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Karajan conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos. 4–6

01–31 Dec 1973

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

  • Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Symphony No. 4 in F minor, op. 36 (43 min.)

  • Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64 (48 min.)

  • Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 “Pathétique” (46 min.)

The Berliner Philharmoniker’s long and distinguished tradition of Tchaikovsky performance can be traced back to their founding years. Tchaikovsky himself knew and admired the orchestra’s two earliest principal conductors Hans von Bülow and Artur Nikisch. Their inspired advocacy of his music – the last three symphonies in particular – would be continued by their similarly dedicated and charismatic successors Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan. 

The 20-year-old Karajan included Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in his very first professional concert in Salzburg in January 1929. The Pathétique Symphony followed in Ulm in 1933. He told his parents, “When it was all over, the audience sat as if dead for ten seconds, then bawled their approval as if at a football match.” In 1939, the year after his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Karajan recorded the Pathétique with the orchestra. The artistic self-possession he displayed in his handling of both the music and the orchestra was widely noted at the time. By now he also had in his repertoire the tragic yet electrifying Fourth Symphony, a work of which he would become one of the great interpreters.

Karajan and his Director of Photography Ernst Wild made these films in Berlin in 1973 at the end of a decade during which he and a group of distinguished avant-garde film directors had changed the way orchestral music was realised on screen. The films reveal Karajan’s work at its vital and imaginative best. They are also a visual reminder of some of the qualities which the critic of the Salzburger Volksblatt had noted in Karajan’s debut concert in 1929: “Not a declamatory conductor but a leader of suggestive power”, “stick technique and posture calm”, “the primeval power of his musicality”. Forty years on, all this – and more – is vividly on display.

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