Little Bits of History

March 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 31, 2017

1913: The Skandalconzert takes place. The Wiener Konzertverein or Vienna Concert Society hosted a concert conducted by Arnold Schoenberg. It was held at the Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic. Schoenberg was born in 1874 and was part of the expressionist movement in German poetry and art. He was a composer, music theorist, and painter. His work challenged the traditional German Romantic styles and his name would become synonymous with atonality, even though he hated the term. His influence on music has reached across time and he is today revered for his work.

It wasn’t always so. The program on this night included work from Anton Webern, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, Alban Berg (two selections), and Gustav Mahler. Berg’s pieces included poetry along with the music. The poetry was written by Peter Attenberg, already committed in an insane asylum – a fact known to the audience. As the work progressed, an angry crowd began to call for both the poet and the composer to be so committed. Attenberg was not present, but had been given a chance to be there for the dress rehearsal earlier in the day. He was lucid enough to be able to compose a piece about Alma Mahler, Gustav’s wife, three days later after seeing her at the rehearsal.

It was during Berg’s work that a riot broke out. Oscar Straus, an operetta composer, was present when Erhard Buschbeck, an organizer of the concert, punched a member of the audience. Straus noted it was the most harmonious sound of the evening when Buschbeck was later sued. Berg’s work was so adversely affected by the outbreak of violence that his songs were not performed again until 1952 and the full score was not printed until 1966. The rest of the concert was cancelled and Mahler’s piece was not played that evening.

Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder was first performed in 1913 at the same venue with Franz Schreker conducting. It was well received, but Schoenberg had been so offended by this night’s violence, he refused to acknowledge the applause. The audience, in their turn affronted, were inhospitable to contemporary works played there a few weeks later and once again there was unrest in the audience with both sides yelling and throwing things at each other, so much so that furniture was destroyed. A couple months later, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, also had concert-goers in near riot in Paris.

Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast. – William Congreve

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music. – Billy Joel

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. – Ludwig van Beethoven

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