Mahler's forgotten assistant

John McLaughlin Williams has just added this comment to my post Young composers sit at their computers: How woefully true about what supposedly can and cannot be done on the pro conducting circuit. I had a meeting with a well-known manager at a premiere New York management agency. Said manager inquired about my predilections, to which I answered a number of composers including Karl Weigl. He responded matter-of-factly "you can't do Weigl". The incredulous look upon my naive visage probably explains the subsequent course of my musical life!

Karl Weigl (below) can't be done on the pro conducting circuit, but he can be done On An Overgrown Path - here is his story. Gustav Mahler was appointed director of the Vienna Court Opera in 1897, and in ten years there he transformed both the repertoire and performances. He brought a new focus on the classical repertoire including Gluck and Mozart, and in collaboration with Alfred Roller created revolutionary productions of Fidelio, Tristan und Isolde, and Der Ring des Nibelungen.

In 1904 Mahler appointed as his rehearsal conductor, Karl Weigl, the 23 year old son of a prominent Viennese Jewish family. Weigl’s teachers included Alexander von Zemlinsky and Guido Adler, and his circle included Webern and Schönberg. In 1903 the Vereinigung scaffender Tonkunstler was founded by Zemlinsky, Schönberg and Weigl under the patronage of Mahler, and was programmed much ‘new’ music, including works by Mahler, Richard Strauss, Zemlinsky, Schönberg , Pfitzner, Reger and Bruno Walter, as well Weigl’s own compositions.

In 1906 Weigl left the Vienna Opera to concentrate on composing, and his chromatic harmonies and imaginative orchestration, which did not follow the musical path of his friend Schönberg, achieved considerable success. His Phantastisches Intermezzo, was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Furtwängler, and the Rose Quartet premiered several of his chamber works. Other champions of his work included George Szell and the Busch Quartet. In 1929 joined the music department of the University of Vienna, and his students included Hanns Eisler, Erich Korngold and Kurt Adler.

In 1933 the political, and cultural, map of Europe started to change. The rise to power of the Nazis saw the start of discrimination against non-Aryan musicians and music. After Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938 Weigl’s music was removed from publisher’s catalogues, and exile became inevitable. In October 1938 he arrived in New York with the conductor Kurt Adler and the cellist Emanuel Feuerman. His letters of recommendation from Schönberg, Richard Strauss and Bruno Walter cut little ice in America, and Weigl struggled to survive giving private lessons. Later he held several teaching posts on the East Coast, but these were a far cry from the post in Vienna that he had left. Karl Weigl died after a prolonged illness in August 1949, eleven years after he had arrived in New York.

After this denouement it would be pleasing to report a revival of interest in Weigl’s music, but sadly this has not been the case. Stokowski gave the premiere of the Fifth Symphony Apokalyptische in New York, and other performers including Richard Goode have performed his compositions. Admirably BIS have recorded his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies together with the Phantastisches Intermezzo. Both the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies were composed by Karl Weigl in America, and the poignant sub-title of the Fifth says it all - Apocalyptic.

* See also a Karl Weigl photo album and Peter Paul Fuchs - one path ends.
* Follow this link to the website of the Jewish Music Institute

Now playingKarl Weigl’s String Quartets No 1 and No 5. Nimbus has done a wonderful job championing forgotten and suppressed music. This highly recommended 1999 recording by the Artis Quartett Wien is only the second recording of these two quartets. Schönberg urged Arnold Rosé to perform them, praising their “extraordinary qualities and inventiveness”.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Now take An Overgrown Path to Holocaust opera's rare performance


Garth Trinkl said…
Well Bob and John, I hope that the CD is not dead yet (as reported this week, over here, at the New York Times and Slate), because I --based upon John's recommendation --just placed a CD order for Karl Weigl's Symphonies #5 and 6. I have Weigl's String Quartet's with the Artis SQ Wien, which you pictured, but his Symphonies had somehow escaped my notice the past five years. I noticed immediately that Weigl's Symphony #5, The Apocalyptic, was dedicated to the Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I am also trying to recall what Weigl works I have heard at the Library of Congress, the Austrian Embassy, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum [ and none, I am virtually sure, in Berlin or Vienna].

Thank you both for the excellent blogging and commenting, which helped restore my European-American classical music animal spirits this otherwise culturally overcast day. (Google even helped me with a discount on my otherwise 'yellow-alert' CD purchase!)

Best wishes to you both.
Pliable said…
Email in from John McLaughlin Williams:

I'd add a couple more notable students: Csielaw Marek and Peter Paul Fuchs. Marek is better known, but Fuchs was an estimable composer in his own right, and was Bernstein's assistant at the US premiere of Peter Grimes. Two corrections: The 6th Symphony has no subtitle; Old Vienna is a separate work, a suite of waltzes done Wiegl's way, which is to say, with a minimum of schlagobers. The Artis Quartet recording is excellent, but it's not the world premiere recording. That was done by The Christopher Quartet in 1988, as I recall in association with Indiana University. An amazing thing about Weigl is that immigration didn't slow him down. It brought some other composers to a virtual halt, the great Zemlinsky here coming to mind. Weigl was fertile till the very end, and indeed wrote some of his best music in exile.

Trivia note: I did the music preparation and Finale engraving for the BIS recording of the 6th Symphony.

Karl Weigl's grandson (also named Karl Weigl) lives in California and the family sponsors a Karl Weigl Foundation.
Pliable said…
John, thanks for that additional information.

Garth also spotted my mistake about the sub-title for Weigl's 6th Symphony, and I've corrected it, together with the wrong statement about the premiere recording of the quartets.
Garth Trinkl said…
"It brought some other composers to a virtual halt, the great Zemlinsky here coming to mind." (JMW)

John, this is, of course, a very important point when one is considering both Zemlinsky and Schoenberg (as well as others) in the U.S. (Kurt Weill perhaps provides a counterpoint to the loss of compositional productivity; but one must question what non-Broadway composing Weill might have returned to had he lived longer.)

The Library of Congress hosted the Boston-based MONTAGE Music Society, last October, in an interesting program opening with Schoenberg and Zemlinsky settings of symbolist poems of Richard Dehmel; followed by the North American premiere of Zemlinsky's Cello Sonata and the Steuermann piano trio transcription of Schoenbert's "Verklarte Nacht."

And earlier this month (March 2007), Vienna's ARON String Quartet gave an interesting program featuring Haydn SQ in D minor, op. 76, no. 2, the Schoenberg SQ #3 (premiered at the LOC), and Korngold's String Quartet no. 3 in D Major, op. 34; which was apparently a late 1945 holiday gift to his wife, in which he broke his long self-imposed silence on composing 'serious' music (excluding film music) until Hitler was out of power.

The Schoenberg and Korngold were interesting contrasts; with the Korngold incorporating themes from "The Sea Wolf" and other film scores that Korngold had recently completed.

There have also been a handful of Eric Zeisl chamber music premieres in Washington over the past decade supported by that composer's family (which is also largely based in Los Angeles, I believe).

In this week when Christopher Rouse has premiered a new Requiem in Los Angeles, it should perhaps be recalled that Eric Zeisl won an Austrian State Prize for his Requiem Mass of 1934 (but could not get it published, since he was Jewish); and that he went on to compose a 'Hebraic' Requiem, which I was quite impressed with when it was locally premiered at the Washington National Cathedral a few years back.

Eric Zeisl's "Requiem Ebraico" (1945) is dedicated to the memory of "his father and the countless victims of the Jewish tragedy in Europe" and apparently has been released by Decca/London Records performed by Lawrence Foster (cond.), Deborah Riedel (soprano), Della Jones (mezzo-soprano), Michael Kraus (bass-baritone) and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Rundfunkchor Berlin. The Zeisl work is paired with Franz Waxman's "The Song of Terezin."

I believe that the earlier 1934 Requiem, composed in Vienna, awaits a recording; which could conceivably be accomplished with one of the fine Ukrainian orchestras and choruses, if not orchestas and choruses in the U.S. Or perhaps the Austrian ORTF could back the concerts and recording project, since it appears that they have not done so as of yet. [Zeisl died at the age of 53.]

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