Paul Kletzki, Violin Concerto, Op. 19

By Timothy L. Jackson, PhD, Professor of Music Theory, University of North Texas

Written for the concert Making Music: Composer-Conductors, performed on Feb 9, 2007 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

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. An accomplished violinist from a middle-class Polish-Jewish family in Łódž, at nine Kletzki received his first lessons from Madame Schindler-Süss, a student of Joseph Joachim. A wunderkind on the violin, in 1915 he became the youngest member of the Symphony Orchestra. In 1919, he left Łódž to study philosophy at the University of Warsaw, and, at the Warsaw Conservatory, became a composition student of Jules de Wertheim (Julius von Wertheim), joining the conducting class of Emil Mlynarski. In 1921, Kletzki moved to Berlin to continue his compositional studies at the Hochschule für Musik under Ernst Friedrich Koch. At this time, Kletzki met Wilhelm Furtwängler with whom he studied informally. Between 1925 and 1933, he conducted his own orchestral pieces with the Berlin Philharmonic and other first-class German orchestras.

In 1932, Furtwängler selected Kletzki to become a principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Kletzki’s first concert was to have taken place on March 21, 1933; but because of the anti-Semitic racial policies of the new Nazi regime, he was prevented from conducting and publishing his music. A 1933 press release issued by the record company Telefunken reproduced a letter from Furtwängler (dating 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.” The two most distinguished German music publishers—Simrock (publisher of Beethoven and Brahms, among others) and Breitkopf und Härtel—brought out all of Kletzki’s music from Op. 1 through 27. Kletzki’s chamber music for strings includes four quartets, as well as a piano trio. He also composed three virtuoso works for the violin: the Sonata in D major for Piano and Violin, Op. 12 (1924); the Introduction und Rondo for Violin and Piano, Op. 21 (1930); and the Sonata for Violin Solo, Op. 26 (1933); all of which pose immense technical and musical challenges for the instrument.

In 1933, Kletzki left Germany permanently for Italy. However, Italy became too dangerous, and Kletzki fled to Switzerland. In 1941, he packed many scores of his own music in two large wooden boxes, which he left in the basement of the Hotel Metropole in Milan. In October 1942, the hotel was bombed and burned virtually to the ground; thus, Kletzki believed that his personal copies of his scores had been destroyed. At the same time, he thought that his Nazified German publishers had destroyed his music. In a newspaper interview published in Australia in 1948, Kletzki observed bitterly “that even the copperplates from which my music was lithographed in Germany were melted down.” He explained that his post-war compositional silence emanated from “The shock of all that Hitlerism meant [which] destroyed also in me the spirit and will to compose.” In 1965, in the course of some excavations in Milan, the chest was discovered and returned. At this time, Kletzki was afraid to open it believing that all his scores had turned to dust. It was not until after his death in 1973 that his wife Yvonne opened the chest and found his music to be perfectly preserved. The full score of the Violin Concerto with Kletzki’s corrections and performance annotations was preserved in this way. Madame Kletzki has devoted her life to collecting her husband’s scores and resurrecting his music, an effort being continued by the present writer.

Kletzki’s Violin Concerto, Op. 22, must be considered in the context of a series of large-scale orchestral pieces that date back at least to 1923, if not earlier. The first published orchestral work, the Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, Op. 7, appeared in 1923. Three years later, Kletzki published his Vorspiel zu einer Tragödie, Op. 14. Simrock brought out the First Symphony, Op. 17, 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. Kletzki’s 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 the Lyric Suite for Orchestra, Op. 30 (1938), Third Symphony, Op. 31 (1939), and Variations sur un thème de Emile Jacques Dalcroize, Op. 33 (1940) for string orchestra, all of which remained unpublished. 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.

Prior to 1933, Kletzki’s Violin Concerto was performed by the world-famous violinist Georg Kulenkampf at least fifteen times all over Germany. The composer’s reduction for violin and piano was first presented on Israel Radio’s “Voice of Music” in 2004 by Robert Davidovici and Heejung Kang; the orchestral version receives its post-World War II premiere on tonight’s program.

In almost all of the outer movements throughout his work, Kletzki employs sonata form, as he does in the Concerto’s initial movement and the Finale. The work begins with a quiet opening theme (Allegro moderato), which recurs motto-like throughout the first movement. The agitated second subject (ff, Poco più sostenuto) in the violin’s lowest register is accompanied by angry chordal outbursts in the orchestra. The development, initiated by an extended orchestral passage (ppp, molto espressivo e cantabile) that recalls both the first and second subjects, climaxes in a stretto presentation of the motto theme in diminution. Since the beginning of the development had focused upon the opening music, the initial material is greatly abridged in the reprise, only the second subject being clearly profiled. A colossal cadenza leads into a quiet recall of the opening motto, and a bravura coda concludes the movement.

The lyrical second movement (Andante espressivo) is based on a very similar sonata design as the first, albeit much compressed. Here the “tentative” and “searching” opening theme in the solo violin contrasts with the “comforting” and “answering” second subject in the orchestra (pp). Since the opening idea is so clearly profiled at the beginning of the development (now in the solo violin’s upper register), its reprise is replaced by the passionate (sempre ff) highly dissonant outbursts by the soloist and orchestra. The final “answer” is provided both by the return of the second subject and the ethereal coda. In the Finale (Allegro giocoso), with its playful use of “academic” forms such as fugue (in the opening subject), Kletzki is clearly having fun; the dedication of the Violin Concerto to the tenor Richard Taube, well known by the 1920s not only for his comic roles in “serious” opera but also in operetta, may be reflected in the humorous allusions to cabaret music in the second subject (Meno mosso, quasi l’istesso tempo).

Kletzki’s Violin Concerto is a tonal piece, albeit a highly adventurous tonality. Indeed, we may describe the extended tonal language of Kletzki’s music in the late 1920s as a “super-complex tonality,” which generates highly intricate harmonic-contrapuntal textures pushing the envelope of the performers’ technique and musicianship to the limit; his music, composed for virtuosi, approaches and sometimes even exceeds the boundaries of the technically possible. With the large-scale orchestral piece Capriccio (1931), Kletzki would soon dispense completely with key signatures and cross over into his own unique brand of “post-tonal tonality,” which would be further explored in the Lyric Suite, Third Symphony, Flute Concertino, and the other “late” pieces composed in exile.