Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Carlos Kleiber Falstaff

I do not believe it. A pirate recording of a Carlos Kleiber Falstaff from 1965 at the Zurich Opera. It's as though Youtube gave me a belated birthday present. I couldn't ask for a better one.

Carlos Kleiber was a conspicuous absence from my top 20 conductors list. I can't in good conscience put a conductor on the list who barely conducted. But I don't think there is any doubt that he was the most gifted conductor of the recorded, or that his failure to achieve his potential was both one of the greatest tragedies and the most fascinating stories in the history of music. And it has now reached a whole new level of fascination. A new biography is scheduled to be released soon which will make the no doubt inflammatory claim that the great Erich Kleiber was not Carlos's biological father. It often occurred to me that there was far too little resemblance in either physique, temperament or musical personality between father and son. But that's not the half of what makes this fascinating.

Apparently, there is an 80% chance that the father is none other than Alban Berg. Berg, apparently, pulled a Wagner and began to schtupp his most devoted conductor's wife while the conductor labored on the world premiere of his masterpiece. Kleiber conducted the premiere Berg's great opera, Wozzeck, after 124 rehearsals (easily breaking Hans von Bulow's record for Wagner's Tristan of 77), and Berg apparently busied himself equally with the unattended Mrs. Kleiber. The result was, no doubt, a multi-year affair (as Carlos was not born for another 5 years). Erich Kleiber was a great conductor,, but not the most imaginative one. He was a supremely practical musician who knew how to obtain extremely exciting results. He got them in part because he was a supremely determined man who thrived on challenge. Carlos Kleiber displayed enough evidence for us all to call him a musical genius, but he was as impractical and dreamy as his father was rigorous. In the face of challenge, Carlos wilted. For Erich, there was no obstacle too great. For Carlos, there was no obstacle too small. Perhaps this does make him more like Berg. But let's hold off judgement until I read that biography.


  1. Dear Evan Tucker!

    I don't know to which biography you were referring but as far as I know there are far more points against a fatherhood of Berg than Erich Kleiber.

    e.g.: 1. Carlos's sister Veronika clearly pointed out that Erich Kleiber is THEIR father, 2. pictures of a young Erich (especially the eyes) look far more like Carlo's than Berg, 3. some pictures of an old Carlos look similar too Erich, 4. the point that Carlo's nose looks similar to Berg's is nearly worthless because Carlos had a rhinoplasty in 1948 and his nose was "changed" again after a car crash in 1966.

    I'm looking forward to your answer.

    All the best


  2. Dear Ethratrian,

    I have no particular opinion on this issue. I was shocked to learn that it was even a possibility. I learned about it from this blogpost ( and in the comments section below it. In spite of the nature of the source, the person who alleges it is a reputable conductor in his own right. In any event, I'm still inclined to believe the stated truth about the issue until proven otherwise. But I'm withholding final judgement until I read a long study about the issue.