Zemlinsky, Alexander von

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Zemlinsky, Alexander von

Zemlinsky, Alexander von, important Austrian composer and conductor of partly Jewish descent (he removed the nobiliary particle “von” in 1918 when such distinctions were outlawed in Austria); b. Vienna, Oct. 14,1871; d. Larchmont, N.Y., March 15,1942. At the Vienna Cons, he studied piano with Door (1887-90) and composition with Krenn, Robert Fuchs, and J.N. Fuchs (1890-92). In 1893 he joined the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein. In 1895 he became connected with the orch. society Polyhymnia, and met Schoenberg, whom he advised on the technical aspects of chamber music; Schoenberg always had the highest regard for Zemlinsky as a composer and lamented the lack of appreciation for Zemlinsky’s music. There was also a personal bond between them; in 1901 Schoenberg married Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde. Zemlinsky’s first opera, Sarema, to a libretto by his own father, was premiered in Munich on Oct. 10, 1897; Schoenberg made a Klavierauszug of it. Zemlinsky also entered into contact with Mahler, music director of the Vienna Court Opera, who accepted Zemlinsky’s opera Es war einmal for performance; Mahler conducted its premiere at the Court Opera on Jan. 22, 1900, and it became Zemlinsky’s most popular production. From 1900 to 1906 Zemlinsky served as conductor of the Karlstheater in Vienna; in 1903 he conducted at the Theater an der Wien; in 1904 he was named chief conductor of the Volksoper; in 1910 he orchestrated and conducted the ballet Der Schneemann by the greatly talented 11-year-old Wunderkind Erich Korngold. About that time, he and Schoenberg organized in Vienna the Union of Creative Musicians, which performed his tone poem Die Seejungfrau. In 1911 Zemlinsky moved to Prague, where he became conductor at the German Opera, and also taught conducting and composition at the German Academy of Music (from 1920). In 1927 he moved to Berlin, where he obtained the appointment of asst. conductor at the Kroll Opera, with Otto Klemperer as chief conductor and music director. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, he returned to Vienna, and also filled engagements as a guest conductor in Russia and elsewhere. After the Anschluss of 1938, he emigrated to America. As a composer, Zemlinsky followed the post-Romantic trends of Mahler and Richard Strauss. He was greatly admired but his works were seldom performed, despite the efforts of Schoenberg and his associates to revive his music. How strongly he influenced his younger contemporaries is illustrated by the fact that Alban Berg quoted some of Zemlinsky’s music from the Lyric Symphony in his own Lyrische Suite.


dramatic: Opera: Sarema (1894-95; Munich, Oct. 10, 1897); Es war einmal (1897-99; Vienna, Jan. 22, 1900); Der Traumgörge (1903-06; Nuremberg, Oct. 11, 1980); Kleider machen Leute (1907-10; Vienna, Dec. 2, 1910; rev. 1921); Eineflorentinische Tragödie (1915-16; Stuttgart, Jan. 30,1917); Der Zwerg, after Oscar Wilde’s The Birthday of the Infanta (1920-21; Cologne, May 28, 1922); Der Kreidekreis (1930-32; Zürich, Oct. 14, 1933); Der König Kandaules (1935-36; left in short score; completed by A. Beaumont, 1989); also 5 unfinished operas: Malwa (1902; 1912-13), Herrn Arnes Schatz (1917), Raphael (1918), Vitalis (1926), and Circe (1939-41). M i m o d r a m a : Ein Lichtstrahl (1903). Ballet: Das glasende Herz, after Hofmannsthal (1901). Incidental Music To: Shakespeare’s Cymbeline (1914). ORCH.: 3 syms.: No. 1 (1892), No. 2 (1897; Vienna, March 5, 1899), and No. 3, Lyrische Symphonie, for Soprano, Baritone, and Orch., after Rabindranath Tagore (1922-23; Prague, June 4, 1924); Suite (c. 1894); Der Ring des Ofterdingen, overture (1894-95); Die Seejungfrau, tone poem after Andersen (1902-03); Sinfonietta (1934). CHAMBER: Serenade for Violin and Piano (1892); Suite for Violin and Piano (c. 1893); String Quintet (c. 1895); Trio for Clarinet or Viola, Cello, and Piano (1895); 4 string quartets: No. 1 (c. 1895; Vienna, Dec. 2, 1896), No. 2 (1913-15), No. 3 (1924), and No. 4, Suite (1936). Piano: Ländliche Tanze (1891); Fantasien über Gedichte von Richard Dehmel (1898). VOCAL: Lieder for Voice and Piano (2 books, 1894-96); Der alte Garten for Voice and Orch. (1895); Die Reisen for Voice and Orch., after Eichendorff (1895); Orientalisches Sonett for Voice and Piano (1895); Waldgespräch for Soprano, 2 Horns, Harp, and Strings (1895-96); Nun schwillt der See so bang for Voice and Piano (1896); Süsse Sommernacht for Voice and Piano (1896); Frühlingsglaube for Voices and Strings (1896); Frühlingsbegräbnis for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (1896; Vienna, Feb. 11,1900); Gesänge for Voice and Piano (2 books, c. 1896); Walzer-Gesänge nach toskanischen Volksliedern for Voice and Piano (1898); Irmelin Rose und andere Gesänge for Voice and Piano (1898); Turmwächterlied und andere Gesänge for Voice and Piano (1898-99); Ehetanzlied und andere Gesänge for Voice and Piano (c. 1900); Psalm No. 83 for Chorus and Orch. (1900); Es war ein alter König for Voice and Piano (1903); Schmetterlinge for Voice and Piano (1904); Ansturm for Voice and Piano (1907); Auf See for Voice and Piano (1907); Jane Grey for Voice and Piano (1907); Psalm No. 23 for Voices and Orch. (1910); 6 Gesänge for Mezzo-soprano or Baritone and Piano or Orch. (1910-13); Symphonische Gesänge for Voice and Orch. (1929); 6 Lieder for Voice and Piano (1934); Psalm No. 13 for Voices and Orch. (1935); 12 Lieder for Voice and Piano (1937).


H. Weber, A. Z.: Eine Studie (Vienna, 1977); W. Loll, Zwischen Tradition und Avantgarde: Die Kammermusik A. Z.s (Kassel, 1990); O. Biba, A. Z.: Bin ich ein Wiener? Ausstellung im Archiv der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien: Katalog (Vienna, 1992); U. Rademacher, Vokales Schaffen an der Schwelle zur neuen Musik: Studien zur Klavierlied A. Z.s (Kassel, 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire