Who were the heaviest sticks of the 20th century ?
“Two conductors, both alike in dignity (?),
In fair Berlin, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil quarrel makes art unclean.
From forth the strive of these two foes
Will last and long their star-cross’d life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their only death bury their strife.
The continuance of their parents’ line,
And the fearful passage of their art-mark’d life,
Which, but their magic sticks could define
Is now for minutes’traffic of our stage;
For these, you, with patient ears attend,
Which truth was missed, our toil shall strive to mend…”
Who are we having in mind ?
Two Hellenes (or Aromanians, at least one of them) who changed forever the perception of classical music in Europe and worldwide.
Two men who strived through the last century’s most dark times, right in the middle of the Maelström and who opposed one another for 50 years.
Two top musicians with two antagonistic philosophies of life and conception of music and art in general which opposition is left to eternity.
Two men who’s legacy as musicians and artists is tremendous, to acquire and judge, for us, today.
But who are Aromanians ?
Aromanians, or Vlachs (Aromanian: Armânji, Râmânji, Makidonji), are a Latin people native throughout the southern Balkans, especially in Romania (Dobrudja) and northern and central Greece, southern Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, south-western Bulgaria, and in Serbia.
Also called Macedo-Romanians, Aromanians are, by opposition to Romanians, always south of the Danube (Marioţeanu Caragiu Matilda).
They are followers of Macedonians, colonized by the Romans, living in the Byzantine Empire for more than 1000 years before its annihilation by the Turks.
TJ Winnifrith did not hesitate to assert that “… if we want to talk about the Aromanians (Vlachs ) we must start with Olimpyas and Philip II Macedon”.
Having a Macedonian ascendence and being Romanized, Aromanians have strong genealogic and cultural ties with both Greek and modern Romanian people.
Our point is not that our two heros (at least the Prince) had ascendance in some ethnic minority in today’s Balkans but that they had Macedonian (Greek) ascendance and came from a Latin speaking people.
The Prince’s birth
On April 5, 1908 was born in Viena Herbert Ritter von Karajan, later known as Herbert von Karajan.
His great-great-grandfather, Georgios Karajánnis was born in Kozani, in Macedonia (the real Macedonia, Greece) and left for Vienna in 1767, and eventually Chemnitz.
He was ennobled by Frederick Augustus III on 1 June 1792 for their services in the development of the cloth industry in Saxony. The surname Karajánnis became Karajan and was prefixed by “von”.
Karajan’s family from the maternal side, through his grandfather who was born in the village of Mojstrana, Duchy of Carniola (today in Slovenia), was Slovene. By this line, Karajan was related to Austrian composer of Slovene descent Hugo Wolf. Karajan also seems to have known some Slovene.
The Prophet’s birth
Sergiu Celebidachi was born on June 28 1912, in Roman, a small town in North East Romania.
The name is actually Celebidachi, a typing error was made in Germany when he applied to University, the name changed then in Celibidache. Later Germans simply called him Celi (pronounced Zeli).
The Celebidachi family seem to have originated from Greece (Crete?), around 1800.
His father was a rich and influent Cavalry Officer. Six month after his birth, the family moved to Iasi, one of Romania’s major cultural cities.
It seems the young child spent his first years in absolute silence, not speaking for a few years. But at 4, he started playing piano.
And so did the Prince.
The Prophet’s Youth
Breaking up with his father Demostene who wanted a political career for his son at 18, he studies music, mathematics and philosophy, first in Iasi then Bucharest.
In 1935 he moves to Paris to continue his studies. One day he listens to the radio a string quartet by Heinz Tiessen and he is so excited that he immediately writes his own quartet and sends it back to Tiessen.
Heinz Tiessen, who was also a teacher in the Berliner Musikhochschule, immediately invited Celibidache to Berlin.
His destiny was set. He went to Berlin in 1936 to study composition at the Berlin Academy of Music (Hochschule für Musik).
Two years later he enrolled to study conducting under Walter Gmeindl, and subsequently graduated from the Friedrich Wilhelm University with a dissertation on Josquin des Pres (a 15th-century Flemish composer whose polyphonic works had great influence on 16th-century music).
The Prince’s Youth
The Prince was a child prodigy at the piano. He studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Vienna Academy.
In 1929, he conducted Salome at the Festspielhaus in Salzburg and from 1929 to 1934 he served as first Kapellmeister (first violin) at the Stadttheater in Ulm.
The Prince made his conducting debut at the Salzburg Festival with the Walpurgisnacht Scene in Max Reinhardt’s production of Faust, in 1933.
During the 30’s, the Prophet will continue his studies in Berlin, and will meet and get close to Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1939, he would also meet a buddhist monk, Martin Steinke (alias Dao Jun), who will have a considerable influence on his entire career.
Approximatively in the same time, the Prince was joining the Nazi party and was being adopted by the nazi propaganda machine as a counterweight to Wilhelm Furtwängler, which the Nazis knew they could not count on.
For the reader : Wilhelm Furtwängler was the conductor en titre of the Berlin Philharmonic at that time.
During the war, Furtwängler tried to avoid conducting in occupied Europe. He said: “I will never play in a country such as France, which I am so much attached to, considering myself a ‘vanquisher’. I will conduct there again only when the country has been liberated”. He refused to go to France during its occupation, although the Nazis tried to force him to conduct there. Since he had said that he would conduct there only at the invitation of the French, Goebbels forced the French conductor Charles Munch to send him a personal invitation. But Munch wrote in small characters at the bottom of his letter “in agreement with the German occupation authorities.” Furtwängler declined the invitation.
In 1944 he would be the only prominent German artist who refused to sign the brochure ‘We Stand and Fall with Adolf Hitler’. Close to Claus von Stauffenberg and other members of the July 20 plot, he fled to Switzerland in January 1945.
So now, a young, gifted, Austrian conductor, appeared in the Third Reich.
We do not think his motivation was political for any matter. But he certainly was a very determined young man who loved fast boats, fast cars, fast airplanes, and had one thing in mind : success.
His unique career would have still been impossible at that time without the good will of the party: Karajan´s big breakthrough is still considered to have taken place on October 21th 1938, when he conducted a performance of Wagner´s “Tristan and Isolde” at the Berlin State Opera.
Afterwards the a famous headline “The Miracle Karajan” was published in the magazine “BZ”. This raised at once the young Prince to the level of Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Goring and Goebbels were competing each other for the control of the art as a form of nazi propaganda.
Göring, then Prime Minister of Prussia, was overseeing the Berlin State Opera and Goebbels, as the chief of the Reich Chamber of Culture, was responsible for Furtwängler. Both Göring and Goebbels had an interest in Karajan. He fitted well into their world view since he was young, good-looking, a perfectionist and a aesthete.
Karajan knew how to exploit this awareness by the party peaks. Because up to the “miracle”-article, he was “just” a provincial conductor.
Previously stationed at Ulmer, he was appointed general music director of Aachen in 1935. And he remained in Aachen, Germany, as general music director, until he was dismissed in the 1941/42 season allegedly because he was there too rarely.
We can hardly imagine life conditions in Berlin at the beginning of 1945. But there he was, the Prophet stood among the ruins and lived his passion for music undisturbed.
Being considered a student with special skills in his native Romania, he was not called on to fight in war and was allowed to continue his studies in Berlin. Furthermore, as teachers were forced to leave their jobs because of the war, the Prince taught his colleagues several disciplines. In less romantic terms, during this period, he led a permanent fight for survival, lacking food and dodging Allied bombings.
The Prophet’s first significant appearance after the war as a conductor is a concert of August 11, 1945 with the Berlin Chamber Orchestra. Shortly after, he won a contest organized by the Berlin Radio Orchestra (Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin), being then only 33 years old.
Meanwhile, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was still officially directed by Wilhelm Furtwangler who was exiled in Switzerland and awaiting for the long de-nazification process.
The Allies were looking for a new conductor, politically acceptable, and following the accidental death of Leo Borchard who failed to stop at an american checkpoint and was shot, The Prophet was appointed chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.
In 1946, in his first season with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Celibidache conducted no less than 108 concerts.
When Fürtwangler resumed his post in 1948, Celibidache became co-conductor. After having rehearsed and conducted more than 400 concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, Celibidache looked set to succeed as conductor after Fürtwangler’s death which occurred in 1954.
But the Orchestra, to his disappointment, chose Herbert von Karajan instead.
Celibidache would follow his carreer with orchestras all over the world and will hold for almost a lifetime the Munich Philharmonic.
But how was that possible ? Surprisingly the Prince’s denazification had moved very slowly forward in the occupied Germany. Karajan was not allowed to work, the Allied kept interrogating him and remained negative. The Federal Archives in Berlin still keep the records to document this. There it is documented, that as late as April 1949 in a letter from the Zonal Office of Information Services in Hamburg, the office of the Cultural Relations Branch explicitly stated that Karajan´s denazification, which was completed in 1946 in Austria was not valid for Germany.
Only the young Federal Republic of Germany helped the Prince to make his comeback. Suddenly he was no longer held back. He got engagements in Vienna, Salzburg, Milan, London and Berlin. Sporadic attacks of his Nazi past, he always dismissed as being envious.
In the 1960´s the conductor and his Philharmonics planned a concert tour to Israel. But the Israelis were clear: the orchestra could come, Karajan could not. Only when he died in 1989 the way was paved. In 1990 the Berlin Philharmonics were in Israel for the first time.
The men and their passions
The Prince was a man who loved beautiful women, and again, fast boats, fast cars, and fast airplanes. He married (second time) Anita Güttermann, a beautiful, quite younger, and very rich lady of Jew origins in 1942 and arranged things with Goebbels in order to stop any nazi inquiry over his wife.
He bought the “La Palme” villa in St Tropez in 1958, were his boats would anchor.
He had been sailing since he was a boy. In 1938 he bought his first yacht, the “Karajanides”. In 1967 the first of his “Helisara” was launched (named after the acronym of (H)erbert, (El)iette, (Is)abel and (Ara)bel).
He loved driving sports cars and had one of the most incredible collections of fast vehicles.
The Prophet had a deeper philosophy of life: he thought more about music, was less interested in worldly wealth and placed greater emphasis on sharing his knowledge.
He was well known for his demands for extensive rehearsal time with orchestras. An oft-mentioned feature of many of his concerts, captured in the live recordings of them, is a slower tempo than what is considered the norm, while, in fast passages, his tempos often exceeded expectations.
In his own view, however, criticism of a recording’s tempo is irrelevant, as it is not (and cannot) be a critique of the performance but rather of a transcription of it, without the ambience of the moment – for him, a key factor in any musical performance. As Celibidache explained, the acoustic space in which one hears a concert directly affects the likelihood of the emergence of his sought-after transcendent experience. The acoustic space within which one hears a recording of one of his performances, on the other hand, has no impact on the performance, as it is impossible for the acoustic features of that space to provide feedback to the musicians that might impel them to, for example, play slower or faster.
What did they say about each other ?
Celibidache always had the reputation of saying exactly what was on his mind. In an interview, he was asked what he thought of Herbert von Karajan.
Karajan, replied Celibidache, is an elegant but superficial conductor. The interviewer almost dropped his notebook. ”But,” he stuttered, ”Karajan is known everywhere in the world.”
”So is Coca-Cola,” Mr. Celibidache answered.
Celibidache had a huge admiration for other conductors. Leopold Stokowski was to him ”a king of color.”
And, above all of Wilhelm Furtwängler : ”His inspiration still means something to me. He was the first and last conductor I have heard who could put the vertical pressure in relation to the horizontal fact.” – we let you interpret the meaning of that…
What did Karajan say about Celi ?
Well, there is one thing to mention, when he was given the Berlin Philarmonic direction following Furwängler’s death in 1954, Karajan deleted Celibidache’s name from the historical list of the Philharmonic chief conductors.
His name was only reestablished in 1990, following Karajan’s death.
The Prince was once asked on a television show, why did he record 5 times the whole set of Beethoven’s symphonies? He answered “perfectionism”…..and he was for sure a perfectionist for having sold over 200 millions records during his lifetime.
The Prophet’s conception of music and the meaning of art in general is a philosopher’s life work, and that’s something we shall not try to reach here.
The main contribution of the Prophet to musical theory is his contribution to the theory of musical phenomenology, founded by Edmund Husserl.
In trying to explain musical phenomenology he goes into the ”objectivization” of sound, structures, spiritual conditions. … The Prophet was indeed a very spiritual man.
He was born a Romanian into the Orthodox church and considered himself a lover of all religions. ”Religion transcends the condition of man. There are no wrong religions” he used to say.
His definition of art is quite nietzchean, even though he rejected Nietzche for obvious reasons. For him, the act of creation was freedom and freedom was creating. The meaning of art was not the beauty (of music for instance) but something way further in terms of transcendence.
His constant refuse to record his concerts was based on a very particular comprehension of the aesthetics of music and what constitutes the listening experience which is fundamentally empirical and hence related to the very fraction of time when the music is created and also to the cognitive perception of the auditors at that precise moment.
Influenced by Zen Buddhism, having studied mathematics and philosophy in his youth, he produced a considerable number of essays on music phenomenology and musical theory, never published and which he endly always rejected.
He was also actively involved in giving masterclasses to aspiring conductors.
Enthusiastic students claim that they learnt more from simply observing Ceibidache for an hour than in weeks of lessons.
The students came away from his classes embroiled in philosophical teachings and transformed from rigid human metronomes to orchestra conductors who breathe, move and beat with the innate natural rhythmic flow of music…
Hoping this article contributed in opening your interest in finding out more about Celi’s universe, we recommend the Movie “The Garden of Ceibidache”, shot by his own son, Serge Ioan Celebidachi and which we are helplessly trying ourselves to procure, having been sold out since quite a time.
A few documentaries are to be found on youtube :