MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The “Other” Scandal Concert

Vienna, 31 March 1913 — two months before The Rite of Spring in Paris — Schoenberg programmed two songs from his student Alban Berg’s settings of five Ansichtskartentexte (“Picture-Postcard Texts”) by the poet Peter Altenberg (Nos. 2 and 3).

The rest of the program consisted of Schoenberg’s own Op. 9 Chamber Symphony (in a special version for strings alone); the world premiere of a work by another Schoenberg pupil, Anton Webern’s Pieces for Orchestra (now known as Op. 6); and Maeterlinck Songs by Schoenberg’s own mentor, Alexander von Zemlinsky, with Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder as the final work — except that the Mahler was never performed. A disturbance broke out during the Berg songs, reaching such a point that police were called in. The orchestra gave up and the show did not go on. Incidentally, those two songs last all of three, four minutes…

“One is not wrong in alleging that scenes like the one yesterday have never before happened, neither in Vienna nor certainly any other concert hall in any other cultural city,” the Neues Wiener Tagblatt observed.

Another paper, Die Zeit, even accused the organizer, Schoenberg (who himself had recently had an anomalous success with the premiere of his Gurrelieder), of engaging in vanity programming. It claimed that he “felt obliged to repay his disciples by using his influence to have a performance of their pieces, although he privately thought very little of what they had achieved.”

Fortunately young Alban Berg was at least absent from the concert itself.

Filed under: Alban Berg, music history

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