Composer and Conductor in his Homeland
Vienna 1895–1911

„Everything in the world would be wonderful if there were no operettas”
Zemlinsky, 1902

Zemlinsky took up his first regular appointment as a conductor in June 1900 at the Carltheater, which was, in additon to the Theater an der Wien the leading stage for performing operettas. Afterwards Zemlinsky worked for one season at the Theater an der Wien. It was not until his next engagement that he was able to devote more time to demanding repertoire after he had been appointed first kapellmeister at the Volksoper in 1904. The theatre concentrated mainly on the German repertoire but while Zemlinsky was there remarkable performances of French operas by Gounod, Auber, Halévy, Thomas, Meyerbeer and Dukas took place.

Zemlinsky’s engagement at the Volksoper was interrupted in 1907: Mahler, who in 1900 had conducted the world premiere of Zemlinsky’s second opera Es war einmal at the Hofoper, appointed him kapellmeister there. However, when irreconcilable tensions arose between Mahler’s successor Felix Weingartner and Zemlinsky, the latter returned — then as a guest conductor — to the Volksoper, where in 1910 he was able to present the world premiere of his opera created specially for this house Kleider machen Leute (1907-09).

Despite the enormous pressure of work as a conductor Zemlinsky was very productive during these years in Vienna as a composer in all genres. Besides four operas he composed important chamber works such as the Clarinet Trio (1896) and the First String Quartet (1896), orchestral music such as the Symphony in B flat major and the symphonic tone poem Die Seejungfrau, (1902-03), an incomplete ballet Der Triumph der Zeit based on a work by Hofmannsthal (1901-04) and also vocal works such as several song cycles, the Four Songs on texts by Maurice Maeterlinck (1910) and Psalm 23 for Choir and Orchestra. (1910)