profile: charles f. kletzsch
Do other Houses have composers in residence?
I don't think so. See, my being composer in residence came about in this funny way.
About the third year that I was in the House, the master at that time said to me the University had gotten some money from the Ford Foundation for education in the Houses or something like that. 'Would you like to teach a seminar on composition for students in the House?' [he asked.] And I said 'I don't think I'd be comfortable with that because I don't want to teach.' So then I thought about what I did do already in the House and I went back to him a couple of days later and I said to him that he could legitimately call me composer in residence and pay me a small sum of money for what I already do totally spontaneously as part of being me, as a composer, and so he did.
You've been here for a very long time. What changes stick out most in your mind?
The most important educational improvement in Dunster House since I've been here is when the House became co-ed-for a funny reason which you'd hardly realize if you weren't here before. When boys live by themselves they discuss girls a great deal in an extremely superficial fashion. Then all of a sudden there are girls in the House. And then you can't talk about girls in this silly way anymore. I'm sure it's the same with girls, though naturally they didn't do it while I was there (I went up to Radcliffe occasionally.)
Did you think that you would stay so long?
Nuh-uh. The reason for keeping me here is for education, not for music. It wasn't the University of Vienna that realized who Beethoven was; it was a bunch of very, very sensitive amateurs: his patrons. The University can evaluate that this guy is a competent composer, but that's peanuts. They keep me here for my educational value, which comes from my creativity and my idealism. They're not sitting here thinking, "Is this guy another Beethoven?" That's something you just can't decide.
In modern America for one person to have one job his whole life is extremely unusual. In medieval France or medieval China, it would be completely normal for one person to have one job and live in one place his entire life. In terms of overall history, it isn't quite as freakish as it seems in Dunster House. The whole world is different now, you see. And to have the difference of the whole world reflected right where I live is much more exciting than...there's nothing wrong with living in Concord [traditional bedroom community of Harvard professors], but for me it's better to live in Dunster House.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have you own house?
Yeah. Probably once a year I go over to a friend's house in Chestnut Hill and have supper with her and her husband. Driving through Chestnut Hill and being in that house, I wonder...it's the kind of house I grew up in. But for me, this is the better choice. I mean, I don't think that they should dissolve Concord. My life is nothing like Beethoven's life, nothing like Verdi's, nothing like Mozart's, but rather similar to Bach's life. Bach spent the last (I think) 20 years of his life in this one church in Leipzig and he was sort of like composer in residence in that church. And his life was somewhat like my life, or my life was somewhat like his.