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Mahler and Klimt: Social Experience and Artistic Evolution

Author(s): Carl E. Schorske


Source: Daedalus, Vol. 111, No. 3, Representations and Realities (Summer, 1982), pp. 29-50
Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20024801
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CARL E. SCHORSKE

Mahler and Klimt: Social Experience


and Artistic Evolution

who have

All

grappled

the almost mythic


life of Gustav Mahler will have
of
his
from Vienna
after his
episode
departure
a
from
the
On
December
9, 1907, at the Westbahnhof,
resignation
Hofoper.
a
to
on
of
void publicity,
the
admirers,
secretly mobilized
throng
gathered
to bid farewell to the revered director. As the train
platform
pulled away in the
the crowd stood for a few minutes
in glum silence,
grey of the morning,
most
Then
the
Gustav
the
wordless
of men,
Klimt,
painter
spellbound.
usually
found voice for all. He found it in a single word: "Vorbei."
What was "Vorbei"} At the most obvious level, of course, itwas the decade
at the
of Mahler's
reign
Opera, which had revitalized that art of the court in a
of
to art itself. But
rigorous bourgeois discipline and abs< )lute dedication
spirit
for Klimt, who had no more
for
than
music
Mahler
had
for
affinity
painting, the
resonances.
conductor's
carried
wider
1907
Klimt had
other,
departure
By
himself sustained terrible reverses as a public ?rtist. First raised up
by imperial
and municipal
officialdom as stellar representative of Austria's
in art,
modernity
he had soon been abandoned
his
under
the
relentless
by
political patrons
pressure of his critics on the old Liberal Left ?nd the new Christian Right. He
to a narrow circle of
had withdrawn
private patrons and admirers. Not for four
had
his
work
he
in
Vienna.
years
displayed
a different
Like Mahler,
Klimt
had
though from
point of departure,
to
arts
in
the
effort
revitalize
the
of
and
Austria,
great
participated
through the
encountered

to

arts,

often

with

the climactic

regenerate

Austrian

culture

as

a whoh.

The

careers

of

the

two

artists

ran

in similar
crossed, and frequently responded
parallel, occasionally
ways to the same crisis of liberal culture and society. By 1907 the efforts of both
men to revitalize Austrian
culture seemed to be blocked.

/
Born only two years apart, Klimt and Mahler received their education in the
culture of ascendant
liberalism in the late 1870s. As the bourgeoisie
to
arts of Au stria in
new world of
itself
the
traditional
appropriated
building its
a central
Recht and Kultur, the theatrical and representative
arts
occupied
place.
the best painters of Paris or even Berlin had long abandoned decorative
Where
canvases fcr the anonymous market, Klimt,
painting in favor of self-determined
like Makart before him, was drawn to architectural painting as still the most
confident

29

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30

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

branch of his art in Austria.1 During


the 1880s, while Mahler
prestigious
career
in
in
launched his conducting
provincial opera houses, Klimt also worked
in the theaters of Fiume and Karlsbad.
theaters, painting ceilings and murals
a great
was
to decorate
in the new
His
commission
crowning
stairway
a series of
on Vienna's
with
Ringstrasse,
Burgtheater
ceiling paintings of drama,
to modern
times. The program of these panels
from the festival of Dionysus
shows how closely the liberal fathers had integrated the theatrical and historical
the unity of theater and society, while
the
outlooks. Each mural celebrated
the triumphant absorption of the theaters of the
series as a whole represented
a
of Ringstrasse
culture. Thus
of
past into the rich eclecticism
picture
on stage, but also the
not
theater
the
merely
players
represented
Shakespeare's
Klimt recorded
audience of the age that found its mirror in theater. Moreover,
in the painting his own sense of identification with the culture he served as
in the company of his partner and his brother, as a
artist. He pictured himself,
audience. Like earlier painters who had presented
of the Elizabethan
member
in the Christian dramas of religion, Klimt historicized
themselves as witnesses
in the Viennese
himself as communicant
religion of drama. In 1887 the City
to paint the Old
Klimt and his partner, Franz Matsch,
Council commissioned
before it gave way to the new house. Not
just the stage, but the
Burgtheater
on canvas. Klimt made
were
too
it a group portrait of
immortalized
patrons
zweite Gesellschaft, where aristocrats and educated burgers mingled,
Vienna's
Dr. Theodor
Katherina
the emperor's
actress-friend,
Schratt,
including
won
work
Klimt
the
Karl
The
the
future
and
Billroth,
mayor,
Lueger.
in 1890, and secured his reputation as Vienna's
Prize
outstanding
Emperor's
young painter.
in this formative decade
The style and iconic idiom in which Klimt worked
secure
the
well
values
of
the
reflected
Ringstrasse
high culture. In his Athena,
in 1891, the
the
Museum
of
Kunsthistorisches
for
vestibule
the great
executed
an almost
celebrates
historical
photographic
triumph (Plate I).
spirit
positivistic
in a solid, smoothly realistic way. Holding
her heavy
is molded
The goddess
a
matron
Nike
and her spear, she poses like a young Viennese
trying out
costume for a ball. With
learned precision, Klimt provided as background a wall
idiom of classical Greece. With the same historical fidelity, he
in the ornamental
of other great cultural epochs for the museum
female
representatives
painted
and so on.
Renaissance,
spandrels?Egyptian,
While Klimt thus totally identified himself with Ringstrasse
culture, Mahler
a
himself
the
with
took
somewhat different path, associating
strong populist and
that gripped bourgeois
national orientation
youth after the Franco-Prussian
Mahler's
War. Paradoxically,
greater populist sentiment was related to the fact
if not by social origin, a
that he was, by intellectual formation and education,
a
of a higher class than Klimt. The son of
member
gold engraver, Klimt was,
he
with his two brothers, destined by his father to the artisanate. Accordingly,
attended only the School of Arts and Crafts, and had no formal schooling in the
culture of the elite. As an artisanal artist, Klimt was executor of the decorative
as that
programs defined by his patrons, whose culture he accepted uncritically
father began as a Jewish
of his social betters until the 1890s. Although Mahler's
his
wife
German
he
and
high culture. To cultivate
prized
pushcart peddler,
in Vienna at the age
their son's musical gifts, they sent him to the Conservatory

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SOCIAL

EXPERIENCE

AND

ARTISTIC

EVOLUTION

31

the humanistic Gymnasium


of fifteen, but they made sure that he completed
as well.
and attended the University
was a
the Conservatory
stronghold of classical musical orthodoxy,
Although
fell lotally under the spell of Richard
Mahler, with many of his fellow-students,
a young man as saturated with the
For
and
reading of philosophy
Wagner.
more was
than
musical
radicalism
literature as Mahler,
implied by \Wagner
was the hero of
alone. During Mahler's
years (1878-81), Wagner
university
movements
with
student
and social
antiliberal
nationalist
strong
populist
own kind of folkish
overtones. Mahler
with
this
his
ideology
strengthened
the people as expressive
of the genuine
and the
romanticism,
worshipping
natural in man.
It is thus that he came to the folk poetry anthologized
in the
Knaben Wunderhorn as the principal source of lit ?rary inspiration for his first two
decades of life as a composer
That
the
(through the fi *st four symphonies).
of the folk poetry of the Knaben Winder horn in the Napoleonic
era,
and Brentano, were young aristocratic r?volt?s against the Frenchified
elite culture of their own time, makes Mahbr's
recovery of their romantic
of
in
crisis
late
liberal
the
culture
easily comprehensible.
populism
were
between
social origin and ideological commitment
The relationship
collectors

Arnim

in their early years. Klimt,


thus paradoxically
inverse in Klimt and Mahler
the
from the artisan class, drew his subjects and inconography
almost
and classical culture of the bourgeois
from the historical
elite.
exclusively
a
of
the
of
the
In
child
the
Lieder
truths
folk.
Mahler,
bourgeois Bildung, glorified
issued from a personal experience of unrequited
einesfahrenden Gesellen, which
romantic
individualism by identifying with an artisan
Mahler
extended
his
love,
"as if a travelling
social type. uThe songs are conceived
together," he wrote,
a [blow of] fate goes out into the world and
who
has
experienced
journeyman
no such
now wanders
affinity for the lot of the
aimlessly."2 Klimt expressed
man of the
of
the
commitment
their
respective arts to theater, and
people. Only
their devotion to an ideal of theater as public mirror of man, provided a common
these two quite different
for Mahler
and Klimt,
children of the
platform
artist

Ringstrasse

era.

//

In the mid-nineties,
Klimt began to change in a direction that brought him
in fact, the leader o? dieJungen in
closer toMahler's world of ideas. He became,
the plastic arts. A generational
revolt against the liberal fathers, the movement
loosely called die Jungen had appeared first in politics among university youth in
the 1870s, with demands for national and social reforms. To this wave belonged
not only Mahler
and his philosopher-friend
but Theodor
Siegfried Lipiner,
Fried jung and Victor Adler. Then about
Herzl and Sigmund Freud, Heinrich
to literature, where
the revolt against bourgeois
1890, the movement
spread
the
took
less
form
of
its glories and
explorations of sexuality,
morality
political
turn
In
the
in
artists
its pain.
broke away from their elders in the
1897
plastic
K?nstlerhaus and founded the Secession. Klimt served as its first president and
were two veterans from the
Spiritus rector, but its ideologists
political and literary
Hermann
Bahr
Max
and
Both men had been Wagnerians
Burckhard.
Jungen,
as
both were connected with the theater?Bahr
and Nietzscheans,
playwright

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32

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

as director
of the Burgtheater
since
1890. In the
title
Ver
Sacrum
the
movement's
(the
very
periodical,
proclaiming
war on the desiccated culture
two
the
declared
intent),
regenerative
spokesmen
of the fathers. It was in its pages that Adolf Loos first attacked Ringstrasse
as a Potemkin City.
Vienna
a veritable
In the first issue of Ver Sacrum, Klimt displayed
sunburst of
and critic,
Secession's

Burckhard

two-dimensional
stylistic experiments:
colophons,
drawings,
pencil sketches,
cartoons.
dissolution
and new growth were proclaimed here.
Berth
type design,
of his rich repertoire of visual materials
Klimt's
inventive handling
freely
and formal experimentation
reminds one of the ironic motivic
transformations
not yet attempt a
Klimt
of Mahler's
First Symphony,
did
though
comparably
structured form. Like Mahler when he used Fr?re Jacques as a dirge, Klimt broke
of familiar images and the coherence
of traditional
up the fixed references
new
to
iconic
in a kind of
old
associations,
symbols
assigning
meanings,
as
in
contradiction
mode
which
metamorphic
logical
appeared
organic truth.
The critical idea that things are not what they seem he conveyed not only by
fracturing the systems of signs, but also by rapid shifts in style, akin toMahler's
texture
in favor of ever-transforming
of a single orchestral
abandonment
be
it
instrumental groupings.
noted, played no role in Klimt; hence
Populism,
to convey his own values. His
folk
he did not, likeMahler,
employ
iconography
was
culture
aesthetic and psychological.
of
the
regnant
exclusively
critique
Even to proclaim his break from it he used its own classical iconography.
a poster
For the first Secession
the
show, Klimt provided
proclaiming
as
of
vehicle
the
He
his
who
the
chose
slew
revolt.
Theseus,
myth
generational
to liberate the youth of Athens
brutal Minotaur
(Plate II). We should observe
that Klimt presented
the theme not directly, but?as
befitting his commitment
to Austria's powerful
tradition of theatre?in
the form of a dramatic scene on
drama. Athena, wise virgin
the stage, as though itwere Act I in the Secessionist
to stand before
protectrix of the polis, had been chosen by the Austrian Liberals
the new Parliament as a symbol of a rational polity. Klimt appropriated her now
to sponsor the liberation of the arts by the young. From politics to culture as the
scene of action: that is how the journey ran.
of
with
his
ideational
representation
changed
technique
in the Museum
In his first Athena,
the
spandrel,
goddess had
in
is
the
she
two-dimensional?Klimt's
Now,
poster,
body,
substantiality.
newfound way of stating an abstraction. She sponsors a dramatic idea; since it is
on the stage.
not yet realized, he treats it as disembodied,
allegorical,
in 1898 shows Klimt's growth in the subversive
A major painting of Athena
mode
of
the
(Plate III). To understand
it, one must
metamorphic
exploitation
include another female figure whom Klimt had devised as a symbol of his
to a truth for "modern" man: Nuda veritas. She began in a two
commitment
for Hermann
dimensional
Bahr, Klimt produced
drawing for Ver Sacrum. Then,
amolded,
emblematic
of
his
of
artistic
version
her,
explorations of erotic
fleshly
life. In the final painting of Athena, the destiny of Nuda veritas converged with
that of the goddess. Athena herself, far from the simple solidity of her persona
or from the two-dimensional
in the Kunsthistorisches
abstraction of
Museum,
now
with
is
the Theseus
but
molded,
poster,
enigmatic
vaguely
impassive
force. But more has changed than the character of Athena: the traditional Nike,
Klimt's

commitment.

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SOCIAL

EXPERIENCE

AND

ARTISTIC

EVOLUTION

33

is no longer in Athena's hand. In her place stands Nuda veritas,


winged victory,
to modern man. But Nuda veritas too has changed. Once a
her
mirror
holding
two-dimensional
waif, she is now the sexy woman of the Bahr version, with hair
of flaming red. Here we have a crucial turning point in the emergence of a new
the ancient
in a truly
distorted
culture from an old. Klimt
iconography
recent
of
Austria's
subversive
Athena,
way:
goddess,
symbol
virgin
now holds on her orb the sexy
and
of
constitutional
wisdom,
ordering
polis
thus embarked
of modern man. Klimt
both on the
bearer of the mirror
of art.
of inherited symbols and the desublimation
transformation
In the same year, 1898, Klimt also entered into the world of ideas in which
Mahler already moved. For the music room of Nicolaus Dumba, Klimt painted
a
in two sharply contrasting
the function of music
pair of panels representing
at
and
the
is
historical
Schubert
social; the other Music, showing
Piano,
ways: one,
a kithara, is mythic
a Greek
In these panels
with
and
psychological.
priestess
confront
each
other across
and Dionysian
Biedermeier
cheerfulness
inquietude
the room. The Schubert panel (Plate IV) represents Hausmusik, music as the
scene is
aesthetic crown of a social existence both ordered and secure. The
softens the outlines of the figures to blend
bathed in warm candlelight, which
In time and formal composition,
it is a historical
them into social harmony.
in
of
Klimt's
the line
Burgtheater
ceiling paintings. But
quite
genre-painting,
now the clear substantiality
of those earlier works, with
their positivistic
to re-create
wie es eigentlich gewesen,
has been
commitment
realistically
impressionistic
techniques to his service, Klimt
sedulously expunged. Adapting
evocation. He paints us a
substitutes
for historical
reconstruction,
nostalgic
an
innocent, comforting Hauskunst,
lovely dream, glowing but insubstantial, of
an art that served a comfortable
is reminded of Schubert's own
society. One
in which
the poet offered thanks to his holde Kunst for
song, An die Musik,
a better world."
him
into
Like many
other of his bourgeois
"transporting
as the
the
once-hated
Klimt
recalled
age of Metternich
contemporaries,
same
It
Lost.
is
Biedermeier
Paradise
the
of
Schubert?a
age
gracious-simple
world that Mahler recaptured in the more deliberately
folkish, less elitist utopia
or
of the Fourth Symphony;
of the cheery, angelic chorus in the final movement
and in the very
in the light dances of both the Third and Fourth symphonies;
terms that he uses in the score to instruct the interpreters, such as
Biedermeier
"behaglich," "gem?chlich" (cozily, comfortably).
How different in both idea and execution
isKlimt's other music panel (Plate
in Schubert, Klimt fills
V). In contrast with the dissolved space of impressionism
this canvas with archaic symbols realistically presented,
symbols as they would
survive as archeological
of art and the symbols to
remains. The conception
convey it bespeak Klimt's debt to two figures who play an important part in the
whole fin-desi?cle
and who brought Klimt
crisis of rationalism,
into Mahler's
and
Music
world:
Nietzsche.
appears in Klimt's
philosophical
Schopenhauer
as a
a
with
the
of
buried
muse,
power
tragic
singer,
painting
transforming
into
instincts
and mysterious
cosmic
The
power
harmony.
symbols
her are those that Nietzsche
used in The Birth of Tragedy: the
accompanying
instrument
is Apollo's?a
of her song
kithara; but the materials
songstress's
seem to be Dionysus's.
would
On the hard stone tomb behind her are two
one is Silenus,
the companion of Dionysus
whom Nietzsche
called "a
figures:

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34

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

of nature" and "companion of the sufferings


symbol of the sexual omnipotence
of the god." The other figure is the Sphinx, child-eating mother,
embodiment
of the metamorphic
continuum of animal and man, of terror and female beauty.
Silenus and Sphinx thus seem to represent the buried instinctual forces that the
necromancer will summon
in song from the tomb of time. Thus,
Apollonian
over
the
historical
lost
stand the
against
gently glowing
paradise of Schubert
to
art
access
of
has
which
instinctual
archetypal
symbols
energies,
mysterious
stone
as
the
lid
of
civilization's
coffer.
For
for
in
Mahler
Klimt,
through
heavy
the Third

the great god Pan appears paired with


Symphony,
in a strange dialectic
and
of daemonic
composure
simplicity
naivete.
historical-utopian

Biedermeier
vitalism
and

///
as a
While Mahler has come to be understood
philosophic musician, Klimt is
as the
sensuous
of
the
life. Klimt's more
still generally
painter
regarded
a
wider
view.
"Gustav Klimt,"
held
however,
contemporaries,
comprehending
are at once a
wrote
the poet Peter Altenberg,
"you
painter of vision and a
an
modern
A
for ceiling
modern
commission
altogether
poet."
philosopher,
of
the
for
of Vienna
the
ceremonial
hall
newly completed University
paintings
an
to
the
vision
in the
Klimt
adumbrated
occasion
gave
present fully
philosophic
Dumba

music

room.

set a central
of the faculty and the Ministry
of Culture
in the spirit of traditional Enlightenment:
for the ceiling paintings
the
was
over
to
Klimt
Darkness.
produce allegorical representa
triumph of Light
and Jurisprudence.3
tions of three of the four faculties: Philosophy,
Medicine,
In Philosophy, Klimt shows himself to be still a child of a theatrical culture (Plate
to us as if we were viewing
it from the pit, as a
the world
VI). He presents
But
the
in
the
tradition.
where
theatrum mundi
Baroque
Baroque theatrum mundi
was clearly stratified into heaven, earth, and hell, now earth itself seems gone,
dissolved
into a fusion of the other two spheres. The tangled bodies of suffering
mankind drift slowly by, suspended aimless in a viscous void. Out of the cosmic
stars are far behind?a
murk?the
heavy,
sleepy sphinx looms all unseeing,
the face at the base of the
of atomized space. Only
herself but a condensation
a
conscious
in
existence
mind. Das Wissen,
its
the
of
luminosity
picture suggests
as the
in
this
is
of
like a
the rays
the footlights,
placed
figure,
catalogue calls
to
cue
as
into the cosmic
turned around,
us, the audience,
prompter
though
The

authorities

theme

drama.

asWill,
as
World
vision of the universe here is Schopenhauer's?the
blind energy in an endless round of meaningless
love, and death.
parturiency,
in 1895-96 a similar vision of the
In his Third Symphony,
Mahler developed
as conceived
vitalism. But Mahler
retained a
universe
by Schopenhauerian
cosmos
cosmos
as a Baroque hierarchy of being, while Klimt's
still
organized
was amorphous. Where painter and musician
converge is in the crucial figure of
it is das Wissen; for Mahler,
it is the
the interpreter of the cosmos. For Klimt,
who sings Zarathu
of the Third Symphony,
soloist in the fourth movement
stra's dark, rhapsodic "Drunken Song of Midnight."4
Indeed, Mahler's magnifi
can
of Klimt's Philosophy
cent setting of Nietzsche's
viewer
afford
the
song
Klimt's

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!J5

S 5 ^
15 S?<i

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Plate IL Theseus, poster for

the First Secession Exhibition,

iSgj.

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Plate III. Pallas Athena,

?HgH.

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s
?

fi

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3C

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Plate VI. Philosophy,

igoo.

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Plate VIL Jurisprudence,

i?oyy.

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?5

5?

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SOCIAL

EXPERIENCE

AND

ARTISTIC

EVOLUTION

43

another kind of access to that intellectual generation's painfully psychologized


view that at once affirms desire (Lust) and suffers the deathly
world view?a
of the boundaries between ego and world that desire decrees. It is a
dissolution
cosmic vision utterly subversive of the liberal-rationalist world view:
Oh

care!

Take

man,

What

does the deep midnight

I was

asleep?
a
deep

From

The world

know:

had

known.

than

agony:

the day
still

Desire?deeper

Woe

desire

wants

Aus

tiefem

Traum

bin

ich erwacht;

Lust?tiefer

noch

als Herzeleid;

Weh spricht: Vergeh!


Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit?
will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!

speaks: Go, die!

Wants

O Mensch! Gib acht:


Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
Ich schlief, ich schlief?
Die Welt ist tief,
Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihrWeh?

is its woe?

Deep

But

and

is deep,

than

Deeper

I woke

dream

declare?

eternity?

deep, deep eternity!

explication of his "Midnight Song" in the glowing finale of Thus


as
to elucidate Klimt's painting. Nietz
though written
Spoke Zarathustra reads
as the
sche calls the midnight
singer "this drunken poetess," who has become,
"overwakeful"
luminous upturned
(?berwach). Like Nietzsche's
eyes suggest,
more, desire itself
poetess, Klimt's Wissen ingests into dream the pain?and
a
"Do
affirm life in its mysterious
(Lust)?to
you
say
totality:
'yes' to
single
desire? Oh, my friends, then you say 'yes' to all pain." As in Klimt's floating
Nietzsche's

chain

of humankind,

"all

things

. . . are

interlinked,

entwined,

enamoured.

. . .

you shall love the world."


It was not thus that the faculty of the University
of Vienna
knew or loved
the world. With his sombre Nietzschean
vision, Klimt touched a nerve end in
the academic body. A group of faculty, led by the Positivist ethical philosopher
In the
Friedrich Jodl, launched a campaign for the rejection of Klimt's work.
ran
into
in
Klimt
another
he
when
1901,
quarter,
opposition
following year,
a
executed
in
offered his second University
similar
Medicine,
painting,
spirit.
itwas the New Right, the Christian anti-Semites, who led the campaign,
Now
bringing the issue into Parliament.
I cannot here trace the vicissitudes
of the so-called Deckengem?lde (ceiling
crisis.
Yet
its
framework
is
the social
painting)
important in understanding
factors that affected Klimt and the character of his art. Until that crisis, state
a solid
had provided for Klimt what opera had afforded Mahler:
commissions
for his livelihood and a major vehicle for his artistic ideas. The
foundation
state from 1897 on had shown particular
Austrian
for the new art
understanding
to
of the Secession,
its
artists
and
commissions
extending patronage
through
was
art
for
in
official
This
modernism
related
sympathy
teaching assignments.
to political
crisis. When
conflict completely
nationality
paralyzed Austria's
the so-called Bureaucratic Ministry
that had replaced parliamenta
constitution,
to outflank political
tensions by a two
(1900-1904)
ry government
sought
was
one
of
modernization.
Culture
economic
pronged
campaign
wing,
the
in
Minister-President
Koerber's
other,
program. Hence,
development
states rejected modernity
where most European
in art in their cultural policy,
state deliberately
the Austrian
it as a transcendent
espoused
cosmopolitan
to
national
divisions.5
counterweight
Thus

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44

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

on modern
art converted
the government's
Soon, however,
public attacks
a
were a
cultural asset into political liability. The University
paintings
hinge in
this change, and Klimt was its victim, as the government
began to temper its
the Minister
of Culture,
who had firmly
Thus
strategy to the opposition.
in 1900,
and his Philosophy against the protesting
defended Klimt
professors
to weaken when
on
New
the
carried
the
attack
into
Medicine
Right
began
Parliament.

His two responses?fight


reaction was both angry and wounded.
Klimt's
two
in
works
of art: his wrath,
in
and flight?found
major
expression
in
the
Beethoven
frieze.
so-called
his
withdrawal,
Together
they
Jurisprudence;
of
marked the end of Klimt's public and philosophic
phase and his development
a new abstract ornamental aesthetic for the private world of the cultivated elite,
to which he henceforth
confined himself.
In his third University
painting, Jurisprudence (Plate VII), Klimt unleashed
his full rage at his detractors. For the culture of liberalism, nothing was more
sketch for Jurisprudence,
in
sacred than the rule of law. In Klimt's preliminary
affirmation of the law through an
this unequivocal
1898, he had reflected
of crime with her
idealized figure of Justice about to slay the evil monster
in 1901 under the impact of the attacks
sword. In the final version, reconceived
our
to its victim.
on
sympathy from Justice
Philosophy and Medicine, Klimt shifts
to the submarine void where
the hollow-eyed
is consigned
The culprit-victim
furies of the law execute their hapless human prey. Far above him are the
and Law are
symbolic figures of Justice, Truth,
judges, small of head. The
and indifferent to, the suffering with which
decorative?remote
from,
purely
are associated. Finally,
is sexual, the
in this grim spectacle, the punishment
they
a watery world
a
in
male
victim
of
the
by
womb-shaped
polyp
consumption
not only his rage at
swirling with tentacular female hair. Klimt thus expressed
own
as
also
his
of
but
in
this
vision
Jurisprudence,
impotence,
public authority
it.
of
in
face
the
victim,
to this great work is the frieze that Klimt
The psychological
contrast-piece
also
Beethoven
in 1902 for the Secession's
executed
show, to which Mahler
contributed. Rarely have artists engaged in such a collective act of narcissism as
an artist, the
where
in this exhibition,
did the Secessionists
they celebrated
as an
the
another
Beethoven,
artist,
composer
celebrating
sculptor Klinger,
art.
a great
with
of
Klimt's
frieze
used
the
power
commanding
eagle
Olympian
to present man's quest for
of Beethoven's Ninth
the last movement
Symphony
over "the hostile forces" is achieved by the souls' flying
happiness. A victory
"the
over them, arriving finally at a Utopian heaven of art (Plate VIII). There,
surcease in poesy."6 In contrast to the molded
its
finds
for
happiness
longing
once
these are two-dimensional
realism of the lower figures in Jurisprudence,
Nuda
as
of
and
that
Theseus
in
Secession
the
is,
more,
veritas;
drawings
early
The
for Klimt.
to the realm of ideality, not reality,
panel
they belong
in the Ode toJoy: Dieser Kuss der ganzen Welt. But
in Schiller's words
culminates
has stripped the kiss of the revolutionary
import with which Schiller and
as
of man. He presents instead
the
of
it
brotherhood
invested
Beethoven
symbol
a
is no
bower.
in
lovers
kiss
of
erotic fulfillment?a
Ideality
womb-shaped
and
but
as for Schiller and Beethoven,
social,
psychological.
personal
longer,

Klimt

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SOCIAL

EXPERIENCE

AND

ARTISTIC

EVOLUTION

45

a narcissistic
a sexual
power proclaims
sublimating
fantasy of potency,
m
to
the
dread
defeat
recorded
offset
consummation,
Jurisprudence.
After the crisis years, Klimt suspended his psychological
and
exploration
to be swept into the
current that carried the
allowed himself
applied-arts
in its second phase. For four years Klimt exhibited no
Secession movement

Art's

he displayed his works again in Kunstschau 1908, he showed


paintings. When
how far the symbolic formalism of the Beethoven
frieze had become his basic
idiom. Adapting Byzantine
and the gemlike,
elementalism,
two-dimensionality,
forms of art deco to portraiture,
he painted his wealthy
crystalline
subjects
stylized settings, from which organic forms were
virtually encased in opulent,
almost hermetically
excluded. His fantasized interiors created an ideal sybaritic
in which only the most abstract symbolism
environment
remained to allude to
the netherworld
of instinct that he had once rendered in candid
sensuosity. The
of
and
malaise
thus
became the
painter
psychological
exploration
metaphysical
the
of
life
removed
and
insulated
from the
beautiful,
painter
upper-class
common
lot in a jeweled and geometrized milieu.
IV
no less than for Klimt,
the years 1900 and 1901 were years of
encounter
traumatic
with
and consequent
artistic
trial,
personal
society,
reorientation. The differences between
the two artists became clearer
through
their responses, both psychological
to somewhat similar
and aesthetic,
experi
ences of
from the public
rejection and hostility that led both men to withdraw
For Mahler

realm.

a
Mahler
occupied
high official post, director of the Court
most
the
in the Austrian
art world.
Yet
Opera,
perhaps
exposed position
Mahler enjoyed, as Klimt did not, almost
from
his political
support
unwavering
external problem lay, until the end of
superiors for almost a decade. Mahler's
his directorship
in 1907, not with his bureaucratic
superiors, but with his
the
musicians,
critics, and the public.
Scholars have long identified the summer of 1901 as a
hinge in Mahler's
as a composer. That year he came to his new summer house on the
development
Unlike

Klimt,

W?rthersee

he produced an
seriously exhausted. Yet during July and August
of
series
his
last
Wunderhorn
astonishing
compositions:
song, seven R?ckert
three
of
the
and
movement
the
scherzo
of the
Kindertotenlieder),
songs (including
Fifth Symphony.
contrasts
The
of
contained
in
these
works
is
span
truly
folk song versus self-conscious,
romantic poetry; social concerns
breathtaking:
versus
versus
depth-psychological
impulses; verbal ideas as musical material
unassisted
music
versus
monumental
confes
"pure"
by program;
symphony
sional song. In these
elements of Mahler's
polarities
lay the heterogeneous
past
and present that he was in the process of
sorting and reordering in his art as the
new century
began.
Behind the reshuffling of Mahler's
ideas as composer lay a crisis in his career
as conductor.
to be sure, he had achieved a solid
In the Opera,
position by 1900,
the changes in the company necessary
to realize his
successfully
introducing
Public and critics gave Mahler
exacting standards of ensemble performance.

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46

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

to fortify his ego against the


sufficient
an opera director. It was
inevitably attend the work of
elicited a degree
that Mahler
Philharmonic
Vienna
In this
him to the depths of his being.
wounded
interests as composer converged with his conceptions
recognition

that
negative
judgments
rather as conductor of the
of hostile

criticism

that

ideas and
role, Mahler's
as
interpreter?especially
so in his
of his culture-hero Beethoven. As in his compositions,
interpretations,
he strove for purity and luminosity in every detail, but he often achieved this, in
at the
to a different performing
the view of listeners accustomed
practice,
was
a
to Mahler
clear etching of the
expense of the main lines of work. What
to his listeners more
a
seemed
individual elements that constituted
composition
French
critic
An
otherwise
of the whole.
like fragmentation
friendly
in every note; everything
ismade
"A purpose is discovered
1900:
in
complained
that the basic design
structure is invested with so much complexity
explicit; the
of others' works, as in his own
in his interpretations
is destroyed."7 Moreover,
the emotional
widened
Mahler
range of music,
drastically
composing,
on audience
alike. He
transformed
and musicians
demands
the
increasing
new instrumental
and
with experimentation,
traditions
rescoring,
performing
of the composer, but his
insisted that he was the representative
balance. Mahler
truth made it impossible for the orchestra to
restless search for the composer's
even to his own achieved interpretation.
pin him down
his first significant opposition when he shocked the
As Klimt encountered
so Mahler
the
image of Philosophy,
deeply established
academy by recasting
the
he
when
serious
elicited
challenged
accepted reading of that
antagonism
the protesting professors
most defined of all musical heroes, Beethoven. What
of the
musicians
to
orchestral
were
resistant
of the University
Klimt,
nineteenth
of
to
were
defenders
Mahler:
Philharmonic
century
professional
modes of thought and feeling in their cultural domains. Mahler,
however, was
of the
on his opponents
than Klimt. As members
more directly dependent
had
were
he
since
been
under
his
the
musicians
command,
Opera orchestra,
a free
as members
of the Philharmonic,
But
the
Court.
director
by
appointed
and thus held collective
their conductor,
association,
they had elected Mahler
Mahler
feel the sting of their
let
them
over
The
bolder
him.
among
authority
concert of 1898 on.
Beethoven
his
first
from
increasingly
disapprobation
between
music was the most constant center of controversy
Beethoven's
a
to
was
both
hero
Beethoven
because
his
and
Mahler
critics, precisely
parties.
to restore to
as necessary
in instrumentation
Mahler
justified his alterations
that had been
the purity of line and textural balance
works
Beethoven's
to
the
since
in
instruments
day, and
composer's
by the changes
destroyed
on
attack
halls.
modern
The
of
overcome
the blurring acoustical qualities
large
scores reached its climax over a performance
of Beethoven's
his "overpainting"
a
1900. Mahler
in February
of the Ninth
pamphlet
produced
Symphony
one
Beethoven's
as devoted to
"sole aim"?"to
his
pursue
procedures
defending
will down to its minutest manifestations."8
conservative
in the orchestra and the attacks of musically
To disaffection
as
in
the case of
had
also joined their voices, just
critics, the anti-Semites
they
In
was
his
second
and defiant.
determined
Klimt.
Mahler's
response
own
season
his
First
of 1900, he included
Philharmonic
program of the Winter
one
so
was
of
the
Mahler's
by
challenged
very right to do
Symphony.

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SOCIAL

EXPERIENCE

AND

ARTISTIC

EVOLUTION

47

had originally
committee. Mahler
of the Philharmonic
orchestra's members
the Titan; it celebrated the struggle, suffering, and
called his First Symphony
he boldly placed it on the Philharmonic
defeat of the heroic individual. Now
same theme:
two
works
classic
between
dealing with roughly the
program
Creatures of Prometheus and Schumann's Manfred overture. Prome
Beethoven's
was
theus too was a Titan, creator of man and culture-former;
Byron's Manfred
If Mahler had willed
world.
figure who heroically defied the spirit
not have devised a stronger means to bring it
he
could
and
rejection,
suffering
It was
with these sovereign composers.
upon himself than this self-identification
in
enemies
the same kind of defiance that Klimt had offered his University
a Faustian

Jurisprudence.
In the wake

of the tumultuous
by critics
reception of his First Symphony
seems to have lost his sense of proportion.
In a bitter speech
but with
he charged
them not only with
hostility,
in his pride, but a
"I did not act like aman offended and wounded
faithlessness.
A
he said in unconvincing
self-extenuation.9
general abandoned by his troops,"
soon
of
the
Philharmonic
the
traumatic
illness
grave
impact
compounded
in frustration
1, 1901, Mahler
resigned his conductorship
experience. On April
and defeat.
and public, Mahler
to his musicians,

V
of his intense crisis of rejection as conductor
and
the background
Against
summer retreat of 1901 the creative
composer, Mahler
generated during his
response that changed the ideational premises of his music and gave a new turn
not too much to say that he killed off, in the
to his artistic life. It is
perhaps
he then produced, what had given him his hope in humankind
compositions
both under
thus far: his faith in the folk and the child. Surely he reconsidered
the sign of withdrawal
and death.10 He wrote the last of his Wunderhorn songs,
blackest of them all. The drummer boy of the poem
"The Drummer
Boy"?the
and is going to the death that society has decreed.
has failed in his functions,
Like a child going to bed, he says "Good night" to all his comrades and to the
Titanic
clings to this stark song of execution of an
lovely outer world. Nothing
The
from which Mahler had drawn much
Knaben
Wunderhorn,
ordinary youth.
sustenance
for his first four symphonies
in the form of
earthy philosophic
concrete folk experience, was also going to its death with the drummer boy.
Friedrich R?ckert, a romantic
Mahler
turned from folk poetry to art poetry?to
accent
who spoke in the cultivated
of personal introspection and alienation from
state of mind. Nor did Mahler's Titan survive the
the world that suited Mahler's
is replaced by a chronic
songs, the Titan
change of spirit. In the R?ckert
sufferer, burdened by the heavy pain of life and death. The last of them, "Lost
to the World"
(Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen) poignantly,
yet coolly,
state
of the introverted one: he has died to the struggles of the
the
expresses
world where he had so long spent his substance, and lives now, resigned and
apart, in his heaven, his love, and his song.
of Dionysian
affirmation and Biedermeier
The combination
cheerfulness
that Mahler shared with Klimt in the 1890s, and had expressed in his Third and
to the darker vision of 1901. On
also gave way
Fourth
the
symphonies,

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48

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

at the heart
Zarathustra
side, in the "Midnight Song" of Nietzsche's
Dionysian
of the Third Symphony, Mahler had affirmed desire and the will to life, even in
& new
the highest awareness of pain and death. In Um Mitternacht,
midnight
series of 1901, the artist, suddenly becoming
conscious of
song in the R?ckert
his own mortality,
draws back from life.
Mahler's
identification of hope for mankind with the image of the child and
the folk had reached its brightest, most buoyant expression
in the Biedermeier
with
which
he
crowned
the
Fourth
In the Kindertoten
child-utopia
Symphony.
lieder, he dealt a stunning blow to the idea of the child as light of the world,
placing it too under the shadow of death. Folk faith and child hope together lost
art. Not only in his choice of texts, in his shift away from
their place inMahler's
verse
to
folk
literary poetry, did he seem to bid farewell to his populist cultural
too. In the scherzo of his Fifth, also written
but in his music,
in
of 1901, Mahler
folk
with
dance
virtually destroys
along
popular
as
by using them
symbols of fragile, false pleasure,
bourgeois waltz music
forces of chaos and existential Angst. The
break powerful
through which
eccentric reality to which he assigns the dances isNietzschean,
but
fragmented,
it with neither his former Titanic
the composer
confronts
resistance nor his
affirmation.11 Mahler
Zarathustrian
almost contemptuously,
that
prophesied,
to
this scherzo movement
would
be
both
inaccessible
musicians
and
long
audience. Conductors
would "make nonsense of it," and as for the public?"O
heavens!?what
kind of a face will they make of this chaos that is forever giving
in the next moment
birth to a new world, which
collapses, to these primordial
to
to these dancing stars."12
this
sea,
world-sounds,
roaring, howling,
tossing
as
In a worldly
thus
conceived
increasingly
reality
painfully nonhomoge
no
his
in
solace
but in transcendent,
neous, Mahler
sought
longer
folk-utopias,
too
in
This
the Fifth Sympho
found
peace.
metaphysical
powerful expression
woven
in
its
around
the
of the R?ckert
theme
movement,
ny,
mystical
adagietto
to
"Lost
the
World."
As
Mahler's
social
his
song,
experience
deepened
his
introversion
and
fed
each
upon
pessimism,
psychological
religious impulse
ideas.
other, generating powerful new musical
commitment,
the summer

VI
joined Klimt and the Secession artists in their celebration of
on Beetho
centered his contribution
Like Klimt, Mahler
toJoy. Like Klimt,
Ode
he
and
Schiller's
ignored the
Symphony

In 1902 Mahler

Beethoven.

Klinger's
ven's Ninth

Promethean
emphasis
engagement with that theme.

Titanic

that marked

Klinger's

statue,

despite

his

long

an erotic turn,
had given his interpretation of the Ninth
transmuting
into a kiss of erotic fulfillment. Such was
kiss of universal brotherhood
his utopia, such his refuge from the trials through which he had passed in the
that
of the elements
crisis. It also contained?provocatively?one
University
most shocked Klimt's antagonists:
sexual openness.
in a way similarly consistent
Mahler made his quite different contribution
with his own recent experience. He too ignored his critics' sensibilities where he
He reduced a portion of the
most had nettled them: rearranging Beethoven.
for a wind ensemble. But the portion he selected was
Ninth's
choral movement
not any more Schiller's clarion call to universal brotherhood
that had so stirred
Klimt

Schiller's

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SOCIAL

EXPERIENCE

AND

ARTISTIC

EVOLUTION

liberal soul than was Klimt's.


the European
Instead, Mahler
of the Creator, who must
reminder to the dejected millions
firmament above:

49

chose Schiller's
be there in the

Ihr st?rzt nieder, Millionen?


Ahnest du den Sch?pfer, Welt?
Such ihn ?berm Sternenzelt!
?ber

Sternen

mu?

er wohnen.

recent shift from a


Such a selection was entirely consistent with Mahler's
a
scene
of
of
realization
human
and
terrestrial
ideality to transcendental
populist
one. Consistent
too with Mahler's mood at the time was his silencing of the
had given this awesome portion of Schiller's
human voices to which Beethoven
tone.
to
in
the
wordless
let
winds
poem,
speak
to
in 1907, while Klimt
his
the
In the coming years,
end of
directorship
new
vigor to
painted in seclusion for his small, elite circle, Mahler returned with
scene
at
in
the Opera.
His
the wider
partner
through his work
public
was the
of
his
the
visual
Alfred
side
Roller,
transforming
opera-theater
designer
new
a friend and close collaborator of Klimt
in the Secession.
In memorable
of Tristan und Isolde, Fidelio, and Don Giovanni, Roller and Mahler
in
succeeded
unified,
stagecraft.
they
Together
simplified
most prestigious
arts.
of
and
traditional
Austria's
theatrical
the
modernizing
"All modern art," Mahler
said in a press statement, "must serve the stage. I did
not
is the collaboration
of all the arts.
What matters
modern
Secession.
art,
say
is no future in the old standard cliches; art must extend to costumes,
There
that can revitalize a work of art."13 In that formula was
props, everything
contained not only the regeneration of the old, but also a legitimated realm of
action for the new.
productions
a
created

to those
In the original works that expressed ideas and feelings unacceptable
in
and
that
held
cultural
old
Mahler
and
Klimt
new,
Austria,
forces,
power
sustained defeats that compelled
each to rethink and recast the premises and
a
purposes of his creative work. Both maintained
continuing fidelity to theatre,
the sovereign art that each had served in his fledgling years. In his last years at
the Opera, Mahler knew how to make of the ancient art the carrier of the new
a living example of the regenerative virtue of modernity
as well
spirit, offering
as the contemporary
it was that he
value of a traditional
inheritance. Thus
became the revered and idolized cultural figure to the avant-garde
intelligentsia
itwas that the nonverbal Klimt, who in his way had shared so
of Vienna. Thus
as artist, found the mot
much of Mahler's
experience
juste truly suited to the
when he said, "Vorbei."
faithful gathered at the Westbahnhof
References
An earlier

in the proceedings
version of this paper appeared
of the Gustav Mahler
Colloquium,
the Oesterreichische
Gesellschaft
fur musik,
in its Beitr?ge, 1979-81.
1979, published
by its sponsor,
A more detailed version of this analysis of Klimt's
will be found inmy book Fin
development
de-si?cle Vienna (New York: Knopf,
5.
1980), chapter
2Letter to Fritz Lohr, January
1, 1885. Gustav Mahler,
Briefe, edited by Alma Maria Mahler
Paul Zsolnay,
(Berlin, Vienna,
1925) p. 34.
Leipzig:
was to execute
3His partner,
Franz Matsch,
and the central
the
Theology
panel representing
of Light over Darkness.
Triumph
4Also sprach Zarathustra,
"Das andere Tanzlied."
part 3, chapter entitled

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

50

CARL

E.

SCHORSKE

Fin-de-si?cle Vienna, pp. 238-44.


5Cf. Schorske,
6"Die Sehnsucht
nach dem Gl?ck
findet
ihre Stillung
in der Poesie."
in Kurt Blaukopf,
Gustav Mahler
(New York, Washington:
1973), p. 158.
7Quoted
the essentials
of Mahler's
8Cited in ibid., p. 155. Blaukopf
discusses
of the
role as conductor
149-58. More
is available
in Henri-Louis
Vienna
La Grange,
detail
Mahler
Philharmonic,
pp.
28-31 passim.
(Garden City, N.Y.:
1973), chapters
Doubleday,
in La Grange, Mahler,
9Quoted
p. 603.
and other dimensions
of Mahler's
work
in the summer of 1901, see the
H)On the psychological
um Mitternacht,"
and sensitive
"Gustav Mahler
International
penetrating
analysis of Stuart Feder,
Review of Psychoanalysis
7 (1980); 11-26
see Vladimir
"For a social analysis of Mahler's
work that uses this scherzo as its pivotal center,
Gustav Mahler und seine Umwelt
(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
1978).
Karbusicky,
Buchgesellschaft,
12Quoted in ibid., p. 1.
,3Blaukopf,
Plate

Plates

2, 3, 4,

p.

reproduced

174

by courtesy

of Kunsthistorisches

5, 6, 7, and 8 reproduced

by courtesy

Museum,
of Galerie

Vienna.
Welz,

Salzburg.

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions