Oblivion and Renaissance

Zemlinsky and posterity / I


"Zemlinsky can wait."
Arnold Schönberg

"…Ultimately one is always to blame for one's own fate; or at least innocently guilty. I surely lack that certain something that one has to have (…) to reach the top."

This was how Zemlinsky described his own estimation of himself in a letter to Alma Mahler-Werfel in 1925 and it also proved to be true after his death. As regards the history of his reception it took nearly 30 years before Zemlinsky emerged from the shadow of the recognised leading figures of his epoch. The sporadic performances of his music in the three decades after the end of the war, remained singular occurrences without any follow-up. It is significant to note that the first real impetus with any impact did not come from musical practice but from theory. In 1959 Theodor W. Adorno held a radio lecture which was a prominent plea on behalf of Zemlinsky and still valid today. Yet it was not until ten years later that further deeds followed, to begin with again in the theoretical sphere. Horst Weber in particular undertook pioneering work and published the results of his research in 1977 in the first biography of Zemlinsky. In 1974 the Institute of Evaluation Research in Graz organised a broad ranging symposium. A little later — in the wake of the Mahler renaissance composers such as Schreker and Korngold had meanwhile also reached the ear of a wider public — a recording of Zemlinsky's Second String Quartet performed by the LaSalle Quartet was released. It was a sensational success and remained in the classic charts for several weeks. Around 1980 Zemlinsky also began to be rediscovered by the opera houses. Die Traumgörge was given its world premiere in Nuremberg and the new production in Hamburg of the two one-act operas based on Oscar Wilde gave a signal that was perceived by the musical world. Performances of works by Zemlinsky on stage and in the concert hall from then onwards were no longer a rarity and attracted a wide public that was interested in finding out more about this composer, who until then was known to most people only as the teacher and brother-in-law of Schoenberg. And there was still a lot to discover. It is only since the mid-1990s and the world premiere of Der König Kandaules that Zemlinsky's music can be regarded as largely explored and in research about his life there are now only a few remaining holes. Zemlinsky arrived late — but as early as 1921 Schoenberg had prophesied "Zemlinsky can wait".