MODERN MUSIC IN VIENNA
RICHARD STRAUSS - GUSTAV MAHLER - ARNOLD SCHÖNBERG
FROM "LEGEND OF A MUSICAL CITY"
GUSTAV MAHLER WEBSITE
Around the year 1900, the old conservative music city was set into motion. Along with the national and social movements came a general unrest upon artistic fronts. A new epoch was announcing itself. Old orders were shaken. Revolution was in the air, and the life-enjoying, amusement-seeking public of Vienna was frightened.
In literature, painting, theatre and music, the naturalistic tendency had the upper hand. Every year there would be a new social drama by Henrik Ibsen who had turned away from the romantic, and now analyzed the morals of bourgeois society, the modern marriage and the stricken conscience. Strindberg's plays portrayed the battle of the sexes. Zola, Maupassant and Flaubert delighted in depicting everyday life. Tolstoi and Dostoievsky, in powerful novels, described people who lived in hate and love, passion and crime. From France came new impressionistic pictures which released the landscape in a play of colored spots and disintegrated the sunlight. Claude Monet, Sisley and Pissaro painted momentary shadings and color vibrations. Liebermann painted factories. In Germany, a new poet, Gerhardt Hauptmann, appeared on the scene, and with his "Die Weber" ("The Weavers") and "Hannele's Himmelfahrt" (Hannele's Ascension to Heaven") awoke the social conscience of the time.
In the colored, make-believe world of the theatre, too, changed perception and feeling of a new time were reflected in a new and naturalistic style of dramatic portrayal. Each year Duse came and transformed the stage into reality with her pale, Mater Dolorosa face, her sad eyes, her tired hands, and the voice which was pure soul. In Vienna's Burgtheater, a fortress of the classic dramatic style which Goethe had founded in Weimar, modern actors like Mitterwurzer became established, and when this genial and unpredictable actor died in 1897, Joseph Kainz, the greatest of the new "nerve" actors was a famous and worthy successor. In Berlin, Brahm assembled actors for a naturalistic Ibsen ensemble. He was followed by Max Reinhardt, who in "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" had the woods fantastically staged with shimmering birch boughs, and the gloomy Cyclops wall in "Elektra" built up high. In Paris, Antoine played, in his "L'Oeuvre" Theatre, the dramas of Ibsen, Strindberg, Hauptmann and Bjoernson.
All at once in Vienna, there was a new literature which bound modern naturalism with Viennese dramatic art and Viennese tenderness. Arthur Schnitzler brought the ladies of Vienna society and the girls of the suburbs to a stage become realistic. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, even when he was still a boy, wrote marble-smooth verse, in which the Viennese baroque lived once more. A great modern critic, Hermann Bahr, traveled throughout Europe and visited all the battlefields of modern art between Paris and St. Petersburg. All at once, Vienna, too, had a famous modern architect, Otto Wagner, who no longer, like the designers of the Ringstrasse buildings, thought in terms of Greek pillars or Renaissance arches, but in those of cement and iron. In 1903, he erected a new Postal Savings Bank Building in the most modern style on the Ringstrasse, and Vienna conservatism cried and screamed. The same thing had happened in 1900, when the painter Klimt exhibited his ceiling paintings which he had done for the university.
The Viennese public was terrified by so much new art, and saw the end of the world coming when Ibsen and Gerhardt Hauptmann, even, managed to penetrate the classic portals of the Burgtheater. I was present when in the "German Folk Theatre," Ibsen "The Wild Duck" was presented for the first time. Ibsen himself had come for this performance. He sat in the box nearest the stage, with his ruffled white hair and white beard. He watched, without changing his expression, while the audience laughed at every phrase in the last act; while it applauded everything which was meant ironically, and ridiculed everything which was meant seriously, with jeers and cat-calls. When the curtain fell amid the monstrous clamor of aroused theatre-patrons, Ibsen rose in his box and laughing heartily,tossed his high top-hat to the parquet below. Similar uproars followed every performance of a modern play. When Maeterlinck "L'Intruse" was given at the Josefstadt Theatre, every breathing pause called forth laughter. No comedy could have made the audience more hilarious.
Music was carried along with the intellectual movement of the era, and it became naturalistic and impressionistic. The classic harmony began to dissolve. Classic forms, like all the constructions of the period, began to shake and tremble. In France, Claude Debussy, influenced by the impressionistic painters, and by the poetry of Mallarmé and Verlaine, began to compose oscillating tone colors. His faun began to play the flute in the sunlight of an antique landscape. His Spain was a canvas full of color daubs and dust. In Germany, Richard Strauss became the leader of the modern music movement, after he had turned away from the Parsifal-like solemnity of "Guntram," the opera of his youth. He boldly applied himself to every-day life, became the greatest naturalistic champion of the orchestra, and painted the noise of Naples' streets. When his Neapolitan descriptions were hissed in Munich, he wrote von Bülow: "I had a wonderful time. The first step toward independence!" Daring, ironic, full of zest for life, for pranks and jokes, rich in voluptuous melody, young Richard Strauss appeared in a musical world which was tired of Wagner's pompous romanticism. Once I had dinner with Strauss (who was a young man at the time) and Zemlinsky in Vienna. Strauss scratched his fork on his plate and it gave out a squeaking noise. "Could you reproduce that in the orchestra?" he asked Zemlinsky. And as Zemlinsky was shaking his head, Strauss said confidently: "I can do it!" What sound in the world was Strauss unable to copy with his orchestra?
I became acquainted with Strauss in Munich when he was a young court-conductor. The "beer-friendly" city on the Isar had its epoch of genius, and about 1900 Strauss introduced Frank Wedekind to me. Wedekind had already written his bold drama of adolescence, "The Awakening of Spring," which had completely horrified the whole city. Also through Strauss, in Munich, I met the artist Thoma, whose sharp, stinging drawings appeared every week in "Simplicissimus." This paper was the most courageous opposition paper that appeared in Germany. On every street corner one saw its placard--a red pug-dog, showing his teeth. For this paper, Thoma drew his cartoons of Prussian Junkers, German university students, fat industrialists on whose laps young girls were sitting, and conceited officers. It was fresh opposition air in Munich. Berlin, the German Kaiser Wilhelm, the Junkers were the enemy. Richard Strauss lived in this air. He composed with preference to revolutionary modern poets, Dehmel, Liliencron, Bierbaum, Falke, Christian Morgenstern, Hart; and his song, "Der Arbeitsmann" ("The Workman"), on a text by Dehmel, which waves the red flag, will outlive many other songs he has written. At that time, I already knew the songs of Richard Strauss, the naturalistic declamation of which, combined with their lyric tenderness, was something new. Especially the "Traum durch die Dämmerung ("Dream through the Twilight") had made an impression upon me with its fragrance and atmosphere. A girl of my acquaintance sang the beautiful melody, I accompanied at the piano, and at the end, we kissed each other. This was certainly not the worst way of hearing modern music.
Oscar Fried, who later made himself a name as conductor and composer, spoke to me in Munich about Strauss, saying that he was a genius, and I was anxious to meet him. With great interest, I had heard him conduct a performance of "Tannhäuser" at the Munich Court Opera. At that time, he still had his bush of red hair, and his slender hands, of which he was a trifle vain, and which also, later on, he kept carefully manicured. He held the baton gracefully, almost floating in his hand, as opposed to the conductors of the old school who used to grasp their batons firmly, like a commander's staff. Most striking was the supple, delicate sense of sound, the nervous shading, and above all, the many accelerations and retardings of tempi, the modern accentuation. These shiftings of tempi were still more obvious to me when Strauss conducted Mozart "Don Giovanni" in the small Residence Theatre. His was a non-academic Mozart which stressed the orchestra and the drama on the stage--Mozart, 1900.
When Oscar Fried introduced me to Strauss, who was his teacher, I saw a tall, slender man with fine blue eyes, who was simple and natural. His nature was sharply critical. One had the impression that he knew exactly what he wanted and clearly spoke his thoughts. I well remember our conversation that day. We spoke of Mozart, and Strauss was very polemical against the conception that Mozart was a naive musician. He insisted that Mozart had always chosen sensational subjects for his operas. "The Marriage of Figaro" was the revolutionary play of Mozart's day, and it had been banned in Paris. "Don Giovanni" had an erotic subject, and Mozart was accused of immorality when he composed it. "The Magic Flute," too, with its employment of Masonic rituals, had a sensational subject for its day and age. His love for Mozart, Strauss had inherited from his father. Later on, when I visited Strauss at his country house in Garmisch, I would often see him, after he returned from an automobile excursion, lie down on a sofa and study the score of a Mozart string quartet which, for that purpose, always lay ready on a music stand nearby. This was his refreshment and inspiration too. Afterwards when Strauss had become Director of the Vienna Opera and gave parties at his home there, he always had a Mozart string quartet played at the beginning of the festivities. On one such occasion, I observed that Strauss, who was sitting in a corner, was hardly able to restrain his tears. I asked him later what had moved him so much in this quartet (it was the C Major). He answered that his father, in his will, had ordered the quartet played in church at his funeral. This had been done, and Strauss recalled it. With a young modern musician like Strauss, this admiration for Mozart was striking. We young musicians were first Wagnerians, then Mozartians. Strauss was first a Mozartian.
Otherwise, Strauss was respectless, not at all pathetic, and Munich was shocked when he wrote his opera "Feuersnot" ("Fire Famine"), on a text by Wolzogen, a cabaret director. In this opera, Strauss ridiculed the people of Munich and glorified the first love-night of a young girl in a naturalistic symphony. The bold opera failed in Munich and Strauss went to Berlin. Here he was in a modern atmosphere. He always needed spiritual inspiration. He found it, mainly, in the new theatre of Max Reinhardt where, for the first time, he saw Oscar Wilde "Salome" and Hugo von Hofmannstahl's "Elektra." He found it, also, in "The Weavers" of Gerhardt Hauptmann, and wanted to compose an opera based on the drama. Berlin, during this period, was rich in intellectual forces of all kinds. There were excellent modern magazines, brilliant journalists and critics (like Maximilian Harden, who wrote articles against the Emperor, and on the theatre in a lush, colored style), the best German actors of the younger generation like Bassermann, Sorma and Lehmann. Nikisch conducted the Philharmonic, Weingartner at the Royal Opera. For Richard Strauss, a musician with modern temperament and élan, this Berlin was the right place. Here he became the musician who collected all modern intellectual and artistic movements in his compositions as in a burning-lens.
Richard Strauss first appeared personally in Vienna as a composer of songs in 1902. He gave a "Liederabend" (Song Redtal) at the Boesendorfer Hall, and his wife, Pauline de Ahna, sang his songs. Strauss sat modestly at the piano, like someone who did not wish to draw attention to himself. He was a fine, delicate pianist who shaded the tones with good taste. The Vienna public, who so often had gathered in the same hall to hear the first performance of songs by Brahms and Hugo Wolf, found the Strauss songs beautiful and full of warmth of feeling, but not exactly original. Songs like "Wiegenlied" ("Cradle Song"), with its easily grasped melody and the bells in the accompaniment appeared quite banal and based on a cheap effect. Also, the impressive melody of the "Heimliche Aufforderung" did not impress the audience as being something novel. People had been expecting, in Richard Strauss, a wild innovator, and found, instead, a tasteful lyricist. Hanslick, Vienna's chief critic, called Pauline, the singer of the evening, "the better half of the composer."
Strauss's music had already been heard at the Philharmonic concerts. Hans Richter had conducted "Don Juan" in 1892, and "Tod und Verklärung" ("Death and Transfiguration") in 1893. But even in these performances, no one felt that he had heard the works of a new musical genius. It all sounded too beautiful and too virtuoso. Only with the performance of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" ("Thus Spake Zarathustra") did the uproar and tumult begin like the ones reserved for a genius.
Strauss first became known as a conductor in Vienna the year he came there as guest, directing the Munich Chamber Orchestra. With the long steps of a stork he stormed on to the podium, and began to conduct Wagner's Prelude to "Meis-tersinger" tersinger" with the stabbing arm movements which resembled the sallies of a fencer, and the jerking knee-bends which, not much later, made him a notable conductor in the concerts he directed. Vienna was accustomed to the all-powerful, prevailing calm of Hans Richter, and to the. Richter breadth of baton technique. Now there stood a young musician of a new generation who was not mighty and broad, but slender and nervous on the podium. His red hair gleamed like a torch borne at the head of a revolutionary mob. In the course of years, Strauss became more concise and more calm as a conductor, and later conducted almost entirely from the wrist with quite brief, short motions.
Once I went to congratulate Strauss, after he had conducted the first act of "Tristan and Isolde" in a most thrilling way, using only short, precise movements. "Feel me here!" Strauss said to me, and placed my hand on his armpit. "Absolutely dry! I can't stand conductors who perspire!" But at that time, in concert, he must have perspired since he often, in conducting the "Meistersinger" prelude, gave the impression of being ecstatic.
In his conducting of this Prelude, also, Strauss showed every inclination to special accent and to the dramatic quickening and retarding of tempi which had already impressed me in Munich as the nervous characteristics of a new time. Even as an old man, conducting this prelude, he still used many of the self-willed tempo variations. He loved to conduct it with the Vienna Philharmonic, to improvise with all the accents, and enjoyed it immensely when the orchestra followed him perfectly through the sudden changes of tempi. Once, after conducting the Prelude of the "Meistersinger," he rushed up to me, red and excited, and cried out, radiant with joy: "Everything improvised! All without rehearsal!"
Later on, Strauss disliked anything unusual in conducting. He used to like to tell me how his father, who had played horn in the Munich Orchestra, had come home after Strauss conducted his first opera performance, and said: "You young conductors imagine God-knows-what when you sit at the conductor's desk. We old musicians already know when you walk to the podium what you are. You don't even have to hold your baton in your hand before we know all." And another time, he remarked: "How many good conductors did I have to see--Bülow, Hermann Levi, Hans Richter, Fischer, Muck, Mottl, Schuch--and how much did I have to conduct myself, until I could do what I now can do."
But this was the wisdom of old age. As a young musician, Strauss conducted as young musicians have always done, and will always do--with enthusiasm, with tense nerves, with new nuances which correspond to the transformed mode of feeling of a new epoch; and never in a calm and clarified way, for these are the qualities either of the highest maturity or of stagnant routine.
As opera composer, Strauss first appeared in Vienna with his exuberant work of youth, "Die Feuersnot." At the dress rehearsal, Strauss, interrupting the conductor, Gustav Mahler, suddenly rushed forward and shouted: "Please, dear Mahler, start again at the 'Nachtlager in Granada' ('A Night's Camp in Granada') spot." Actually, in "Feuersnot," there is a quotation from the Biedermeyer opera "Das Nachtlager von Granada," by Kreutzer, just as in "Salome" there is a quotation from "The Barber of Seville," concerning the use of which in the over-ripe beauty of the "Salome" music, Strauss himself has made the best of jokes. In the "Feuersnot" music, again Strauss did not impress the public as revolutionary. Some people found the libretto frivolous in many respects, and others were shocked about the way Strauss glorified himself in it, but the music, with its folk-like choruses and its zestful lyrics, appeared neither offensive nor particularly bold, though it was harmonious and brisk. Public opinion changed when the horrifying "Salome" was performed for the first time at a private theatre, the "Deutsches Volktheater." At that performance there was already an actively hissing opposition.
Thus Richard Strauss entered Viennese music life when the great Brahms and Bruckner epoch had come to an end Bruckner had died 1896, Brahms had died in 1897, and with these two symphonists, classical music itself terminated. One was now in a new world of orchestral sound, of virtuoso description, and of crass realism, and Richard Strauss appeared more and more as the eminent master of the period.
For Vienna's musical life, it was of greatest importance that, at that time, Gustav Mahler took over the direction of the Vienna Royal Opera. Mahler conducted a performance of "Lohengrin" on May 11, 1897, and was appointed director on October 8th. Emperor Franz Josef had, in Mahler, appointed a man who, next to Richard Strauss, was the strongest musical personality of the time. Franz Josef was sixty-seven years old, Mahler thirty-seven. Old and new eras stood opposite each other in those two men, the aged monarch and the fanatical musician. With Gustav Mahler at its helm, the Vienna Royal Opera of Franz Josef moved itself right into the center of the European intellectual world, and became, like the theatre of Max Reinhardt in Berlin, and L'Oeuvre Theatre of Antoine in Paris, one of the leading theatres of the intellectual movements of the time.
From the personality of Gustav Mahler, who was a demonic man, streams of nervous energy emanated, and pervaded stage, orchestra and audience at the Vienna Opera. Long before Mahler appeared in the orchestra pit, the audience became excited. When the house grew dark, the small man with sharply-chiseled features, pale and ascetic-looking, literally rushed to the conductor's desk. His conducting was striking enough in his first years of activity in Vienna. He would let his baton shoot forward suddenly, like the tongue of a poisonous serpent. With his right hand, he seemed to pull the music out of the orchestra as out of the bottom of a chest of drawers. He would let his stinging glance loose upon a musician who was seated far away from him, and the man would quail. Giving a cue, he would look in one direction, at the same time pointing his baton in another. He would stare at the stage and make imploring gestures at the singers. He would leap from his conductor's chair as if he had been stung. Mahler was always in full movement like a blazing flame. Later he became calmer. Evidently he controlled himself which only augmented his inner tension.
Mahler was conscious of the extreme tension which emanated from him into the theatre. He once told me, during one of our first talks, "Believe me, people only realize what I am when I am gone. Then it is as if a storm had broken over the theatre." The Viennese public, directly after Mahler's arrival, realized the additional artistic energy which had been bestowed on it in such a personality. In the first year of his direction, the operas of Mozart were performed ten times more often than in other seasons. Wagner had twenty evenings more than in the previous year. Even smaller-scale, lighter operas like Lortzing's "Czar und Zimmermann" played to sold-out houses. Mahler worked according to a broad programme, on the renovation of the ensemble and the repertory. He told me shortly after his arrival that within the next ten years he wanted to revive and re-stage "Fidelio" and the works of Wagner, Mozart, Weber, Lortzing, Gluck; and to put these works together in the form of a great cycle. Then, this accomplished, he wanted to leave the opera.
Rarely has any theatre operated according to a larger-scale plan, and in the first half of Mahler's directorship, what was accomplished corresponded exactly with the ideal picture set forth at the beginning. The intensity with which Mahler attacked the re-studying of a classic work was unusual. Of every work which he prepared and performed, Mahler said: "This is the greatest opera which has ever been written!" He was filled with solemn enthusiasm after he had brought out a new work. Stage and orchestra, décor and singing had to form a complete artistic unity according to his ideas. Each opera was a dramatic work of art. The Wagnerian conception of a comprehensive art work was applied by Mahler to every opera.
For this purpose, Mahler developed a new ensemble. The great Viennese heroic singers of the Wagner epoch had grown old. Winkelmann, Reichmann and Materna had to be replaced by younger forces, and Mahler found the noble tenor Schmedes and young Slezak. In Mildenburg, he had a modern Wagner tragedienne, in Weidemann and Deumuth great baritones. He had Gutheil-Schoder as an interesting singer for lighter roles. Hers was a realistic talent of the first rank for tragic as well as comic parts. In Kurz he had found a new coloratura. All these singers blindly followed the dictates of the genial musician who had formed and trained them. Mahler clung to this ensemble with great love. I can remember how disturbed he was, when he had Gutheil-Schoder sing the Eva in "Meistersinger," and read the unfavorable criticisms about her. He sat sunken down behind the mountain of newspapers, like a wicked dwarf, and nervously chewed his finger-nails--something which he was accustomed to do in moments of stress.
One time, to Mahler's horror, his tenor Schmedes walked into a smoke-filled coffee-house where Mahler was sitting, holding a fat cigar which emitted powerful blasts of smoke. Mahler used all his wiles to get his Siegfried out of the place. He asked him to go, he begged him, and when nothing helped, he flattered him and told Schmedes how the audience only wanted to hear him, and described how horribly disappointed people would be if he had to cancel and someone else replaced him. Schmedes hung on Mahler's every word while so much flattery was being poured over him, and finally left the smoky place, swollen with pride like a freshly inflated balloon. Surely he must have sung especially well that night. However, Mahler could also be very hard and unjust toward singers when he felt any opposition from them.
Mahler was a modern musician with the temperament of his period. As such, he introduced a new Mozart style to the Vienna Opera which was taken up by young musicians and carried to all the German opera houses. Mahler's Mozart performances had spirit and dramatic liveliness, grace and wit. The orchestra had rich nuances, polished like Venetian glass, and worked out in detail like fine lace. Thus, through the artistic mind of an artist of the Ibsen period, Mozart's music achieved a new popularity. "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi fan Tutte" shone like jewels. "The Magic Flute," which became a great box-office attraction, gleamed with intellectual sparkle. As in all people of high intelligence, there was in Mahler a kind of child-like merryness which came as a release after work. When in "The Magic Flute," the animals appeared--lion, hippopotamus, rabbit and monkeys--attracted by Tamino's flute-playing, none of the opera audience laughed more than Mahler at his conductor's desk. He fairly shook with laughter. All comic opera music, whether it was Lortzing, or French music like Boieldieu "La Dame Blanche," found in Mahler a magnificent interpreter, for no one under. stood liveliness better than this man who also knew demons in his breast.
With Mahler, the tragic reigned in his interpretation of "Tristan." There are several possible interpretations of this Wagnerian work. Hans Richter conducted it as a symphony with tremendous climaxes and a unified line. Felix Mottl, whom Toscanini specially praised to me, produced the most nature-like sound when working toward his climaxes, and the richest fulness in the music. Strauss conducted the music of the second act--Strauss-like--as an ecstatic hymn, as he did the love music of "Heros Life." Mahler conducted the same music with modern temperament, making vibrant, intense, hysterical climaxes of the period of Charcot and Freud.
At the performance of "Tristan" in 1903, which Mahler arranged on the anniversary of Wagner's death, for the first time stage décor designed by Professor Roller was used. Roller, that artist who translated Mahler's visions into painting, was one of the principal leaders of the group of modern Viennese painters who, in 1897, banded together in the socalled "Secession." According to the pattern of Claude Monet,
Mahler at the desk
Roller painted the same landscape in the changing lights of the different months of the year, and studied the influence of light on color to an almost scientific degree. His new "Tristan" sets, too, were studies in light and color, the first act a study in orange, the second in purple, the third in grey. In 1905, with Roller, Mahler began work on the revival and new staging of the "Ring of the Nibelung," with the new "Rheingold." The same year saw the new Roller mounting of Mozart "Don Giovanni," with four grey towers as frame for the stage, which facilitated changes of scenery. When Roller designed the new "Don Giovanni" sets, he was strongly influenced by the ideas of Gordon Craig. Modern ideas of staging and painting found a most forceful expression in Roller 's stage.
Through the combined efforts of Mahler and Roller, the Vienna Opera had suddenly become the leading opera house of Europe. One may safely say that during the first years of Mahler's direction, the highest level was achieved which can be attained in an opera house where performances are given daily, in the perfection of these performances, in artistic spirit, and in the unity of musical and scenic faculties.
The great successes of Mahler led to Hans Richter's departure from the theatre. Mahler and Richter were direct opposites. Physically, Richter was tall and broad-shouldered, Mahler small and slender. They belonged to different generations, Richter the pathetic and powerful, Mahler the intellectual and nervous. Richter had a great nature, Mahler a great intelligence. Richter was a blond German with Wotan's eye, Mahler a dark Jewish type. Mahler did everything in his power not to hurt Richter, but he could not do away with their differences. The enthusiasm which swept about Mahler after each new revival gave Richter the feeling that his work in Vienna was at an end. He had brought Wagner's works of art to a whole generation of Viennese opera-goers. For this he had fought, for a large part of the public had wanted nothing to do with Wagner's music dramas. When I started to go to the Vienna opera, the house was half empty for "Tristan und Isolde," in spite of Winkelmann and Materna. "Siegfried," too, at that time had not as yet any public, and "Goetterdaemmerung" could only be given with cuts. At performances of "Meistersinger," half of the audience in the orchestra rushed away after the third act quintet. Richter had been Wagner's apostle. That fact gave his conducting of Wagner the inner greatness, the élan and morality it possessed. To Richter, measured by his own achievement, Mahler's Wagner must have seemed less great than it was, for Mahler no longer had to fight; while Richter and the other enthusiasts who had surrounded Wagner, had.
I observed the difference between the two conductors when Mahler conducted "Walkyrie." After the performance, Mahler rushed to me and asked: "Well, how was it?" I answered: "A marvelous performance, but the tempi at the end seemed too fast to me."Mahler frowned, and I quickly noted that I had committed a faux-pas. Artists, like cooks, when they come from the kitchen, want to hear praise and not criticism. Therefore I added, in order to put him in better humor, that probably I was used to the broad tempi of Hans Richter. Mahler became furious and said: "Stop that! Richter has no idea about tempi!" Now it was my turn to be angry, and I reported that Richter had conducted the first "Walkyrie" in Bayreuth under Wagner, and therefore must know the Wagnerian tempi. But Mahler replied curtly: "Maybe he knew the right tempi then. Since then he has forgotten them." I realized it was no use talking to Mahler at this moment, and went on my way. Walking home, I saw Hans Richter ahead of me. Joining him, I asked him whether he had heard the "Walkyrie" performance, and when he replied that he had, I asked him whether he had not thought the tempi at the end had been too fast. He answered: "What of the music, at the end, is "Fire Spell"--that was brought out very well by Mahler. But that this end is a transfiguration (and he put his hand on his heart) and a painful resignation--of that Mahler has no idea!"
When the news of Hans Richter's resignation from the Vienna Opera became known, there were demonstrations by the Wagnerian party at the opera whose sound took on an anti-Semitic character. Just during those years when Mahler was opera director, the anti-Semitic party which Dr. Karl Lueger had founded became successful in the elections of the Municipal Council. Dr. Lueger, a Viennese with the wit of a folk-singer, became mayor of Vienna in 1897 after Emperor Franz Josef had twice rejected him because he hated demagogues. Gustav Mahler, as a Jew--even though he had been baptized, as required by the Spanish Court Ceremonial of all holders of court positions--had been the object of anti-Semitic attacks. At such moments, Mahler felt as a Jew. Once he told me that an artist who is a Jew had to achieve twice as much as another who is not, just as a swimmer who has shorter arms has to make double efforts in order to gain his goal.
A large part of the opera orchestra was connected with the anti-Semitic party, so that Mahler, after a short time. gave up the direction of the Philharmonic concerts. In the newspapers, too, hostilities began. Disgruntled opera singers sought and found newspaper connections. Incidents which easily occur in any theatrical organization were published and widely spread abroad, by reporters. Mahler once said to me: "I am not afraid of the opera critics. I'm only afraid of opera reporters." However all this unpleasantness for a long time had no influence on Mahler's position. The high court officials who were his superiors lent their support and confidence to the successful and interesting Opera Director. The opera critics of the important newspapers with whom Mahler had social relations and with whom, at tea, he developed and elaborated his plans, also stood by him. The opera public celebrated him.
Not Gustav Mahler, the Opera Director, but Gustav Mahler, the composer, was the one who, in a fit of anger, gave up his Vienna position. The great symphonies which Mahler composed during his Vienna period, the fifth to the seventh, show that the inner excitement in his soul had increased during this time, and that he sensed as tragic the collision of the ego with the world. External events could increase this excitement, but it lay in the blood of this artist who, like Strindberg, belonged to the tragic modern type. A brother of Mahler's, who also was a musician, died a suicide. Mahler freed himself from his inner tensions, from time to time, through his creative work. Then material for conflict again piled up in his soul. Occasionally there were explosions. Such an explosion was his offering his resignation in 1907.
Gustav Mahler was conscious of his importance as a composer. "In forty or fifty years, they will play my symphonies at orchestral concerts as they now play Beethoven's," Mahler once told me. These symphonies he composed in the summer, during opera vacations, mostly at the Woerthersee. There near his summer house, he had a hut in the forest for composing, where he could be alone and undisturbed. Once I asked him why, apart from songs which are pre-studies to his symphonies, he wrote only symphonies and not, like many other composers, chamber-music and independent choral music as well. Mahler answered: "I have time to compose only in summer. During this short holiday, I have to write large works if I want to go down into posterity." But that is not the only explanation for Mahler's urge to symphony, and to colossal creations at that. There is no doubt that through his philosophic inclinations, Mahler was driven to symphony. In his music, he wanted to solve the riddles of life and death, of nature and humanity, of destiny and the individual. He had the nature of a Faust who wanted to encompass the world's spirit. From that came the great conception of his symphonies, from that the unredeemed, Ahasueristic, deep excitement of his personality.
With the second symphony, which philosophized about death and resurrection, Mahler in 1899 gave proof to the Viennese public for the first time that he was endeavoring to solve the riddle of the cosmos. In 1901 he performed his "Klagende Lied" ( "Plaintive Song"), a work of his youth; in 1902, the Fourth Symphony with the heavenly music of the angels, in 1904 the Third Symphony, in 1905 the Fifth. The success of the Second Symphony was unquestionable. Later on, an opposition appeared, as it usually did with new works in Vienna. The holy saints of the classic arts were invoked to aid against the modern devils. The Viennese humorists made their jokes about the modern musicians as well as about the painters and architects. And a composer of bad operettas wrote daily in a widely read Vienna newspaper that Gustav Mahler had no talent and no musical invention.
Nevertheless Mahler continued his magnificent work during the uproar of the attacks. Each revival was still a festival, as was the last, "Iphigenia in Aulis" with its sublime Greek style. But in his heart, Mahler, who fought for his symphonic work, was stirred up, and in his excitement, he handed in his resignation. It was certainly a sudden, impulsive action which Mahler soon regretted and would have liked to take back. But Mahler's superiors, who for some time had tried to change his mind, had become embittered, by this time, and there was no longer any turning back.
What Mahler left behind him in the Vienna Opera was a repertory, prepared in the style of the new era, a new ensemble, Roller as principal scenic designer, and two conductors whom he had engaged and trained as his helpers--Franz Schalk and Bruno Walter. Moreover, he left the memory of the Vienna Opera's most splendid artistic period which became the yardstick against which everything which was achieved later was measured.
Mahler's successor was Felix von Weingartner, who as an elegant, amiable, smiling, worldly musician was a kind of antithesis of the demonic Mahler. When after three years Weingartner resigned, the operatic businessman, Hans Gregor, succeeded him. Weingartner left no lasting traces behind him upon the opera, and Gregor was merely a businessman. This time was far removed from that when Mahler elevated the opera to a masterpiece of his high, striving spirit. The greatest artist during this period who came to the Vienna Opera was Richard Strauss, who always came back as guest when one of his new works was performed. Strauss conducted "Elektra" especially often, and with great pleasure. One time, years later, after he had conducted "Etektra" with particular élan, he came home and called to me: "I am still the only one who can conduct Eyektra." He conducted this work with very brief movements, and appeared, in the first scene, unintentionally to collect the brooks of music until they flowed together into a river. Everything melodious in the following scenes was broadened out in a noble manner. The breaking-out of the sound in the Elektra-Orestes scene, when after the recognition, the keys rush together, was held and welded by a strong hand, and at the end, the dance rhythms were mightily formed into one bow. At the climaxes, the usually selfcontrolled conductor sprang excitedly from his chair. The orchestra was always kept subordinate to the stage and the singing, no matter how strongly its naturalistic painting and vivid coloring flared up. One time when I visited Strauss in Garmisch, he was telling about the Italian performance of his opera which he recently had seen in Milan, and went on: "In Milan, I realized for the first time that my 'Elektra' is an Italian opera. The singers can stand on the ramp quite calmly and all they have to do is sing--then there is everything there that the work requires." I heard "Elektra" at least twenty times under Strauss's direction. There was always the most perfect equality between the singing and the orchestra.
At this time, Strauss had advanced to the point where he was the recognized leader and greatest exponent of modern music. Despite this fact, his most Viennese work, which brings to the stage the old Vienna of the period of Empress Maria Theresia, "Der Rosenkavalier," had only a very moderate success at its Vienna première. After the second act, there was scarcely any applause. Strauss had not expected that. At the dress-rehearsal he sat in the first row and enjoyed the antics of the excellent Ochs von Letchenau, to whom he often called "bravo"; and he beamed when the horns rang out their waltz coloraturas in a brilliant virtuoso manner. And now the work was presented before a cold audience who considered the many waltzes in this score unworthy of being called opera music. Strauss was greatly distressed, and finally said to me, sadly: "If only the people knew how hard it is to compose such waltzes!"
In "Rosenkavalier," to my astonishment, I discovered a place which recalled to my mind a little experience I had had with Strauss in Vienna. During the time when he was working on "Rosenkavalier," I went walking with him in the vicinity of Hietzing. From an inn came the sound of dance music, and Strauss stood there for a long time, listening with interest. Finally he said, laughing: "Do you hear the false basses?" I said yes, since the false basses, some of which were being drawn from their instruments by the contrabass players, were obvious enough. Imagine my surprise when in the inn-music of "Rosenkavalier's" third act, I heard the jolly false bass notes! They are a small, characteristic trait in the Strauss picture of Vienna, and they intensify my delight at every performance of the work as reminiscences of my walk with Strauss.
The modern music of the Richard Strauss period was not rejected by the Vienna Opera, no matter what difficulties the Viennese public made every time a new work was performed. Still under Mahler's direction, Hans Pfitzner "Rose vom Liebesgarten," an opera with pure, romantic fairy-tale atmosphere, mystic solemnity with gloriously-colored nature pictures, was given for the first time. Under Gregor's direction, Debussy "Pelleas and Melisande" was performed, with its dreamy scenes--a modern, sad ballad in fragrant, floating, vibrating tones. Under the same director, Schreker "Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin" ("The Toy and the Princess"). a symbolic opera and a glowing color fantasy, had its première. The music of the new era had gotten a foot-hold at the Vienna Opera.
During the time when Gustav Mahler was Opera Director, Richard Strauss was writing his finest operatic and symphonic works. Debussy set people's nerves tingling with his impressionistic tone poems which had the artistic delicacy, the tenderness and refinement of Japanese wood-cuts; Hans Pfitzner bound the atmosphere of "Tristan" and "Parsifal" with that of the German fairy-tale and saga; a new generation of musicians was growing up in Vienna.
The most mature of the Viennese musicians was Alexander von Zemlinsky who, while still a pupil at the Vienna Conservatory, had attracted Brahms' attention by composing a colorful symphony, and whose opera, "Once Upon a Time"-a tender, spiritual work--had been performed by Mahler at the Vienna Opera. Zemlinsky belonged to my circle of friends who, of evenings, used to meet over black coffee at a coffeehouse near the old Burgtheater. This coffee-house--the Cafi Griensteidel--was the headquarters of literature in Vienna. In its three low rooms could be seen all the men who, as poets or as critics, played their part in the city's intellectual life. The coffee-houses of Vienna still had their special types of patron, like their special kind of coffee. At the Café Fenstergucker, for instance, one found the fashionable Viennese society. At Café Imperial, the owners of stables and race-horses held forth; at Café Pucher, the ministers and high state officials from the ministries situated nearby; at Café Central, the journalists, the chess-players and the intellectuals, among them for a few years a fugitive from Russia, a Dr. Bornstein, who later, as Trotsky, made world history.At the Café Griensteidel, Hermann Bahr, the leader of modern criticism, gave his fiery talks every evening, with a Virginia cigar in his hand and a brown lock on his forehead. Arthur Schnitzler came there, elegant and melancholy. Hugo von Hofmannsthal was there, too--still almost a boy and already famous, drawling in the tired aristocratic Viennese dialect. A strange man who wore large horn-rimmed glasses and had the drooping mustaches of a walrus--Peter Altenberg--had just published his first sketches which glorified women's soft, tender legs and innocent children's eyes. A
small hunchback, Karl Kraus, was the greatest satirist of the time.
We young musicians sat in a corner. Alexander von Zemlinsky, although he was only twenty-eight at the time, in the maturity of his judgment, had a visible superiority over the rest of the musicians. Another young musician of our circle was Arthur Bodansky, who was then a violinist in the opera orchestra, and shortly after, became a conductor at an operetta theatre. Zemlinsky brought with him a young man who was a pupil of his. He had the face of a Pierrot, and tossed pointed and stinging paradoxes about. One of them was the assertion that a C Major triad is an effect which can only be applied rarely, and then after most careful preparation. In this sentence, all classic harmony was turned upside down. The young man was Arnold Schönberg. A short time later, one of his first works was performed at a concert--a string quartet in D Minor in classic style influenced by Brahms and Schumann, with moonlight sounds in the slow movement which were quite novel. I had, meanwhile, been promoted to the post of music critic of a weekly newspaper, and wrote an article praising that quartet; and I closed with the prophetic words: "One should remember his name. It is Arnold Schönberg." Of course, Schönberg himself took good care that his name should be remembered. Soon after the performance of the quartet, he brought me a sextet, "Verklaerte Nacht" ("Transfigured Night"). The music sounded new, the harmonies were unusual. Since I did not trust my judgment I gave the score to Gustav Mahler, at that time Opera Director. Mahler wavered in his opinion, as I had done, and asked Arnold Rosk to play the sextet with his musicians, in Mahler's office. He invited me to come to this private performance, and we both were enthusiastic. Mahler said to Rosé: "You must play that!" and Rosé played it at the next of his chambermusic evenings, to the great displeasure of the Viennese public who hissed loudly. Ibis hissing increased in volume in proportion to Schönberg's boldness, in Vienna and in other cities.
The age of classic harmony which had been founded in Vienna came to an end there. The world had changed. Political, economic and social problems rose, like dark storm-clouds, on the sky. Vienna, the gay, elegant town, saw shadows falling over the Ringstrasse which seemed to belong exclusively to the rich, when in 1905, thousands of workers paraded over it and demanded equal voting rights. The people of Vienna-the "common men"--were not satisfied any longer to stop at the curb of the street and cry "Heil" when a court carriage passed. They demanded their social and political rights. The Viennese small citizenry united in a big party, with anti-Semitic slogans, which took possession of the Town Hall in 1895. Dr. Lueger, its leader, raged against capitalists, Jews and the Stock Exchange. He succeeded in frightening the court, the high clergy and wealthy society. The Social Democratic workers strengthened their organizations, too. They had a great leader in Dr. Victor Adler who, since he stuttered, gained power by purely intellectual means. Reason, idealism, calm superiority were his weapons, and even the Emperor esteemed his wisdom which was created by passion. Thus in Vienna, the old town of the court and the aristocracy, the masses pressed restlessly upwards.