As a contemporary of Strauss and Schoenberg, it was inevitable that Zemlinsky’s brilliance would be overshadowed.
Lived 1871 – 1942
Mostly in Vienna, Prague
Best Known for Lyric Symphony, Der Zwerg, Die Seejungfrau, Lieder
Similar to Mahler, Schoenberg
Philosopher and critic Theodor Adorno once wrote, “Originating from the same spiritual ambience as Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky made more of the compromises characteristic of an eclectic than any other first-rate composer of his generation. Yet his eclecticism demonstrated genius in its truly seismographic sensitivity to the stimuli by which he allowed
himself to be overwhelmed.”
This insightful assessment provides a helpful starting point for developing a more nuanced appreciation of a composer who was often misunderstood and underestimated during his lifetime. As Adorno intimates, Zemlinsky was very much a child of his time, a composer who enthusiastically absorbed a wide array of contemporary cultural influences, but whose distinctive voice only emerges after sustained exposure to his music. Neither revolutionary modernist nor die-hard conservative, he could not be easily pigeonholed, particularly during a period that witnessed unparalleled changes in musical language. Zemlinsky remained loyal to the creative principles formulated at the beginning of the 20th century when he stated that a “great...