Why Are Men & Women Troubled about Ambition and Importance?
By Edward Green

Aesthetic Realism explains there are two kinds of ambition: one ethical and healthy, the other ugly and hurtful. In issue #64 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Mr. Siegel wrote:

    Every person, every moment of his life, is trying to like the outside world on an honest basis. Along with this aim, which is a large part of man's unconscious, a person would like to despise, put aside, be angry with, have contempt for the outside worlds as a means of making himself important.
Until a man understands these two desires, he is not free. The reason for this is, even if we seemingly "succeed" at an ambition which has contempt as its source, we defeat ourselves. To succeed in despising the world is to make ourselves mean and lonely.

        1) I Learned I Had Two Kinds of Ambition

When I began to study Aesthetic Realism, I was a senior in college, studying music, hoping to become a composer. I learned that music was definitely a means of liking the world on an honest basis. A basic principle of Aesthetic Realism is this statement by Eli Siegel, which I love:
All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.
Yet the fact that I was interested in something beautiful did not mean my purposes with it were beautiful. My consultants asked:
    Have you used the purity of music to feel, "here is where my salvation lies?", and to have disdain for everything that is not music?

    EG:  Yes, I think I have--and also for people who were not musicians.

    Consultants:  So you used your achievements to feel superior. Did you try to feel you were the most beautiful and deepest thing there is?

    EG:  Yes!

    Consultants:  That would mean there was competition in your mind between yourself as deep and beautiful and anything else having those qualities.

    EG:  Yes, I see that.

    Consultants:  How long do you think a person can sustain two dramatically opposed purposes without hurting himself? If a person feels he is polluting the best thing in himself, he can come to feel he doesn't deserve it.

That is exactly what had happened to me! I had stopped composing, and I was afraid I'd never again be able to write music. Through the kind questions I heard, I began, for the first time, to see why. My care for music was polluted by a hope to use it for contempt and superiority.

As I learned how to be a critic of my purposes with people, things, and music, what I despaired of, happened: I began to write music again. My gratitude for this will last a lifetime. And even more importantly, I became a warmer person, capable of love, and I am so happy that next month my wife, Aesthetic Realism consultant Carrie Wilson, and I will be celebrating our first wedding anniversary.

    2) Ambition in an Austrian Conductor

Tonight I will speaking about some aspects of the life and work of Herbert von Karajan, the late conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. I am using a 1986 biography by Roger Vaughan.

In Eli Siegel's lecture Mind and Ambition he explained:

    Four things are present in ambition: you want power; you want approval; you want people to envy you; and you want to show off. To be ambitious means you want to do things to people and to have them like you at the same time. But the problem is, if you don't feel you deserve that, even if you win, you'll be in a tangled state.
These four things were crucial in the life of von Karajan.

He was born in l908 in Salzburg, Austria, to a prestigious family. One hundred years earlier, a relative founded the textile industry of Saxony. For this he was knighted, and the family name changed. From the Greek "Karajannis," it became the noble "von" Karajan.

As a child, he climbed trees and played with his older brother Wolfgang. He loved the Alps, liked learning languages, was goalie of his school's soccer team. He also showed deep talent for music. By 15 he was touring the Salzburg area as a concert pianist. At 21 he was conductor of the opera house of Ulm, Bavaria.

His happiest years, I believe, were at Ulm, where he worked closely with the singers, bicycling to their homes to coach them in their parts. He helped with the costumes, and took up a hammer to build sets. He even worked cooperatively with another conductor, each assisting the other with productions. "We took time," von Karajan said years later, "to think things out. The small theatres in Germany operated with great care for the material. At Ulm I could express myself, get to know my faults by what I did." 

And a love for the great conductor Toscanini deepened. Roger Vaughan tells how the young man, "once got on his bicycle and rode 200 miles to hear Toscanini conduct." This I believe represented the best kind of ambition in von Karajan.

However, he also had another kind of ambition. Being very handsome, coming from a family with social rank, and having artistic talent, he felt certain things were coming to him. "I was born to command," he told Vaughan. And Vaughan quotes von Karajan as saying:

    It was difficult for my father to make up his mind...Always he would say 'ask your mother,' when I came to him with a question. Then he wouldn't be happy with her decisions. I think this made a big impression on me. Because from childhood, it has always been me who commanded.
As Adolf Hitler came to power, saying he believed in the "basic aristocratic principle in nature," it met something von Karajan was already disposed to feel. As with millions of other Germans and Austrians, Hitler encouraged and confirmed the worst possible ambitions. In 1933, von Karajan joined the Nazi party. "We have to show people that we are better than they are," Mr. Siegel said in "Mind and Ambition," "because this is the one way we know of being sure of ourselves." 

The tragedy of von Karajan's life--and every man can learn from him--is that with all his ability at music, he preferred contempt to art.

In l935, in appreciation of a festival organized by von Karajan in honor of Hitler, the Nazi paper, Der Westdeutsche Beobachter, wrote:

    [Herbert von Karajan] is the man who can lead the new organization of our cultural life in the spirit and direction which National Socialism demands.
Karajan was now general music director of the city of Aachen---a major post, which he helped secure through his loyalty to the party. He was just 27. Yet he dreamed of bigger things. He hired, as his agent, a colonel of the SS, Rudolf Vedder, a close friend of Himmler. He divorced his first wide, and married a wealthy woman who, however, was 1/4 Jewish. This got him into some trouble until his agent managed to get Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, to declare her, in effect, an "honorary Aryan."

His conducting was becoming know for its dynamism, and in keeping with his respect for Toscanini--with whom he worked in the summers at the Salzburg festival while hiding his Nazi connections--von Karajan knew his scores and aimed for precision. But while the sound he got from an orchestra was brilliant, hardly any critic, then or later, ever praised it for warmth, or depth of feeling. Said Joseph Wechsberg, in l962, of von Karajan's conducting for the Vienna State Opera:

    [His] flair for exactness is evident, but also his love of effect. Everything he does is high voltage, but also missing in depth.
When one's ambition is bad, the desire to impress gets ahead of the desire to feel deeply.

In l938 the most renowned of German conductors, Wilhelm Furtwangler, got into trouble with the Nazi high command because he refused to fire Jewish musicians, and after Hitler personally cancelled a production of a new opera by Hindemith, Furtwangler wrote an open letter of protest.

To punish Furtwangler, Reichsmarshall Goring called von Karajan to Berlin and gave him Furtwangler's position at the State Opera. Von Karajan always wanted that post, and he eagerly accepted. The horrible state Eli Siegel described in "Mind and Ambition" was his: he had won, but wasn't proud of the basis. He couldn't be sure--had he been called to conduct at the greatest German opera house because of his talent, his years of carefully studying music, or because he had been a loyal member of the party?
Mr. Siegel said in his lecture:

    The feeling that we are all right deeply doesn't come that easily...Ambition can be called, in its bad sense, a substitute for the ability to like oneself. In the good sense, it is a n extension of the ability to like oneself.
This bad kind of ambition and the politics that accompany it are not confined to Nazi Germany. They go on in every family, in every country, and it is one huge reason Aesthetic Realism is desperately needed by the world.

Von Karajan told his biographer that around this time:

    I began having problems with concentration. I couldn't express myself as I wanted....I felt enclosed in a glass case, restricted.
He tried Yoga; later psychoanalysis. But what he felt in Berlin, as he vied with other musicians for the approval of Hitler while Nazi armies overran France, Greece and the Ukraine, can be explained only by Aesthetic Realism. In the historic issue #134 of The Right Of, the first to carry the headline, "Contempt Causes Insanity," Eli Siegel writes:
    The insensibility of steel is what the contemptuous person is trying to attain. To be insensible to what is going on outside of oneself is the ambition of a constant part of self. Every person has been conquered by contempt somewhat.
Von Karajan may have conquered musical Germany, but contempt had conquered him, and he suffered.
As I write about Herbert von Karajan, I understand myself better and see with a fresh sense of gratitude how much pain I was spared because I had the god fortune to meet and study Aesthetic Realism.
In my first consultation, I was asked:
    Where do you think your individuality comes from--where you are different from other people, or where you are the same?
I answered, "different," and my consultants explained this had to do with all my difficulties. I was living a contradiction: I wanted, in music, to show my feelings; but I wanted in life to act lofty and maintain a picture of myself as deeper than other people--too deep, in fact, for anyone to understand me.

A classmate of von Karajan, from his years at the conservatory in Vienna, gives this picture of the young conducting student:

    He was a serious fellow. He didn't bother with the girls. The rest of us were struggling to conduct, while von Karajan was already doing Brahms from memory...No one could get close to him. There was a buffet downstairs where we all ate. Karajan would arrive, eat his sandwich quickly, and disappear.
Every man wants to distinguish himself--but there is an honest and a dishonest way. In l975 I had the honor to be studying Aesthetic Realism in classes with Eli Siegel and learning what musicians throughout the centuries have longed to know--this great principle:
    The resolution of conflict in self is like the making one of opposites in art.
At the same time I was working as an apprentice to a composer who talked about music very differently. He saw music as a unique realm of technical knowledge which only people possessed of special talent could understand.

This was utterly false; also tremendously flattering. But I was too stupid to see it. My music began to take on a wrong complexity.

Mr. Siegel said to me in a class: "You planned to make music a hide-away from life, and now you are seeing there is a relation between the technical aspects of music and what people feel. All music has gone for showing that the world can be liked. I hope you like that."

He was my friend as he showed me the battle raging between opportunism and honesty, between the self truly ambitious for art and the self ambitious to use art as a means of elevating myself. He saved me from narrowness. "Fascism," Eli Siegel writes in issue #111 of The Right Of, "begins with the preference by man for his way against truth in any century."

It is very hard to trace von Karajan's life in the later years of World War Two. For a while he conducted in occupied countries. In Paris he is bitterly remembered for having begun an evening at the Opera with the infamous "Horst Wessel" song of the Nazi party as a prelude.

       3) Two Performances of Brahms, Compared

I would like now to say something about von Karajan as a conductor. He was very prolific, having made over 800 recordings. I have listened carefully to close to 100 of these, and have heard him with different orchestras, and in different decades of his career. It is my opinion that very often in his conducting there is energy without sufficient thoughtfulness; brilliance not joined to depth; technique not at one with spontaneous feeling.
In l955 von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic made their first post-war American concert tour. Before they even set foot in New York, however, there was a storm of protest. Musicians by the hundreds signed petitions to bar them from Carnegie Hall, and in Baltimore he played to a house of barely two dozen people. To them von Karajan said:
    I am quite aware I am conducting for the smallest audience in my life, but certainly the best. Because against the propaganda, I know you came only to hear the music, and we will make a great performance for you.
This is from a live performance in Washington, D.C. on February 27th, 1955--part of that concert tour. The music is from the "Finale" of Brahms' First Symphony:

       (EX 1: From the "Finale" of Brahms' First)

The strings sound strained, and there is an executive quality to the conducting. One should be hearing the warmth, confidence and depth of Brahms' great melody. In stead there is a jittery, edgy effect. The technical reason has to do with tempi: von Karajan is constantly imposing unnecessary accelerandi, rushing the music. Again and again the music lurches forward in a way that doesn't make sense. Struggling to keep up, the musicians end many phrases in a brusque manner. Though von Karajan manages to keep the orchestra together, the music seems no longer bound by a unifying pulse. It seems willful.

Yet in this music Brahms is at his very greatest. Played with love it can sound like the firm and consoling voice of reality itself. 

Compare this performance by Bruno Walter, from l960:

       (EX 2: From "Finale" of Brahms First)

In an essay on conducting written in l957, Bruno Walter says:
    A moral danger which, at the same time, is an artistic one, lies for the conductor in the power he has over others...Tyranny can never bring to fruition artistic--or, for that matter, human--gifts....The basis of the conductor's relation to the orchestra, as of all human relationships, must be...bona voluntans, [good will]; combined with complete sincerity.
The warmth of Walter's performance is also in how he writes. And Walter puts opposites together--for not only is he warm, he is exact. Where von Karajan's beat was erratic, Walter's tempo is clear.

One can see the fascist state of mind in von Karajan weakened him as an orchestral leader. Unlike Walter, he treated his orchestra with aristocratic scorn. He conducted entire concerts with his eyes closed; and when he edited the films of the orchestra he systematically removed any shots of his players' faces. Asked by Roger Vaughan why, he said simply, "Because they are ugly."

I believe von Karajan's lack of regret for his Nazi years ruined his life and crippled his art. After the war, he accumulated power as no conductor ever has--holding, at one time, seven major posts simultaneously. But how he suffered!

He endured crippling pain in his spine, and a collapse from overworked kidneys. He had several strokes, the last of them fatal. "It has been felt for a long time," Mr. Siegel said in "Mind and Ambition," "that ambition is dangerous...Ambition, where it is a means of running away from your dearie to welcome rest and thought, can hurt you."

Every person deserves to know what Aesthetic Realism teaches--that our deepest desire is to like the world. Knowing this is success in life, and people everywhere can learn to have the ambition that makes us truly proud.

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