Vienna on the Verge (1890-1918)

November 4-5, 2016

Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

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Under a well-meaning but conflict-ridden imperial government, a deep fault line had emerged in Central Europe’s capital by the end of the 19th century. The public life of Vienna—its demographics and politics—had changed profoundly, and its cultural life—architecture, music, visual arts, and literature—both reflected and contributed to the upheaval. By 1900, the clash of polarities between tradition and the new had transformed Vienna from a proud and open metropolis to a city psychically troubled. Humanities West explores the modernist side of Vienna’s split personality, when a conflicted Vienna gave birth to emergent modernism and some of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures.

“Vienna, that scrollworked bastion, smoldered with more demons of the future than the most forward-minded cities of the West.” Frederick Morton, A Nervous Splendor

Friday, November 4, 2016, 7:30 to 9:30 pm.

Late Imperial Vienna: A metropolis of contrasts and conflicts / Gary Cohen (History, U Minnesota Twin Cities). We see Vienna around 1900 as a major cradle of twentieth-century modernist Western culture. Other major cities also gave birth to modernist breakthroughs, but Vienna produced a particularly rich concentration of innovators in psychology, philosophy, economics, architecture, art, music, and literature. The stark contrasts and conflicts of life in Vienna 1900 gave impetus to modernist innovations. The city enjoyed a rich cultural heritage, and its two million residents came from all over the multinational Habsburg Empire. The belated development of modern finance, industry, and commerce left small farmers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers reeling. The old pillars of Austrian society—the Habsburg dynasty, the aristocracy, and the Catholic Church—remained, but the democratizing forces of socialism, populist radical nationalism, and Christian Social politics challenged them. Many enjoyed the comforts of Viennese cafes and walks in the Vienna woods, but reports of labor protests, nationalist demonstrations, and mayhem in parliament filled the newspapers long before the catastrophe of World War I.

Lecture/Performance: City of Musics: The Twilight of Tonality / Bruce Lamott (Philharmonia Baroque). Vienna, the City of Music, became a City of Musics when the classicism of Brahms, the futurism of Wagner, the expressionism of an audacious new generation, and the nostalgia of operetta collided at the end of the 19th century. Viennese audiences could suit their taste with an unprecedented variety of musical styles, but often defended their choices with spirited and sometimes amusing fervor. Featuring chamber music by Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Anton Webern, and Oscar Straus, with Helene Zindarsian (soprano), Robert Howard (cello), Keisuke Nakagoshi (piano). 

Saturday, November 5, 2016, 10:00 am to noon and 1:30 – 4:00 pm 

Literary Modernism in Austria / David Luft (Humanities, Oregon State U). The discussion of Vienna 1900 has been powerfully shaped by Carl Schorske’s analysis of the liberal era in Vienna and by his strong interests in music and the visual arts, as well as psychoanalysis. Professor Luft shifts the emphasis away from the aestheticism and decadence of the fin-de-siècle to the early 20th century, especially “the generation of 1905.” He underscores the powerful role of literary modernism in this generation and points to the broader context of Viennese intellectual life in Austria, positing an ethical vision of literature and its possibilities for transforming modern life. He emphasizes the roles of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in Austrian intellectual life after 1900—not only for the novelists, but for Wittgenstein and Freud as well. The essayists and novelists of early twentieth-century Austria represent a highpoint of the German language and one of the great moments of world literature.

Change from the Margins: Women, Jews, and Everyday Life in fin-de-siècle Vienna / Lisa Silverman (History, U of Wisconsin Milwaukee). Although best known for its world-renowned innovations in music, art, science, literature, fin de siècle Vienna was also shaped by the everyday lives of those who developed and sustained its social, cultural, and intellectual currents. Professor Silverman examines the ways in which cultural motifs shaped how Austrians articulated their responses to society’s changing conditions. Often, those without power, including women and Jews, successfully adapted to or resisted on a daily basis the rapidly changing ideologies around them. An examination of their experiences reveals that everyday life can be a fascinating and important basis for understanding social change.

Passion, Obsession and Betrayal: The Art of Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoshka / Kayleen Asbo (Psychology and Music, SF Conservatory of Music). While on the surface the works of the two most scandalous painters of fin-de-siècle Vienna could not be more different in technique and style, Symbolist Gustav Klimt and Expressionist Oskar Kokoshka both were driven to depict Eros and Tod (death), the twin drives that Freud was to famously posit as the basis for civilization. Both men also shared an obsessive fascination with Alma Mahler, who became the muse for their creations as well as the cause of their most infamous behavior. From the glittering mosaics of golden women to the raw and blistering Bride of the Wind, the intensely erotic portraits of the feminine by both artists were laced with symbols of death, doom and despair.

The Question of Art in Viennese Architecture / Mitchell Schwarzer (California College of the Arts). At the turn of the twentieth century, several Viennese architects proclaimed that the status of art within architecture had reached a point of crisis. Among them, Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, and Adolf Loos agreed that the transformations of industrial culture—rail transportation, factory production, urban commerce, and middle-class social dynamics—demanded artistic responses from architects that went far beyond the surfacing of buildings in costumes of historical ornament. But how could art’s role in building design be reinvented? This lecture explores three astonishingly different solutions to this question: Wagner’s aim to develop ornamental responses in parallel with iron technology; Hoffmann’s proposal to harmonize aesthetically all aspects of building and life; and, finally, Loos’s manifesto to banish art from architecture.

Panel Discussion. Q&A with the presenters

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Presenters & Resources


kayleen smallKayleen Asbo has multidisciplinary expertise as a professor of music and psychology at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, pre-concert lecturer for the San Francisco Opera and the Santa Rosa Symphony, and lecturer at Dominican University and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley on multidisciplinary courses focused on the integration of psychology, myth, cultural history, music and art. She has a PhD in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute, an MA in Psychology and the Expressive Arts from Meridian University, and a Masters of Music from San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Dr. Asbo performs and lectures widely and conducts art tours across the Bay Area and in Europe.

GCohenGary B. Cohen (PhD Princeton) is Professor of History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where he has served as director of the Center for Austrian Studies, executive editor of The Austrian History Yearbook, and Chair of History. His published research includes The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861-1914 (1981, 2006) and Education and Middle-Class Society in Imperial Austria, 1848-1918 (1996), five co-edited volumes, and many articles and book chapters. His scholarship has earned recognition from the American Philosophical Society, American Council of Learned Societies, the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), US Department of Education, and NEH. He has served as executive secretary of the Society for Austrian and Habsburg History and president of the Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association. The Republic of Austria has awarded him its Ehrenkreuz (cross of honor) for Science and Arts, first class, and he is an elected member of the Collegium Carolinum in Munich and a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. 

howardA native of Atlanta, GA, Robert Howard (cello) began studying cello at age 12. A graduate of Rice University and San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he has studied and performed at festivals such as Tanglewood, Spoleto, Verbier, the Accademia Chigiana, and the Sandor Vegh Academy in Prague. Robert won first prize in the Rome Festival Competition and has received grants from the Maggini and Virtu Foundations. Robert has performed in the Festival Internacional de Musica in Costa Rica, the Festival de Guadarama in Spain, and on the Mostly Mozart series in Lincoln Center. Locally, he has performed with American Bach Soloists, New Century Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque, and the San Francisco Symphony. A frequent guest on many Bay Area chamber music series, Robert has also made concerto appearances with BARS Orchestra and Stanford Symphony. As a teacher, he has coached at San Francisco Conservatory, Stanford University, San Jose State University, and the San Diego Chamber Music Workshop.  

LamottBruce Lamott is director of the Philharmonia Chorale, professional chorus of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in 18th century music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. At San Francisco University High School, he has taught Western Civilization and conducted the chamber orchestra and choral ensembles for 35 years. In previous lives, he served for many years as choral director, harpsichordist, lecturer, and education director at the Carmel Bach Festival as well as conductor of the Sacramento Symphony Chorus. A graduate of Lewis and Clark College, Dr. Lamott received an M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford, researching Baroque keyboard improvisation. At the San Francisco Opera, he teaches harpsichord for the Merola program, gives preview lectures for the Opera Guild, and gives teacher training and talks before opera performances. He is married to Kip Cranna, dramaturg of the San Francisco Opera. 

Luft3929703496_d605546071_oDavid Luft (PhD, European History, Harvard) is one of two Horning Professors in the Humanities at Oregon State University. He is a modern intellectual and cultural historian who works primarily on Central European history, including Germany, Austria, and the Habsburg Monarchy. From 1972 to 2008 Luft taught European history and humanities at the University of California, San Diego. He has received many awards and fellowships, including a Fulbright Fellowship in Cultural Studies in Vienna in 2004-2005 and a Fulbright-Botstiber Fellowship to Vienna in 2014-2015, as well as a variety of teaching awards. Sixteen doctoral students have completed their dissertations with him in the past thirty years, primarily in German and Austrian history and intellectual history. He is a past president of the Austrian Studies Association, and his recent books include Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Austrian Idea: Essays and Address, 1906-1929 (2011) and Eros and Inwardness in Vienna: Weininger, Musil, Doderer (2003). He is currently writing a book on The Austrian Tradition in German Intellectual History.

zofo.nakagoshi.piano2_Keisuke Nakagoshi (piano) has performed to acclaim on prestigious concert stages across the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, He has received training from Emanuel Ax, Gilbert Kalish, Menahem Pressler, Paul Hersh – and enjoys collaborating with other accomplished musicians such as Lucy Shelton, Ian Swensen, Jodi Levitz, Gary Schocker, Lev Polyakin, and also conductors such as Alasdair Neale, Nicole Paiement, Michael Tilson Thomas and Herbert Blomstedt. Mr. Nakagoshi is Pianist-in-Residence at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the award winning Opera Parallele. Keisuke and Swiss pianist Eva-Maria Zimmermann formed ZOFO in 2009, a piano duet team commissioning and performing music for piano four hands and their first CD was nominated for Grammy award for best chamber music/small ensemble in 2013.

SchwarzerMitchell Schwarzer is an architectural and urban historian, and Professor of Visual Studies at California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland. He holds a PhD in the History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture from M.I.T. His books include Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area: History and Guide (2007); Zoomscape: Architecture in Motion and Media (2004); and German Architectural Theory and the Search for Modern Identity (1995). Schwarzer’s latest publications concern urban history, infrastructure, and technologies of visualization from photographs to the internet.

SilvermanLisa Silverman is Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is author of Becoming Austrians: Jews and Culture between the World Wars (Oxford University Press, 2012), co-author of Holocaust Representations in History: an Introduction, (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2015), and co-editor of Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City (Indiana University Press, 2014) and Interwar Vienna: Culture between Tradition and Modernity (Camden House, 2009). A specialist in modern European Jewish history, she also serves as Contributing Editor of the Leo Baeck Institute Year-Book for German-Jewish history. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University and holds a Masters Degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She has been awarded several academic fellowships, including terms at the International Center for Cultural Studies (IFK) in Vienna, Austria and at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.

helene zindarsianHelene Zindarsian (soprano) is admired for a voice that “goes straight to the heart of the listener”. A native San Franciscan, she made her professional debut as the soprano soloist in Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn with the San Francisco Ballet Company after being “discovered” in Italy during an impromptu performance in a Sienese palazzo. A frequent soloist with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Helene has been featured in Campra’s Requiem, Purcell’s Birthday Ode to Queen Mary, Rameau’s Grand Motet, Handel’s Samson, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Rosenmüller’s Magnificat, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Purcell’s Dioclesian and Cozzolani’s Dixit Dominus. Other recent highlights include the Marin Symphony where she appeared in Vaughan Williams’s Dona Nobis Pacem, Mozart’s Requiem, and is a much loved regular in the popular annual Candlelight Christmas concert series. Helene also performs with many other premier Bay Area ensembles including American Bach Soloists, Mark Morris Dance Group, Sanford Dole Ensemble, San Francisco Symphony Chorus, San Francisco Opera Chorus, and the Carmel Bach Festival Chorale. Helene is also becoming a favorite with audiences in Chicago, where she performed Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été with the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra, a group with whom she earned acclaim for her interpretation of Strauss’s Four Last Songs on a prior tour. Following these performances, Helene received a grant to produce her third solo album, “Janabar”, a collection of Armenian liturgical hymns. The project recently received its international debut in a solo concert presented by Filarmonica Laudamo in Messina, Italy, where she has been invited to give another solo concert during the 2016-2017 season.

Resource Materials

Some resources for Vienna on the Edge (1890-1918), November 4-5, 2016, San Francisco

Indispensible Reading:

Schorske, Carl E. Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1980; paperback, 1980).

Selected Resources:

Beller, Steven, ed., Rethinking Vienna 1900 (2001).

Cohen. Gary B. Education and Middle-Class Society in Imperial Austria, 1848-1918 (1996). (for advanced reading)

—. “Our Laws, Our Taxes, Our Administration: Citizenship in Imperial Austria,” in Shatterzone of Empires: Coexistence and Violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands, edited by Omer Bartov and Eric D. Weitz (2013), pp. 103-121.

Edwards, Selden. The Little Book: A Novel, 2008. (best-seller. Rock legend Wheeler Burden is transported from 1988 San Francisco to 1897 Vienna and mentored by Freud while hanging out in coffee houses.)

Johnston, William M. The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History, 1848-1938 (paperback, 1983).

Luft, David. Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Austrian Idea: Essays and Address, 1906-1929 (2011).

Eros and Inwardness in Vienna: Weininger, Musil, Doderer (2003). Available in Kindle Edition.

Morton, Frederic. A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (1979). Available in Kindle Edition.

—. Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914 (2014). Available in Kindle Edition.

O’Connor, Anne-Marie. The Lady in Gold, The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (2012). Available in Kindle Edition.

Rose, Alison. Jewish Women in Fin de Siècle Vienna (2010). Available in Kindle Edition.

Carl E. Schorske, “Grace and the Word: Austria’s Two Cultures and Their Modern Fate,” in Schorske, Thinking with History: Explorations in the Passage to Modernism (1998) – OR in Austrian History Yearbook, vol. 22 (1991): 21-34.

Silverman, Lisa. Holocaust Representations in History: an Introduction, with Daniel H. Magilow (2015). Available in Kindle Edition.

—. Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City, ed. and intr. with Arijit Sen (2014). Available in Kindle Edition.

—. Becoming Austrians: Jews and Culture between the World Wars (2012). Available in Kindle Edition.

—. Interwar Vienna: Culture between Tradition and Modernity, ed. and intr. with Deborah Holmes (2009). Available in Kindle Edition.

Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European (1942). 2012, on Klimt