Letter from Arnold Schönberg to Schubertbund, June 15, 1920

At a recent autograph auction, a letter from Arnold Schönberg to the Schubertbund dated June 15, 1920 was purchased for the Archive.

Written to the singers in Vienna’s Schubertbund, the letter refers to two performances of Schönberg’s monumental cantata “Gurre-Lieder” at Vienna State Opera, conducted by the composer himself as part of the “master performances of Viennese music.” It was the first time the work had been heard in Austria since before World War I. The performances on June 12 and June 13, 1920 were organized by the Sozialdemokratische Kunststelle (Social Democratic Arts Office), which was managed by David Josef Bach. With around 800 participants, this was one of the most acclaimed and complex cultural events of “Red Vienna” in the early 1920s.

The “Gurre-Lieder” were performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, with the vocal ensemble consisting of soloists from the State Opera Ensemble. The State Opera Chorus was joined by the Schubertbund, the Dreizehnlinden Choir, and the Philharmonic Chorus.

Esteemed gentlemen, Please allow me to express my thanks for your involvement in the two performances of my Gurrelieder on June 12 and 13 in the State Opera House, and to say that your achievement was marvelous in every respect.

In the short time available for preparations, staging such a difficult work is a feat that can only be entrusted to those who are as sure of their capabilities as the Schubertbund. You have given me immense pleasure.

It was not just the magnificent sound of your voices, the musicality of each and every one of you, and the loyalty and obligation throughout, but – and I must emphasize this – the agreeableness with which everything was handled.

I felt better than I had for a long time, and so I am grateful not only for your outstanding artistic performance, but also on a personal level!

And so I would like you to accept my heartfelt thanks and my assurance that from now on I will be among the most enthusiastic admirers of the Schubertbund.

Sending you my deepest respects and devotion. Yours, Arnold Schönberg

Reviews of the performance(s) at Vienna State Opera:
Wiener Sonn- und Montags-Zeitung (June 14, 1920) p. 2, p. 3
Arbeiter-Zeitung (June 15, 1920) p. 6
Neue Freie Presse (June 16, 1920) p. 1, p. 2, p. 3
Neues Wiener Tagblatt (June 17, 1920) p. 2, p. 3