In June/July 1921 Arnold Schönberg was the victim of anti-Semitic persecution in the Salzburg holiday resort Mattsee, where the district authorities had issued local landlords with an notice “containing the request to keep Mattsee ‘free of Jews’ this year, as in the previous year” (Salzburger Chronik, July 5, 1921).

The “Mattsee incident” in the summer of 1921 is generally regarded as the composer’s pivotal anti-Semitic experience and has been interpreted by researchers as the event that triggered his focus on his Jewish origins. The “expulsion” facing Schönberg, as “perhaps one of the first Jews in Central Europe”, – later on he chose the euphemistic title “a pleasant experience in the Salzkammergut” to describe the episode (in a letter to Stephen S. Wise on May 12, 1934) – is without doubt a peripeteia in Schönberg’s biography and in his self-conception as a Jew and a native of Vienna, who had converted to Protestantism in 1898 in the city of his birth and like many Jews of his generation had believed that assimilation was a vision within his grasp. (In July 1933 he officially converted back to Judaism while in Paris.)

As a result of the anti-Semitic activity in Mattsee, Schönberg saw himself forced to cut short his visit and abandon his work and relaxation. He left on July 13, 1921. Two days before he traveled to Traunkirchen, he agreed to sign an autograph for a music fan from Vienna who had attended a performance of the Gurre-Lieder at the Vienna State Opera the previous year, which Schönberg had conducted. He wrote a musical quotation from the great cantata on a card.

The musical quotation from Part I of the Gurre-Lieder, which has been recently purchased by the Center’s Archive, is dated “Mattsee 11. VII. 1921”. Waldemar’s words: “Es ist so still in mir, so seltsam stille”, which are introduced by the notated quotation, may – as a motto for internalization – allegorically represent an era that was to end in immeasurable loudness. It was at the latest during these days in July that Schönberg anticipated the onset of this loudness, with conscious vigilance.

Therese Muxeneder

Further reading

Siegfried Hetz (ed.), Wo Dollfuß baden ging. Mattsee erinnert sich: Schönberg, Seyß-Inquart, Stephanskrone. Salzburg: Pustet 2018

Therese Muxeneder: Arnold Schönbergs Konfrontationen mit Antisemitismus (III), in: Eike Feß / Therese Muxeneder (eds.), Journal of the Arnold Schönberg Center 16/2019. Vienna: Arnold Schönberg Center 2019 (to be published in October 2019)

Image: Score quotation from “Gurre-Lieder”, 1921 © Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades