Ears See It in a New Way: William Klenz

In 1959, Dr. William Klenz required his undergraduate music history students at Duke University to unlock the secrets of baroque music by studying original texts for what led up to it — social dances of the Renaissance, as taught by dance master Thoinot Arbeau  in his Orchesographie.

Tapping dance sources is now a small but recognized niche (NYT, 9-4-13).

I believe Klenz — who never wore a watch because he didn’t want to be the slave of time, and insisted that all of his students sing “A” upon arising in the morning so that they would be in tune with the world — was an unrecognized genius.


13 thoughts on “Ears See It in a New Way: William Klenz

  1. I was Dr. Klenz’ graduate asst at SUNY Binghamton. He was indeed a genius and opened our minds and ears in many ways. Ironically, I am in Princeton this weekend performing with the Dryden Ensemble. Dr Klenz was my introduction to early music performance practices.

  2. I was able to take two courses with Prof. Klenz while working on my M.A. in Historical Musicolgy in the early 80s at Binghamton University. The courses were Schubert Lieder and Impressionism and Music. In the first, yes, we studied every single song Schubert wrote, and sang a lot of them, too! In the second it wasn’t just music, but impressionism in literature, art, and dance too. My advisor, Phil Friedheim warned me that any course with Klenz should be the ONLY course I took in a semester, but that I’d never have a more enjoyable time doing research.

    1. Bill Snyder, welcome to the Klenz fan club. I am delighted to collect these comments. I bet he had plenty to say about Nijinsky and L’Apres Midi! Here is another memory. For a faculty solo concert he chose to play the six Bach unaccompanied cello suites. Quite a challenge. He accomplished the evening with verve and bravado, offering us all a lesson in “do your best and let the devil take the hindmost.”

      1. I just came upon this blog
        so excited because I have 3 original “hand scored” ? pieces by William Klenz that I found at a yard sale 10 years ago. I know that Duke or NYU would probably like to have these…..I would like to donate them but do not know how to have them appraised. do you have any ideas ?

      2. Cathy, we — the William Klenz fan club 00 will research this and get back to you. THANK you for saving the scores. Bill Snyder, others, ideas?

    2. So nice to discover this site!
      Prof. Klenz was my chamber music coach for a semester at Yale in the early 70s.
      His insights into Mozart were a gift that has been of enormous importance to me ever since.
      I don’t know why — I guess I was just too young, too self-conscious, or just generally oblivious — but I don’t remember even knowing that Prof. Klenz was a cellist — or a Southerner. Somehow I remember thinking he was German! (maybe because I knew he had written an article for the MGG?)
      I suppose I should have (to put it mildly) realized something about his background when the subject of “schmaltz” came up once, and he said something like “oh yes, we used to have black bread and goose grease.” (And it’s still the only time I’ve ever heard the term “goose grease.”)
      BTW, did you know — something that I only discovered recently — that Prof. Klenz played in the very first concert of the Raleigh (NC) Chamber Music Guild, on April 25, 1941?
      Best regards to all,
      Miles Hoffman

      1. Dear Miles — so glad to hear from you. I don’t remember Klenz having an accent – either Southern or German – but if he was an adult musician in Raleigh in 1941 . . . Please update me with any more info you find.

        He was such a happy guy. White hair, red face, always “teasy” always expecting more from us than we could possibly do, or thought we could possibly do — and then, when we stretched to do it — delighted in the accomplishment. Perfection was not the goal. Doing it was the goal.

        For the rest of us who DIDN’T make careers in music, Miles is one who did. He is a violist and classical music commentator on NPR, as here.

  3. Studied with Bill Klenz at SUNY B beginning in 1974. Several courses, some audited, some for credit, an independent study and then kept in touch frequently until 1986 just before he died. Profound influence on me

  4. Welcome to the Klenz fan club. He gave my two most memorable final exams. For music history first semester he wrote 20 names and terms on the board and let us write an essay that wove them together. Exhilarating for him and us. Second semester of a course that was supposed to get through the 20th century but we had covered only through Bach — he ‘taught’ mozart, haydn, and beethoven by assigning five works from each at the beginning of the exam reading period. We were to figure these works out by ourselves and take a drop-the-needle exam, identify and explicate the work. Using the departments record library, one copy of each Lp. Scary for us but we were excited to meet the challenge.

  5. I studied with W Klenz at SUNY Binghamton 1972-73. Agree he was unique in immersing us in the times, styles, world views of the early Baroque. He also was very human and never overwhelmed the lowly undergraduates we were! Always think of him with fondness,

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