Category Archives: The Viennese Salon

1900s Vienna – a who’s who

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.

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Gustav Mahler conducting, 1901

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’.

 

Gustav_Klimt_Adele Bloch Bauer 1907
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt, 1907

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.

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Arnold Schoenberg, self portrait 1910

 

 

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

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Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

Our next RE:Imagine concert, The Viennese Salon, on 24 January celebrates the golden age of the Viennese salons, the drawing rooms of Vienna’s great and good, which became hotbeds of intellectual and cultural activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this blog, we take a look behind closed doors and explore the world of turn-of-the-century Vienna.

 

Vienna in 1900 stood on a precipice of mounting unrest, between centuries of imperial rule and the chaos of war. As the seat of the Habsburg dynasty for more than 400 years, during which time it served as a capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Vienna was well established as a city of aristocrats and nobles. It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the middle classes took root in the city, and began to make their mark.

A series of revolutions in early 1848 shook the Austrian Empire’s conservative power base. In Vienna, liberal intellectuals gathered in coffee houses and salons to protest press censorship and demand religious and economic freedom, and labour reforms. Beyond Vienna, the numerous national groups which comprised the Austrian Empire fought for their own independence.

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The Academic Legion, Viennese students in 1848

In March 1848, the conservative Prince Klemens von Metternich, the State Chancellor and Foreign Minister, and his ministers resigned and were replaced by several short-lived liberal governments. Over the following decades the liberals failed both to gain mass support and to quell the restless populations across the empire. They remained in power, however, by placing restrictions on who could vote.

Towards the end of the century, the new Viennese middle and lower classes demanded a more active role in political affairs and established new social conservative political parties to rival the liberal government. Among these new parties was the Christian Social party, which held deeply anti-Semitic views and swept to victory in Vienna shortly before 1900, the polar opposite of the liberal government it replaced.

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Vienna, 1900

Against this backdrop of political uncertainty, Vienna’s coffee houses and salons flourished as spaces for the city’s writers, artists, musicians and thinkers. Indeed, among those living in Vienna at the turn of the century and in the early years of the twentieth century were Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler (whose wife, Alma, was herself a prominent salon hostess), Arnold Schoenberg and many other revolutionary figures in art and beyond. Women in Vienna, much like elsewhere, were mostly excluded from public life, and hosting salons served as one of the only ways in which they could engage with and shape contemporary issues and trends. These society hostesses provided the environment for much of the Modernist developments of the early 1900s, particularly the move towards a more psychological focus, drawing on the new ideas proposed by Freud.

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Arnold Schoenberg, 1917. By Egon Schiele

 

Join us in January at our very own salon with our wonderful patron, Dame Felicity Lott for an afternoon of music, dance and that very Viennese speciality Kaffee und Kuchen. On 17 February, CLoSer returns to Village Undergound with a rare opportunity to hear Mahler’s great Das Lied Von der Erde re-imagined for salon ensemble.

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