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The Scandal Concert

Lawrence Bush
March 30, 2017

Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander von Zemlinsky were two Jews among four Austrian composers of the Second Viennese School whose modernist music caused their audience to riot on this date in 1913. Known as the Skandalkonzert (Scandal Concert), the event ended in a lawsuit after concert organizer Erhard Buschbeck punched someone — which operetta composer Oscar Straus (also Jewish, and also punched by someone) testified in court was the “most harmonious sound” of the evening. “Schoenberg,” writes Mark DeVoto in The Boston Musical Intelligencer, “sought to showcase two of his most advanced pupils, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, and also of his brother-in-law, Alexander von Zemlinsky, as well as his own Chamber Symphony for 15 instruments, op. 9. . . . News of the catastrophe traveled as far as the United States, but not quite two months later it was submerged by a more famous scandal in Paris at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.”

“Zemlinsky songs were much less abrasive and much more sensual, but then Zemlinsky himself always kept a clear distance between himself and Schönberg’s circle, hanging onto basic tonality, albeit distended beyond what most of his contemporaries would have recognised, and therefore the beautiful texture of his writing is always closer to the surface.” --Simon Thompson, Seen and Heard International

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.