For great conductors—at least for those who make it that far—their ninth decade is often their most magnificent; it is also, alas, their last in which to perform. Toscanini, Monteux, Walter, Stokowski, Bohm: whatever their differences, these legendary conductors share the bittersweet distinction of attaining the heights of their careers at the very ends of their lives.

Now, at eighty-one, Herbert von Karajan is entering this rewarding and treacherous decade. By all odds the most important conductor to emerge on the international scene since World War II, Karajan is the last of an all but vanished breed, that of the Generalmusikdirektor: master at one and the same time of orchestral and operatic conducting and musical administration, discoverer and promoter of new talent, captain of musical industry, platform idol, and final arbiter of musical taste. There have been few indeed of this breed; of these few, only...


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