Mahler's forgotten assistant
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.
Now playing – Karl 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”.
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