Corresponding with Carlos: A Biography of Carlos Kleiber (Anglais) Broché – 26 décembre 2013
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It is in two parts, a biographical section which includes the discussion of some of Kleiber's recordings (a score would be helpful to understand some of the remarks) and tells us a number of things about his character - the fact that he was extremely highly strung and over-sensitive - which we would not guess from Kleiber's letters. We are not told that he suffered from bipolar disorder. The second part of the book contains the letters of the conductor with summaries of Barber's letters interposed. Kleiber sends up a veritable smokescreen of great wit and humour. He claims to know nothing about how one should conduct though he occasionally says how a phrase should be played. It is a pity that the musical quotes, essential to understanding, are not given.
Kleiber's likes and dislikes among his colleagues are often surprising and amusing, though he rarely justifies his opinions. He admires Boult and Stokowski (not surprising) and also slowcoach Reginald Goodall yet strongly dislikes Celibidache for being too slow. Outside music, he has a particular affection for the poetry of Emily Dickinson - her mysterious, cryptic poetry reflects well Kleiber's character.
There is a fuller biography in German which is unlikely ever to be translated now but Charles Barber's makes for a very enjoyable alternative as he was one of the very rare people to have kept up a correspondance with the perplexing genius that was Carlos Kleiber.
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This is no ordinary biography. Because of Kleiber's reclusiveness and unwillingness to give interviews to the press or potential biographers, the details of his early life are somewhat sketchy, the whole decade of his twenties and the dawn of his early career and the exact process by which he acquired the skills to go along with his great talent remain elusive. Barber offers the first English language attempt at a formal discussion. So far so good............
What is special about the book are the insights into Kleiber's psyche we can derive from the extensive correspondence that he and Barber kept up over many years. Barber as a student conductor had access to videos and recordings at Stanford University which he would shoot off to CK and these would provoke discussion of their contents, frequently to both insightful and very funny effect. These letters, faxes and postcards to Barber (as well as others to certain musicians and impresarios) portray Kleiber's complex personality in a way that enables the reader to understand the conductor as much more than the received wisdom of "weird, enigmatic, cancel-prone, skittish and indecipherable." Finally this is a chance to understand more about the man - which is what Biography is about.
There are numerous hysterically funny descriptions of fellow conductors and their perceived foibles, there is the well-known debunking of Celibidache, with a good deal more detail than I have seen before. The overarching themes in Kleiber's correspondence are his perpetual self-doubt, relentless self-criticism and search for perfection in performance. At the same time we learn much of what it means to be an artist, a performer and a musician in the jet set world. Kleiber is the antithesis to Gergiev who conducts a lot of things in a lot of places on a lot of occasions. Kleiber conducted hardly at all, and this book seeks with success to explain why.
Well done Mr Barber. You have done for Kleiber and his reputation what Oliver Daniel did for Stokowski in "Stokowski - A Counterpoint of View." You have shone a light and illuminated the life of the greatest conductor of the twentieth century, and you have done it well.
Recommended unreservedly. 300+ pages of gold. We Alberichs would give everything for this. So $75 is not so bad.
In any case, I do think that the author did a great job. Bravo, Maestro! His correspondence with Carlos is a treasure and he well knows it. But regardless of that the price of the book should not necessarily be in a class of Carlos' conducting fees. So, this is not a definite bio of Carlos Kleiber and the question is whether we're ever going to get one, considering the secretive nature of his being. But this book is fun, a lot of fun, many well known and less known anecdotes of the fascinating man and his world. His character simply radiates from the pages. There are many humorous treats which will be devoured by Kleiber's fans. I definitely propose watching, reading and listening to the sources mentioned in the book, and the read is an even bigger pleasure. The author did a good but limited effort with the bio part of the research, vastly inferior to say Osbourne's Karajan bio (a must read!) although the way I see it, this part, by no means a minor feat, is to be viewed merely as a prelude to the letters themselves. These are a treasure, that's for certain. They convey vividly Kleiber's complexity as a person, his playful side, formidable intellect as well as his hyperactive humor and self-doubt.
A fascinating perfectionist of a man indeed, and true to himself and the music he so loved. Another important stone in the mosaic of Carlitos' already stupendous pedigree.
Huge thumbs up for the loads of fun and joy that the book brings, big thumbs down for the price.
Well, not 'given', exactly. It's a pricey book, but after only an hour with it I ordered two more copies for gifts. If you are a fellow Kleiber nut, this book is cheap at the price. If you've never quite understood why some of us go a bit strange on the subject, then you need this book even more than we nuts do.
Kleiber was simply the best conductor of the twentieth century, and that's a provable fact -- sort of. Here's the evidence. First, he was the highest paid conductor per concert. Any outfit would pay him almost any price thinking (correctly) that they had a bargain. That is, if he didn't cancel. He could get away with cancelling, and the cancellees would still come creeping back to him. He could demand fifteen or twenty rehearsals, and get them. Any other conductor would have to make do with maybe three. But not Kleiber.
The result was perfection, or as near as mortals get. But not just perfection; Kleiber could find something new and astonishing in the most thoroughly trodden works (Beethoven's Fifth!) and present the new insight not only perfectly, but also convincingly. It seemed he had a Fountain of Youth reserved for tattered old music scores; he would swish them in the Fountain and they would come out new and shiny. This was why people shelled out the (very) big bucks and endured all the foibles. Whatever the price, Kleiber came cheap. Much like this book.
"Corresponding with Carlos" is not quite a hagiography, though Dr. Barber definitely worships at the shrine. But I must insist: it's a very fine shrine, as good as you can get. But unlike the rest of us, Barber had a correspondence with Kleiber lasting well over a decade. These letters form the basis for an unusual biography, but Barber doesn't stop there. Knowing Kleiber gave him access to others who also knew Kleiber, and Barber has thoroughly mined every vein of ore available to him. We are treated to as complete a biography as we're ever likely to see.
But wait! There's more! The letters also contain fascinating discussions about music in general and certain works in particular; not ponderous appreciations of whole works, but the problems with them. It is unusual to hear a conductor wonder why nobody quite understands the importance of bar 147, or how to seat the cellos on stage, or advice on tempo at a certain moment. To hear (read) the things that concern a working conductor is to get a great look past the baton and beneath the tuxedo.
So was Kleiber a cranky, quirky recluse given to temper tantrums? Well, yes and no, but mostly no. He demanded perfection (that elusive grail) first of himself, then of performers, who worshiped him for it. His letters have insight, of course, but also some fine wit. And also quite a few very bad jokes. It's refreshing to know that his obsession with perfection did indeed have a very human boundary. Charles Barber includes a generous portion of these warts.
For many, Kleiber is the best conductor you've never heard of. Find him on You Tube conducting bonbons by Johan Strauss Jr. Play them first for the fun. Then play them again for the sound. Third time: watch Kleiber. Then you'll want to buy this book. Good for you.
The fact of this correspondence is improbable beyond words, but we can be forever grateful to Dr. Barber for establishing a personal and professional friendship that prompted Carlos Kleiber to expound - in great detail, with great wit and almost painful self-deprecation - on a multitude of topics that are enjoyable to the lay person and indispensable to the serious musician. The anecdotes alone are worth the price - who could have known that he "stole" a technique from Duke Ellington to get the effect he wanted for the opening of Beethoven's Coriolanus, or of his enormous respect for the extraordinarily gifted and musically illiterate Danny Kaye as a conductor? But it's the insights Kleiber shares regarding specific works and the process of working with creative artists that are truly priceless to artists of all stripes.
To the author, thank you - and to the rest - buy and enjoy!!
While we wait for a true scholarly biography of the enigmatic Carlos Kleiber, we have this: the only English-language book about this magnetic Maestro available and perhaps the only one we're likely to have. It does not purport to be a full-scale biography of the man, as indicated by the title, yet it seems to be about as well researched as it's possible for a work like this to be. Still, because it is written from the perspective of an admiring conductor who began an unlikely correspondence with Kleiber while still a student conductor, this work is at times tinged with a hagiographical tone. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a wholly objective study of the man. That said, it may never be possible to fully dispel the mists surrounding the elusive, evasive, much-lauded but poorly understood Kleiber -- to include his relationship with both of his parents, not just his conductor-father -- to achieve the sort of biography of the man that the world deserves.