Education and first compositions

Vienna 1884–1892


"Talent emerging everywhere"
Johannes Brahms

Zemlinsky spent eight years studying at the Conservatory of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna. After the pre-education school, where from 1884 he attended the piano class of Wilhelm Rauch, he went on to undertake parallel studies in piano (now with Anton door) and harmonic theory (with Robert Fuchs), from 1888/89 chamber music and orchestral practice as well as counterpoint. Finally from 1890-92 he studied composition under Johann Nepomuk Fuchs, brother of Robert Fuchs. Zemlinsky was an excellent student and only once throughout his entire studies did he not receive top marks for a subject. In the last two years of his studies he participated in the composition competition held by the conservatory and in 1890/91 won first prize for the song Des Mädchens Klage, and in 1891/92 second prize for Der Morgenstern. In 1890 he was awarded the Society Medal for outstanding pupils.

Zemlinsky received a training that was not very progressive but solid and practical from the Fuchs brothers. Composers such as Mahler, Wolf, Schreker, Sibelius, Enescu and Franz Schmidt also studied for certain periods under Robert Fuchs, who based his teaching in form and counterpoint on an analysis of the classical composes from Fux to Beethoven. Johann Nepomuk Fuchs taught Zemlinsky the craft of composing and as an experienced conductor introduced him to the art of orchestration. Zemlinsky had a close relationship with him and dedicated the score edition of his opus 1, the Ländliche Tänze for piano to him. However, it was outside the conservatory where Zemlinsky gained more important impressions for the development of his compositional style. Performances of works by Brahms, Wagner, Strauss and Mahler but also the intensive preoccupation with the writings of Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Dehmel or Bahr made a decisive mark on his style and own artistic awareness. Some of the early songs, but more especially the Symphony in D minor (1892) composed as the final examination piece of his studies, reveal Zemlinsky's clear, richly coloured and, particularly in the melodic invention, very personal signature.

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Application to be exempted from paying school fees for the academic year 1891 in the Conservatory of the Society of the Friends of Music. Zemlinsky's teacher for composition J. N. Fuchs was in favour of exemption being granted: "As regards his talent, his enthusiasm and his diligence the applicant can be most warmly recommended."
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Programme bill for a concert in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna on 11 July 1892, during which works by final-year students who had been awarded the society medal were played. Zemlinsky conducted the first movement of his Symphony in D minor. It was at this concert that Zemlinsky was introduced to Brahms.
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Robert Fuchs, Zemlinsky's teacher in the subjects harmonic theory and counterpoint. (Photograph by Friedrich Spitzer around 1900)
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Johann Nepomuk Fuchs, Zemlinsky's teacher for composition in the years 1890-92. (Photograph by Josef Székely around 1880).
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Building of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna (photograph dates from ca. 1880). Zemlinsky studied here from 1884 to 1892.
Image Alexander Zemlinsky, Ländliche Tänze for Piano, op. 1, Leipzig, Breitkopf und Härtel (1892). Copy with a handwritten dedication by the composer: "For Professor J. N. Fuchs from his grateful pupil. Alexander Zemlinsky, 21./I.92". The composition, which has stylistic traces of Schumann's Papillon and Brahms' Liebesliederwalzer, dates from 1891, while Zemlinsky was still a student.