Alexander Zemlinsky

14/10/1871 Vídeň, 15/03/1942 Larchmont, USA  

Alexander Zemlinsky was an Austrian composer, conductor and teacher. He began taking piano lessons at the tender age of four. When he was 10 years old, he joined a choir in a synagogue, where he would later on play the organ. He studied the piano and composition at the Vienna Conservatory. Born and raised Jewish, Zemlinsky converted to Protestantism, and he was also a freemason. In 1895, he wrote his first opera, Sarema (premiered in 1897), together with Arnold Schönberg, his future brother-in-law. Three years later, the Hofoper in Vienna staged his second opera, Es war einmal … (One Upon a Time …).  From then on, he worked as a conductor at the Carltheater, Theater an der Wien, Volksoper and Hofoper. Between 1911 and 1927, he held the post of music director at the Neues deutches Theater (New German Theatre) in Prague, where he presented, among other works, the definitive version of his opera Kleider machen Leute (Clothes Make the Man), as well as, in German translation, productions of Bedřich Smetana’s The Kiss, Antonín Dvořák’s The Jacobin and Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa, and also gave the world premiere of Schönberg’s Erwartung (Expectation). After his tenure in Prague, Zemlinsky moved to Berlin, while also appearing as a guest conductor with a number of European orchestras. Upon the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, in 1933 he returned to his native Vienna, from where, in 1939, he fled to the USA and settled in New York. Failing health did not allow him to fully devote to art, and his music was almost completely overlooked in his adopted country. He died in March 1942. In the final two decades of the 20th century, Zemlinsky’s oeuvre enjoyed revived interest. The most noteworthy of his stage works include the operas Der Traumgörge (Görge the Dreamer), Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine Tragedy), Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), Der Kreidekreis (The Chalk Circle) and Der König Kandaules (King Kandaules).