NPR logo
Botstein Revives Zemlinsky with a Bard Double-Bill
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12306823/12306868" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Botstein Revives Zemlinsky with a Bard Double-Bill

Music

Botstein Revives Zemlinsky with a Bard Double-Bill

Botstein Revives Zemlinsky with a Bard Double-Bill
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12306823/12306868" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
James Johnson and Deanne Meek

James Johnson, as Simone, talks with his wife Bianca, played by Deanne Meek, in Zemlinsky's Florentine Tragedy, at Bard Summerscape. Photo: Corey Weaver hide caption

toggle caption Photo: Corey Weaver
Jeffrey Dowd and Sara Jane McMahon

Jeffrey Dowd as the Dwarf and Sara Jane McMahon as the Infanta of Spain, in Zemlinsky's The Dwarf, at Bard Summerscape. Photo: Corey Weaver hide caption

toggle caption Photo: Corey Weaver
Leon Botstein conducts the America Symphony Orchestra

Conductor Leon Botstein has a taste for rarely heard repertoire, including the oepras of Zemlinsky. Photo; Steve J. Sherman hide caption

toggle caption Photo; Steve J. Sherman

Botstein Conducts Zemlinsky

Hear music from Zemlinsky's two one-act operas based on works by Oscar Wilde.

'A Florentine Tragedy'--final scene
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12306823/12311553" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
The Dwarf--Duet btw. Infanta & the Dwarf
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12306823/12314160" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

A Florentine Tragedy

Simone: James Johnson

Bianca: Mary Phillips

The Dwarf

Infanta: Dominique Labelle

The Dwarf: Richard Troxell

The American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein, cond.

It's been 65 years since the death of Viennese composer Alexander Zemlinsky, and the classical music world is still playing catch-up when it comes to appreciating his music.

Over the next week, conductor Leon Botstein is doing his part to bolster Zemlinsky's reputation by pairing the composer's two rarely heard one-act operas, The Dwarf and A Florentine Tragedy, in a fully-staged Zemlinsky double-bill at Bard College in upstate New York.

Boststein spoke to Jacki Lyden about Zemlinsky and the source of his two short operas — the writings of Oscar Wilde.

Overlooked and Underappreciated

When Zemlinsky died in Larchmont, New York in 1942, in near total obscurity, composer Arnold Schoenberg (Zemlinsky's student and brother-in-law) wrote "It is possible that his day will come earlier than we think." But Botstein says Schoenberg's prediction rang false.

"As recently as 15 years ago," Botstein says, "he was a composer one found primarily in history books as a subsidiary figure."

There was a brief period of hope in the 1970s when a few pieces by Zemlinsky surfaced here and there. Then, beginning in the 1990s, American conductor James Conlon released a series of highly praised Zemlinsky recordings, eminating from Cologne, Germany. Even with Conlon's zeal, Zemlinsky's music has been slow to catch fire in the U.S.

Zemlinsky was one of a handful of adventurous composers discovering new directions for their music at the dawn of the 20th century. Many of his contemporaries—Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg — became superstars. Zemlinsky became little more than a footnote in the history of fin de siecle Vienna.

Wilde Romanticism

Oscar Wilde, the Irish novelist, poet and playwright, died in 1900. In 1905, Richard Strauss created a scandal when he based his opera Salome on Wilde's version of the biblical story. The opera was considered racy, and was even banned in some places, but it was ultimately a success and it helped introduce Wilde's work to the operatic world.

It was enough to trigger Zemlinsky's interest, and in the next few years he based two one-act operas — A Florentine Tragedy and The Dwarf — after works by Wilde.

Tragedy is a classic love triangle, featuring a brutal murder and a twisted conclusion. The Dwarf (based on The Birthday of the Infanta) highlights a young beauty breaking the heart of an ugly dwarf.

"Zemlinsky was drawn to Wilde's razor-sharp insight into the self-destructive, cruel and complex psychological interaction among people," Botstein says. "Like all master satirists, he asks 'how much of ourselves do we recognize in these distilled portraits.'"

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.