Paul Kletzki
Naxos 8.572190

Joseph Banowetz, piano
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Thomas Sanderling, Conductor
10/2009 (mp3)
03/2010 (CD)
Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 22 (1930) (Orchestrated by John Norine Jr.)
  1. I. Allegro ma non troppo 16:11
  2. II. Andante sostenuto 8:35
  3. III. Allegro agitato 12:30
3 Preludes, Op. 4 (1923)
  4. No. 1. Moderato assai 2:14
  5. No. 2. Allegro, ma non troppo 3:52
  6. No. 3. Moderato molto 3:25
3 Unpublished Piano Pieces (1940 or 1941)
  7. No. 1 3:30
  8. No. 2 2:51
  9. No. 3 2:22
Fantasie in C minor, Op. 9 (1924)
10. Fantasie in C minor, Op. 9 19:02


Paul Kletki (1900–1973)

Born in 1900 in Łódž as Pavel Klecki, Paul Kletzki (the Germanicized form of his name) became famous after the Second World War as a distinguished conductor. From about 1921 to about 1942, however, 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. After about 1942 he 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”. 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.

Coming from an upper middle-class Polish-Jewish family in Łódž, at nine, Kletzki received his first lessons in violin from a Madame Schindler-Suess, a student of Joseph Joachim. An infant prodigy as a violinist, in 1915 he became the youngest member of the Łódž symphony orchestra. In 1919 he left Łódž 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 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. By 1925 Kletzki had begun conducting his own music; between 1925 and 1933 he conducted his orchestral pieces with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berlin Radio Symphony, and the orchestras of Bremen, Dresden, Essen, Dortmund, Duisberg, Lübeck, Kiel, Heidelberg, and Gothenburg 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.

Apparently, during the 1920s, Furtwängler treated him “like a son”. In 1925 Furtwängler had allowed Kletzki to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic—the youngest person ever to do so—and had recommended his music for publication by Simrock and Breitkopf und Härtel. In 1932 Furtwängler chose Kletzki to become a principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. The first concert was to have taken place on 21 March 1933, but because of the racial policies of the new regime, Kletzki was prevented from conducting and publishing his music. A 1933 Press Release issued by the record company Telefunken still reproduces a letter from Furtwängler (from 1931) where he praises Kletzki “not only as a specially talented composer, but also as one of the few talented musical conductors of the young generation, who have a great future ahead of them”.  Concerning the young Kletzki Toscanini also weighed in: “I estimate very highly Paul Kletzki as composer and conductor and have the best opinion of his capacities”. With the advent of the Nazis to power in 1933 Kletzki’s career in Germany came to a decisive halt; his music was quickly proscribed, and in 1940 his name was included in the infamous Lexikon der Juden in der Musik. In a newspaper interview published in Australia in 1948, Kletzki complained bitterly that his publishers had destroyed his music: “even the copperplates from which my music was lithographed in Germany were melted down”. All of Kletzki’s music composed during his post-1933 exile from Germany has remained unpublished; this repertoire includes the fascinating Three Unpublished Piano Pieces from 1940 or 1941 (the date in the manuscript is unclear) recorded here, which seem to look back nostalgically to the tonal idiom of the Drei Präluden of 1923 (composed while Kletzki was a student of Koch at the Berlin Conservatory), but give it a wry twist.

Forced to leave Germany in 1933, Kletzki moved to Italy. In 1934 he found a position as professor of composition and conductor of the orchestra of the Scuola superiore di Musica in Milan. During 1935–1936 he conducted an amateur chamber orchestra that featured as soloists Adolf Busch, Frieda Dierolf, and Maria Ceradini, among others. In 1936–37 he conducted a series of concerts in Baku with the Leningrad Philharmonic and became the chief conductor of the Kharkov Symphony in the Ukraine; however, in August of that year, the Soviet government expelled all foreign conductors, including Kletzki. Hildegard Woodtli, whom Kletzki had married in 1928, was a Swiss citizen, a circumstance which allowed the couple to take refuge in Switzerland in 1939, ultimately saving Kletzki's life. The years 1938–42 were an especially difficult period because Kletzki had only a few conducting engagements with which to put food on the table, a number of appearances in Switzerland as a guest conductor with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Lausanne and Geneva. It seems that during this bare period Kletzki focused on composition to keep himself sane, even though there were no possibilities of performance or publication. In 1943 and 1944, however, he won the position of principal conductor at the Lucerne Festival. After the war, in May–June 1946, Toscanini invited Kletzki to conduct at the rebuilt La Scala. He undertook an extended tour of Israel in 1953, where he performed with the violinist Jascha Heifetz and other important, mainly Jewish musicians. In 1953–54, Kletzki and Leonard Bernstein both conducted the Israel Philharmonic during its first tour of Europe. Kletzki first conducted in the United States in 1958, and was warmly received in Dallas, where he served as principal conductor of the Dallas Symphony from 1958 to 1961. In the latter year he returned to Montreux, in Switzerland, which was to remain his home-base for the rest of his career. In 1966 he succeeded Ernest Ansermet as the General Music Director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande—a position he held until his death in 1973.

Kletzki’s Piano Concerto, Op. 22, must be considered in the context of a series of large-scale orchestral pieces and concertos that date back at least to 1923, if not earlier. Kletzki’s first published orchestral work, his Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, Op. 7, appeared in 1923. Three years later, he published his Vorspiel zu einer Tragoedie, Op. 14 (which may be related to the lost 1921 Ouverture to the Florentine Tragedy by Oscar Wilde, which won the symphony competition in Warsaw). The First Symphony, Op. 17, appeared in 1927, immediately followed by the Second Symphony, Op. 18, in 1928. In 1929 Kletzki produced his Orchestervariationen, Op. 20, which was succeeded by Capriccio, Op. 24, a work for large orchestra in 1931. His last published orchestral piece was his Konzertmusik, Op. 25, for solo winds, strings and timpani, which appeared in 1932. During his years of exile Kletzki completed a Lyric Suite for Orchestra, Op. 30 (1938), the Third Symphony, Op. 31 (1939), and Variations sur un thème de Emile Jacques Dalcroze, Op. 33 (1940) for string orchestra. Interspersed with this orchestral writing are the three large concertos: the Violin Concerto, Op. 19 (1928), the Piano Concerto, Op. 22 (1930), and the Flute Concertino, Op. 34 (1940). A closer examination of all of these scores reveals a series of extremely powerful works documenting a remarkable stylistic evolution. The works on this disc, the Drei Präluden, Op. 4 (1923), the Fantasie, Op. 9 (1924), the Piano Concerto, and the Three Unpublished Piano Pieces (1940 or 1941) are all tonal pieces, albeit very adventurous in tonality. Indeed, we may describe the extended tonal language of Kletzki’s music as a “super-complex tonality” which generates highly complicated harmonic-contrapuntal textures, pushing the envelope of the performer’s technique and musicianship to the limit.

It is interesting—and informative—to look back at contemporary critical reception of the music; its intrinsic high quality was generally recognised by contemporary performers and critics.  Kletzki’s breakthrough into the “major leagues” in Germany occurred with performances of his first big work for full orchestra, the Vorspiel zu einer Tragoedie für grosses Orchester, Op. 14, in 1926. The pianist Hans Beltz (1897–1977) championed Kletzki’s Fantasie and Piano Concerto. A professor of piano at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik (which is where Kletzki presumably made his acquaintance), Beltz was also the piano teacher of the famous physicist German Werner Heisenberg, and edited some of Bach’s keyboard works. Regarding Kletzki’s piano music, a contemporary critic observed that the Drei Praeludien and the Fantasie both have an “improvisatory” character. With regard to the Preludes, he noted that “Chopin stood godfather—but Kletzki does not follow him slavishly; rather, he understands how to infuse the small form with his own distinctive ideas. It is totally amazing how he is able to extract from the specific expressive possibilities of the piano the most astonishing effects!” With regard to the Fantasie, the same critic observes “Here Kletzki abrogates any affinity to those of his contemporaries who cultivate only the miniature piano pieces of a half-minute duration…..What he has in mind are not floating impressions, but powerful antipathies, passionate ascent and descent, spiritual shocks. In this, the Fantasie is not founded on Schumannian Romanticism but rather breathes the spirit of the Beethoven sonatas. In the sharply profiled themes, in the wondrous registration and combination of sonorities is to be discerned a strikingly orchestral mode of expressive creativity…..” The Fantasie, a colossal work comprising 230 measures of highly contrapuntal music, may be regarded as a “super-sonata” form, that is, as a sonata comprising four movements joined together within a single continuous movement. Here, in this piece, the Scherzo (Allegro giocoso) and slow movement (Lento)—i.e. the second and third movements of a four-movement work—are inserted into the space normally occupied by the development in sonata form, i.e. between the exposition and recapitulation. From the reviews of the Concerto, it is clear that Beltz was a first-class pianist; indeed, he must have been highly capable to be able to give the premières of these difficult pieces: he is listed in the Simrock Jahrbücher as having performed the Fantasie in Berlin, Leipzig, and Vienna, among other cities in 1926–1928.

The Piano Concerto was published by Breitkopf in 1930 in a two-piano arrangement. The full score, however, remained unpublished, and presumably was destroyed by Breitkopf during the Hitler regime. The orchestration has been reconstructed by John Norine from the indications of the instrumentation in the two-piano reduction. The work had its première at a concert in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 21 January 1932, in a concert conducted by Hermann Abendroth (standing in for Bruno Walter), to mixed critical reception. Despite the contemporary critics’ reservations the Piano Concerto today makes a strong impression. The work is laid out in three large movements: the outer movements are in sonata form, the slow movement a profoundly lyrical alternation of two subjects. While the Finale employs the D major key-signature throughout, although one would be hard-pressed to hear D major anywhere except in the coda, Kletzki’s evolution toward post-tonality seems to have advanced significantly even within the Concerto itself. Kletzki’s Piano Concerto may be counted among the most significant contributions to the genre since Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, and it is to be hoped that, after this world-première recording, it will assume its rightful place in the repertoire.