During the dark days of 1939 in war-torn Europe, a young Jewish conductor and composer named Paul Kletzki fled to his wife's homeland, Switzerland. For safekeeping, the original scores of his major compositions, including several works not yet published, were stored in a metal trunk in Milan near La Scala. The neighborhood was heavily bombed and the compositions assumed lost.
After the war, Kletzki never composed again, but resumed his career as a conductor, working with the major orchestras of Europe. Merely two weeks after an impressive American debut in 1958 with the Cincinnati Symphony, he began negotiations to become the eighth music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Kletzki was born in Lodz, Poland on March 21, 1900. His musical talent was evident at a young age, and he made his public debut as a violinist at 13. After early studies in violin and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory, he finished his education at the Berlin Academy and published his first work, a string quartet, in 1923. Publicity sheets from his publishers document the flurry of works that followed; by 1928 his Opus 17, 18, and 19 consisted of two symphonies and a violin concerto. His catalog in 1934 listed 28 works, including two additional concertos, lieder, and chamber music.
Kletzki's conducting career was also on the rise during the pre-war years. He studied with many of the greats of his era, winning high remarks from Wilhelm Furtwangler who wrote, "Paul Kletzki, I know not only as a specially talented Composer, but also as one of the few talented Musical Conductors of the young generation." Berlin, however, soon became too dangerous for Kletzki, and in 1934 he took a teaching position in Milan. A 1936 conducting tour to Russia led to a post with the Kharkov Orchestra where he led more than 40 concerts during the 1937-38 season.
During the war, Kletzki conducted in Switzerland, appearing at the Lucerne Festival in 1943 and 1944. Postwar, his reputation as a conductor grew throughout Europe and beyond, including a 12-week tour of Australia in 1948 and appearances in Israel in 1953. A London review in 1951 began, "Mr. Paul Kletzki is a conductor of whose work we should like to hear more in this country" and a 1954 critique of a Scottish National Orchestra concert was headlined, "Kletzki's Genius."
In early 1958, Kletzki finally crossed the Atlantic for a North American tour, beginning in Cincinnati on January 17 and 18. On January 31, Walter Hendl introduced him to the musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as "my successor." Upon his arrival in the States, not only Dallas but also Baltimore and Rochester had immediately courted Kletzki. A review from his Baltimore performance that year comments wistfully on the good fortune of Dallas to "have acquired a leader who knows so well what he is doing and who does it with so much gracious consideration for his players."
Kletzki was excited about his Dallas position, commenting, "I had a wonderful feeling from thoughts that I was coming to my own orchestra." His busy conducting schedule limited the time he could give Dallas during his initial season in 1958-59, but local reviewers found much to like in his performances. Eugene Lewis of the Dallas Times Herald went so far as to say, "Paul Kletzki is the kind of conductor who is the despair of reviewers. Just when one has exhausted his supply of superlatives, Kletzki achieves something that demands a new superlative."
Unfortunately for Dallas, Kletzki's health was not robust, and his travel schedule was wearing him down. In February of 1961 he asked to be released from the final year of his Dallas contract, and returned to Switzerland where in 1965 he was named leader of the Orchestra of the Swiss Romande.
World War II had a lasting effect on Kletzki, both as a conductor and composer. His conducting legacy lives on in his recordings with various ensembles, but because he held few music directorships, he did not achieve the lasting fame of maestros associated with one orchestra, such as Reiner with Chicago or Ormandy in Philadelphia. As a composer, he became invisible. German houses held all of his published works, and the Nazis destroyed even the plates from which the music was printed. When asked why he ceased to compose, he said, "The shock of all that Hitlerism meant destroyed also in me the spirit and will to compose."
In 1973, shortly before his death, the trunk containing his scores was found and returned to him. He refused to open it, however, believing he would find the manuscripts ruined. Only after his death did his widow open the trunk to find the materials perfectly preserved.
In 2000, Dr. Timothy Jackson from the University of North Texas discovered the music in a library in Zurich, and obtained copies of the scores. The university sponsored performances of Kletzki lieder, and Dr. Jackson encouraged the Dallas Symphony to explore the works of its former music director. On October 3-6, more than 40 years after his time here, Kletzki will, in a sense, return to Dallas when his former orchestra performs his Second Symphony. ‹ LeAnn Binford