This has been a long time in the oven, but the pie is truly worth waiting for – and delicious! For Kleiber aficianados this book is pure GOLD.
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…
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.
It’s been a long wait, but finally we Kleiber addicts have been given a biography that amply rewards our patience.
Kleiber was simply the best conductor of the twentieth century, and that’s a provable fact — sort of… ‘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.
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.
— Wayne Richards
The author, himself a conductor, is obviously a vigorous fan, so a neutral biography seems to be out of the question from the start. But who can blame him? … 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… 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.
— A. Selan