With the first of our two Vienna-inspired concerts, The Viennese Salon, almost upon us, we take a look at just some of the key cultural players living in the city in the early years of the 20th century…
Richard Strauss, born in Germany in 1864, was descended from a musical family; his father, Franz was one of Germany’s leading horn players. Between 1919 and 1924, Strauss was musical co-director of the Vienna State Opera, where he concentrated on staging new productions, particularly of works by Wagner and Mozart. Strauss returned to Vienna during World War II, after falling foul of the Nazi regime in Germany. It was during this second stretch in Vienna that Strauss wrote his last opera Capriccio, a meditation on the values of art. In it the Countess Madeleine must choose between two suitors, one a composer and one a poet, representing the argument over which is the more important art form, music or poetry.
Gustav Mahler, like Strauss, was influenced by the works of Wagner. When he took up his position as director of the Vienna Court Opera 1897, Vienna had newly elected a conservative, anti-Semitic mayor and the city was in a state of mounting tension. Mahler had to prove himself as Germanic enough, having been born to Jewish parents in Kaliště, a village in the Bohemian part of the Austrian Empire (in the present-day Czech Republic). He converted to Catholicism to secure the role, and staged Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and the Ring Cycle early into his appointment. Mahler remained with the Opera for 10 years, during which time he continued to compose, writing five symphonies and numerous other works. Growing anti-Semitism in Vienna and politicking within the Opera itself eventually forced Mahler out, and he left Vienna in 1907.
Arnold Schoenberg was a native citizen of Vienna. He was born in 1874 into a Jewish family, but like Mahler converted to Christianity in the hopes of avoiding the growing anti-Semitism spreading through Vienna at the turn of the century. In 1918 he founded the Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen), in which he presented salon-scale performances of new music to interested members of Viennese society. The programmes for these performances were repeated, both applauding and booing and criticism in the press were forbidden so as to give greater importance to individuals’ understanding the music.
Gustav Klimt was a founding member and the first president of the Vienna Secession, a group of painters, sculptors and architects who broke away from the Viennese art establishment in the last years of the 19th century. The artists were opposed to the conservative ideologies of the Vienna Künstlerhaus, and set about creating an organisation which was more forward-looking, and embraced many styles of art. Under Klimt, the movement took inspiration from naturalism, symbolism and other contemporary movements, including art nouveau and arts and crafts, particularly the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Secession building, built under Klimt’s leadership, bears the movement’s motto above its doors:
‘To every age its art, to every art its freedom’.
Sigmund Freud was a prominent member of Viennese society, a pioneer of psychology and psychoanalysis. Freud, like Schoenberg and the secessionists, sought to break free from the conservative thought of previous centuries. His theories, particularly on the unconscious mind and the expressive nature of dreams, had a profound effect on artists and musicians alike. Following his wife’s affair, Gustav Mahler sought Freud’s help. Freud observed that Mahler’s domineering personality and prohibition of his wife’s composing has contributed to the situation. Alma Mahler had been a promising musician and composer, but was forced by her husband to abandon her musical pursuits. Following Freud’s advice, Mahler began to encourage and support his wife’s music making and relations between the two began to improve.
The Viennese Salon
Sunday 24 January 2016, 2pm
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, SE1 9DT
Tickets £62 (premium), £15 – £48, £10 (standing)
Box Office shakespearesglobe.com / 020 7401 9919
CLoSer: Song of the Earth
Wednesday 17 February 2016, 7.30pm
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, EC2A 3PQ
Tickets £15 (includes a free drink), £5 students / 16-25s
Box Office cls.co.uk / 020 7621 2800