When Klemperer called out the Germans for anti-Mahler bias

When Klemperer called out the Germans for anti-Mahler bias


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2021

Our Readers Comment of the Day is from Klemperer85:

In 1960 after Nazi-world-war Germany had still – well, not ignored, but surely not celebrated – Mahler’s 100th birthday. The wonderful conductor I pick my nickname from, Otto Klemperer, wrote to “Der Spiegel” in disgust, and, telling them how Germany had neglected Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s 150th birthday and Mahler’s 100th, ended his letter with “Heil Hitler”. (Funny as Klemp was, he added he hoped the paper would spot the sarcasm. I guess they did.)

I don’t belong to the people who are able to go to dozens of wonderful concerts. Still I know that beginning around 1966, 67, slowly Mahler became very famous in Germany, too. The years where Bruno Walter, Klemperer, Mengelberg, Mitropoulos had fought for Mahler, 1910-60, somehow went unnoticed. And antisemitism, plus additionally maybe ignorance (there are so many possibilities) did a lot.

Today, and since at least 1980, views like the musical statement by Celibidache that Mahler “was a mistake” – are a real rarity here. Still of course people are not whistling the beginning of the 6th in the street (somehow would be funny, let us do it, where ever you are).

I just received a new box with Mahler 2 and Kindertotenlieder with Kathleen Ferrier, Jo Vincent and Klemperer, Holland festival July 12, 1951. I simply love this concert, it started with Mozart, KV 477. (There is also Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Amsterdam 1947).

Music is – after all and after really a lot is discussed, like the ignorance of some philistines (they just call themselves “cool” now, to hide their disinterest) – also a matter of taste. I hope you all have memories of outstanding concerts, and surely Mahler is widely played since 5 decades and that won’t ever change, I hope. To me it is just as beautiful to listen to those old and newer recordings. In fact it is heaven. And to sit down with the score and to listen to what 2 or 3 who knew Mahler well and saw him conducting make of a Mahler symphony – it is amazing.




  • JYF says:

    Another thoughtless use of ‘called out’.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==statement by Celibidache that Mahler “was a mistake”

    Celibidache was a mistake. All that arrogance and very, very slow tempos. Joke of a man, in fact.

    • Chicagorat says:

      Statements by Muti, reported by Dennis Polkow:

      “Other than Mahler One and Four, which are shorter, I have some problems with the symphonies,’ Muti confesses. ‘Sometimes for ten minutes of paradise, you have twenty minutes of—well, something else, I don’t know what. ”

      ” (…) there are always so many young conductors who do Mahler because the loud finales will always get you lots of applause!”

      Yes, Mahler is the only composer that ends with loud finales. 😉

      Bottom line: Mahler is “different”, according to Muti.

      • Amos says:

        Judging by RM’s recording of the Mahler 1st with the PO he should have included the 1st among those that he has problems with. Marking time while waiting for the melody simply doesn’t work for Mahler’s music.

    • Kevin K says:

      Can’t agree with you more. Watching the unbearably slow tempi with his pompous conducting in his late years is simply unwatchable. One of the most overrated – and extremely boring – conductors perhaps.

      • Le Křenek du jour says:

        > “ Watching the unbearably slow tempi ”

        Yes, but did you l i s t e n ?

        It would be most enlightening if you could add when, and where, you attended live concerts with Celi conducting.

        Any thoughts on the relation between and *within* the tempi and the acoustic surroundings?

        Any observations regarding the harmonic spectra and how they related to the architecture of relative tempo development?

    • Herbie G says:

      Jan, that’s exactly what I wanted to say but you got there first! Well said. Each to his own, but to me Celi was an arrogant self-promoting charlatan and his recordings are fit only for insomniacs seeking relief.

      As for Klemperer, his EMI recordings of the Song of the Earth and the Second Symphony are among the greatest treasures of the recording archives – enough on their own to earn him a place in the Pantheon.

      • Alexander T says:

        What cr@p.
        At his best he was brilliant.

      • Le Křenek du jour says:

        > “ his recordings are fit only for insomniacs seeking relief “

        ‘A ciascuno il suo.’ Indeed.
        But surely, it cannot have escaped your attention that his recordings were not meant to be. Any idea why?

        As a matter of interest:
        — did you ever attend a live performance conducted by Celibidache ?
        — are you familiar with the acoustics of the Gasteig ?
        — have you compared your impressions of temporal relations from the live performance with those derived from listening to the records ?
        — have you compared tempi from the Gasteig recordings with those from earlier Radio (!) recordings (RIAS Berlin, BPO, RAI Torino, Paris, RSO Stuttgart) ? If so, noticed any differences ?

    • Jerome Hoberman says:

      Mr. Kanowski: Did you know him?

  • David Meyer says:

    I was in the hall for Klemperer conducting Mahler’s 7th and his 9th Symphony. Experieces never to be forgotten. I missed his final performance of the Resurrection Symphony, but have it on a CD. I count myself very lucky to have witnessed that last link to the man himself.

  • John Smith says:

    Does anyone have a link to the Klemperer letter? I can’t find it anywhere.

  • ” Still I know that beginning around 1966, 67, slowly Mahler became very famous in Germany, too.”

    This has a lot to do with the LP record and FM radio which, while not invented in the 1960s, became common in the 1960s.

    Mahler was ideal for their symbiotic relationship.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      This is an important point Robert makes which is not often given its due: the key role of the long-playing record in expanding interest in certain composers, composers who not only created rather long works (which itself discouraged recording in the 78 rpm era) but works which in one way or another suffered more than usual from being chopped up into four-plus minute chunks. No piece of music was ever aided by being started and stopped to suit the 78 rpm sides, but some music is hurt more than others. One could argue that at least with Schubert, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and such, that a 78 rpm side might at least contain an entire musical thought or coherent portion of the music, and a well placed side join is annoying but not fatal. Less so with composers such as Mahler, Bruckner, Nielsen.

      There were some fine Mahler and Bruckner recordings made in the 78 rpm era, but the irony is that they were perhaps best appreciated and evaluated once they could be reissued on LP and the side-joins eliminated.

      This is quite apart from the improvements in recorded sound which helped all music. As Fritz Reiner once quipped, not entirely accurately but with some justice, it was around 1950 when records started to sound like music. Indeed he may have been referring as much to the greater length of a record size as to the sonics.

      My parents had many books about music which I assume originally belonged to my father’s parents who were both musical. So I am talking about books from between the two World Wars. Mahler (and Bruckner) were given their due even back then. Indeed the bigger change is the names that get page after page of thoughtful discussion, far more than they would not receive now: Franck, Glazunov, Goldmark, MacDowell, Georg Schumann (!?) and so on.

  • Alexander T says:

    You can’t get enough Mahler!
    (Tennestedt being my conductor of choice)

  • Bone says:

    I’m so lucky I started my Mahler listening with Walter 1&2. I’ve never quite been satisfied with any other performances since. I look forward to finding a few Klemperer recordings to compare.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Klemperer also conducted Mendelssohn wonderfully. One of my favorite personal CD’s is with his recording of the Scottish Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Yes – the one where he deletes that ridiculous sounding coda and ends softly on a minor chord. Whether it’s musically good or not, I simply can not abide by Mendelssohn’s pious sounding “Reformation” Symphony. I’ve tried, but it makes me want to run away.

  • Amos says:

    The sarcastic end of his letter reminded me of an account I read of Klemperer attending a gathering of musicians in the early 30’s where they were subjected to a harangue by a nazis. After a few minutes he raised his hand, was recognized by the “speaker”, stood up and asked where the toilet was located.

  • Jobim75 says:

    Maybe we went from an extreme to another…I used to like Mahler, I am just fed up now to see him programmed so much, and not for good reasons I think…lots of conductors seem to play it not because they feel a deep connection, but because of the effect he has on audience and because everybody else does it….it’s a big orchestral machine, impressive enough for the audience, I really have an indigestion now and tend to avoid the concerts he is played.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      While I get your point, how do KNOW when the conductor doesn’t feel a deep connection? . . . did you ask?

  • Ashu says:

    [Still of course people are not whistling the beginning of the 6th in the street (somehow would be funny, let us do it, where ever you are).]

    I actually used to do precisely that, as a teenager, in the first exhilarating years of my infatuation with Mahler. I’m particulary remembering one summer’s day on Dundas Street West in Toronto’s Chinatown.