German born Otto Klemperer is regarded by many as one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century. Over a long and tumultuous career which spanned more than sixty years, he became internationally known as a conductor and a composer.
Klemperer was born in 1885 in Breslau, Silesia (now Poland) and met Gustav Mahler early in his career while conducting a Mahler composition. The two became friends and Mahler's recommendation earned Klemperer a position at the Prague Opera House in 1907. Over the next twenty five years, Klemperer held numerous posts throughout Germany, earning a reputation as a competent conductor and a champion of new music. He conducted debuts of notable composers such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky. When the Nazis took control in 1933, Klemperer was able to secure a position at the Los Angeles Philharmonic where he remained until the late 1940s.
Unfortunately, it was during his stay in the U.S. that Klemperer's mental health began to deteriorate. He underwent an operation for what was thought to be a brain tumor in 1939, but was left partially paralyzed by the procedure. Today it is believed that Klemperer was suffered from manic depression, and that he was incorrectly diagnosed. The event marked what may be regarded as the end of his success in the United States, as he was not able to hold positions with American orchestras.
Klemperer returned to Europe after the war, and was an itinerant conductor in various European orchestras. By the mid-1950s, he was known as the authority on the German repertory and remained so for the rest of his life. His own compositions did not earn him as much acclaim, but have been recorded and performed periodically.
Otto Klemperer settled in Switzerland in the late 1950s, but did not retire from conducting until 1971. He died two years later in Zurich. His son Werner achieved success as an actor and is best-remembered for playing the character of Colonel Klink on TV's Hogan's Heroes, a sitcom set in a fictional Nazi POW camp.