Biographical Notes

  • Borne in Dresden 14th June 1910.
  • Studied piano, violin and oboe 1924-1928 at the Orchestra School of the Dresden Staatskapelle.
  • In 1928 appointed Principal Oboist of the Gewandhous Orchestra Leipzig.
  • Practical experience as oboist and repetiteur in opera and symphonic repertoire under Busch, Walter, Furtwängler, Strauss and Klemperer.
  • Conducting career began in Leipzig in 1934 and continued after the war with leading positions in Chemnitz and Weimar.
  • 1949 appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Dresden State Opera and Staatskapelle and in 1952 with the Bavarian State Opera Munich.
  • Resigned from Dresden 1953, from Munich 1954 to pursue regular engagements with Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, Metropolitan Opera New York, Royal Opera House Covent Gardens, as well as
  • Edinburgh, Salzburg, Munich and Bayreuth Festivals.
  • The focus gradually shifted from opera to concert.
  • In 1961 appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as successor to Sir Thomas Beecham.
  • Similar positions in Zurich (Tonhalle Orchestra, 1965-1972) and Munich (Philharmonic  Orchestra 1967 onwards).
  • Took over as Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1975.
  • Died Zurich 11th May 1976.

His Life and Work

Rudolf Kempe, Principal Conductor to some of the leading orchestras and opera houses in Europe, was one of the last representatives of the great German conducting tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries. Throughout the world he was highly regarded for his baton technique which in its brilliance and clarity was second to none; for the authenticity of his interpretations of an uncommonly wide repertoire in both opera and concert; for his qualities as an educator and guiding spirit of orchestras; and for his integrity as a musician and as a man. His relationship with the music scene in England, dating back to 1953, was extraordinary. It was based on mutual respect between him and the musicians, and on a deep understanding of mentality and shared artistic aims. It lasted almost a quarter of a century, until his death in 1976.

Through his association with the Royal Opera House Covent Gardens, his work as Principle Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for fifteen years, and, in the same capacity, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra until his death, Kempe greatly influenced these orchestras and their artistic standing at home and abroad. This influence – which in some cases affected the very core of their existence – is felt to this day by generations of professionals and music lovers.

Throughout his career – on which he embarked as a pianist and oboist – Kempe also continued to perform regularly as a piano soloist in concertos, and was much in demand as a partner in chamber music and as a lieder accompanist. It is the experience in these more intimate fields that, in his view, enhances more than anything the musical sensitivity and the sense of ensemble that make the true artist.

Shy as a person, and deeply suspicious of the razzmatazz that generally surrounds the conductor’s rostrum and its power, Rudolf Kempe devoted an ever increasing amount of his time, thought and energy to teaching and guiding young musicians – conductors, singers and instruments alike.

It was this concern, shared by the best among his fellow artists, which brought the Society into being and continues to inspire it.

In 2008, Rudolf Kempe’s complete archive was transferred from Munich to the Rudolf Kempe Society’s base in the UK, ‘THE MUSES’ at 58 Waterside. in Stratford-upon-Avon.

At the same time, his remains found their final rest in the gardens of that peaceful place and its timeless artistic ambience.


for Rudolf Kempe

Here may he rest where cypress, cedar and the olive grow – and, sacred to Apollo, the sweet bay. Where robin, wren and blackbird flute arpeggios, ring-doves vercroo in oboe tones and sparrows chirp staccato plainsong to the day.

Here may he rest as music structures time: the held, collective silences of birds in afternoons, and music-making humans in his studio, as they find expression of a guiding human mind and spirit sharing notes assembled.

Here may he rest while daylight dims and every bird its compline sings till constellations holograph the inky sky, the ever-changing river, and lilting lights of Waterside become one with the Avon’s glide in gold and silver dressed.

Here may he rest.

© Hazell Hills