Friendship of Two Unequals
It is not known when exactly Zemlinsky and Schoenberg met for the first time. They probably became acquainted with one another around 1895 in the orchestra association Polyhymnia, which Zemlinsky directed and in which Schoenberg played the cello. A close friendship developed between the two musicians which lasted for 30 years despite one or two crises and even at an advanced age, after the two men had not been in touch for over ten years, was still cordial. What is probably the most beautiful verbal testimony to this friendship is Schoenberg's statement that Zemlinsky "always remained the same over the many years and whose composure I try to imagine, when I need advice." (1921)
On an artistic level the relationship between the two composers with such different dispositions developed from teacher-pupil to a discursive partnership on an equal footing in which both benefited from the strengths of the other. Zemlinsky first taught Schoenberg compositional technique, looked through his compositions with him, performed some of them and gave him some entries into the musical life of Vienna. Part of the "teaching" also meant that in 1897 Schoenberg completed the piano score of Zemlinsky's first opera Sarema. In Schoenberg's Berlin years — he had meanwhile married Zemlinsky's sister — the "teacher" repeatedly provided the "pupil" with work so as to improve his financial situation.
Around the year 1902 Schoenberg began to free himself as a composer from Zemlinsky's influence and started to go his own way. Later on, his radical approach was to lead to fundamental aesthetic differences. The two symphonic tone poems Pelleas und Mélisande (Schoenberg) and Die Seejungfrau (Zemlinsky) document the changing personal style of the two composers. Nevertheless they were jointly committed to promoting contemporary music and it was for this purpose that in 1904 they founded the Association of Creative Musicians. Their commitment was highly regarded — however, in the legendary "scandalous concert" of 31 March 1913 in the Musikverein they also experienced the limits of what could be achieved in public.