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Klemperer began his musical studies at the Frankfurt Hoch Conservatory . He later went to Berlin where he was taught by the composer Hans Pfitzner. It soon became apparent his predisposition to conducting. In 1905 he became acquainted with Gustav Mahler when he conducted the Fernorchester behind the scenes in his Second Symphony. He became close friends with Mahler and obtained on his speech for the post of conductor at the opera in Prague. Klemperer assisted Mahler in Munich In 1910 at the first performance of his eighth Symphony, the Symphonie der Tausend. There followed a period with comparatively short appointments. So he conducted to Hamburgfrom 1910 to 1912, to Barmen in 1912-1913 and to Strasbourgfrom 1914 to 1917. Between 1917 and 1924 he was Generalmusikdirektor at the Cologneopera. From 1924 to 1927, he was active in Wiesbaden. In 1927 he reached Berlin, where he worked until 1931 at the Kroll Opera conducting. He spent there are many compositions in premiere, by among others Paul Hindemith (Cardillac), Arnold Schoenberg (Erwartung) and Igor Stravinsky (Oedipus Rex ).
After the seizure of power by the nazi's in 1933 (Adolf Hitler became Chancellor on 30 January) left Germany and went to the United States Klemperer. He was conductor of theLos Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. In those years he began to concentrate on works by composers such as the Viennese classics, especially Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. His performances of these works made him famous. From 1947 to 1950 he conducted at the opera of Budapest. In 1950, he was for three years Chief conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Klemperer was in 1959 to Chief of the London Philharmonia Orchestra , which until then had no appointed Chief conductor. With this Orchestra he made many recordings in the 1950s. At the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), and also conducted a number of productions, including Wagner's operas . In the Netherlands Royal Concertgebouw Orchestraseveral times conducted Klemperer, particularly during the Holland Festival.
Klemperers health was seriously threatened several times. In 1939, he had surgery on a brain tumor. After the war, falling into the orchestra pit him some years conducting impossible. In addition, he had suffered from a bipolar disorder. In the 1960s he could with his arms barely conducting.
Klemperer was averse to sentimental views, but tried to make music objectively and with detachment. He saw himself as a polar opposite of, for example, Bruno Walter, which he considered a "moralist". Characteristic of Klemperers recordings is his approach to the music that a large granite monumentality. Also slow tempi are characteristic, although he sometimes conducted fairly quickly to correct adagios to avoid sentimentality.
Otto Klemperer is much praised for his recordings of the symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. Also he conducted religious works, such as Hohe Messe and the St Matthew Passion ofBach, and operas such as Fidelio, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and Der fliegende Holländer .
Influenced by Max Scheler converted Klemperer in 1919, following the example of the already deceased Gustav Mahler, to the Roman Catholic Church after following catechesis at a Jesuit. He returned Later, impressed by the racism in the Third Reich, back to Judaism.
- Peter Heyworth (Hrsg.): Gespräche mit Klemperer. S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-10-033501-5.
- Charles Osborne: Otto Klemperer-Sagen Sie doch einfach Otto. Piper, München 1981, ISBN 3-492-02430-0.
- Peter Heyworth: Otto Klemperer. Conductor der Republik 1885-1933. Siedler, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-88680-166-7.
- Peter Heyworth: Otto Klemperer. His Life and Times: 1933-1973. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, ISBN 0-521-24488-9.
- Schröder, Gesine: "Bruckner Achte-Klemperer-Leichtentritt. Zum Verhältnis von Dirigieren und analysis ", in: Musiktheorie Heft 1 2003, s. 65-72, Munich 2003, ISSN 0177-4182
- Eva Weissweiler: Otto Klemperer: ein deutsch-jüdisches Künstlerleben, Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2010, ISBN 978-3-462-8-04179