Klemperer, Otto, 1885-1973

Alternative names
Birth 1885-05-14
Death 1973-07-06
Dutch; Flemish, German, English

Biographical notes:

Johanna Klemperer (born Geissler; d. 1956) was an operatic singer and Otto Klemperer's wife; Lotte Klemperer (1923-2003) was their daughter.

From the description of Correspondence to Alma Mahler, 1910-1959. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155863663

Conductor and composer. Otto Klemperer (b. May 14, 1885 in Breslau, Germany; d. July 6, 1973 in Zurich) is known particularly for conducting orchestral music by Beethoven, Bruckner, Mozart, and Mahler, and contemporary music and operas, during the 1920s and 1930s. He composed symphonies, string quartets, songs, piano solos, choral works, and an opera; and also arranged works by Bach, Mendelssohn, and Mozart.

From the description of Otto Klemperer archive, 1792-1988 (bulk 1920-circa 1970). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71128278

German conductor and composer.

From the description of Autograph letter signed and telegram, dated : Moscow, 12 December [1925] and Mainz, 17 March 1925, to [Walter] Damrosch, 1925 Dec. 12 and 1925 Mar. 17. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270578873

From the description of Autograph letters signed (2), dated : Sils-Baselgia, 22 July and 10 August 1926 to [George] Engles, 1926 July 22. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270578875

From the description of Typrewritten documents signed (2), dated : [New York], 8 March 1926, 1926 Mar. 8. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270578879

From the description of Interview conducted by Peter Heyworth, 1969 [sound recording]. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155861373

Biographical Note

  • 1885, May 14: Born, Breslau, Germany, to Nathan and Ida Rée Klemperer
  • 1889: Moved to Hamburg with father, mother, older sister Regina (Regi), and younger sister Marianne
  • 1891: Began piano lessons with Havekoss after having been taught by mother
  • 1901: Moved to Frankfurt to study piano with Dutch pianist James Kwast; theory with Ivan Knorr; and violin at the Hoch Conservatory, Frankfurt am Main
  • 1902: Continued piano studies with Kwast and theory with Philipp Schwarwenka at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory, Berlin
  • 1905: Followed Kwast to the Stern Conservatory, Berlin to continue piano studiesBegan conducting and composition studies under Hans PfitznerConducted the off-stage orchestra for Mahler’s Symphony no. 2Met Gustav Mahler for first time during rehearsal
  • 1906: Engaged as chorus master and deputy director for Max Reinhardt’s production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the Neues Theater, BerlinBerlin debut as conductor after second performance
  • 1907 - 1910 : Chorus master and assistant conductor, Deutsches Landestheater, Prague (upon recommendation of Gustav Mahler)Conducting debut with von Weber’s Der Freischütz
  • 1910 - 1912 : Assistant conductor, Hamburg StadttheaterConducting debut with Wagner’s Lohengrin
  • 1911: Entered clinic at Königstein to treat depressionDiagnosed as manic-depressive
  • 1912: Conducted Der Ring des Nibelungen for first time
  • 1913 - 1914 : Became first conductor of opera at BarmenConducting debut with Wagner’s Tannhäuser
  • 1914 - 1917 : Deputy musical director under Hans Pfitzner, Strasbourg Stadttheater Opened with revival of Beethoven’s Fidelio
  • 1915 - 1917 : During manic periods, composed numerous compositionsConducted farewell concert in Strasbourg which included some of own works
  • 1917 - 1924 : Musical director of Cologne OperaDebuted with Mozart’s Figaro
  • 1919: Received instruction from a Jesuit priest, and subsequently converted to CatholicismIn spring, began composing a massIn June, married soprano Johanna Geissler
  • 1920: Son Werner born
  • 1920 - 1921 : Conducted in Vienna and BarcelonaConducted Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Pelleas und Melisande, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2
  • 1923: Rejected directorship of Deutsches Opernhaus, BerlinMother Ida Klemperer diedFirst public performance of his Mass in CIn November, daughter Lotte born
  • 1924: Father Nathan Klemperer died and buried in Cologne’s Jewish cemetery alongside his wife
  • 1924 - 1927 : Musical director, Wiesbaden Opera (almost every opera performance was a new production or revival)Debuted with Beethoven’s FidelioConducted several concerts with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
  • 1924 - 1936 : Conducted in RussiaDebuted in Moscow and Leningrad
  • 1926 - 1927 : Conducted New York Symphony OrchestraGave first American performance of Hindemith's Concert Music for Wind Orchestra, op. 41
  • 1927 - 1931 : Director, Berlin State OperaGeneral musical director, Staatsoper am Platz der Republik (known as the Kroll Opera)Directed works by Stravinsky, Hindemith, Krenek, and SchoenbergConducted no fewer than ten symphony orchestra concerts each year with Berlin Staatskapelle
  • 1928 - 1929 : Conducted orchestras in Hamburg, Breslau, Rome, and, for first time, in ParisConducting debut in London with Bruckner’s Symphony no. 8Composed an Ave Maria and a Pater Noster
  • 1931, July 3: Last performance of Kroll Opera in BerlinKlemperer given leave of absence after filing legal suit over closure of KrollSpent May-October conducting at Theatro Colón, Buenos Aires
  • 1931 - 1933 : Musical director, Berlin Staatsoper Unter der LindenNew production of Mozart’s Così Fan TutteConducted Staatskapelle Orchestra
  • 1933 Feb.: Suffered concussion during accident at Gewandhaus Orchestra rehearsal, Leipzig; unable to conduct performance
  • 1933 Apr.: Left Germany for Zurich (partly due to effect of political situation on conducting in Berlin and partly to get treatment for manic-depression)Joined by wife and children
  • 1933 May - 1935 Mar. : Established residence in ViennaConducted Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra as well as orchestras in Vienna, Warsaw, Budapest, Rome, and Milan
  • 1935 Apr. - 1935 June : Returned to California and took out naturalization papers for American citizenshipIn June, joined by wife and children
  • 1935 Oct. - 1936 Mar. : Conducted series of concerts with New York Philharmonic, including performance of Mahler’s Symphony no. 2, (The Resurrection)Not offered conductor positions with Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra or New York Philharmonic
  • 1936 - 1939 : In fall 1936, resumed conducting position with Los Angeles Philharmonic OrchestraMade guest conducting appearances elsewhere in United States, various European cities, and in Russia
  • 1939 Sept.: Diagnosed with nerve tumor on right side of head which affected hearing and balanceHad operations which caused partial paralysis of right side of face and bodyHad additional surgery which caused partial atrophy of tongue resulting in indistinct speaking
  • 1940 Sept.: Took oath of allegiance to become U. S. citizen
  • 1940 Sept. - 1940 Nov. : Dismissed as conductor of Los Angeles Philharmonic; publicly called "retirement" by the orchestra associationConducted series of concerts in New York City
  • 1941 Feb. - 1941 Apr. : Public episodes of manic-depression increased, damaging reputation; guest conducting appearances were few over next several years
  • 1946: Conducted concerts in Europe including Baden-Baden where he was first great émigré musician to return to his native country
  • 1947 - 1948 : Conducted Budapest Opera, including a cycle of Mozart operas, several Wagner operas, and numerous orchestra concerts
  • 1948 - 1950 : Continued conducting at Budapest Opera as well as numerous orchestras in Europe and two conducting tours in AustraliaAudience with Pope Pius XII in Rome
  • 1951 Mar. - 1951 Aug. : Conducted recording project with Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraToured South America including conducting engagements in Argentina and Venezuela
  • 1951 Oct.: Fell and fractured femur in left leg in MontrealUnable to conduct until spring of 1952
  • 1952: Signed recording contract with EMI (jeopardized by American Federation of Musicians preventing members from conducting foreign-staffed orchestras)
  • 1952 Nov.: Request for passport extension unanswered, suspected of subversive activities on behalf of both Nazi regime and Communist InternationalIn Montreal, Klemperer and family ordered to return to United States by December 23, 1952, or lose their American citizenship
  • 1952 Dec.: Family moved to New York City
  • 1953: Conducted a few concerts in Chicago, Pittsburgh, MontrealDeparted for European conducting tour with passports stamped not to be extended, assuring that on return they would resume residency in United States
  • 1954 May: Klemperer, wife, and daughter decided not to return to United StatesObtained German passports after establishing German residencyFamily moved to Zurich (son remained in United States to continue acting career)
  • 1954 July: Lotte became father's traveling companion and assumed total responsibility for conducting engagements, recording contracts, fees, and selections of artists and orchestras
  • 1954 - 1955 : Conducted concerts and made recordings with London’s Philharmonia OrchestraBecame their principal conductor
  • 1956 Nov.: Wife Johanna died“Bist Du bei mir” and “Wenn ich einmal muss scheiden” by Bach played at funeral in Munich
  • 1958, April 8: Received highest decoration, Grosses Verdienstkreuz mit Stern, from German Federal Republic at West German embassy in London
  • 1958 Sept.: Suffered second- and third-degree burns over 15% of his body while conducting in London
  • 1959 Aug.: Appointed “principal conductor for life” of the Philharmonia Orchestra and resumed conducting despite continuing health problems
  • 1961 Feb.: Conducted Beethoven’s Fidelio at Covent Garden Continued composing and hired Philharmonia for private concert of his music
  • 1962 Jan. - 1962 May : Conducted new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at Covent GardenConducted first public performance of his Symphony no. 1 (Symphony in Two Movements)
  • 1963: In April, conducted new production of Wagner’s Lohengrin at Covent GardenConducted Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 with Vienna Philharmonic
  • 1964 March: Philharmonia Orchestra suspended operations leaving Klemperer without an orchestraOrchestra players elected governing body to run Philharmonia themselves with Klemperer as president and ten dates to conduct in 1964-65 season
  • 1964 - 1965 : Conducted London’s New Philharmonia Orchestra for fee to raise funds for newly formed orchestraIn early April, elder sister Regi Elbogen died in Holland
  • 1967 Jan.: Klemperer resolved to leave Roman Catholic Church and return to his Jewish faith
  • 1967 Sept.: Invested with Germany’s highest honor, the Pour le Mérite, at West German embassy in Berne
  • 1968 March: Conducted several of his own compositions, including Symphony no. 2, with New Philharmonia Orchestra before small audience of friends
  • 1968 May: On his last visit to Vienna, conducted Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, his favorite orchestra, in series of five concerts
  • 1969: Conducted revival of Beethoven’s Fidelio at Covent Garden
  • 1969 May: Conducted three concerts in Paris with Orchestre de Paris where he celebrated eighty-fourth birthday
  • 1969 Sept.: Conducted first public performance of his Symphony no. 2
  • 1970 Jan.: Recording of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro won coveted Deutsche Schallplatten prize
  • 1970 late May: Conducted last Beethoven cycle with New Philharmonia Orchestra; filmed for television by BBC
  • 1970 Sept.: Conducted two concerts with New Philharmonia Orchestra in Bonn, Germany, for bicentenary celebration of Beethoven’s birth; last time conducting in Germany and last time conducting Beethoven symphony
  • 1972 Jan.: Due to ill health, prevented from conducting Bruckner’s Symphony no. 7 in LondonDecided to conduct only in recording studio
  • 1972 July: Klemperer visited Lotte Lehman in Lucerne; became seriously ill with pneumonia and would never fully regain strength
  • 1972 Dec.: Withdrew from EMI recording project because of ill health (Klemperer never worked again)Daughter requested that Klemperer’s name as chief conductor be removed from all New Philharmonia literature
  • 1973: English language version of 1968 German documentary film Otto Klemperer’s Journey through His Times is released (produced by Dutch film director Philo Bregstein)
  • 1973 April: New Philharmonia performed Klemperer’s Symphony no. 2 under Lorin Maazel; Klemperer not strong enough to attend; received copy of program signed by all participants
  • 1973, May 14: Celebrates eighty-eighth birthday with few old friends
  • 1973 July 6: Died after slipping into coma at end of June in Zurich, SwitzerlandBuried four days later in Jewish cemetery at Friesenberg, Switzerland with plain Jewish rite

From the guide to the Otto Klemperer Archive, 1792-1988, (bulk 1920-circa 1970), (Music Division Library of Congress)


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  • Conductors (Music)--Interviews
  • Piano music
  • Variations (Piano)
  • Operas--Excerpts--Scores
  • Music--Manuscripts--Facsimiles
  • Concertos (Piano)--Cadenzas
  • Music--Manuscripts
  • /Waltzes
  • Orchestral music--Scores


  • Conductor


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