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Vienna: Jews and the City of Music, 1870-1938

Vienna: Jews and the City of Music, 1870-1938
NEW YORK  •  Yeshiva University Museum  •  Ongoing
This extraordinary exhibition illustrates through sound and story the major contributions that Jews made to Vienna's music and social life-as musicians, teachers, critics, audiences, and patrons---and the devastating effect that anti-semiticism and racism had on Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through piano scores, manuscripts, letters, diary entries, numerous photographs, paintings, and audio recordings, Vienna: Jews and the City of Music, 1870-1938 captures the cadence of Viennese musical life as well as the Nazi's rise to power had on the city of Vienna and the world of music at large.

First on view at the Jewish Museum Vienna, where it was curated by Werner Hanak and designed by Christian Prasser, Vienna: Jews and the City of Music is divided into thematic sections, outlined below. An audio guide provides visitors with a narrative walkthrough of the exhibition, accompanied by an hour of musical footage.

City of Music
The exhibition opens with a model of the Ringstrasse in late 19th century Vienna, the epicenter of this recently cosmopolitan city. Accompanying objects describe the contributions made by Vienna's Jews to musical institutions and the importance of these institutions for the Jewish population.

Music in private
Alongside the public institutions, there was a network of music salons in Vienna. The salon, in a private home, served as a semi-public, semi-private arena. It was both a social meeting place and a venue for learning about, listening to, and playing music. The exhibition recreates the atmosphere of the salon, complete with furnishings.

The Modernist Era and its Audience
In 1897, Gustav Mahler became director of the Vienna Court Opera; his reign marks a milestone in the history of modern music. The exhibition describes the modernist composers' struggle for an audience and the public's overwhelming rejection of modern music.

Operetta or the Art of Fictionalizing the City of Music in Song
"Of the Viennese operetta composers, e.g. Straus, Kalman, Fall, Granichstaedten, Eisler, ...only Lehár and I are Christian. Of the librettists there are none that I know. Similarly there are very few non-Jews among the actors and singers, not to mention directors"> (Ralph Benatzky, diary 1928). Jewish composers and librettists fictionalized the city of music in countless operettas and songs about Vienna. Included in this section are a 1910 stage photo that recalls the prevailing conviction of the Jews of Vienna that they were an integral part of the city of music, and a 1923 anti-Semitic magazine cartoon.

From City of Music to City of Music. Vienna and Berlin, 1918-1938
To understand the history of Vienna as a city of music between the wars, it is useful to look at the music scene in Berlin at the time. In the 1920s, Berlin also became a meeting place for Viennese classical musicians. The key figure there was Franz Schreker from Vienna, the most successful opera composer of the time. As director of the Musikhochschule in Berlin, he attracted many young musicians such as Max Brand and Ernst Krenek from Vienna. His desk in Berlin, on view in this section of the exhibition, recalls his importance. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Jewish musicians in Berlin were no longer able to perform in public. In Vienna, they were able to continue working unharmed until 1938.

Expulsion from Vienna? Expulsion from Paradise?
On the walls are the names of musicians who were born in Vienna or studied or worked there, as well as some of the people who worked behind the scenes for the City of Music. They are only a fraction of the Jewish people who were involved in and helped to shape the music scene in Vienna. These names and their professions show the extent to which the Nazis wiped out musical life in Vienna. The audio guide features extracts from the works of some of the names on the list. The chairs in this section, which visitors are invited to sit in, are reproductions of those designed in 1942 for Peggy Guggenheim by Austrian architect Friedrich Kiesler, while in exile in America.

Exile and Concentration Camps - itineraries and works
Where did the musicians end up after they fled from Vienna? Were they able to continue their musical careers? The exhibition recalls the many individuals who were forced to leave the city of music: composers, pianists, violinists, and record sellers. Objects and pictures tell of their exile and their musical activities, as well as those people who were not able to flee Austria in time and who used music to try to survive in the concentration camps.

Aryanization - Vienna from 1938 to 1945
This section takes visitors back to Vienna in the years 1938 to 1945 through paper: files, letters, and posters. A report card from the Academy of Music from the year 1941 praises a student's "good participation" and the fact that he" doesn't look Jewish> " . The following year there was no record of this student in the archive. A copy of the 1941 register of marriages from the parish of St. Stephan shows how the Nazis tried to turn Johann Strauss into a pure German cultural icon by expunging details of Strauss' Jewish great-grandfather.

Vienna After 1945 - The City of Music, A City Without Jews?
The City of Music, where once around 200,000 Jews lived, became a "city without Jews." This situation did not significantly change after the "rebirth" of Austria in May 1945. The Austrian government did not invite the exiles to return to their former home, and prevented or delayed lawsuits on former aryanisation cases, denying for a long time Austria's share of responsibility in the Third Reich and the persecution of Jews. This section is dedicated to the attempts of some musicians to return to Austria. Only a few of them succeeded. Conductors, such as Karl Böhm and Herbert von Karajan, who rose to prominence under the Nazis, dominated the music scene for decades. Given these facts, it is astonishing that twenty years after the Holocaust, Leonard Bernstein became an absolute favorite of the Viennese audience!

An illustrated scholarly English-language catalogue, edited by Leon Botstein and Werner Hanak, accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue features essays by Otto Biba, Philip Bohlmann, Elisabeth Derow-Turnauer and Elena Ostleitner, Wolfgang Dosch and Sara Trampuz, Albrecht Dümling, Tina Frühauf, Primavera Gruber, Hartmut Krones, and Michael P. Steinberg. Michael Hass has compiled two CDs to accompany the catalogue that include recordings of Lotte Lenya singing two songs by her husband, Kurt Weill, and Richard Tauber's 1935 recording of "Vienna, City of My Dreams."

Yeshiva University Museum

Contact: Yeshiva University Museum
at the Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011

Tel: (1) 212 294 -83 30

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