3) First engagements

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Employment in Prague spelled the end of his career as a composer. Much later in life, Trauneck explained why for him the profession of a composer was not possible. As re¬ported by an unnamed journalist: 'Originally he wanted to devote himself mainly to composition which he had studied as a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg in Vienna. But the hard times after World War I forced him to earn an immediate income.'1

Trauneck was employed in Prague for three seasons (1922-1925) and was introduced by Zemlinsky to opera and operetta conducting. All his life, Trauneck saw in Zemlinsky a shining example of a great conductor. He reported on Zemlinsky's working method in Prague:

'Every morning he called on the répétiteurs to play from scores. Zemlinsky was an outstanding score-reader, his conducting was, so to speak, the acme of the art. He had all the professional talent to become a great figure but his lack of self-confidence prevented it.'2

Trauneck conducted a concert of orchestral songs on 25 February 1923 and a Christmas play with music for children on 23 December 1923. This charming event was the première of Viktor Ullmann's Wie Klein-Else das Christkind suchen ging ('How Little Elsa Went to Search for the Baby Jesus').3

In May 1922, Schoenberg and Zemlinsky started a branch of the 'Society for Private Music Performances' in Prague which only existed until 1924. In the course of a series of fourteen concerts, they introduced a small private audience to all together fifty-six new works by contemporary composers, among them Berg, Schoenberg, Reger, Ravel, Eisler, Schulhoff, Ullmann, Webern and Kodály.4 The highlight during his time at the New German Theatre was certainly the inaugural festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music, which took place in June 1924. The festival included the world première of Schoenberg's monodrama Erwartung. Trauneck gave a description of the performance in a letter to Stuckenschmidt:

At the world première of 'Erwartung' on 6 June 1924 I was indeed present. The set designed by the remarkably gifted stage director Laber was and remained dark, discreet illumination. Mrs Gutheil-Schoder was fabulous in the way she used the few changes of position. Climaxes were convincingly expressed with a minimum of light.5

Employment in Prague was Trauneck's springboard to his first significant position as a conductor: the post of Kapellmeister in Saarbrücken in 1925. Up to this point, everything in Trauneck's life had gone smoothly, but a private scandal in Saarbrücken derailed his career in Germany long before he suffered persecution by the Nazis. In February 1926, Zemlinsky replied to a letter from Trauneck (not extant) in which he [Trauneck] had written that he was going to leave Saarbrücken. He also asked Zemlinsky to recommend him for a position in Teplitz (Sudetenland).6 Zemlinsky was evidently surprised and did not understand why this talented young man wanted to give up a good position. Trauneck concealed the real reason for his intended move.7 While still married to Hilde Horner he had begun a relationship with a married woman, Lisbeth, daughter of the chief rabbi of Cologne, Dr. Rosenthal. She was married to a well-established banker in Saarbrücken by whom she had had two children. She fell deeply in love with Trauneck, and left her husband, children and a financially secure life behind her to live with him.  In a metropolis like Berlin or Paris, an affair of this sort might have been ignored or overlooked but this was not possible in a small town like Saarbrücken. Scandal was inevitable and the lovers had to look for another place to live.

  1. 1. 'Zwei Jahrzehnte als Dirigent in Johannesburg', Thüringer Landeszeitung, 25 September 1957, p. 13. 'Ursprünglich wollte er sich vor allem der Komposition zuwenden, die er als Schüler Prof. Arnold Schönbergs in Wien studiert hatte. Doch die schwere Zeit nach dem ersten Weltkrieg zwang zum baldigen Verdienst.
  2. 2. 'Jeden Morgen rief Zemlinsky die Korrepetitoren um Partitur zu spielen. Er war ein hervorragender Partiturspieler, die Hohe Schule sozusagen. Er hatte alle professionellen Fähigkeiten um ein ganz Großer zu werden aber mangelndes Selbstbewußtsein verhinderte das.' - My interview with Peter Gülke, 7 April 2008, in which he recalled Trauneck's memory of Zemlinsky.
  3. 3. Pamela Tancsik, Die Prager Oper heißt Zemlinsky, Vienna: Böhlau, 2000, p.136.
  4. 4. See Ivan Vojtĕch, 'Der Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen in Prag', in Arnold Schönberg, Katalog der Gedenkausstellung, edited by Ernst Hilmer, Vienna: Universal Edition, 1974, p. 115-118.
  5. 5. Letter from Trauneck to Stuckenschmidt, 5 September 1973: 'Bei der Uraufführung der "Erwartung" am 6.6.1924 war ich "sehr" dabei. Das Bühnenbild, entworfen von dem hochbegabten Regisseur Laber, war und blieb dunkel, einige Schattierungen. Frau Gutheil-Schoder war fabelhaft, wie sie die wenigen Stellungswechsel auszuspielen wußte. Höhepunkte überzeugend mit einem Minimum von Lichthilfe zum Ausdruck brachte.' (ISG)
  6. 6. Letter from Zemlinsky to Trauneck, 22 February 1926. ISG, J2.
  7. 7. Zemlinsky wondered in later correspondence (letter of 21 September 1926, ISG, J2) why Trauneck had suddenly moved to Oldenburg. Trauneck did not reveal his affair with Lisbeth, which forced the couple to leave Saarbrücken.

Portrait of Alexander Zemlinsky by Walter Firner

Neues Deutsches Theater (New German Theatre) in Prague

Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Prague in 1924