This summer I was fortunate to be able to spend a few days in Vienna, Austria, the city where Schoenberg was born and spent much of his career. While there, I visited his gravesite at the Wiener Zentralfriedhof as well as the Leopold Museum, home to one of the largest collections of modern Austrian art and where I was pleasantly surprised to find a Schoenberg exhibition put on by the Arnold Schönberg Center (also based in Wien). The exhibit incorporated a large selection of Schoenberg’s paintings, as well several autographs, sketches and other personal items. I was specifically drawn to his self portraiture, a display of some playing cards and children’s games he had created, and was particularly intrigued by the dramatic story the exhibition organized around: a description of Schoenberg’s wife Mathilde’s torrid affair with painter Richard Gerstl. 

Gerstl was a friend of Schoenberg’s and taught both Schoenberg and his wife to paint. A romantic affair developed between Gerstl and Mathilde during the summer of 1908, coinciding with the time he was writing his Second String Quartet. Mathilde actually left Schoenberg for Gerstl, but was persuaded to return for the sake of their children. After her return, Schoenberg rededicated the quartet in Mathilde’s name (the original dedicatee is unknown). That chapter in their history came to an especially tragic end. On November 4, 1908, Gerstl burned all the paintings in his studio, plunged a knife into his chest and hung himself in front of the mirror he used for his self portraits. This exhibit at the Leopold Museum left a distinct impression on me, and has occupied my thoughts ever since.

I decided to create a series of thirteen linoleum-cut relief prints, to be shown in conjunction with a performance of the string quartet itself as part of my master's degree work at the Florida State University College of Music. Interestingly, there is a historical precedent for my proposed event. One of the performances of Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet was presented in concurrence with an exhibition of his paintings in Vienna in October 1910.

 © 2020 by Alexandra Huryn. 

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