Herbert von Karajan and Mstislav Rostropovich with Strauss’s “Don Quixote”

01–31 Jan 1975

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Ulrich Koch, Mstislav Rostropovich

  • Richard Strauss
    Don Quixote, Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, op. 35 (46 min.)

    Ulrich Koch Viola, Mstislav Rostropovich Cello

Herbert von Karajan held Richard Strauss in the highest esteem both as a composer and as a conductor. Of Strauss’s many tone-poems none meant more to Karajan than Don Quixote which he first conducted in Aachen in 1939. His soloist on that occasion was the great Italian cellist Enrico Mainardi, Strauss’s soloist on his own celebrated 1933 Berlin recording.

During the next five decades Don Quixote remained close to the centre of Karajan’s repertory, nor was there a leading exponent of the role of Quixote whom he did not enlist to play: Mainardi, Tortelier, Fournier, Rostropovich, Ma, and in later years the young Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses. In Berlin in 1976, he entrusted the solo role to the Berliner Philharmoniker’s own distinguished principal cellist Ottomar Borwitzky.

Among the many qualities Karajan revered in Strauss was his mastery of the musical epilogue. “They are all wonderful but for me the greatest comes at the end of Don Quixote where Quixote says, ‘I have battled and I have made mistakes but I have lived my life as best I can according to the world as I see it, and now...’ I find this intensely moving.” Such was Karajan’s attachment to the work, he often programmed it to mark moments of farewell, as in Vienna in 1964, or remembrance, as in Berlin in 1986 on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of his predecessor in Berlin, Wilhelm Furtwängler. 

Karajan had a specially warm working relationship with Mstislav Rostropovich (1927–2007). He recalled the start of rehearsals for the present film. “At the cello’s first entry Rostropovich came in with a dreadful slow grumbling noise. I was so surprised I stopped the orchestra. ‘Slava, are you all right?’. ‘Yes, but you see, it’s a very old horse that I’m riding.’ Wonderful!”

Unitel

Directed by Herbert von Karajan
Recorded at the Philharmonie, Berlin, January 1975
© 1975 Unitel

Watch now

Try out the Digital Concert Hall

Try out the Digital Concert Hall

Watch a free full-length concert of Sir Simon Rattle conducting symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Watch concert for free