Alexander von Zemlinsky


October 17, 2021

Alexander (von) Zemlinsky, pseudonym Al Roberts, (born October 14, 1871 in Vienna, † March 15, 1942 in Larchmont, New York) was an Austrian composer and conductor. His father was the writer and journalist Adolf von Zemlinszky.



Zemlinsky's grandfather, Anton Semlinsky, came from the Catholic family of the then Hungarian Zsolna (now Žilina in northern Slovakia) and settled in the 2nd Viennese district Leopoldstadt in the first half of the 19th century. His son Adolf was born in Vienna on April 23, 1845. To help his ambitions as a writer, Adolf Semlinsky changed the Slavonic spelling of his name into Hungarian and added a nobility predicate that was never confirmed. As Adolf von Zemlinszky, he subsequently worked as a typist for an insurance company and married Clara Semo (1848–1912) in 1871, after he had left the Catholic Church in 1870 and was accepted into the Turkish-Israelite community. Clara Semo came from a Jewish-Muslim family. Through his marriage, Adolf became a member of the Sephardic community of Vienna. Alexander von Zemlinszky was born on October 14, 1871 in his parents' apartment (Odeongasse 3) in Leopoldstadt. When Clara became pregnant for the second time, the family moved to Springergasse 6. Bianca was born on March 26, 1874 and died at the age of five weeks. The third child, Mathilde, was born on September 7, 1877. In 1882 the family moved to Pillersdorfgasse 3.

First musical experiences

The young Alexander first came into contact with music at the age of four. His father had taken in a family friend as a lodger who brought his piano with him. This gave his son piano lessons and also allowed Alexander to take part in the lessons. As he made much faster progress, Alexander soon got his own teacher and was given intensive support. In 1881, at the age of ten, he was accepted into the newly established temple choir of the Sephardic community. When his voice broke three years later, he was able to earn pocket money for the first time as a musical accompanist for choir rehearsals and by playing the organ in the synagogue. Musically, however, the sacred, Sephardic music influenced him only slightly. Growing up with Mozart's music as a child, he quickly discovered Brahms and Wagner. Only one motet composed by him entitled Wedding Song for the Marriage of the Cantor's Daughter in 1896 is documented.

School education

At the age of six, Alexander was enrolled by his parents in the Sephardic school of Midrash Eliahu in Novaragasse. In addition to arithmetic, writing and reading, Alexander was taught the Torah and Tefillot (Bible and prayers) as well as the Sephardic rite (Minhag). Two years later he switched to a general elementary school, where he was often best in class. Shortly before his thirteenth birthday, Adolf von Zemlinszky registered his son at the Conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, where he passed the exam and was accepted into Wilhelm Rauch's piano class in autumn 1884. Here his curriculum at the pre-school school included piano and theory; he was released from the choir because of a four-year broken voice.

Further studies and first successes

After three years, Zemlinsky's progress was checked and he was awarded a Rubinstein scholarship of 1,000 guilders per year. From this money, as well as private tuition and participation in competitions, he initially financed his life. After passing the exam in 1887, he switched to the so-called training school and completed Anton Door's piano class. He also learned theory with Franz Krenn and Robert Fuchs for two years, the latter placing great emphasis on classical music and Neudeut

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