Walter Mencken 1 p.m., May 1
Fin de Siecle
Continuing with our theme of rebellion in fin de siècle Vienna, after Mahler, Schoenberg was waiting.
Mahler wrote music with a tonality that would have made Wagner cringe.
Mahler was depressed and disenfranchised but our ears still understand his musical grammar. Mahler’s music generally had a tonality that makes sense to the casual listener.
Schoenberg rejected the tonality of previous Viennese composers and founded The Second Viennese School. I won’t get into how Schoenberg wrote his music but I will say he and others were disgusted with Viennese music.
The music of Johann Strauss, Strauss Jr., and Lehar was considered propaganda to prop up the decaying Hapsburg Empire.
The Blue Danube Waltz was debuted shortly after Austria lost the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. The balance of power in the German states shifted from Austria to Prussia and Austria lost the province of Venetia to the Italians.
What did the Viennese do? They waltzed.
Vienna was the city of dreams but scratch the surface and it was a nightmare.
Homelessness was through the roof. The popularity of Viennese coffee houses was due to the fact that many young men had no place to live.
Suicides were common as many of these young men were homosexual and saw no way to survive in the Hapsburg society.
The young women who had no place to live turned to prostitution which was rampant.
The popular music ignored all of this and continued to create a veneer of joy and contentment.
The new generation found the waltzes and operettas to be sickeningly sweet. As an outsider, I find that music to be charming but at the time, many considered it grotesque.
Hapsburg Austria disappeared completely after World War I. Outside the city of Vienna, there are more reminders of Roman rule than Hapsburg. After over 500 years, Imperial Austria disappeared almost without a trace.
Books of interest:
Fin de siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture. Carl E. Schorske.
Wittgenstein’s Vienna. Allen Janick, Stephen Toulmin.
The Austiran Mind: An Intellectual and Social History from 1948 to 1938. William Johnson.