Alexander von Zemlinsky

From New World Encyclopedia

Alexander von Zemlinsky
Birth name Alexander von Zemlinsky
Born October 14, 1871
Origin Vienna, Austria
Died March 15, 1942
United States
Occupation(s) Composer

Alexander Zemlinsky or Alexander von Zemlinsky, (October 14, 1871 – March 15, 1942) was an extremely prolific Austrian composer, conductor, and teacher who efficiently perfected the art of composition as well as becoming a well-known 'kapellmeister' and professor.

Early life

Alexander Zemlinsky was born in Vienna to a highly multicultural family. Zemlinsky's grandfather, Anton Semlinski, immigrated from Vojvodina, Hungary to Austria and married an Austrian lady. Both were from staunchly Roman Catholic families, and Alexander's father, Adolf, was reared as a Catholic. Alexander's mother was born in Sarajevo to a Sephardic Jewish father and a Bosnian Muslim mother. Alexander's entire family converted to the religion of his grandfather, Judaism, and Zemlinsky was born and raised Jewish. His father added an aristocratic "von" to his name, though neither he nor his forebears were ennobled. He also began spelling his surname with a "Z."

Alexander studied the piano from a young age. He played the organ in his synagogue on holidays, and was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory in 1884. He studied piano with Anton Door, winning the school's piano prize in 1890. Zemlinsky also studied composition and began to write music.

Zemlinsky had a valuable supporter in Johannes Brahms; it was he who recommended the younger composer's Clarinet Trio (1896) to the Simrock company for publication. Zemlinsky also met Arnold Schoenberg when the latter joined Polyhymnia, an orchestra in which he played the cello and helped found in 1895. The two became close friends—and later mutual admirers and brothers-in-law when Schoenberg married his sister Mathilde. Zemlinsky gave Schoenberg lessons in counterpoint, thus becoming the only formal music teacher Schoenberg would have.

In 1897 Zemlinsky's Symphony No. 2 (chronologically the third he had written, and sometimes numbered as such) was a success when premiered in Vienna. His reputation as a composer was further helped when Gustav Mahler conducted the premiere of his opera Es war einmal… (Once Upon a Time) at the Vienna State Opera|Hofoper in 1900. In 1899 Zemlinsky secured the post of Kapellmeister at Vienna's Carltheater.

Middle Years

In 1900, Zemlinsky met and fell in love with Alma Schindler, one of his composition students. She reciprocated his feelings initially; however, Alma felt a great deal of pressure from close friends and family to end the relationship. They were primarily concerned with Zemlinsky's lack of an international reputation and by an unappealing physical appearance. She broke off the relationship with Zemlinsky and subsequently married Gustav Mahler in 1902. Zemlinsky married Ida Guttmann in 1907, but the marriage was an unhappy one. Following Ida's death in 1929, Zemlinsky married Luise Sachsel in 1930, a woman twenty-nine years his junior, and to whom he had given singing lessons since 1914. This was a much happier relationship, lasting until Zemlinsky's death.

Last Years

In 1906 Zemlinsky was appointed first Kapellmeister of the new Vienna Volksoper. From 1911 to 1927, he was conductor at Prague State Opera|Deutsches Landestheater in Prague, premiering Schoenberg's Erwartung in 1924. Zemlinsky then moved to Berlin, where he taught and worked under Otto Klemperer as a conductor at the Kroll Opera. With the rise of the Nazi Party, he fled to Vienna in 1933, where he held no official post, instead concentrating on composing and making the occasional appearance as guest conductor. In 1938, he moved to the United States and settled in New York City. While fellow émigré Schoenberg was celebrated and feted in the Los Angeles of the 1930s and 1940s—teaching at University of California, Los Angeles|UCLA and University of Southern California|USC and gaining a new generation of acolytes—Zemlinsky was neglected and virtually unknown in his adopted country. He fell ill, suffering a series of cerebrovascular strokes, and ceased composing. Zemlinsky died in Larchmont, New York of pneumonia.

His Music

Zemlinsky's best known work is Lyric Symphony (1923), a seven-movement piece for orchestra, soprano, and baritone, set to poems by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (in German translation), which Zemlinsky compared in a letter to his publisher to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. The work influenced Alban Berg's Lyric Suite, which quotes it and is dedicated to Zemlinsky.

Other orchestral works include the symphonic poem Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid), premiered in the same 1905 concert in Vienna as Schoenberg's Pelléas et Melisande. A three-movement 1934 Sinfonietta, admired by Schoenberg, was written in a style comparable to its fellow contemporary symphonic works by Paul Hindemith, Kurt Weill, and Dmitri Shostakovich. Other works include: chamber music (e.g. four string quartets), operas (e.g. Eine Florentinische Tragödie (1915-16) after Oscar Wilde, and the autobiographical Der Zwerg (The Dwarf, 1921), and the ballet Der Triumph der Zeit (1901).

The influence of Brahms is evoked in Zemlinsky's early works (the ones that prompted encouragement from Brahms himself), while later works adopted the kind of extended harmonies that Wagner had employed, drawing influence also from Mahler. In contrast to his friend Schoenberg, he never wrote atonal music, and never used the twelve-tone technique.

As a conductor, Zemlinsky was admired by Kurt Weill and Stravinsky, not only for his notable performances of Mozart, but also for his performances of contemporary music.

List of selected works

Orchestral works

  • Symphony (No. 1) for orchestra (1891, fragment)
  • Symphony No.1 (No. 2) for orchestra (1892/1892)
  • Suite for Orchestra (c.1895)
  • Symphonie No.2 (No. 3) for orchestra (1897)
  • Drei Ballettstücke. Suite from Der Triumph der Zeit for orchestra (1902)
  • Die Seejungfrau (The Little Mermaid) for orchestra (1902/03, premiered in Vienna in 1905)
  • Lyric Symphony for soprano, baritone and orchestra op.18 (after poems by Rabindranath Tagore) (1922/1923)
  • Sinfonietta for orchestra op. 23 (1934, first performance, Prague 1935)


  • Sarema, Opera (libretto by the composer, Adolf von Zemlinszky and Arnold Schoenberg, 1893–95, Premiered in Munich 1897)
  • Es war einmal … (Once upon a time …), Opera (libretto by Maximilian Singer; 'Nach Holger Drachmann', 1897–1899, Premiered in Vienna 1900)
  • Der Traumgörge, Opera (libretto by Leo Feld, 1904–1906)
  • Kleider machen Leute (The Clothes Make the Man), Opera (libretto by Leo Feld, after Gottfried Keller) (Three versions, 1908-1909/1910/1922)
  • Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy), opera in one act op. 16 (libretto by Oscar Wilde/ Max Meyerfeld, 1915/1916)
  • Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), opera in one act op.17 (libretto by Georg C. Klaren based on Oscar Wilde's Der Geburtstag der Infantin, 1919–1921, premiered in Cologne in 1922)
  • Der Kreidekreis. opera in three acts op. 21 (libretto by the composer after Klabund, 1930–1932, premiered in Zurich in 1933)
  • Der König Kandaules, opera in three acts op. 22 (libretto by the composers after André Gide in the German translation by Franz Blei, 1935/1936, complete orchestration by Antony Beaumont 1992–1996)

Other works for the stage

  • Ein Lichtstrahl, Mimodram for piano (text by Oskar Geller, 1901, rev. 1902)
  • Ein Tanzpoem. A Dance Poem in one act for orchestra (Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1901–1904, final version of the ballet Der Triumph der Zeit (1901))
  • Incidental music for Shakespeare's Cymbeline for tenor, reciter and orchestra (1913–1915)

Choral works

  • Frühlingsbegräbnis (Text: Paul Heyse) cantata for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra (1896/1897, rev. c. 1903)
  1. Horch! vom Hügel, welch' sanfter Klang
  2. Schöner Jüngling
  3. Wie lieblich er ruht
  4. Stumm in Wehmut schaut der Mong herab'
  5. Und ein Specht klopft an den Föhrenstamm
  6. Als so weihevoll der Alte sprach
  7. Horch! vom Hügel welch' ein wilder Klang?
  • Psalm 83 for soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra (1900)
  • Psalm 23 for chorus and orchestra op. 14 (1910, first performance, Vienna 1910)
  • Psalm 13 for chorus and orchestra op. 24 (1935)
  • Frühlingsglaube (T: Ludwig Uhland)
  • Geheimnis for mixed chorus and string orchestra
  • Minnelied (T: Heinrich Heine) for men's choir and chamber ensemble
  • Hochzeitgesang (T: Jewish liturgy) for tenor solo, chorus, and organ
  • Aurikelchen (T: Richard Dehmel) for women's choir

Voice(s) and orchestra

  • Maiblumen blühten überall (T: Richard Dehmel) for soprano and string sextet (c. 1902/1903)
  • Sechs Gesänge after poems by Maurice Maeterlinck op. 13 (1913, orchestrated 1913/1921))
  • Symphonische Gesänge for baritone or alto and orchestra op. 20. (texts from Afrika singt. Eine Auslese neuer afro-amerikanischer Lyrik, 1929)

Songs for voice and piano

  • Walzer-Gesänge nach toskanischen Liedern von Ferdinand Gregorovius op. 6 (1898)
  • Irmelin Rose und andere Gesänge op. 7 (1898/1999)
  • Turmwächterlied und andere Gesänge op. 8 (1898/1899)
  • Ehetanzlied und andere Gesänge op. 10 (1899–1901)
  • Sechs Gesänge nach Gedichten von Maurice Maeterlinck op. 13 (1913)
  • Sechs Lieder op. 22 (1934; first performance, Prague in 1934)
  • Zwölf Lieder op. 27 (1937)
  • Three Songs (T: Irma Stein-Firner) (1939)

Chamber Music

  • Trio for clarinet,cello, and piano in D minor, Op. 3 (1896)
  • String Quartet No. 1 op. 4 (1896)
  • String Quartet No. 2 op. 15 (1913–1915, first performance, Vienna 1918)
  • String Quartet No. 3 op. 19 (1924)
  • Two Movements for string quintet (1927)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (Suite) op. 25 (1936)
  • Quartet (Two Fragments) for clarinet, violin, viola and cello (1938/1939)
  • Humoreske (Rondo), for wind quintet (1939)

Works for piano

  • Albumblatt (Erinnerung aus Wien) (1895)
  • Fantasien über Gedichte von Richard Dehmel op. 9 (1898)
  • Menuett (from Das gläserne Herz) (1901)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Beaumont, Antony, Zemlinsky. London: Faber and Faber, 2000. ISBN 057116983X
  • Oncley, Lawrence Alan, "The published work of Alexander Zemlinsky." Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1983. OCLC 65056883
  • Zemlinsky, Alexander, Briefwechsel mit Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg und Franz Schreker. hrsg. von Horst Weber (= Briefwechsel der Wiener Schule, Bd. 1). Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1995. ISBN 3534125088 This volume includes letters by Schoenberg and Zemlinsky concerning their work on Die Seejungfrau and Pelleas and Melisande.

External links

All links retrieved July 20, 2023.


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