Kempe was born in Dresden, where from the age of fourteen he studied at the Dresden State Opera School. He played oboe in the opera orchestra of Dortmund and then in the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra, from 1929. In addition to oboe, he played the piano regularly, as a soloist, in chamber music or accompanying, as a result of which, in 1933, the new Director of the Leipzig Opera invited Kempe to become a répétiteur, and later a conductor, for the opera.
During the Second World War Kempe was conscripted into the army, but instead of active service was directed into musical activities, playing for the troops and later taking over the chief conductorship of the Chemnitz opera house.
He was invited to succeed Georg Solti as chief conductor of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich from 1952 to 1954, and was permitted by the East German authorities to do so without severing his ties with Dresden. In 1953 Kempe appeared with the Munich company at the Royal Opera House in London, where the General Administrator, Sir David Webster, quickly decided that Kempe would be an ideal Musical Director for the Covent Garden company. Kempe resisted the appointment, and did not accept the top job at any opera house after leaving Munich in 1954. He nonetheless conducted frequently at Covent Garden and was immensely popular there, conducting among other works, Salome,Elektra,Der Rosenkavalier, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Un Ballo in Maschera and Madama Butterfly, of which the critic Andrew Porter compared Kempe’s conducting favourably with that of Arturo Toscanini and Victor de Sabata. As a guest conductor, Kempe frequently revisited Munich conducting mostly the Italian repertory.
Kempe was associated with the Royal Philharmonic (RPO) from 1955. In 1960, he became its Associate Conductor, chosen by the orchestra's founder, Sir Thomas Beecham. From 1961 to 1962 he was Principal Conductor of the RPO, and from 1963 to 1975 its Artistic Director. A member of the RPO later said of Kempe, "He was a wonderful controller of the orchestra, and a very great accompanist ... Kempe was like someone driving a racing-car, following the piano round the bends." Kempe abolished Beecham's male-only rule, introducing women into the RPO: an orchestra without them, he said, "always reminds me of the army." In 1970, the RPO named him Conductor for Life, but in 1975, he resigned his post with the orchestra.
^ abcdefAlan Blyth (February 1974). "Rudolf Kempe interview and profile". The Gramophone. pp. 1,547.
^Sackville-West, Edward; Shawe-Taylor, Desmond (1955). The Record Guide. London: Collins. p. 746. OCLC59019008.
^Haltrecht, Montague (1975). The Quiet Showman. London: Collins. pp. 186, 189. ISBN0-00-211163-2.
^R.E. (1976). "Rudolf Kempe: Obituary". The Musical Times117 (1601): 596.
^Previn, André (ed) (1979). Orchestra. London: Macdonald and Jane's. p. 164. ISBN0-354-04420-6.
^Forbes, Elizabeth; Kempe-Oettinger, Cordula (August 1979). "Views of Kempe review of Rudolf Kempe: Pictures of a Life by Cordula Kempe-Oettinger". The Musical Times (Musical Times Publications Ltd.) 120 (1638): 653–654. doi:10.2307/962474. JSTOR962474.