Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Five Posthumous Songs by Alexander Zemlinsky (10/14/1871 - 3/15/1942)


This Thursday (March 15) marks the death of Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky exactly seventy years ago. Born in Vienna to a Slovak Catholic father and a Sephardic Jewish/Muslim mother, Alexander Zemlinsky's family converted to Judaism. The young Alexander studied piano, organ and composition at the Vienna Conservatory. He became close friends with Schoenberg and they founded the Vereinigung Schaffender Tonkunstler to promote contemporary music in Vienna. Both Brahms and Mahler figured prominently in the career and personal life of Zemlinsky, who spent much of his career in Prague (and later in Berlin), at the Deutsches Landestheater and at the Czech Philharmonic. With the advent of Nazism, Zemlinsky fled with his family from Berlin to New York and settled there until his death in 1942. His musical language is best described as post-Romantic and expressionist, and served as a bridge to the modernism which came later. One can detect elements of Mahler and Wagner in his compositions. In his later works, he adopted a more austere and abstract modernist style, although he never crossed over to serialism. His best known opera is the very beautiful and lush-sounding Eine florentinische Tragodie, which will have its Canadian premiere at the COC in late April. To remember Zemlinsky, I have chosen a collection of five posthumous songs recorded a dozen years ago by soprano Ruth Ziesak, tenor Hans-Peter Blochwitz, mezzo Iris Vermilion, and (omitted here in the selection) baritone Andreas Schmidt, with Cord Garben at the piano. These songs are part of a CD on the Sony label.

- Joseph K. So

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