- Category : Conductor
- Type : GE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Dedication 1
Otto Klemperer (May 14, 1885 – July 6, 1973) was a German-born conductor and composer. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century. Above all, his fame rests on his interpretations of Germanic repertoire.
Klemperer was born in Breslau, then in Prussia, now Wroc?aw, Poland. He took United States citizenship in 1937 and Israeli citizenship in 1970. He was the father of Hogan's Heroes actor Werner Klemperer and cousin to Victor Klemperer.
Klemperer studied music first at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, and later in Berlin under Hans Pfitzner. In 1905 he met Gustav Mahler while conducting the off-stage brass at a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, 'Resurrection'. The two became friends, and Klemperer became conductor at the German Opera in Prague in 1907 on Mahler's recommendation. Mahler wrote a short testimonial, recommending Klemperer, on a small card which Klemperer kept for the rest of his life.
Later, in 1910, Klemperer assisted Mahler in the premiere of his Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand.
Klemperer went on to hold a number of conductor posts, in Hamburg (1910-1912); in Barmen (1912-1913); the Strasbourg Opera (1914-1917); the Cologne Opera (1917-1924); and the State Opera in Wiesbaden (1924-1927).
From 1927 to 1931, he was conductor at the Kroll Opera in Berlin. In this post he enhanced his reputation as a champion of new music, playing a number of new works, including Leoš Janá?ek's From the House of the Dead, Arnold Schönberg's Erwartung, Igor Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, and Paul Hindemith's Cardillac.
In 1933, once the Nazi Party had reached power, Klemperer, who was Jewish, left Germany and moved to the United States. Klemperer had previously converted to Catholicism, but eventually returned to Judaism. In the U.S. he was appointed conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; there, also, he began to concentrate more on the standard works of the Germanic repertoire that would later bring him greatest acclaim, particularly the works of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. He also visited other countries, including England and Australia.
Following the end of World War II, Klemperer returned to Continental Europe to work at the Budapest Opera (1947-1950). Finding Communist rule in Hungary increasingly irksome, he became an itinerant conductor, guest conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, WDR Orchestra Koln, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Philharmonia Orchestra of London. He settled in Switzerland and became the first principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1959.
He also worked at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, sometimes stage-directing as well as conducting, as in a 1963 production of Wagner's Lohengrin.
Klemperer is less well known as a composer, but he wrote a number of pieces, including six symphonies, a Mass, nine string quartets and the opera Das Ziel. He seldom performed any of these himself and they have been almost entirely forgotten since his death.
Klemperer suffered from partial paralysis which had largely been brought on as a result of surgery in 1939 to remove a tumor on his brain. (The surgery paralyzed half of his face.) He also suffered from severe cyclothymic bipolar disorder. During a manic episode in 1941 he was imprisoned in New York. His erratic behavior during manic episodes made him an undesirable guest to US orchestras, and the late flowering of his career centered in other countries.
A severe fall during a visit to Montreal forced Klemperer subsequently to conduct seated in a chair. A severe burning accident further paralyzed him; it was caused by his smoking in bed with a glass of whisky. Despite this, he continued conducting until his retirement in 1971. His career was turned around in 1954 by London-based producer Walter Legge, who recorded Klemperer in Beethoven, Brahms and much else with his hand-picked orchestra, the Philharmonia, for the premium EMI label.
The tireless and unwavering support and assistance of Klemperer's daughter Lotte was crucial to the maestro's success. His son, Werner Klemperer, was an actor and became known for his portrayal of Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes.
Klemperer died in Zürich, Switzerland in 1973, aged 88, and was buried in the Israelitischer Friedhof-Oberer Friesenberg in that city.
Klemperer's "Eroica" and his tempos in later years
Many listeners associate Klemperer with slow tempi, but recorded evidence now available on compact disc shows that in earlier years his tempi could be quite a bit faster; the late recordings give a misleading impression. For example, one of Klemperer's most noted performances was of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica." Eric Grunin's "Eroica Project" contains tempo data on 363 recordings of the work from 1924-2007, and includes 10 by Klemperer - some recorded in the studio, most from broadcasts of live concerts. The earliest Klemperer performance on tape was recorded in concert in Köln in 1954 (when he was 69 years old); the last was in London with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in 1970 (when he was 85). The passing years show a clear trend with respect to tempo: as Klemperer aged, he took slower tempi. In 1954, his first movement lasts 15:18 from beginning to end; in 1970 it lasts 18:41. In 1954 the main tempo of the first movement was about 135 beats per minute, in 1970 it had slowed to about 110 beats per minute. In 1954, the Eroica second movement (or "Funeral March") had a timing of 14:35; in 1970, it had slowed to 18:51. Similar slowings took place in the other movements.
Similar, if less extreme, reductions in tempos can be noted in many other works for which Klemperer left multiple recordings, at least in recordings from when he was in his late 70s and his 80s. For example:
(a) the Symphony No. 38 ("Prague") of Mozart, another Klemperer specialty. In his concert recording from December 1950 (when he was 65 years old) with the RIAS Berlin Orchestra the timings are I. 9:45 (with repeat timing omitted; the performance actually does take the repeat); II. 7:45; and III. 5.24. In his studio March, 1962 recording of the same work with the Philharmonia Orchestra (recorded when he was 77 years old), the timings are notably slower: I. 10:53 (no repeat was taken); II. 8.58; III. 6:01. Unlike the late "Eroica," the 1962 "Prague" latter is not slow; rather, the 1950 recording is much faster than most recordings of the work, even by "historically informed" conductors.
(b) The Bruckner Fourth Symphony (Haas edition with emendations). A 1947 concert recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra has timings of I. 14:03; II. 12:58; III. 10:11; and IV. 17.48. The studio recording with the Philharmonia from 1963 has timings of I. 16:09; II; 14:00; III. 11.48; IV. 19:01. Again, the 1963 is not a notably slow performance (outside of the third movement), but the 1947 was quick.
Regardless of tempo, Klemperer's performances often maintain great intensity. Eric Grunin, in a commentary on the "opinions" page of his Eroica Project, notes: "....The massiveness of the first movement of the 'Eroica' is real, but is not its main claim on our attention. That honor goes to its astonishing 'story' (aka 'structure'), and what is to me most unique about Klemperer is that his understanding of the structure remains unchanged no matter what his tempo... "