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Composer Charles Kletzsch '50 came to Harvard when he was 16. Forty-seven years later the Milwaukee, Wi. born-Dunster House Composer-in-Residence is still making music at the University.
"It would have been nice to live in a palace, but music was, and is, my passion," says Kletzsch.
His suite--decorated with an 18th Century clavichord, a sign from the pinball machine 'Sorcerer,' and hanging inflated globes--reveals why many people find Charlie Kletzsch a fascinating and remarkable man.
Kletzsch says he grew up the scion of an established and wealthy Milwaukee family and came to Harvard "to become a composer." He left college to gain practical musical experience in a music conservatory in Milwaukee and returned five years later to finish his undergraduate. education and get a Master of Arts in Music.
Kletzsch says he did not know on the fall, 1952day he moved into Dunster House as house librarianthat it was to be his home for the next 38 years.Despite "an offer from another very gooduniversity," he stayed on as a tutor afterreceiving his M.A. with highest honors, and wasmade composer-in-residence.
During this time, he says, he was shunned byhis family for "wasting [his] life on music." Helived in a small "secret room" abutting theDunster House Library on a yearly salary of $1000,the amount that was to be Kletzsch's sole incomeuntil he turned 40.
These frugal years, he says, taught him adictum that has been of greater value thananything else in his life. "I learned that onlytwo things really matter: love and beauty."
Beauty, he says, "I found in St. Paul, Lao Tse,Plato, Jefferson, Diderot, Verdi and Mozart...allthose things which give happiness without making$1000 a year seem so little."
Teaching, too, brought him the gratificationthat made those lean years so rich, Kletzsch says."Teaching is extremely important to me and if youdo it right it takes the same creative energy ascomposing."
He says he also found poetry comparable to hispassion for music: "Poetry is a kind of music," hesays, "for poems and piano sonatas just expressthings in different ways."
He estimates that he was about 40 years-oldwhen his parents and "an aunt or two" died,leaving him, as he says, "not a multi-millionaire,but far more comfortably off than before."Kletzsch could indulge his love for travel.
He has since spent many months in the shadow ofChartres, taken an extended "Pilgrimage" toBenares--which he describes as "the principleplace of pilgrimage for Hindus, truly a miraculousplace"--and three weeks writing flute music in aremote village in Cameroon, which he describes as"the most exciting thing I've ever done."
These travels do nothing, however, to shake hisextraordinary love for the community in which hehas spent nearly 40 years, he says. "I sat down towrite a poem at the Alhambra in Granada, and whatI wrote about was the students of Dunster House.
Living in Dunster House for so many years hasmade Kletzsch a well-known character there, wheresome, who don't really know him, see him as a madhermit, perhaps a benign Quasimodo.
It has come to be part of house lore that hisparents built the house library and bought hissuite of rooms to ensure him a niche in life.
Such beliefs amongst his housemates are utterlyuntrue, says Michael Raynor '90: "You have toexpect that sort of misunderstanding from a housefull of people who see him around but never reallyget to know him. I meet people who adore him andothers who know him less well and wonder why hehas a special place."
House Master Karel Liem says of Kletzsch,"Charlie certainly plays a very important role inenriching the House. He is still very muchinvolved in music, but more than that he gives atremendous sense of history and depth to thehouse. He has a lot of time to interact withstudents, and that is greatly appreciated by all.
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