Alexander Zemlinsky: Orchester-Suite

Cover of the Orchestersuite

Edited by Antony Beaumont

Legende, Reigen and Humoreske 
World premiere: 18.03.1895,Vienna

Zemlinsky‟s Suite for Orchestra was performed just once during his lifetime, at a concert on 18 March 1895 to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the Vienna Musikverein. The event was well covered in the Viennese press, and the critics were almost unanimous in their praise of Zemlinsky‟s work.   

While the Neuigkeits Welt-Blatt „had difficulty in deciding how much of [Zemlinsky‟s Suite] was founded on original ideas‟, the Wiener Abendblatt considered that the young composer had „amply demonstrated his fine and substantial talent.‟ The Neue Freie Presse felt the music showed „that lack of clarity typical of a perception still in development‟, but praised Zemlinsky for his „splendid orchestration.‟ The Oesterreichische Rundschau wrote of „a rich diversity of melody and rhythm, which enthrals the listener with its youthfulness and fire‟, and the Reichspost agreed that the work was „very interesting and fiery‟.

In the autumn of 1895, Zemlinsky applied for a grant from the Austrian Ministry of Education, which would enable him to take time off from private tuition to complete the orchestration of Sarema. In support of his application, he submitted a portfolio of three works: the Symphony in D minor (1892), the Piano Quartet in D major (1893) and the Suite for Orchestra. In their advisory capacity for the Ministry, Brahms and Hanslick endorsed the application, adding that all three scores „speak unequivocally of this young man‟s striking talent, sense of purpose and already well-developed sense of form.‟ Needless to say, the application was approved. In Zemlinsky‟s view, his early compositions were merely milestones on the road to success. Accordingly, he made little attempt to secure further performances or to have these works published. Three years after the jubilee concert, however, he returned to the „Reigen‟ movement of the Suite and transformed it into an operatic scene with chorus. In its new guise, it provided a splendid curtain-raiser for Act III of his opera Es war einmal…, premièred on 22 January 1900 at the Vienna Hofoper with a star-studded cast under the baton of Gustav Mahler.

Text: Antony Beaumont