Alexander Zemlinsky






NOTE: fp = first performance

NOTE: Dates provided in this column for music compositions may be either year of completion or year of first performance. Composer's age is in parentheses.



Adolf von Zemlinszky (1845-1900), son of Anton and Cäcilie von Zemlinszky (originally spelled Semlinsky), renounces his Catholicism and converts to Judaism to marry his Jewish fiancée, Clara Semo (1848-1912). Adolf's family is Catholic on both sides as far back as records are available. Adolf adopts a spurious von; neither he nor his forebears were ennobled.

Clara's father, Shem Tov Semo (c.1810-c.1880), is an assimilation-minded Sephardic Jew who marries a Muslim woman in Sarajevo, part of the Austrian Empire. While essentially a Muslim city, there are harmonious cultural relations among Muslims, Christians and Jews in Sarajevo.

Clara's mother either converts to Judaism, or more likely allows her daughter Clara to be raised in the religion of the child's father. None of this is known with any certainty; Clara raises her own children in the Sephardic tradition of Judaism.

In 1870, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy is a sprawling multi-national/multi-ethnic/multi-lingual empire consisting of areas better known (after 1918) by their 20th century names: Austria; Hungary; Czechoslovakia; Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia (northern Yugoslavia); Transsylvania (western Rumania); Silesia (southern Poland); and Venice, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Trieste (northern and eastern Italy).

The empire has within its borders many religions: Roman Catholicism (the Habsburg dynasty is Roman Catholic) and the separatist Old Catholic Church; several branches of Orthodoxy - Greek, Russian, and Serbian; Judaism; Islam; and a number of Protestant denominations including Calvinism.

In 1857, Jews account for 1.3% of the population of Vienna. In 1890, the number increases to 12%. Many of the empire's Jewish inhabitants migrate to Vienna from other parts of Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and elsewhere in the empire.



October 14, Vienna: Clara von Zemlinszky gives birth to son Alexander who is circumcised a week later and whose name is inscribed in the records of the Sephardic Jewish community of Vienna.

Verdi (58), Aida.




Bruckner (48), Symphony no. 2.




Brahms (40), String Quartet no. 2 in A minor, Variations on a Theme of Haydn, String Quartet no. 1 in C minor; Bruckner (49), Symphony no. 2; Dvořák (32), Symphony no. 3.

Financial speculation causes a stock market crash and leads to economic depression in Germany and Austria, severely affecting the wellbeing of the populace and especially of the small middle class.



Second child, Bianca, is born to Adolf and Clara, but survives only five weeks.

September 13: Arnold Schönberg born; Bruckner (50), Symphony no. 4; Liszt (63); Verdi (61), Requiem.



Alexander starts piano lessons with a friend of his father.

Bizet (37) dies, Carmen; Tchaikovsky (35), Piano Concerto no. 1; Brahms (51), Piano Quartet no. 3.




First complete cycle of Wagner's (63) Ring in Bayreuth; Brahms (52), Symphony no. 1.



September 7, Vienna: Clara gives birth to daughter, Mathilde (1877-1923). Alexander is enrolled in a Sephardic school.

Bruckner (53), Symphony no. 5; Dvořák (36), Symphonic Variations; Tchaikovsky (37), Swan Lake; Brahms (44), Symphony no. 2.




Tchaikovsky (38), Violin Concerto and Symphony no. 4; Dvořák (37), Slavonic Dances.



Alexander leaves Sephardic school and is enrolled in a state-run primary school.

August 31: Alma Schindler born; Bruckner (55), String Quartet; Tchaikovsky (39), Eugen Onegin; March 14: Albert Einstein born; Brahms (46), Violin Sonata no. 1; Dvořák (38), Symphony no. 5, String Quartet op. 51.




Mahler (20), Das Klagende Lied; Dvořák (39), Symphony no. 6; Brahms (47), Tragic Overture.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, and especially in Vienna which has a large and growing Jewish community. This trend only increases during the 1880s and 1890s. Vocal right-wing newspapers have no brakes on expressing crude anti-Jewish sentiments in their pages. Vienna sees the establishment of an anti-Semitic political party, the Christian Socialists, which succeeds in electing a famous mayor, Karl Lueger, who runs on the party's specific anti-Jewish platform.



Alexander enrolled in the new synagogue choir.

March 25: Bartók born; Musorgsky (42) dies; Bruckner (57), Symphony no. 6; Dvořák (40), Symphony no. 6; Brahms (48), Piano Concerto no. 2; Tchaikovsky (41), Piano Concerto no. 2.




June 17: Stravinsky born; December 16: Kodály born; Liszt (71); Brahms (49), String Quartet no. 1.




Wagner (69) dies; December 3: Webern born; Karl Marx (65) dies; Bruckner (59), Symphony no. 7; Dvořák (42), Scherzo Capriccioso; Brahms (50), Symphony no. 3.



Alexander plays the organ in the synagogue on high holy days and holidays. In recognition of his musical ability, Alexander is admitted to the Vienna Music Conservatory and enrolled in its preparatory school.

Smetana (60) dies; Bruckner (60), Te Deum; Mahler (24), Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.




February 7: Berg born; Dvořák (44), Symphony no. 7; Hugo Wolf (25), Penthesilea; R. Strauss (21), Horn Concerto no. 1; Brahms (52), Symphony no. 4




Liszt (74) dies; Nietzsche (42) writes Beyond Good and Evil; Tchaikovsky (46), Manfred Symphony, Romeo and Juliet; Brahms (53), Cello Sonata no.2, Violin Sonata no. 2.



Alexander graduates to the Conservatory's senior school where he studies piano with Anton Door and attends theory classes of Robert Fuchs and Franz Krenn. Alexander completes Piano Sonata no. 1 in G major. Between 1887 and1890, he composes short pieces.

Borodin (53) dies; Bruckner (63), Symphony no. 8; Verdi (74), Otello; Brahms (54), Double Concerto.




Franck (66), Symphony in D minor; Brahms (55), Violin Sonata no.3; Tchaikovsky (48), Symphony no. 5.




Dvořák (48), Symphony no. 8; Mahler (29), Symphony no. 1; R. Strauss (25), Don Juan; April 20: Adolf Hitler born in Braunau, Austria.



Alexander wins the Conservatory's annual piano competition for which he is awarded a gold medal and a Bösendorfer grand piano. He is awarded the diploma for piano studies and enrolls in the theory and composition courses of Johann Nepomuk Fuchs, brother of Robert, and Franz Krenn.

Busoni (24), Konzertstück; R. Strauss (26), Tod und Verklärung; H. Wolf (30), Spanisches Liederbuch.



With J. N. Fuchs he continues study of orchestration, vocal writing and score reading until 1892. Writes Symphony no. 1 in E minor (incomplete); writes Ländliche Tänze (Rustic Dances) op. 1, twelve dances in a wide range of keys.

April 13: Prokofiev born; Rachmaninov (18), Piano Concerto no. 1; H. Wolf (31), Italienisches Liederbuch; Brahms (58), Clarinet Trio, Clarinet Quintet; Dvořák (50), Requiem.



fp Symphony no. 2 in D minor, 1st movement.

Alex is called up for conscription. Between 1892 and 1894, Alex is given three physical examinations for military service; finally found "unsuitable", probably because of his height and weight, and deferred.

He is about 5' 2" tall and, by his own estimate, skinny and unimposing. He has a large, triangular-shaped, pointed nose, apparently inherited from his father as seen in a photograph of Adolf. Alex, as he is called throughout his adult life, has a small receding chin, which emphasizes his large nose.

Dvořák (51), Te Deum; Leoncavallo (38), Pagliacci; Tchaikovsky (52), The Nutcracker.



Completes Symphony no. 2 in D minor. Joins Wiener Tonkünstlerverein (Vienna Musicians Society). November 20: débuts as a composer and performer with Piano Quartet in D major. Meets Johannes Brahms several times; Brahms is impressed with Alex's piano and composing talents. Composes String Quartet in E minor.

Gounod (75) dies; Tchaikovsky (53) dies, Symphony no. 6; Dvořák (52), Symphony no. 9 (From the New World); Verdi (80), Falstaff.




Dvořák (53), String Quartet in F major (The American).



String Quartet in A major; String Quintet in D major; Suite in A major for piano and violin; Piano Trio in D major; Suite in A major.

He forms an amateur orchestra, Polyhymnia, which he conducts in its first public performance. Alex meets a cellist who joins Polyhymnia, Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), who later changes the spelling to Schoenberg. For a brief period Zemlinsky gives counterpoint lessons to Schönberg; Zemlinsky reviews with him Schönberg's early compositions. In 1901, Schönberg leaves Vienna for Berlin but the two become, and remain, very close lifelong friends.

November 16: Hindemith born; July 10: Orff born; Dvořák (54), Cello Concerto; Mahler (35), Symphony no. 2 (Resurrection); Puccini (37), La Bohème; Rachmaninov (22), Symphony no. 1; R. Strauss (31), Till Eulenspiegel.



fp String Quartet no. 1 in A major op. 4; fp Clarinet Trio in D minor (Brahms recommends publication of the Clarinet Trio to the Simrock music publishing firm).

Bruckner (72) dies; Clara Schumann (77) dies; Mahler (36), Symphony no. 3; R. Strauss (32), Also sprach Zarathustra.



Symphony no. 3 in B flat; fp opera Sarema (named for the opera's main character, a wildly passionate and erotic woman who mends her destructive ways and ends up a heroine); the opera is awarded the prestigious Luitpold Prize.

Alex and Schönberg spend the summer together working on the vocal score of Sarema part of whose libretto is said to be written by Schönberg and Alex's father, Adolf. Adolf is a journalist and essayist, and sometime poet-versifier, with the Vienna Sephardic community's newspaper.

May 29: Erich Wolfgang Korngold born, becomes student of Zemlinsky who teaches him orchestration; Rachmaninov (24), Symphony no. 1; Schönberg (23), String Quartet in D major; Brahms (63) dies.




Schönberg converts to Protestantism, possibly in recognition of the rising wave of anti-Semitism.



From 1887 to 1899, Zemlinsky composes songs, piano pieces, several piano sonatas, orchestral pieces, operas, string quartets and a quintet, and symphonies.

Named Kapellmeister (music director) of Vienna's Carltheater (1899-1905). Alexander Zemlinsky (as he now calls himself, changing the spelling of his last name and dropping the von which he later reinstates as a possible shield against anti-Semitic attacks) withdraws his affiliation from the Jewish community.

He converts to Protestantism, which is a convenience for forging ahead with his career, as it was earlier for the Jewish-born Mahler who converted to Catholicism in order for the Catholic emperor to appoint him as director of the Vienna Hofoper (Court Opera).

Alex begins a relationship with Melanie Guttmann (1872-1961), a Vienna Conservatory-trained soprano. They become engaged but it is broken off in 1901 when Melanie emigrates to America where she marries.

It is said that Melanie left Alex after he met Alma Schindler (see below). Despite the break, Melanie and Alex remain friends.



fp opera Es war einmal (Once Upon a Time); premiere conducted by Gustav Mahler at the Vienna Hofoper; Choral setting of Psalm 83. Zemlinsky meets Alma Schindler (1879-1964).

Alma Schindler, the daughter of famous Viennese painter Emil Jakob Schindler (1842-1892), is later famous as Alma Mahler (and then as Alma Mahler-Werfel.) She becomes Zemlinsky's piano and composition student, and he falls deeply in love with her. Zemlinsky works with Alma on her weak composing ability to improve the structure of her Lieder (songs).

They soon become extremely close but because of Alma's fear of pregnancy they never consummate the relationship. Her family, especially her stepfather painter Carl Moll (1861-1945), is anti-Semitic and disapproves of the relationship; they warn her away from marriage with Zemlinsky.

Alma writes several times in her diary of her physical passion for Zemlinsky but also of Zemlinsky's physical ugliness, and she tells him so. ["He's dreadfully ugly, almost chinless - yet I found him quite enthralling."] He is so devastated by having to acknowledge her feelings about his looks that he is affected for most of his adult life by her cruel and bruising words.

Despite his looks, Alexander Zemlinsky leads a notorious erotic life (not at all uncommon in Vienna), and apparently never lacks for attractive woman drawn to him and he to them. This is the case both before and after he meets Alma. Alex is known as a brilliant writer and wit, a cigar-smoking, charming and roguish dandy always dressed as stylishly as he can afford. He thrives in Vienna's intellectual community of musicians, writers, poets, and artists.



Composes ballet, Der Triumph der Zeit (The Triumph of Time).

Mathilde Zemlinsky withdraws her affiliation from the Jewish community and converts to Protestantism before her marriage this year to Arnold Schönberg.

Alma suddenly breaks off her relationship with Alex. She has just met Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), and within a few months of their meeting Alma is engaged and soon marries him. Alex is devastated by the loss of Alma despite his realization, about which he writes to Alma, that she is emotionally shallow and has manipulated him for her own satisfaction.




fp Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night).



Symphony no. 3 in E flat; orchestral suite of ballet, Das gläserne Herz (The Crystal Heart).




Conducts at the Volksoper (People's Opera).

Zemlinsky and Schönberg found the Vereinigung schaffender Tonkünstler (Alliance of Creative Musicians) to encourage new forms in music.



fp fantasy for orchestra Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid).




Completes opera Der Traumgörge (The Dream George). Görge is a dialectical variant of the German name Georg.

From 1906 to 1911, Zemlinsky is appointed First Kapellmeister at Vienna's new Volksoper, a so-called popular repertory opera house, privately owned and operated for the presentation of lower priced opera, operetta, and drama. Zemlinsky is now responsible for creating a highly proficient and professional new orchestral ensemble, which he does.




June 21: After a two-year engagement Alex marries Ida Guttmann (1880-1929), younger sister of his former fiancée Melanie.




May 8: Ida gives birth to daughter Johanna (1908-1972).

Alex and Ida do not have a happy marriage, and Alex has many extramarital affairs during his marriage.



From 1900 to 1909, Zemlinsky composes songs, ballads, piano pieces, ballets, operas, and string quartet and quintet.




fp opera Kleider machen Leute (Clothes Make the Man); revised in 1922; Choral setting of Psalm 23.




Because Zemlinsky is unable to secure the kind of music position he feels he deserves, he leaves Vienna. From 1911 to 1927, Zemlinsky is opera conductor at Prague's Neues Deutsches Theater (New German Theater), an institution dedicated to German-language music, opera and drama catering to Prague's large German-speaking population.

Zemlinsky establishes cordial relations with his Czech counterparts. He employs Czech musicians and singers in his new capacity and seeks a working cross-fertilization between German and Czech opera and orchestral music. Zemlinsky establishes a notable reputation in Prague and is still considered an influential name in the wider Czech music culture in Prague of that era.

Despite the tensions and unhappiness in their marriage, Alex and Ida make the move to Prague together.



fp Gesänge (Maeterlinck Songs).




String Quartet in A major; String Quartet no 2.

June 28: assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo. In August, Austria reluctantly joins Germany, its alliance partner in the Central Powers treaty, to fight the Allied Powers. Thus begins the First World War.

In Prague, fourteen-year-old Luise Sachsel (1900-1992), daughter of a well-to-do Jewish family, is brought by her mother to Alex to study voice. She begins music and voice lessons with him, and at the same time she enrolls in the Prague Academy of Art. Luise is talented both musically and artistically.

Luise paints an early portrait of Alex, the first of several she does, and later, in her twenties, she falls passionately in love with Alex. He returns that love and his other extramarital affairs decline and apparently stop. Alex's relationship with Luise fills the emptiness of his marriage to Ida and he thinks of divorcing his wife to marry Luise. However, Ida's health goes into decline during the 1920s, and Alex is responsible for his wife and daughter.

Despite the twenty-nine-year difference in their ages, Alex and Luise remain together - although not without hardship - for the rest of his life.



Completes incidental music to Shakespeare's Cymbeline; fp as a suite in 1996.





The ongoing European-wide war inflicts hard economic times on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The shakiness of the old monarchy encourages its many subject nationalities to renewed efforts to gain national independence.



fp opera Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy).

Many of the empire's minority nationality subjects serving in the Austrian army desert their regiments. The monarchy and its empire are cracking under the strain of centuries of internal instability.



fp String Quartet no. 2 op. 15.

Anticipating defeat of the Central Powers, several small revolutionary fires flame up in Vienna, omen of continuing political instability.

The Allies are victorious. Various peace treaties fix the boundaries of the successor states (Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia) providing independence to the empire's many subject nationalities. The Austrian-dominated portions of Poland, Rumania, and Italy are returned to their mother countries. Prague becomes the capital of the new Czechoslovak republic. A new map of central and eastern Europe is drawn.

The ancient Habsburg monarchy ends as the emperor abdicates and the Republic of Austria, consisting of nine German-speaking provinces, is established. In this now shrunken country of almost seven million, Vienna, a city of two million, becomes the capital of the new republic.

As the government bureaucracy disintegrates the population is in desperate straits - hunger and unemployment become widespread in the cities and countryside.




Post-war Austria continues to suffer economic hardship with severe inflation, famine, lack of fuel and an influenza epidemic that kills thousands including Sigmund Freud's daughter and the painter Egon Schiele. Others die of starvation while newly independent Hungary closes its borders to Austria to retain its bountiful harvest for its own citizens.



Conducts master class in composition at Prague's Deutsche Akademie für Musik (German Music Academy).

Over the past year the furnishings of Vienna's Hofburg, the imperial residence, are sold off to pay for food and fuel for the citizenry. Schönbrunn, the royal summer palace, is turned into an orphanage.

A small extremist group in Munich, Germany, forms the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), National Socialist German Workers Party, with World War One veteran Adolf Hitler in its lead. The first two syllables - Nati - are pronounced 'notzee' in German, and Nazi becomes the universal term of reference to the party and its adherents.




Berg completes his opera Wozzeck, started in 1917. The opera's bleak theme seems at one with the post-World War I era.

Alex is active in, and for a time is president of, the Prague Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performances, founded 1921-dissolved 1924) affiliated with a society of the same name founded by Schönberg.



fp opera Der Zwerg (The Dwarf). The opera is said to be Zemlinsky's autobiographical and dramatic statement of the profound hurt he still bears from Alma's abrupt rejection and her deeply inflicted cruelty about his looks; fp musical comedy version Kleider machen Leute.

The winter of 1921-1922 is so severe that Viennese housewives cut down the trees in the famous Wienerwald (Vienna Woods) for fuel, and the university is forced to close.

Vienna becomes a separate province within the Republic of Austria.




Mathilde Zemlinsky Schönberg dies.



fp Lyrische Symphonie (Lyric Symphony); seven songs set to texts of the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941); fp String Quartet no. 3 op. 19 - Alex conducts the premiere.

A second inflation sets in following that in Weimar Germany and wipes out the savings of nearly everyone with money in Austrian banks.



Zemlinsky leaves Prague to become Kapellmeister at Berlin's Kroll Opera (1927-1930) whose orchestra is under the overall direction of Otto Klemperer.

He teaches until 1933 at Berlin's Musikhochschule (Music Academy) and is active as a guest conductor throughout Europe.




January 30: Ida Zemlinsky dies.

Alex discovers a newly published book of German translations of poems by African American poets of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Alex sets some of the poems as his Symphonische Gesänge (Symphonic Songs).

Afrika singt. Eine Auslese neuer afro-amerikanische Lyrik (Africa Sings: A Selection of Recent Afro-American Poems), trans. Anna Nussbaum et al.



January 4: Alex and Luise marry.

Luise Zemlinsky modifies her first name to Louise, which she uses for the rest of her life.

The aftermath of the 1929 Wall Street crash reaches Europe. Like its western European neighbors, Austria feels the economic impact. As in Germany, Austria's wartime defeat and declining economy spur political extremism and societal volatility.



fp opera Der Kreidekreis (The Chalk Circle). Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) later uses the same theme in his play The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

After Hitler's assumption of power in Germany, and the immediate institution of Nazi anti-Semitic policies, Zemlinsky flees Berlin for Vienna. Austrian Nazism gets a boost from Hitler's takeover, and the Jewish population in Austria senses that the times are changing for them. The situation is still relatively safe in Vienna.



Sinfonietta op. 23 for orchestra.




fp Symphonische Gesänge (Symphonic Songs); Choral setting of Psalm 13 - fp 1971.

A photograph of Luise taken this year at age 35 shows her to be a beautiful and sophisticated woman. In a self-portrait painted in the 1960s, Luise has maintained her beauty but she appears much more careworn.



String Quartet no. 4; writes a short score of his opera Der König Kandaules (King Candaules) - fp 1996 in a reconstructed score and orchestration.





The Jewish population of Vienna is 115,000.

March 15: Hitler succeeds with the help of local Nazis to invade Austria and impose the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria.

Zemlinsky flees to Prague to obtain papers for his emigration. After a nearly yearlong attempt to get exit approval, Alex finally leaves Prague with Luise for Rotterdam to embark for the voyage to the USA.

Meanwhile in America, Melanie Guttmann tries to find Alex and Luise an American sponsor and raises money for them. They arrive at Ellis Island on December 23, and settle first into a New York City apartment, on Manhattan's Upper West Side.



Alex lives in obscurity in New York City with Luise. He is ill; by the end of this first year in America he no longer composes.

Alex finds learning English impossible so he abandons study of the language. This only enforces his isolation in his new homeland. Life is very difficult for Alex and Luise who depend on her ill brother who has also emigrated for financial support. This brother soon dies and the couple becomes dependent on Luise's ability to earn a living in New York City.



Zemlinsky's health begins to fail after a series of strokes. His wife initiates construction of a new house in suburban Larchmont, New York, to become their permanent American home.

Luise cares for her quite ill husband. She maintains contact with the wider German and Austrian émigré community across the US, especially with Schönberg who has made a successful transition to life, and a renewed career, in America.




Alex and Luise wait for the new house to be completed.



March 15: Within days of moving into the new house, Zemlinsky develops pneumonia and dies.

Luise carries on her life alone, not without struggle. She is devoted to the memory of her husband. Over time she establishes an archive of his creative work to preserve it for posterity. In her widowhood, as in her earlier years, she pursues her art and is exhibited. Luise is instrumental in later years for keeping her husband's name alive in the world of music. Unfortunately, many of Alex's autographs and other personal items have been lost or stolen.



The Jewish population of Vienna is 6,000.



Luise accompanies Zemlinsky's ashes as they are transferred from the US to Vienna's Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery). A modern memorial monument in the shape of stylistic Z's adorns the spot where his ashes are interred. The footstone incorrectly shows the year of birth as 1872 instead of 1871.



October 19, Luise Zemlinsky dies in a Manhattan nursing home. Before her death, she sets up a trust to establish the Alexander Zemlinsky Fund in Vienna (1989) and the Alexander Zemlinsky Prize for Composition in the US. Unlike Alma Mahler, Luise destroys the correspondence between herself and Alex. Even late in life she would not speak of him in a way that would violate his memory.

Vienna's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music) holds an exhibit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Alexander Zemlinsky.



fp in New York, Symphonische Gesänge (Symphonic Songs).




University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) announces the opening of the first international competition of the Alexander Zemlinsky Prize for Composition, for composers of any nationality born after March 1, 1964, to be awarded every six years starting in 1999-2000.

Luise's paintings, including her portraits of Alex, are part of the CCM Music Library's Zemlinsky Room.


Recognition continues to grow that the 20th century overlooked one of its supreme and original musical talents in Alexander Zemlinsky. He is now acknowledged as having been as important an opera conductor in Prague as was Mahler in Vienna. Erich Korngold, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, and Viktor Ullmann testified to his abilities as a teacher, among others. His chamber music, operas, symphonies, and songs are being performed and recorded more with each passing year, and increasingly appreciated for their unique late-Romantic style which never ventured into the atonal yet explored the edges of dissonance. There are increasing numbers of scholarly journal articles, college music courses, and music dissertations on Zemlinsky, which discuss not only his music but his influence on the music and musicians of his era and later.

Zemlinsky was a superb musical craftsman. From his earliest years he was a first-rate concert pianist though he never made virtuoso performing his career objective. He was a worldly Viennese, enough so to appreciate the poetry of India and of the Black American experience, transforming both into works of beauty. He was not the great success the 20th century demands in terms of glittering reputation and the high monetary rewards that come with position in the musical power establishment. As the history of his milieu is re-written, Zemlinsky will very likely be viewed as more of a musical and artistic force than has been the case. For Zemlinsky, the beauty of music was his beacon in a life filled with longing, pain, and frustration. Out of frustration with the lack of recognition he felt he deserved, Zemlinsky said that 'his time would come' - meaning after his death. Indeed, it appears to be coming. During the 1920s, Zemlinsky formulated a credo which remained fundamentally unchanged for the remainder of his creative life: "A great artist, who possesses everything needed to express the essentials, must respect the boundaries of beauty even if he extends them far further than ever before."


In 1999, the first English-language biography of Zemlinsky was published: Antony Beaumont, Zemlinsky, Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Other authoritative English-language sources are in single- and multi-volume dictionaries and encyclopedias of music. Scholarly articles, theses, and dissertations generally are quite technical and far beyond the needs and understanding of the general reader without advanced music training.

For those who read German, the earliest biography and articles, dating back to the 1970s, are by Horst Weber. The German literature is now a far richer source to mine as Zemlinsky's revived reputation has spread. Much information on Zemlinsky is derived from the biographies of and correspondence with the people that mattered in his professional life - most of them musicians - and those who were part of his personal life, such as Alma Mahler.

Copyright © Janet I. Wasserman
New York, NY
January 2001

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