ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY (1871 - 1942)
The Austrian composer and conductor Alexander von Zemlinsky was born in Vienna in 1871. His reputation has to some extent been overshadowed by the controversial and influential achievements of his brother-in-law Arnold Schoenberg, with Alban Berg and Anton Webern, on the one hand, and by those of his older contemporary Gustav Mahler. Zemlinsky continues the tradition of Viennese classicism, the influence of Wagner never leading him to abandon tonality. In some measure he represents a generation of Viennese composers who were able to combine the apparently divergent tendencies of Brahms and Wagner.
Zemlinsky was trained at the Vienna Conservatory, where he was a composition pupil of Johann Nepomuk Fuchs, himself a pupil of Sechter, who had taught Schubert briefly, and of Bruckner, in the intervals of writing his daily fugue. Always a fine craftsman, Zemlinsky was able to instruct Schoenberg, whom he met in the amateur orchestra Polyhymnia in 1895, in counterpoint, and gave him advice on his earlier work. He was to remain for some time a strong influence both on Schoenberg and on younger composers in Vienna. He also taught Alma Schindler, later the wife of Mahler, who in 1897 became conductor at the Court Opera in Vienna
Zemlinsky’s close association with Schoenberg, a relationship strengthened when the latter married Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde, brought early collaboration in the opera Sarema, for which Schoenberg assisted with the libretto. Both men were indebted to Mahler for practical encouragement. It was Mahler who presented Zemlinsky’s second opera Es war einmal at the Court Opera in 1900, and accepted his next opera Der Traumgörge for performance. Later operas included two works based on Oscar Wilde, Eine Florentinische Tragödie, and Der Zwerg, a version of The Birthday of the Infanta.
In addition to these and other stage works, Zemlinsky wrote songs, chamber music and four symphonies. The last of these, the Lyrische Sinfonie of 1923, using a text from Rabindranath Tagore, was quoted by Berg in his own Lyric Suite, as a sign of respect and affection.
Zemlinsky’s career was essentially in opera. In 1899 he became Kapellmeister at the Carltheater in Vienna, and later conducted also at the Volksoper, where he was Kapellmeister from 1906 until 1911, with a break during Mahler’s last season, 1907-08, when he conducted at the Court Opera. From 1911 until 1927 he was conductor at the Deutsche Landestheater in Prague, where he employed Schoenberg’s pupils Webern, Jalowetz and Karl Horowitz. This period was followed by appointment as Kapellmeister at the Kroll Theatre in Berlin, under Klemperer, and the continuation of his work as a teacher, which he had carried out in Prague, at the Berlin Musikhochschule. At the accession to power of Hitler in 1933, Zemlinsky made his escape to Vienna, and at the Anschluss in 1938 moved first to Prague and then to the United States, where he died in 1942.