Celebrity Buddhist - the
late Herbert von Karajan
What is the connection between Beethovan, Mozart and Strauss Waltzes and Buddhism? Do you have a smooth peaceful feeling of Zen when you listen to the famous "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" when the Space Shuttle docks on to the Space Station in the movie 2001:A Space Odyssey"?? Well, watch that movie again to appreciate the performance of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the late Herbert von Karajan. You may finally get a feeling what Zen Buddhism is all about.
One of the most renounced conductor of the 20th century is the late Herbert von Karajan, who was born in Salzburg 1908 to aristocratic Austrian parents. In 1935, he was appointed to be the youngest general director of music in Germany. In 1937 he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera and in 1938 at the Berlin State Opera.
When Second War World started, he joined the Nazi Party, so that he could continue his professional career in music, conducting various concerts in Germany. However, he had never been drafted into the Germany Army. On July 26, 1938, he married his first wife Elmy Holgerloef, the first operatta singer in the Aachen chorus. Their marriage lasted only two years.
As the Socond War World continued, Karajan got himself into trouble with the Germans in October 1942 by marrying Anita Gutermann, who was Jewish. He was fired by the Nazis as he was touring Itlay. His musical career suffered a heavy setback during the rest of the war.
His career took off again after WWII, though for a few years, the Allied Forces barred him from the Salzburg Festival. But during the 50's to the 70's he became the best musical director in Europe, being appointed as life time conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, while at the same time taking helm of the Vienna State Opera. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was created specifically for him! He died in July 16, 1989 in his home town.
After WWII, he went through a spiritual search for two years. It was during this time that he encountered Yoga and Zen Buddhism. A book called Zen Buddhism drawn him into a close relationship with Pater LaSalle, a Zen master who was the head of a monastery in Tokyo. "When I read the book, it gave me so much that I nearly have all of it in my head." Karajan told the American reporter Roger Vaughan. "When I finally met him, I felt as if I had known him for twenty years."
How Buddhism affects his musical skills? He told the reporter, "In a way the orchestra and I do the same thing - we concentrate on a koan or riddle which is the content of the music that we do. ......And if we have the common focus of concentration, something else comes to life. And this we feel, not twenty-five of us, but a hundred of us. It is like taking off in the airplane. It lifts us up."
Thus, the Buddha's teaching of mindfulness and concentration during meditation had benefited his musical career a great deal.
He continued, "The language of Buddhism says not 'I shoot' or 'I operate'. It says 'it shoots - it operates'. The 'it' indicates that something behind you is governing every thing. You are only giving it the first control, then you must let it go. When I forget I make music, I know that it is right."
To hear some of his music, simply watch the movie "2001:A Space Odyssey". In that movie, Karajan conducted the famous opening Main Title (Also Sprach Zarathustra, by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and Space Travel to the Moon (On the Beautiful Blue Danube, by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra). During his career, he had conducted thousands of musical materpieces including Strauss Waltzes, Beethovan's Symphonies, operas, etc. and he usually did them without looking at any music sheets!!
Herbert von Karajan, a biographical portrait, by Roger Vaughan
Various Herbert von Karajan websites such as www.listen.com and yahoo!music.
Return to Buddhism Mainpage