The impact of Cologne on Klemperer and the roots of his 1919 conversion:

For the first time in his life he found himself living in a bastion of intellectual Catholicism. The Rhineland was the centre of the liturgical movement, which was opposed a merely personal piety, and in its emphasis on ritual advocated among much else a return to plainsong. … The growing attraction that Catholicism had begun to exercise on Klemperer became apparent during Christmas 1918. To Marianne, the holidays with her brother in Cologne seemed like a ‘weeklong conversion to Christianity’. She had, she wrote to her friend, Leni Asch-Rosenbaoum, listened with real Christian devotion to the carols Otto had played, and also to Bach arias, whose calm spirit she described (doubtless echoing his sentiments) as ‘the purest essence of the German-Christian sprit.’

Immediately after Christmas another potent influence began to make itself felt. In January 1919, Max Scheler, the most celebrated Catholic philosopher of his time, was appointed professor at the newly established university of Cologne and by the following month both Klemperer and his sister had fallen under the spell of the intellectual brilliance of his lectures on the materialist view of history. Marianne found that there was ‘something watchful (lauerndes) and sceptical about him that is hard for me to reconcile with his fervent Catholicism’. But Klemperer was fascinated by a man for whom philosophy was less an abstruse discipline than a means of reflecting on the great issues of life and death. Indeed, it was perhaps the very discusiveness of Scheler’s thinking that appealed to his own untutored mind. Scheler was no proselytiser and he played no direct part in Klemperer’s conversion. But the closeness of these two restless, searching spirits is indicated by the facts that Scheler acted as a witness to Klemperer’s marriage in June 1919 and that the Missa Sacra, which Klemperer composed immediately after his conversion, is dedicated to him.

Early in 1919 Klemperer started to receive instruction from a Jesuit priest and on 17 March he was received into the Church. In one of those self-questioning moods to which he was prone, he later implied that he had taken the step in part as a means of distancing himself from his socialist associates in Cologne as well as from his Jewish background. But all who knew him at this period of his life agree that, in contrast to Mahler who converted in furtherance of his career, Klemperer was inspired by faith and intellectual conviction. Henceforth a belief in the existence of God and the efficacy of prayer conditioned his entire outlook.