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Paul Kletzki (Conductor)

Born: March 21, 1900 - Łódź, Poland
Died: March 5, 1973 - Liverpool, England

The distinguished Polish-born Swiss conductor and composer, Paul Kletzki (Born: Paweł Klecki in, he later adopted the German spelling), came from an upper middle-class Polish-Jewish family in Łódž. At 9, he received his first lessons in violin from a Madame Schindler-Suess, a student of Joseph Joachim. He studied composition at ther Warsaw Conservatory, where he also received instruction in violin from Młynarski. He continued his studies at the Berlin Academy of Music. An infant prodigy as a violinist, he became the youngest member of the Łódž Philharmonic Orchestra (1914-1919). After serving in World War I, he left Łódž in 1919 to study philosophy at the University of Warsaw, and, at the same time became a composition student of Jules de Wertheim (Julius von Wertheim) and joined the conducting class of Emil Mlynarski. From 1920 to 1921 Kletzki fought in the war between Poland and the Soviets. During this conflict he was almost killed by a bullet which grazed his skull, while many of the soldiers in his unit perished. Resuming his studies in Warsaw, in 1921 he won first prize in a composition competition sponsored by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra for his Ouverture to the Florentine Tragedy by Oscar Wilde. With the proceeds from this award he went to Berlin to complete his studies at the Hochschule für Musik, where he studied composition with Friedrich Koch.

From about 1921 to about 1942, Paul Kletzki was primarily active as a composer - although he did conduct his own music - and, within this approximately twenty-year period, created a remarkable series of works of just over thirty opus numbers. He composed 4 symphonies, Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, chamber music and songs., but of his works were destroyed by the havoc wreaked during World War II. His most notable work is his Third Symphony, completed in October 1939, with the subtitle 'In memoriam'. It is an elegiac work interpreted as a moving monument to the victims of Nazism. Other works include three string quartets, a Sinfonietta for strings, a Fantasy for piano, and a sonata for violin and piano.

Paul Kletzki had received considerable praise for his compositions, particularly before World War II. During the 1920's his compositions were championed by Arturo Toscanini; and Wilhelm Furtwängler, who permitted Kletzki to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1925. By 1925 Kletzki had begun conducting his own music; between 1925 and 1933 he conducted his orchestral pieces with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester-Berlin, and the orchestras of Bremen, Dresden, Essen, Dortmund, Duisberg, Lübeck, Kiel, Heidelberg, and Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden. From 1925 he began teaching at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, and from 1929 to 1930 he served on the council of the Bund deutscher Komponisten. Because he was Jewish, he left Nazi Germany in 1933 and he went to Venice and Milan and received an invitation to teach composition and orchestra at the Milan Scola Superiore di Musica. However, due to the anti-semitism of the Italian Fascist regime he moved to the Soviet Union in 1936. From 1937 to 1938 he was the musical director of the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra in the USSR. At the end of that term he left for Switzerland, where he remained. He took Swiss citizenship in 1947.

After about 1942 Paul Kletzki fell silent as a composer, somewhat like Sibelius, and in Kletzki’s case, as in Sibelius’s, it is difficult to ascertain the reasons for his silence. He later explained that his post-war cessation from composition emanated from “The shock of all that Hitlerism meant [which] destroyed also in me the spirit and will to compose”. During the Holocaust a number of Kletzki's family were murdered by the Nazis including his parents and his sister. But there may have been other contributing factors. Perhaps he perceived a “disconnect” between his compositional development and the larger evolution of art-music after the war. It is noteworthy that he did little to advertise or conduct his own music after 1942; indeed, he acted as if his music had totally ceased to exist, although major libraries had preserved the published scores of at least some of his works.

In the post-war years Paul Kletzki was a renowned conductor, especially of Gustav Mahler. He was a fine interpreter of the Romantic Orchestral reperttoire, excelling in both the Austro-German and the Slavic scools. He came into demand for his qualities of lucidity and power, together with fresh conceptions of the music. Hae appeared as a guest conductor with the major European orchestraS, was particularly in demand as a guest conductor in North, South and Central America, and had a close association with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1954 he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He was Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1958-1962), the Bern Symphony Orchestra (1964-1966), and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (1968-1970). He died iwhile rehearsing the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in Liverpool on March 5, 1973.

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website (May 2014); Naxos Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2014)

Recordings of Arrangements/Transcriptions of Bach’s Works




Paul Kletzki


A. Berg: Violin Concerto ("To the memory of an angel") [w/ violinist Christian Ferras]

Links to other Sites

Paul Kletzki (Wikipedia)
Paul Kletzki - Bio (Naxos)

Paul Kletzki - Biography (AMG)
Paul Kletzki Discography

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