Vienna finally honours Schoenberg’s love rival

Vienna finally honours Schoenberg’s love rival


norman lebrecht

March 14, 2020

The scholar Raymond Coffer reprts that the city of Vienna has finally offered recognition to the artist Richard Gerstl, whose love-triangle with Arnold and Mathilde Schoenberg caused such ructions in the evolution of music history.

Raymond writes: 20 years after I started writing my PhD thesis and nearly 112 years since he died in 1908, Richard Gerstl has finally been recognised by the City of Vienna with his own plaque at Nussdorferstrasse 35, where he lived from 1901 until his death. My research, my thesis and three recent exhibitions may just have had a little bit to do with it!!

Read more on Raymond’s Gerstl website and in my book, Genius and Anxiety.


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I have seen his paintings several times at close range. He seems to me one of the weakest artists working in Vienna at that time. He was still much superior to Arnold Schoenberg, whose paintings were amateurish (especially when seen at close range). He was wise in sticking to music for his main vocation.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed. But we should remember that Schoenberg never considered his paintings as something professional. It neither was a hobby. His paintings were an expression of artistic brooding, at moments or in periods when he could not find an appropriate form to realize it in terms of music.

      Gerstl’s portrait of Schoenberg is, however, a masterpiece of psychological depiction: the intense look, the disappointed mouth, the defensive position of the body, and the entire figure driven into a corner – it sums-up the whole man at that time of his life.,_Richard_-_Arnold_Schoenberg_Seated_(1906).jpg

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    There was a wonderful exhibition of Gerstl at the Neue Galerie in New York a couple of summers ago.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    ==.”…my thesis…. may just have had a little bit to do with it!!”

    So academic research can once in a blue moon have some effect on the outside world. No wonder he put two exclamation marks after the boast

  • John Borstlap says:

    Interestingly, it seems that Gerstl’s suicide did not directly inspire Schoenberg’s ‘leap into atonality’ in his 2nd string quartet, but that internal drives to break with received conventions and traditions, both morally and artistically, acted for both artists as a catalyst to transgress boundaries, with tragic results – both morally and artistically.

  • John Borstlap says:

    There is this very interesting book by Carl Schorske: “Fin-de Siecle Vienna; Politics and Culture” (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1961, 1979) which describes the process of artistic and political liberation from 19C bourgeois culture, the very culture that built the impressive Ringstrasse – symbol of classicist ‘dreaming of unreality’. Protests against bourgeois morality and cultural traditionalism led to both the first stirrings of modernism and totalitarian, nationalist antisemitism. The first modernists in both architecture, literature, painting and music strove after truth as an alternative to bourgeois façade culture, and the results were mostly conspicuously ugly, sentimental and distorted, or primitive and vulgar (Schiele, Kokoshka, Klimt, Gerstl, Schoenberg, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos). The enlightening memoirs of Stefan zweig: ‘Die Welt von Gestern’, tell it all – the Bildungsbürgertum of Vienna which cultivated the arts as nowhere else unintentionally produced the rebellion of the children against the parents, as explored by one of its rebels Sigmund Freud.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “Protests against bourgeois morality and cultural traditionalism led to both the first stirrings of modernism and totalitarian, nationalist antisemitism”.

      Dear me; where have I heard THAT before? People are busy rushing into the cultural showers with the Left and this, of course, is what we will get. Again.
      Best not to teach anybody any history in case they realize what’s happening to them!!

      • John Borstlap says:

        The relationship between antisemitism and modernism is a serious one, and hardly explored – because it may put into question marks our idea of progress; both mindsets have at their centre an idea of totalitarianism.

        For instance, one of the fathers of modernist postwar architecture, Le Corbusier (whose misconceptions still disfigure much of the planet), took many of his ideas from the war architecture of the nazis (like the Atlantikwall). There are so many connections…. think of Schoenberg’s saying in the twenties that he had discovered ‘a method which will offer German music world domination for a hundred years’, or Boulez’ cultural warfare. That kind of inhumanism is part and parcel of the attack on civilisation, and has nothing to do with left or right, both politics thought-through into their extremes, end at the same place.

        • Matt D says:

          The idea that anti-modernism led to Naziism is a farce. The throngs that filled Vienna’s Heldenplatz after the Anschluß were socialists, denizens of ”Red Vienna”. On the other hand, citizens in tiny Innervillgraten in Ost Tirol, the epitome of traditional alpine pastoralism, voted for the Nazis at the rate of about 1%.

          The same can be gleaned from German election maps. In general, the more traditional and Catholic a region in Germany, the LESS likely that region would lean Nazi. The more socialist and Protestant a region, the MORE likely that region would lean Nazi. Prussia excepting Berlin, and Thuringia were the most Nazi of all. Even in Bavaria, the non-Catholic areas like Nürnberg and Augsburg were much MORE likely to be pro-Nazi than Munich, Regensburg, and Franconia.

          This is a fact that has been demonstrated over and over by historians, and yet is set on its head by those with an agenda. That traditionalism led to war and genocide is one the great lies of the far left.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Interesting….. The Gerstl portrait of Mathilde with child is very strong, his self portrait however is ridiculous. Breaking conventions does not automatically produce meaningful art.

      Zemlinski’s opera sounds really great.

  • Matt D says:

    All other criticism aside, Gerstl’s self-portrait is a masterpiece.