Arts and culture in the interwar period - Commemoration and Reflection

In the interwar period the aim of cultural politics was to facilitate the greatest possible freedom for the cultural life to develop. At the time Vienna enjoyed a high standing on the international cultural level. Artistic and cultural activities were indeed so diverse and vibrant that there was no need to shy away from the comparison with other cities and countries. Many developments were initiated at the turn of the century, and due to the exchange across borders it was difficult to draw boundaries. At the beginning of the 1930s many artists left Austria mostly for political reasons and in search for new artistic opportunities abroad. The following article is an attempt to give a short cross-section of the most important trends and personalities.

"Culture for all" - slogan of the young Republic

In "Red Vienna" the promotion of cultural life focused on subsidising all activities addressing an audience which had so far largely been excluded, in particular workers and employees. As early as in May and June 1920 the City of Vienna organised a music festival with the participation of the State Opera and the city's best musicians. The festival was repeated in the following years and in 1927 the event was for the first time called "Wiener Festwochen". The "Verein Sozialdemokratische Kunststelle" (Social Democratic Art Place) founded in 1919 was of particular importance for the workers´access to cultural life. It produced plays, concerts, choir performances and organised a great variety of other cultural activities. Many celebrities supported the cause, among them the composer Anton Webern who in 1922 became the director of the workers’ symphonic concerts. Starting in 1926 the association published the magazine "Kunst und Volk" (Art and People).

Brand new - music composed in the Twelve-tone technique

What today is overall known as "Twelve Tone Music" was created by the composer Arnold Schönberg (1847 to1951) as a composition technique of twelve tones related only with one another. Here is an attempt to explain the technique: The twelve tone technique represents a realignment of the twelve half tones within the octave. The tonal sequence is thereby abandoned while the twelve half tones of the octave are completely independent of one another and may be selected in any desired sequence. Schönberg’s first compositions in this technique were created in the years from 1921 to 1924. Among the other representatives of this new musical trend which some experience as atonal were Alban Berg (1885 to 1935) and Anton Webern (1883 to 1945). Also in the 1920s the Austrian composer Ernst Krenek (1900 to 1991) composed the first Jazz Opera "Jonny Strikes Up" which was first performed in 1927 in Leipzig. The premiere caused a political uproar, yet the opera itself became a success all over the world.

Music of a totally different kind - the "Silver Operetta"

The "Silver Operetta Era" started around 1900 but many of this musical genre’s composers celebrated their biggest successes in the interwar period when their operettas were first shown. Among them are Emmerich Kalman (1882 to 1953) with "Countess Mariza" in 1924, Franz Lehar (1870 to 1948) with "The Land of Smiles" in 1923 and "The Czarevitch" in 1927, Ralph Benatzky (1884 to 1957) with "Im weißen Rössl" in 1930 or Leo Fall with "Madame Pompadour" in 1922. Another important representative of this era was Robert Stolz (1880 to 1975), the composer of a whole range of unforgettable melodies.

The world of cabaret

One of the most popular composers of the Wienerlied (Viennese song writing) in the interwar period was undoubtedly Herrmann Leopoldi (1888-1959). Songs written by him such as "Das kleine Cafe in Hernals", "I bin a stiller Zecher" or "Schön ist so ein Ringelspiel" could be heard on every street corner. With the Anschluss in 1938, Leopoldi was among the first to be arrested and deported to Dachau concentration camp and later on to Buchenwald. After his wife had managed to "buy him out"; he immigrated to the US and returned to Vienna in 1947. He escaped the NS terror and returned while many others were murdered or spent the rest of their lives in exile.

A Viennese institution forever linked to the city and its sense of humour is the "Simpl", a cabaret which first opened its doors in 1912. The founder, Karl Farkas (1893 to 1971), ran the theatre until his death with the exception of the period from 1938 to 1946. The "Simpl" was extremely successful from the very start. In the years from 1922 to 1924 the revue "Wien gib acht" was performed 700 times. Fritz Grünbaum, Karl Farkas's brilliant partner at the "Simpl" was murdered at Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

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City of Vienna | Public Relations
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