From the Archives: Otto Klemperer Dies; Former L.A. Maestro

From the Archives: Otto Klemperer Dies; Former L.A. Maestro
Conductor Otto Klemperer at the Hollywood Bowl. (Otto Rothschild Collection / Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Otto Klemperer, who was known at the time of his retirement as the greatest living conductor of Beethoven and Mahler, died in his sleep at his home here Friday night, his family announced. He was 88.

The German conductor and composer was director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1933 to 1939.

His son, Werner, is an actor well-known for his role as the German colonel in the television series "Hogan's Heroes." Klemperer also had a daughter, Lotte.

His daughter and son were with him when he died, according to an announcement released Saturday by Electrical Musical Industries, the conductor's recording company.

Unconscious for Week

The announcement said Klemperer had been unconscious about a week.

Klemperer abandoned public performances last year because of his health. For several years, the towering, hawk-faced maestro had been force to conduct from a chair because he was partly paralyzed during surgery to treat a brain tumor detected in 1939.

Klemperer once was a protege of Mahler.

Born in Breslau, Germany, on May 14, 1885, Klemperer made his name as an opera conductor at Berlin's Kroll Opera in the late 1920s. He was Jewish and moved to Zurich when Hitler rose to power. He moved on to Los Angeles in 1933.

He returned to Europe in 1946, conducted in Budapest from 1947 to 1950 and since then had made guest appearances, frequently in London.

Musical Home

He took out Israeli citizenship in 1970, but London was his musical home for the past 20 years. His last London performance was of Brahms's "Third Symphony" in September, 1971.

Klemperer often was described as sardonic, cold and easily angered. During a rehearsal at the Budapest State Opera in 1947, he reportedly broke a violin over the head of one of his musicians in a fit of anger.

Klemperer left school when he was 16 to attend conservatories in Frankfurt and Berlin. He married Johanne Geissler in 1919, by whom he had Werner and Lotte. She preceded him in death.

The funeral will be in Zurich on Tuesday.