Emeritus Professor Peter James Leonard Klatzow: 1945–2021

29 December 2021 | Written by Staff Writer. Photo University of Cape Town. Read time 7 min.

14 July 1945 – 29 December 2021

On Wednesday, 29 December 2021, University of Cape Town (UCT) Fellow and former composition lecturer and director of the South African College of Music (SACM) Emeritus Professor Peter James Leonard Klatzow passed away aged 76.

Klatzow was born on 14 July 1945 in Springs, Gauteng, to Cyril and Winifred Klatzow.

In 1964 he attended the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied composition with British composer, Bernard Stevens, piano with Kathleen Long, an English pianist and teacher, and orchestration with Gordon Jacob, who was also an English composer. In that year he won several of the College composition prizes as well as the Royal Philharmonic prize for composition, which was open to any Commonwealth composer under age 30. He spent 1965 in Italy and Paris, where he studied with French music educator, Nadia Boulanger.

Since returning to South Africa in 1966, he has worked at the SABC in Johannesburg as a music producer. He completed a doctoral degree in composition at UCT, where he lectured for 37 years in composition, retiring in 2010 as Professor Emeritus and director of SACM.

In 1986 he was elected to the rank of UCT Fellow for “having performed original distinguished academic work of such quality as to merit special recognition.”

He was awarded his DMus for published work in composition in 1999, and the Cape Tercentenary Foundation’s Molteno Gold medal for lifetime achievement in music in 2002.

One of the few South African composers to achieve international recognition, Klatzow has won prizes in Spain, the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada, and his works have been performed in various European centres and in the United States of America (USA). In South Africa he was awarded the prestigious Helgard Steyn Prize for his piano suite From the Poets.

His major works include a full-length ballet on Hamlet for which he was given a special Nederburg award for the music; scores for ballets on Drie Diere and Vier Gebede; and concertos for piano, clarinet, organ and marimba; as well a double concerto for flute and marimba which was performed at Yale University, USA. His Prayers and Dances of Praise from Africa was introduced at the Three Choirs Festival, Worcester, UK on 24 August 1996.

Recent commissions include The World of Paul Klee (III), composed for the opening of the new Paul Klee Centre in Berne, Switzerland; a celebratory Te Deum for choir, organ and orchestra, commissioned for a special service celebrating the 100th anniversary of St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, and Towards the Light, a work for double choir, marimba and organ commissioned for the opening of the new Peabody Concert Hall (USA) in April 2004. He was also commissioned by UCT to provide a 20-minute opera for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the SACM, and by the Southern African Music Rights Organisation to compose a setting of Thabo Mbeki’s speech “I am an African” for use in the international vocal scholarship competition in 2011.

That same year, he attended a festival of his marimba works in Tokyo, Canada, where he lectured at the Tokyo Music School and gave master classes on his music and also received the Huberte Rupert Music Prize from the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns for his lifetime work. Shortly after these performances Klatzow attended the international event “Peter Klatzow in the City”, which was held for a week in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and featured his music for marimba. There were three performances of his Concerto for Flute, Marimba and Strings with Tatiana Koleva and Eleonore Palmeijr and they premiered his new work Night Sky with Illuminations which was commissioned by the Eduard von Beinum Foundation in Rotterdam.

In 2014 Klatzow was again awarded the Helgard Steyn Prize, for his work Lightscapes, which was commissioned for the World Marimba Festival in Stuttgart in 2012. He was also appointed Composer in Residence for the 2015 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival.

His discography includes recordings of his piano music, the Mass for Choir, Horn, Marimba and Strings, String Quartet, Chamber Concerto for 7, Piano Concerto, From the Poets, an RCA issue of Return of the Moon with the King’s Singers and Evelyn Glennie, and a CD of his choral music made by the International Herald company entitled Towards the Light – the choral music of Peter Klatzow. His Marimba Concerto has been reissued in a new recording made by Markus Leoson and issued by the Swedish label NOSAG in 2006. His CD entitled Myths, Magic and Marimbas – the music of Peter Klatzow was also issued in July 2006.

Klatzow had a profoundly innate talent and interest in music from an early age. His passion for composition and thirst for knowledge in music combined to create an extraordinary man who shared this knowledge with his students and friends alike. He achieved great success in his endeavors and earned many accolades and awards, deserving of his stature and ability.

But Klatzow was more than just the sum of what he was passionate about. He was known for his quick wit, a natural flair with words, strong-willed, but also his ability to truly inspire and encourage. He had an intense, precise and organised nature, usually setting about composing at four in the morning every day with a coffee in hand, and very rarely skipping a day. His ability to transcend his own musings profoundly affected his students and friends alike and he liked to try to aid budding composers and musicians by nurturing their ability by sharing whatever he had learnt and discovered. Klatzow loved playing Bridge and always found some reason to give a good grin, whether it was about the latest Soufflé he’d conjured up, or perhaps a resonant harmony or melodic contour he had recently discovered. His big smile was infectious.

While he did not marry, he lived with Lionel Walker, Hayley Fredericks, and their son, Peter-John, which Peter described as his family, along with his goddaughter, Claudia Stamatiadis.

Peter is survived by his brother David Klatzow, Lionel, Hayley, Peter-John and Claudia. He will be sorely missed.

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