Monday, 23 July 2018


A famous capture of Carlos Kleiber, enthusiastically immersed in von Weber's
epic Der Freischütz. This footage was captured during rehearsals in 1970 with
the Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester. The film was featured in the Schultz
documentary "I am Lost to the World: Traces to Nowhere" in 2010.
Those who have had the pleasure of reading conductor Charles Barber’s incredibly revealing 2011 biography on the eminent maestro, "Corresponding With Carlos," will by now be quite familiar with the Austrian icon’s delightfully drôle sense of humor.

It could be self-deprecating:

“I am sorry to say: I hardly conduct at all; so that would mean you would be totally hors d’oeuvre (out of work) and horrified at my lack of interest, energy, initiative, and so forth … I’m a real mess, actually. Don’t tell anyone, please.”[1]


"I’ve given up music, incidentally. But maybe I’ll still conduct. That would make me…what? A professional?"[2]
“you are the only person that writes to me! I have successfully alieanated (spelling?) all other would-be correspondents. If they are American, I do it with Abe. With other countries…well, I find a way!”[3]
and even crass:
“regarding ORIGINALITY: the warm glow one gets from growing things from scratch on one’s own dungheap IS gratifying, though I’d hate to have to re-invent the telephone, for instance”[4]

Barber's exciting 2011 release, Corresponding with
is an absolute must-have in the collection of
any Kleiber aficionado. There is, in my opinion, no
greater source material for a biographical work than
the intimate exchanges left behind by the subject.
Barber expertly weaves these prized relics into the
compelling narrative of a shared musician that is as
much scholarly in it's context as it is astonishingly
refreshing in detail. You do not want to miss this
gem. Copies can be found on Amazon for purchase.
These humorous quotes are from rare, intimate exchanges between Kleiber and the author - who, quite daringly, contacted the notoriously reclusive conductor first by mail in 1989, seeking the maestro's expertise as a budding young conductor himself, despite fair forewarning to expect the cold shoulder as a form of response. What Barber received in return was anything but. How fortunate for him - and how incredibly lucky for us!

Whilst Barber’s impressive collection may not amass to treasure trove status – rare as the letters are – they remain the richest source of biographical data on the revered maestro: they contain priceless insight into the mind of a musical perfectionist, and reveal the child-like persona underneath – one which seems to both perfectly neutralize, yet at the same time, compliment an illusive, self-doubting genius.

Kleiber’s whimsical personality was further highlighted in the 2010 documentary I am Lost to the World: Traces to Nowhere by director Eric Schultz, which featured the commentary of former colleagues of the maestro. In this brief film, we learn of Kleiber’s penchant for slapstick, as his makeup artist, Martha Scherer recounts:

“…on carnival Tuesday, there was always a performance of Fledermaus, and in the interval before act three, he changed into fancy dress. His disguise was a well-kept secret. Everyone wanted to know beforehand what it would be, but it all happened behind locked doors to heighten the suspense.”

Photographer Anne Kirchbach was fortunate enough to capture Kleiber hamming it up before the orchestra:
“Here he is dressed as Boris Becker - tennis ball in hand…sometimes he threw it up into the air, and he conducted with the tennis racquet.”

It wasn’t only tennis legends that Kleiber “masterfully” imitated – Kirchbach managed to photograph the maestro in full period costume several times over: as Becker, Johann Strauss Jr. (resplendent with curled mustache for authenticity), and Bhagwan.

Barber has generously shared these captures with the world. View them by clicking the links below:

Herein enters a juvenile self portrait, drawn by Kleiber’s own hand, in which even his scribbled “personage” dons a disguise. The portrait, which Kleiber titled “Carlos el Club,” depicts the young musician as 20th century Italian crooner Carlo Buti, a tenor then immensely popular in Argentina, where the Kleiber clan set up shop in 1935. 

Kleiber biographer Alexander Werner first brought this gem to our collective attention, and Kleiber fans, such as myself, are certainly thankful:

"Carlos el Club," a self-portrait of Carlos Kleiber,
disguised as Italian crooner Carlo Buti. The 'costume's
devilish 'tail' (possibly a belt strap), is humorously
supplanted by a high ticket fare of twenty five dollars.
|, Werner |
This ‘rare’ portrait provides yet another glimpse into the man behind the legend – a man who, contrary to popular belief, was not the misanthropic, staid figure of mythical lore.

According to Austrian opera director Otto Schenk (the mastermind behind Kleiber’s wildly successful Fledermaus at the Bayerischen Staatsoper):
“[Kleiber] was so incredibly gifted he could afford to take the Mickey out of the conductor's job.”

Listen below to an incredibly rare interview* featuring Carlos Kleiber, recorded from a 1960 radio broadcast aired on NDR in Hamburg. This recording is believed to be the only (surviving) radio interview featuring the maestro. During the interview, Kleiber is repeatedly questioned about the influence and encouragement of his father, the eminent conductor Erich Kleiber. Perhaps most revealing is the reluctant Erich’s suggestion, following Carlos’s failed tenure as a student in Zurich (and subsequent return to Argentina), of conducting an operetta: “..he said I would learn more [this way]…I would say it was the most difficult way!” 

Prompted by the interviewer as to whether his father (who only relented to his son’s wish to study the art of conducting following his return from Switzerland) had arranged for his studious son meetings with potential employers, Kleiber revealed, “No, he didn’t wish to get involved – he even suggested I change my name, which I did.” ("Carlos Kleiber" would become "Karl Keller" for his conducting debut at Potsdam in 1954.)

(*Interview auf Deutsch. Teiltranskript verfügbar: YouTube-Kommentare)


Enjoy below a recording of "Passione Argentina" by Carlo Buti, the subject of impersonation in Kleiber's self portrait. The Italian crooner enjoyed massive album sales across Italy and Argentina, and was hailed as "The Golden Voice of Italy," and "The first Italian music superstar of 20th century." It's clear to see why Kleiber chose to honor him with a shared likeness:


  • [1] Corresponding with Carlos, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Barber, Charles, p. xv (undated)
  • [2] Ibid. p. 27, 2 February 1996 
  • [3] Ibid. p. xviii
  • [4] Ibid. p. 79, 20 December 1992

Learn more (Internal links):


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