing less than a visionary in this domain, he began preserving his performances on film back in 1965, when he produced his first opera film, La Bohème, with Franco Zeffirelli. It marked the beginning of a long-term association with Unitel, which gave rise to a total of 48 hours of music on film, ranging from operas to cycles of symphonies and to a variety of orchestral works.

Conscious of Karajan's extraordinary significance, Unitel insisted on preserving the maestro's performances with the help of the highest technological standards available. Unitel thus used 35mm film, filmed in color at a time when few television sets were equipped for it, and recorded in stereo before stereo broadcasting was introduced! Karajan sought out innovative directors such as Franco Zeffirelli, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Hugo Niebeling, whose provocative "translation" of Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony has achieved considerable renown.

No less important to Karajan was the quality of the performers he chose to transmit his musical legacy to coming generations. Unitel's Karajan recordings feature almost exclusively the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras and Milan's La Scala Orchestra. Among the soloists are the leading performers of our time such as Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Nikolai Ghiaurov, Peter Schreier, Yehudi Menuhin, Alexis Weissenberg...

Among the highlights are Verdi's Requiem with Price, Pavarotti, Ghiaurov and Cossotto; the complete cycle of Beethoven's nine symphonies along with the Missa Solemnis and a Ninth live from the Berlin Philharmonic with Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Agnes Baltsa, René Kollo and José van Dam; all four Brahms symphonies and the German Requiem with Gundula Janowitz and José van Dam; Bruckner's Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 and Tchaikovsky's Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6. His opera productions include Carmen (with Grace Bumbry), La Bohème (with Mirella Freni and Placido Domingo), Otello (with Freni and Jon Vickers), Das Rheingold (with Jeannine Altmeyer, Brigitte Fassbaender and Peter Schreier), and Madama Butterfly (in the Ponnelle production with Freni, Domingo and Christa Ludwig). In addition, there are rehearsals of music by Beethoven, Dvorak and Mozart showing the maestro at work; and a 60-minute portrait of the conductor at 70.

Some of Karajan's Unitel productions have since acquired "gold" status; his Verdi Requiem, the Pastorale, and La Bohème, which is regarded in the U.S. as one of the most distinguished treatments of opera on film. This also underlines a fundamental fact about the Karajan-Unitel association: Unitel's recordings feature the maestro in his maturity, at the peak of his powers. Unitel's Karajan recordings not only capture one-of-a-kind musical events, but also document one of the 20th century's most pre-eminent conductors.

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Jhr. Kees A. van Citters
Valkenstraat 21
2011 JL Haarlem
The Netherlands

Mail: keesvancitters@yahoo.com
Tel: 0031-235320662
Celphone: 0031-624266918
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all images © Kees van Citters / Beeldrecht Amstelveen