Klemperer the Man

As time went on, Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra developed a bond that withstood his irascibility because we knew that it was caused mainly by his inability to convey to us by his gestures what he wanted He, in turn, was grateful for the orchestra’s friendliness and co-operation.

His daughter, Lotte, followed him everywhere, acting as his personal assistant. He was on tour, and in the middle of the night Lotte sensed that he was in trouble so she left her room, rushed down the hotel corridor to his room where she saw smoke coming from under the door. Firemen were called and the fire was put out and Klemperer sent to hospital, where it was discovered that he had suffered some bad burns. According to Lotte he had been smoking in bed and had dozed off.

The Philharmonia Orchestra got together and sent him a card and some flowers which touched him very much, and after that incident he was noticeably friendlier, and demonstrated it later on when Walter Legge disbanded the orchestra. He ever afterwards referred to Legge as “That man” and helped greatly in getting the orchestra going again as the “New Philharmonia Orchestra”. Work was a bit thin, so I left when I was invited to join the BBC Symphony Orchestra, known in the profession as the”Lifeboat”, because although it was like being in the Civil Service, at least you had a guaranteed weekly income.

The orchestra formed a committee headed by Bernard Walton, the first clarinet, and they appointed Klemperer as their Chief Conductor, later on naming him “Conductor for Life”, then they reverted to the old name “The Philharmonia Orchestra”.

Klemperer always had an eye for the ladies. In 1912 he was forced to quit his job in Hamburg because of a liaison with the newly married Elisabeth Schumann and even in his seventies he started philandering. It came about like this: There was a beautiful ‘cellist named Dorothy B. She had lovely auburn hair, a fine figure and her face could have launched a thousand ships. I know that is being poetical, but every man in the orchestra admired her and they were like the proverbial bees round a honey pot Along comes Klemperer, and during a recording intermission goes up to Dorothy and says “I will buy you a fur coat if you come to bed with me”. Really! I don’t know what she replied but, of course, it was all round the orchestra, and the women, particularly, talked about it incessantly.

There is a violinist, Lorraine du Val, who was in the Philharmonia at the time and who now lives in Canada. She told me that on one occasion she was in the washroom at the Kingsway hall and Dorothy came rushing in. On being asked whatever was the matter, Dorothy blurted out “Klemperer is chasing me!”

Sometimes he would sit at the back of the Kingsway Hall ogling Dorothy when von Karajan was conducting. Eventually von K complained and Klemperer ceased.

His sexual proclivities aside, I think he should forever be in that exclusive hall of fame not only as a great conductor but also as a great humanist.

For a more in depth account of Legge’s disbandment of the Philharmonia, read my blog on Herbert von Karajan.


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