September 25, 2018

Vienna Opens

The new Arnold Schoenberg Center occupies onefloor of the Palais Fanto in downtown Vienna. A recital auditorium isamong its features.

With a week-long celebration to mark theopening of the Arnold Schoenberg Center, Vienna heaped honors on theseminal composer of 20th-century music, while visibly agonizing overthe sins of its Nazi past.

The tone was set on opening night, when 1,800 ofVienna’s political, cultural and social elite gathered in the gilded19th-century Musikverein for three of Schoenberg’s major works –“Transfigured Night,” “Peace on Earth” and “Expectation.”

(Zubin Mehta, the scheduled conductor, had tocancel due to illness and was replaced by Giuseppe Sinopoli, who wasrewarded with six curtain calls by the enthusiastic audience.)

Before the Vienna Philharmonic sounded the first note,Viktor Klima, the federal chancellor of Austria, struck the mixedmotif of pride and shame that marked the festival.

Turning to Nuria, Ronald and Lawrence Schoenberg,the three children of the composer (1874-1951), who decided totransfer their father’s legacy to his native city, Klima said: “Whilewe are proud and thankful on this occasion, we cannot forget theshameful years of the 1930s, which saw the dispersion and extinctionof our fellow Jewish citizens.”

This apologia, which was re-emphasized by ViennaMayor Michael Haupl at the following evening’s concert, was not asautomatic and self-evident as it would be at a similar event inGermany.

For decades, Austrians preferred to think ofthemselves as “the first victims” of Nazism, glossing over thehysterical reception they gave Hitler in 1938 and their ardentsupport during the war.

The fact that the opening of the Schoenberg Centercoincided with the 60th anniversary of the Anschluss was taken as acue by the Austrian media to grapple with the country’s World War IIrole, including the brutal persecution of its Jews.

The Schoenberg Center, located near the city’smajor museums and concert halls, displays the astonishing variety oftalents possessed by the creator of the 12-tone scale, not only ascomposer but as painter, inventor, model builder, author and eventennis player.

A section is devoted to Schoenberg’s last 15years, spent in Los Angeles, and another to his Jewish identity.After converting to Lutheranism as a young man, the composer returnedto his ancestral faith in 1933.

Even while still nominally a Christian, he wrote aneo-Zionist play on which his opera, “Moses and Aron,” is based, and,early on, he foresaw the fate awaiting European Jewry withastonishing clarity.

For the last 25 years, the composer’s legacy hasbeen housed in the Schoenberg Institute on the USC campus. Afterprolonged and bitter clashes between USC administrators and theSchoenberg heirs, the decision was taken to move the institute’slarge collection of compositions, manuscripts, books, paintings,photos and memorabilia to Vienna.

Berlin and The Hague also vied to become thecenter’s new home, but, in the end, the heirs decided in favor oftheir father’s birthplace.