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Zemlinsky, Alexander

Stage works
Ballet works
Orchestra works
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Chamber music
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Der König Kandaules (1935-36)
Opera in three acts by A. Zemlinsky after André Gide. Reconstruction and completion of the instrumentation by A. Beaumont.
Sop., 4 ten., 3 bar., 4 bass, 2 mute roles, male choir / 3 (picc.).3 ( (bcl.).3 (dbs.). / a—sax. / / timp.3 perc. / harp.cel. / str. on stage: 2 fl. / tamburin / harp / vla
Premiere: Hamburg (D), 6.10.1996 - Philh. Staatsorchester Hamburg, Gerd Albrecht

Der Traumgörge (1904-06)
Opera in two acts and an epilogue
Revisor: Antony Beaumont
5 sop., 3 ten., 2 bar., 3 bass, choir (S/A/T/B) / 4 (2 picc.).3 ( (bcl.).3 (dbn.) / / timp.4 perc. / 2 harp.cel.guit. / str. On stage: 4 hr. / glsp. / harp / 4 vl.
Premiere: Berlin, Deutsche Oper, 27.5.2007

Ein Lichtstrahl (1901)
Mimodram with piano accompaniment by Oskar Geller
composed for Ernst von Wolzogen‘s literal variété Überbrettl
Pantomime: Sie, Er, Der Dritte; Klav.
Dauer: 15'
Uraufführung: 23.4.1992, Wien

Es war einmal (1897-99)
Fairytale opera in one prologue and three acts
by Maximilian Singer after Holger Drachmann‘s comedy of the same name
2 sop., 2 ten., 2 bar., 3 bass, choir (S/A/T/B) / 3 (picc.) / / timp.perc. / 2 harp / str. / on stage: 2 picc. / / 1 perc. / vl. solo
Premiere: Vienna, Hofoper, 22.1.1900

Sarema (1893/95)
Opera in three sections
by Adolf von Zemlinsky after Rudolf von Gottschall’s “Die Rose vom Kaukasus”
Sop., 3 ten., 2 bar., 2 bass, choir (S/A/T/B) / 3 (picc.).2 ( (bcl.).2. / / timp.perc. / harp / str. on stage: 4 hr. and 2 trp.
Premiere: Munich, Hoftheater, 10.10.1897


Three ballet pieces (1901/1902)
3 (2 picc.).3 ( (bcl.).3. / / timp.3 perc. / 2 harp / str.
Premiere: Vienna, Musikverein, 18.2.1903

Ein Tanzpoem
After the second act of “Der Triumph der Zeit” by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
3 (picc.).3 ( / / timp.perc. / 2 harp / str.
on stage: 4 hr. and 8 trp.
Premiere: Zurich (CH), 19.1.1992


Cymbeline (1913/15)
Appendix from the stage music to Shakespeare’s play
A: Beginning of act III - B: in the 2nd scene (act IV, solemn music behind the stage) - C: Lied to the 2nd scene - D: Melodramma (act V, 4th scene) Ten. / 3 (picc.).3 ( (bcl.).3. / / timp.perc. / harp.harmonium (cel.) / str. / behind the stage: 3 trp.
Duration: 27’

Cymbeline Suite (1913/15)
Exerpt from the stage music to Shakespeare’s play
3 (picc.).3 ( (bcl.).3. / / timp.perc. / harp.harmonium (cel.) / str. / behind the stage: 3 trp.
Duration: 18’

Der König Kandaules (1936-1938)
Prelude and Monologue to the III. Act
for baritone and orchestra
Bariton voice / 3 (picc.) (bcl.).3 (dbn.) / / timp.perc. / harp.cel. / str.

Orchester-Suite  (1895)
Legende, Reigen und Humoreske 
Critical edition - - timp.perc - str
Duration: 20'
Der verlorene Haufen
(1907/orch.: 1994)
Ballade by Viktor Klemperer
for baritone and large orchestra
Baritone voice / / / harp.cel. / str:
Premiere: Den Haag (NL), 1994 - van Vlijmen

Eine Lustspielouvertüre (1894/95 )
Critical Edition by Antony Beaumont
for orchestra - - timp - hp - str 
Duration: 13'

Es war einmal
Prelude for orchestra
3 (picc.) / / timp.perc. / harp / str.

Es war einmal
Interlude for orchestra
3 (picc.).2.2.2. / / timp.perc.glsp. / 2 harp / str.

Frühlingsbegräbnis (1896/rev.1903)
Arranger: Antony Beaumont
For soprano solo and baritone solo, choir and large orchestra
after Paul Heyse
Sop., bar., choir (S/A/T/B) / 3 (picc.) / / timp.perc. / 2 harp / str.
Premiere: Cologne (D), 16.3.1997

Frühlingsglaube / Geheimnis (1896)
for choir and string orchestra
Duration: 8‘

Five songs after poems by Dehmel (1907/orch.: 1994)
For baritone and large orchestra
Arranger: Jan van Vlijmen
I. Stromüber, II. Ansturm, III. Vorspiel, IV. Letzte Bitte, V. Auf See.
Baritone voice / / / harp.cel. / str.
Premiere: Den Haag (NL), 1994 - van Vlijmen

Jane Grey (1907/orch.: 1994)
Ballad of Heinrich Amann
Arranger: Jan van Vlijmen
for baritone and large orchestra
Baritone voice / / / harp.cel. / str.
Premiere: Den Haag (NL), 1994 - van Vlijmen

Maiblumen blühten überall
Version for soprano and string orchestra
von Richard Dehmel
Sop. / str.
Premiere: Vienna (Konzerthaus), 1.4.1998

Preludel for orchestra

Symphony in D minor (1892-1893)
Revisor: Antony Beaumont
for orchestra / / timp. / str.
Premiere: Prague, 26.5.1995

Traumgörge Symphony (1995)
for soprano and tenor solo and large orchestra
Revisor: Frank Maus
Music from the opera Der Traumgörge, arranged by Frank Maus according to an idea of Gerd Albrecht
Sop., ten. / 4 (2 picc.).3 ( (bcl.).3 (dbn.) / timp., cymb.trgl.glsp. / 2 harp.cel. / str.
Premiere: Prague, 26.5.1995

Two poems (1896)
for mixed choir and string orchestra
Choir (S/A/T/B) / str.

Two songs (1900-01)
1. Der alte Garten; 2. Erdeinsamtkeit
Bearbeitung: Antony Beaumont
für eine Männerstimme und Orchester
Bar. / 2.2 (eh.).2.2 (dbn.) / / timp.perc. / 2 harp / str.
Uraufführung: Köln (D), 10.10.1999 - Gürzenich Orchester, J. Conlon

Waldgespräch (1895/96)
Ballad by Joseph von Eichendorff
Revisor: Antony Beaumont
for soprano, string orchestra, harp and two horns
Sop. / 2 hr. (+ 2 ad lib.) / harp / str. (with vl. and vla soli)
Premiere: Hamburg, studio production NDR, 29.11.1995 - A. Beaumont


for women’s choir
Duration: 4‘

Hochzeitsgesang (1896)
for cantor, choir and organ
Duration: 4‘

Minnelied (um 1895)
for men’s choir, 2 flutes, 2 horns and harp
Duration: 5‘


Three pieces for violoncello and piano (1891)
Duration: 12'
World premiere: 10.10.2006, Vienna

In der Sonnengasse II (1901)
Brettl-Lied songs voice and piano

Lieder aus dem Nachlass (1889-1933)
39 songs for voice and piano

Maiblumen blühten überall (um 1904)
for soprano and string sextet
Duration: 8‘

Quartet (1938/1939)
(two fragments)
for clarinet, violin, viola and violoncello
published by Antony Beaumont

Sonata in A minor (1894)
for violoncello and piano
Duration: 30‘
World premiere: 10.10.2006, Vienna

String quartet in E minor (um 1893)
2 Vl. Vla. Vc.
Duration: 25‘

Two movements for string quartet (1927)
2 Vl. Vla. Vc.
Duration: 10‘
World premiere: 19.7.1994, Toblach

Two movements for string quintet (1894-96)
2 Vl. 2 Vla. Vc.
Duration: 11‘


Selected piano pieces (1892-1901)
Four ballades – album sheet – sketch – Minuet


Amongst the ceremonial graves of Vienna‘s Central Cemetary lies that of Alexander Zemlinsky. His corpse was buried there after being transferred in 1985 from the USA, which is where the Nazis drove him in 1938 from his native city of Vienna, and where he died, embittered, on 15.3.1942. Amidst the imposing gravestones that stood over the graves of Arnold Schönberg, Franz Schmidt, Carl Michael Ziehrer etc., Zemlinsky had to make do for ten years with a simple wooden sign – it was as if the grave was as forgotten as the composer.

Thinking back on Zemlinsky, one normally begins with his end. However typical his reception may be of a century inscribed with World Wars and National Socialism, it is still worth noting how differently this composer, born 14.10.1871, was judged from one era to another. In January 1900 Mahler premiered him at the Vienna Hofoper, his brother-in-law and pupil Schönberg respected him above all others, and he was venerated as musical director of the Neues Deutsches Theater in Prague (1911-27). Yet during his lifetime Zemlinsky was also to fall prey to musical and political vicissitudes: he was persecuted and forgotten.

Despite the heartfelt radio essay that Adorno devoted to him in 1959, a posthumous revaluation was not yet in prospect. It was not until 1974 that he was featured at the “Steirischer Herbst” in Graz, which not only allowed one to hear his main works, but also involved a symposium whose notable contributions were published in 1976 by Zemlinsky's Viennese publisher Universal Edition. One year later, the first comprehensive monograph on him appeared, written by Horst Weber; it has remained the basis and inspiration for subsequent work on Zemlinsky. And then, in the 80s, as Zemlinsky's major works began to excite audiences – turning points included the 1980 premiere of the opera Der Traumgörge in Nuremberg, the one-act operas A Florentine Tragedy and The Dwarf in Hamburg in 1981, and the LaSalle Quartet‘s recording of the four string quartets in 1982 – one could really start talking about a “Zemlinsky Revival”.

Today we are back at the beginning. Zemlinsky is seen to be a great composer; his works are played, and are no longer in the aggravating position of being hidden behind comparable works by his famous contemporaries. And now that Ricordi Berlin has been issuing works which were not even available during the composer‘s lifetime, one realises that the complete output fulfills the promise offered by the 2nd String Quartet, the Maeterlinck Songs, and A Florentine Tragedy.

The rediscovery of Zemlinsky is readily attributed to post-modernism. It‘s not that Zemlinsky‘s work is being interpreted in a post-modern context, as is the case with Mahler. But one needed post-modernism to proclaim the end of the teleological view of art history, to draw the attention of experts to composers like Zemlinsky who lay outside the Main Thread leading from Beethoven via Brahms and Schönberg to Boulez. These days, the Economic Miracle-based theory of the Fifties, according to which there was an innate progress in composition that was the measure of whether musical outcomes were right or wrong, lies on the scrap-heap of music history. Yet one should not make fun of it. The search for an objective “material tendency” was a thoroughly appropriate response to the emotional corruption fostered by National Socialism.

In this respect, Zemlinsky‘s return to the repertoire does not merely reflect the post-modern passion for whatever has been marginalised, if only through being forgotten. Rather, it signals the need to sense new things in what is familiar. The unique richness of invention in Zemlinsky's music, in terms of melody, harmony and form, is still complex enough, 100 years after it was written, to radiate a modern aura while still being grounded in the rules of the Classic-Romantic movement. It thus unites the 19th century, whose musical language still seems to be understood by a broad public, with the 20th century, whose language reaches more people than present-day apologists imagine.

In particular, Zemlinsky‘s preference for variants holds the key to a way of composing that, on the one hand, confirms what was once The Law enough for it to be recognised as such, yet on the other, changes it so much as to be irritatingly novel. The constant tacking between resemblances, associations and déjà-vu effects points towards the 19th century, which, since Liszt at the latest, no longer vindicated the construction of a work in terms of formal theory, but through the personal “history” of a gradually changing theme.

However, the ideal model for the introduction of minor modifications is the oral tradition of (folk) song; it is no coincidence that Zemlinsky first tried composing with variants in his early lieder, where the variant technique helps to convey textual subtleties, even in conventional strophic songs. Variants on a grand scale are found in Zemlinsky's only symphonic poem, Die Seejungfrau (1902/03) – one need only look at the skewed harmonisation and orchestration of the main theme in the middle of the second movement – and in Der Traumgörge (1904-06), whose variety of themes and variants is not exceeded in any of Zemlinsky‘s other operas. Finally, in the 2nd String Quartet (1913-15) and the Lyric Symphony (1922/23), the variants not only attest to Zemlinsky‘s inexhaustible imagination, but also secure the construction of the work: what seems to be a chance alteration to the melody often turns out, on closer inspection, to be the detail that forms the link to another theme. Thus, for this admirer of Brahms and Mahler, the technique of variants becomes the main vehicle for composition whose ramifications extend to the smallest detail.

Zemlinsky‘s variant technique sheds light on how, in the 20th century, someone can transform a heritage into something of his own. Naturally, there were and still are countless composers who have sought to create on the basis of the old rules. What makes Zemlinsky stand out from many of them, even to this day, is his unstinting personal devotion to almost every bar. Zemlinsky‘s fear of his own words – there are no notes on his own works, apart from a couple of prosaic lines on the Lyric Symphony, and his letters to his friend Schönberg are often startlingly impersonal – forced him to convey his feelings about the world around him through music, and through the texts he set. Even if one doesn’t want to apply the term “musical biography” to Zemlinsky‘s more than 100 lieder, for fear of detracting from the compositional diversity and seriousness of a genre which takes a central place in Zemlinsky‘s work alongside the eight operas and four string quartets, one can‘t help noting that his music begins to glow wherever he seems to be relating direct personal experience.

© Christoph Becher
English Translation: Antony Beaumont