Otto Klemperer, Conductor, 1885-1973

"Max Kowalski, In Memoriam," signed photograph of Otto Klemperer from the Max Kowalski Collection.

Though the conductor Otto Klemperer’s career in the United States lasted just six years before complications from an unnecessary surgery forced him temporarily from the podium, he had an enormous impact on classical music in America.

Letters from Arnold Schoenberg in the LBI archives attest to the leading role he played in introducing American audiences to new music.  As the director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic between 1933, he regularly inserted new works by composers including Stravinsky and Schoenberg into programs alongside the German romantic repertoire with which he is so closely associated.

Schoenberg recognized that Klemperer was the leading champion of new music in America, but in a 1934 circular letter received by the lawyer and musician Max Kowalksi in the LBI archives, he expressed frustration with the fact that Klemperer seemed more interested in his earlier, tonal works than the challenging pieces he was composing in the United States.

In 1933, just a few years after President Hindenberg had granted Klemperer the Goethe Medal for “the advancement of German culture,” he was dismissed from his post at the State Opera in Berlin. In response to the Nazi takeover, he composed the piece J’Accuse, echoing Emile Zola’s famous response to Anti-Semitism in France during the Dreyfuss Affair.  LBI has a rare copy of the score with corrections by the composer.

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