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Der Merker

(Vienna, 1909-1922)

Prepared by Ole Hass
Online only (2015)

The Austrian music journal, Der Merker: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Musik und Theater [The marker: Austrian newspaper for music and theater. MER] was published in Vienna from October 10, 1909 until March 1, 1922, the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, through the First World War and into the early years of the Austrian Republic. The title of MER is based on the word “Merker” (marker), the function of the character Beckmesser in Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and served as the source of the journal’s motto: “The marker's work shall be done such that neither hate nor love obscure its judgment.” Twenty-four issues appeared each year, organized as four quarters of six issues each. Vol. II has an additional “fifth quarter” of six issues, extending it to the end of the calendar year 1911. Publication was suspended for about four months at the outbreak of the First World War, and resumed in October 1914. Only two double issues and one single issue appear in Vol. XIII, the last volume of 1922. No explanation given in the journal for the cessation of the publication.

Vienna’s only general music journal at this time, MER begins with the aim of reporting on and furthering the newest artistic developments in music. With the outbreak of the First World War, the journal becomes more inclusive concerning traditional and popular musical production. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the reorganization of society through democratic institutions again altered the outlook of this journal.

MER was published by musicologist Richard Batka and the famous art and literature critic Ludwig Hevesi. The Viennese musical writer and musicologist Richard Specht was editor and contributor from the journal’s beginning until the outbreak of the First World War in July, 1914 and then again from May 1918 to October 1919. During Specht’s absences, the journal’s editor was Ludwig Karpath. From November 1919 on MER was edited by the composer-poet Julius Bittner and David Josef Bach.

Richard Specht (1870-1932), born in Vienna, contributed writings to the Viennese journals and prominent German-language music journals. During Specht’s editorship he wrote almost all reviews and editorials about contemporaneous “monumental” compositions by Mahler, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Schreker. The substitute editor, Ludwig Karpath (1866-1936) contributed to various Viennese music journals, while Julius Bittner (1874-1939) was a lawyer by profession and a composer. David Josef Bach (1874-1947), a friend of Arnold Schoenberg, reported on the work of the Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen [Society for Private Musical Performances].

Each issue begins with a series of essays on music, theater, literature and visual arts. The essays are followed by a division entitled “Rundschau” [Overview], which includes: 1) reviews from performances in Vienna (theater and concert), 2) correspondence from other cities, 3) reviews of new publications in music and literature and 4) miscellaneous items. Illustrations and music supplements abound in the first volumes. The second volume (1910/11) is supplemented by eight monthly issues of the Musikpädagogische Zeitschrift [Musical Pedagogy Journal], the organ of the fledgling organization of Austria’s music teachers. Four further issues of this supplemental journal appear in 1912. Beginning in 1918, performance reviews from Vienna and correspondence appear together under the heading “Konzerte und Theater” [Concerts and Theater], and with issue no. 9 of that year again under “Rundschau.”

Contributors to MER from Vienna include Hugo Fleischer, Theodor von Frimmel, Victor Junk, Therese Rie (under the pseudonym L. Andro), Anny von Newald-Grasse, theater critic Herbert Ihering and the dance critic Alfons Török. Contributors from other centers include Leopold Schmidt and Adolph Kohut in Berlin, Stefan Zweig and Max Brod in Prague, stage director Alexander Hevesi in Budapest, as well as the writers of fiction and intellectual prose Johannes Schlaf and Walter von Molo.

The primary focus of the journal is theater, sung or spoken, dealing prominently on the ideas and works of Richard Wagner. The first issue of MER opens with an article by Paul Marsop about necessary reforms on the dramatic and the concert stage, calling for more theaters in the style of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Four special issues are dedicated to Wagner and his work and vision, two of them on the occasion of the 1911 Bayreuth Festival. In July of 1912, Martin Jacobi writes about the influence of Richard Wagner on current opera productions, but, shortly after, Hugo Fleischer describes a departure from Wagner’s principles by young composers who are instead concentrating on the purely musical within the movement of impressionism. In 1913, the copyright for Wagner’s works expired, spawning a multitude of editions and performances of his works, especially Parsifal, until then restricted to Bayreuth performances. In September 1912, Emil Lucka argues to uphold the Bayreuth privilege for the performance of Parsifal, a point also argued by editors Specht and Bittner in January 1913. MER contains reviews of performances of Parsifal in 1913 in Zurich, Vienna and in 1914 in Vienna (Hofoper), Prague, Rome, Strasburg, Berlin (Royal Opera and Deutsches Opernhaus Charlottenburg) and Paris, as well as a report by Stefan Zweig of a 1911 performance of the work in New York City, conducted by Alfred Hertz. The many articles touching on Wagner’s works also include a series on the reciprocal relationship of Wagner and German culture by the Swedish composer Wilhelm Peterson-Berger.

Considerable coverage is given to the operas of Richard Strauss. In 1909, Fritz Volbach describes Salome as a symphonic poem with real action. In 1911, Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Max Reinhardt and Alfred Roller’s production of Der Rosenkavalier at the Dresden Court Opera receives jubilant comments by Specht. A special issue on Strauss from March 1911 is titled Der Rosenkavalier and contains two facsimile pages from the orchestral score to the opera. The productions of the two versions of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and of Die Frau ohne Schatten are received positively. In a Strauss special issue of MER from May 1914, editor Specht calls Strauss the strongest leading power in music, and Berlin correspondent Leopold Schmidt gives a review of the Ballets Russes’ Parisian premiere of Strauss’s ballet Josephslegende. In 1916, the influential Frankfurt music critic Paul Bekker dismisses Strauss’s Eine Alpensymphonie after reading the score before its first performance, inciting a public exchange between Becker and Specht, part of which is published in the journal. When Richard Strauss became musical director of the Vienna Opera house in 1918, his appointment is received by a delighted Specht in an opening article in the October issue of that year.

The first years of MER are also witness to the personality and works of Gustav Mahler; many of his symphonic works receive extensive introductory articles. Specht writes in “Mahlers Weg” [Mahler’s path], thoughts on the Munich premiere of the Symphony no. 8, and he reviews the Munich premiere of Mahler’s symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Specht’s review of the premiere in Vienna of Mahler’s Symphony no. 9 in 1912 is preceded by a supplement to issue no. 12, which gives themes from the symphony, derived from a piano score for four hands by J. V. Wöss. A special issue on Gustav Mahler created with cooperation from Alma Maria Mahler appears in 1912. This issue contains eleven letters by Gustav Mahler, reminiscences by the violinist Natalie Bauer-Lechner by Bruno Walter and soprano Marie Gutheil-Schoder.

Richard Specht muses about the aggressive reaction to expressionist composer Franz Schreker’s Nachtstück as performed by the Tonkünstler orchestra, after the composer explained its meaning in an introduction to his work. In 1912, MER contains an essay on Schrecker and his compositions by Rudolf Stephan Hoffmann. The same issue gives the first of three installments of Schreker’s libretto Der rote Tod and, as a supplement, the lied Entführung, on a text by Stefan George. The same year is again witness the premiere of Schreker’s opera Der ferne Klang, given in Frankfurt. Specht criticizes Hans Gregor, director of the Vienna Court Opera, as this important work was not given first in Vienna. Schreker’s opera Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin receives a review by Specht in 1913.

Much attention is also given to the dramatic works of Hans Pfitzner, especially his opera Palestrina. Specht often argues for new performances of the composer’s earlier works. Pfitzner himself contributes an introduction to his opera Der arme Heinrich, before its performance at the Vienna Court Opera. The one-act operas by prodigy composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Violanta and Der Ring des Polykrates, are reviewed in MER, and Korngold’s better-known full-length work Die tote Stadt is reviewed by D. J. Bach. The composer himself mounts a defense of this opera, with quotations by various conductors. Korngold’s first published compositions (a piano sonata, character pieces for piano on Don Quichote and Der Schneemann) stir the debate about a new prodigy, as reported in an article by Batka.

Other important composers are treated in their relationship to Vienna or Austria. Richard Kukula contributes memories of Hugo Wolf, and Heinrich Werner those of the premiere of Wolf’s opera, Der Corregidor. Hugo Fleischer writes about Wolf’s anti-Brahms stance in the composer’s criticisms for the Wiener Salonblatt. Georg Kaiser reports on a hitherto unknown letter by C. M. v. Weber to the poet Ignaz Franz Castelli, and Arnold Winkler introduces letters between Franz Liszt and pianist Marie Pleyel.

The obituaries of several musicians receive MER’s highest attention: Richard Batka writes about the conductor Felix Mottl, Specht about Karl Goldmark, and Heinrich von Kralik about Max Reger. Joseph Kainz, the great actor of the Vienna Hofburgtheater, is honored with two richly illustrated special issues after his death. In 1912, Rudolf Réti contributes a series on the “contemporary pianists” [zeitgenössische Pianisten] Leopold Godowsky, Ernst von Dohnanyi, Moriz Rosenthal, Artur Schnabel and Wilhelm Backhaus. The six-part series, “Wiener Tondichterprofile” [Profiles of Viennese tone poets] characterizes Richard Mandl, Julius Bittner, Carl Goldmark, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker and Felix Gotthelf. In another series in 1917, Alfred Wolf portrays the characters and conducting manners of Arthur Nikisch, Franz Schalk, Bruno Walter, Felix von Weingartner and later Wilhelm Furtwängler. The astonishingly high number of eminent conductors active at the time and reported on in MER also includes Leo Blech, Fritz Busch, Otto Klemperer, Ferdinand Löwe, Karl Muck, Fritz Reiner, George Szell and Alexander von Zemlinsky.

It is interesting to observe the careful approach to Schoenberg’s works in MER. Schoenberg himself writes about the dangers of “mood critics” [Stimmungskritiker] who have come to power discussing the works of Richard Wagner, and contributes thoughts on Mahler. A Schoenberg special issue in June of 1911 introduces photographs of some of Schoenberg’s paintings, and gives thoughts from Specht on the reception of Schoenberg’s works. A chapter from the method of harmony [Harmonielehre] is given; Karl Linke writes about the non-sensual in Schoenberg’s works and Rudolf Réti explains elements of form in Schoenberg’s Piano Pieces op. 13. Réti later writes on the current state of tonality and harmony and portrays Claude Debussy and Max Reger as the exponents of two possible paths, without mentioning Schoenberg. Hugo Fleischer considers arguments for and against Schoenberg’s works. In March of 1913, Franz Schreker lead the Vienna Philharmonic Choir in a very successful performance of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder in stark contrast to a performance of Schoenberg’s piano pieces and his song cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten [The book of the hanging gardens] in April that year, at which supporters and critics engaged in shouting matches. Specht calls for civility between performers and their audience. In October of 1913, Specht recommends patience with judgments by audiences towards not-yet-understood works but also warns against charlatans trying to hitch a ride on musical trends. In the last year of the First World War, Schoenberg’s suggestions for a simplified orchestral score, taken from his introduction to his orchestral songs op. 22, are printed in MER, together with generally negative reactions by conductors Siegfried Ochs, Felix Weingartner, Max von Schillings, Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Felix Rosenthal defends tonality and points to contrasts between Schoenberg’s writings in his Harmonielehre and his atonal compositions. On a much more positive note, the Schoenberg student Erwin Stein in 1921 claims historical continuity of Schoenberg’s works and gives a detailed introduction to “Schoenberg’s new style.” D. J. Bach reports on the founding of the Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen [Society for Private Musical Performances]. Josef Hauer, who developed his own version of atonality parallel to Schoenberg, appears in MER with two essays of his own writing: “How I learned the fundamentals of European composition style as a young boy” and “Two chapters on the theory of music.”

At the time of MER, the ethos of the 19th century is still strongly felt. The journal contains many recollections of eye witnesses, including those on Richard Wagner (besides others by Bayreuth editor Hans von Wolzogen, baritone Martin Plüddemann, conductor Felix Mottl, composer Carl Goldmark and soprano Amalie Friedrich-Materna), Liszt (by pianists Eugen d’Albert and August Stradal and soprano Mathilde Stern-Porges), Hugo Wolf (by Richard Batka, Heinrich Werner, Richard Kukula and Heinrich Potpeschnigg), Brahms (by Josef Suk) and Mahler (by composer Josef B. Foerster, Bruno Walter, violist Natalie Bauer-Lechner, soprano Marie Gutheil-Schoder and editor Ludwig Karpath). Hundreds of personal letters published in MER, often given both as facsimiles and in transcriptions, include many by Haydn, Beethoven, Marschner, Richard Wagner, Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler.