Campus & Community

Dunster House composer-in-residence ‘Charley’ Kletzsch dies at 82

2 min read

Charles F. “Charley” Kletzsch, Dunster House composer-in-residence for more than 50 years, died Jan. 15.

Kletzsch was a well-known fixture at Harvard, recognized for his inspiring and unusual way of life. Born in Milwaukee on April 4, 1926, Kletzsch entered Harvard College when he was just 16. He left college life to pursue music at the conservatory level, but returned five years later to complete his A.B. in 1951, after which he moved into Dunster House as a librarian. After earning an A.M. in music in 1953, Kletzsch remained at Dunster as a tutor before being named composer-in-residence. Shunned by his family for wasting his time with music, he lived in a small “secret room” in the Dunster House library, subsisting on a yearly salary of $1,000 until around his 40th birthday when he was bequeathed money by relatives.

With newfound monetary freedom, Kletzsch indulged his love of travel — yet he always returned to Harvard. In a 1990 interview with The Harvard Crimson, he said, “I sat down to write a poem at the Alhambra in Granada, and what I wrote about was the students of Dunster House.”

“He used to pick out students to read his poetry at concerts,” recalls Andrew Goodridge ’93. “I remember him saying to them, ‘If the Royal Shakespeare Company offered to read these poems, I would say no, because I want you guys to read them.’”

Kletzsch retired from Dunster House in 2002. During his farewell ceremony, former students and friends remarked on his life’s achievements — how, for example, he was spurred to take up the cello, though he was 65 at the time.

“His goal was only to play ‘simple phrases beautifully,’” says Goodridge.

“He was thoughtful and gentle,” recalls Betty McNally ’86, former Dunster House administrator. “Dapper,” she adds, remembering his Lucite cane.

Goodridge recalls visiting Kletzsch in the nursing home and playing Mozart sonatas. “Whenever possible, we would take a walk outside,” he says. “He was fascinated with nature and would stop to look at every flower, every leaf. That’s what was so special about Charley, he found beauty in things that the rest of the world seemed to overlook.”

This fascination sustained Kletzsch throughout his life — even during the frugal years; he told the Harvard Crimson. “I learned that only two things really matter: love and beauty.”

A service for Kletzsch was held on Jan. 20.