Late Habsburg Vienna, 1848-C.1920: The Time Of Freud, Klimt, Mahler And Wittgenstein


A Symposium of Six Talks on Saturday 26 October 2019


The Viennese arts and culture Symposium, planned during 2019, was a great success, and was sold out. A large, enthusiastic audience enjoyed top-class talks from visiting specialists in the various areas covered. The talk on music, with the title Music and Musical institutions in late Habsburg Vienna, had been arranged for 30 September, in order to create space for the talks on Freud and Wittgenstein. The original speaker withdrew at a late stage, and as a result, this talk, with the same title, was rearranged for 20 April 2020, the new speaker being Dr Charles Wiffen, of Bath Spa University.


Some recommended books

Peter Vergo:  Art in Vienna: 1898-1918, Phaidon 1975

Carl E. Schorske: Fin de Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, A Knopf, 1979

Peter Gay: Freud: A Life for our Time, Dent 1988 / Macmillan 1989

Ray Monk: Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Cape 1990 / Vintage 1991

Carl E. Schorske: Thinking with History: Explorations of the Passage of Modernism, Princeton UP 1998

Malcolm Macdonald: Brahms, JM Dent 1990

Michael Kennedy: Mahler, JM Dent 1974




Talk No. 1


Social, Political And Cultural Vienna


Professor Matthew Rampley, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic; formerly Professor of Art History at the University of Birmingham


Matthew began by mentioning two big exhibitions on this general subject, though extending into the 1930s, held in Vienna and Paris. He emphasised, as all the speakers did, the artistic richness of the late Habsburg decades - the artists Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka, the architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, and the composers Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Wolf and Schoenberg.


The period followed the decline and fall of the Habsburg dynasty. During this time, The Ringstrasse was built around the Old City (Innenstadt) expanding Vienna considerably, and in a very grand manner. There was a crisis of VIennese identity; three events connected with the royal dynasty cast a shadow over the years to 1914. These were the Mayerling Hunting Lodge suicide in 1889 of Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the throne, and his wife, the murder of the Empress Elisabeth in 1898, and the assignation of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, with Countess Sophie, in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914, an event which sparked off the Great War. Increasingly there was an atmosphere of doom and crisis. Yet in 1848, Austria had been the German Empire’s most powerful state.  Russia increasingly intervened, and the young Franz Josef 1 succeeded his father Franz 1 in 1848, little knowing that he would be Emperor for nearly sixty years. Austria lost territories in the 1850s, a time when Prussia was seen as an upstart. Indeed Austria tried to set up a Customs Union which excluded Prussia. So the other German sates set up one excluding Austria!   


In 1866 the short Austro-Prussian war took place: Austria was heavily defeated.  The Hungarians made a bid for independence in 1867, and the Ausgleich (Compromise) was set up in that year based on the union of the two countries, and the idea of Unity in Diversity. This did not stop the rise of nationalism.


The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) opened in 1891; a latecomer in the great 19th century museum boom, and their collection was regarded with envy by many outside, who saw the Habsburgs as artistic predators. Vienna’s Museum for Art and Industry had been opened in 1864, modelled on Kensington in London.  Crown Prince Rudolf launched a huge project in 1883, aimed at creating a mutual survey of the whole Habsburg Empire, bringing an aim of commitment to the Empire as a whole. 


In Hungary, the Hungarians were outnumbered, as the ethic mix was big and complex. There was an official policy of Magyarisation. Vast tracts of territory were mainly agricultural - Galizia, Bukovina, Transylvania, Bohemia and Lower Austria. The Vienna World Fair was held in 1873, foregrounding Hungary. In Vienna, the conservative Franz Josef 1 famously refused to use electric lights later, when they had become universal.  The educated bourgeoisie in Vienna developed a sort of ‘aesthetic retreat’, with heavy emphasis on ornament.


In 1900 came the Secession, and the works of Gustav Klimt (1860-1918) who entered the philosophical realm disconnected from the everyday. His Philosophy (1899-1907) was later destroyed, but his great portraits of society women, e.g. The Countess Stonborough, came to represent his uniquely decorative and often erotic art to posterity. 


There was in Vienna anxiety over the status quo, and over growing nationalism, and a failure to modernise social structures. There was also a hostile environment for countless Czechs and Jews in the city, a hostility which grew with time. As for nationalism, even in The Great War had not taken place, Austria and Hungary would have fallen apart. As Vienna became less important in the Empire, so Prague, Budapest and Zagreb became steadily more so.  For young artists, Vienna was no longer the automatic point of reference. The consensus turned to Parisian modernism among younger Hungarian artists - Gauguin, Cezanne and Matisse becoming great influences. There was a sense of not wanting to owe a cultural debt to Vienna.


Prague became an artistic centre for Czech speakers form the 1880s. Before that, it was predominantly German speaking. The MANES Society of Artists was founded in 1887 - Czech rather than Bohemian, testing the will of the German artistic establishment.  Important figures were Arnost Hofbauer, Frantisek Kupka, and Jose Upska.  Auguste Rodin, the great French sculptor, was a big influence, and in 1902, even visited Upska at the village of Hrznova Lhota. In 1896, Odon Lechner founded the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. There was a strong sense of ‘Hungarian-ness’ with attention being drawn to the supposedly ‘eastern’ origins of Hungarian art and language. Odon Lechner saw Indian art at the V&A in London.


The architect Otto Wagner’s influence was all pervading across the Empire. In Vienna, his renowned buildings were The Majolica House (1898) The Post Office Savings Bank (1906) and the Karlsplatz Underground Station (1890-94) Other architects were Joze Zacherl (Department Store, Vienna, and other projects) and Jan Kotera (Peterka House, Prague, 1899-1900).  Laichter House, Prague (1908-9) and the Architecture School of the Academy of Fine Art, Prague (1922-24), with Josef Gocar.


There was a modernist resurgence in the Young Poland movement too, which saw advantages in collaborating with the powerful Vienna Secession. The Secession was seen as an approved kind of modernism, and also a kind of nationalism. Until 1914, really up to 1918, there was far greater loyalty to the Habsburg Empire than had previously been accepted.  Yet when we think of Vienna in this time, we tend to think of a society in terminal decline. If late Habsburg Vienna was in crisis, so was every other late 19th century civilisation.




Talk No. 2


Sigmund Freud (1956-1939): Themes, Ideas, Influence


Emilia Raczkowska, Education and Outreach Manager at the Freud Museum, Hampstead, London


Emilia emphasised, that whatever controversy Freud caused during his long life, and has caused since, his influence both as a clinician and as a thinker was all pervasive. She mentioned right at the start two of his most influential works, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), written when Freud was 44 and 45 respectively. Freud’s clinical consulting rooms were at 19 Berggasse, Vienna, a place visited not only by Emilia, the speaker, but by the Convenor writing these notes, and by many thousands of international tourists every year. The house in London to which Freud fled from Vienna at the end of his life, a sick man, in due course became the Freud Museum. Freud left his hometown, Friberg (Pribor) in Moravia in 1960 as a small child, because his father a wool merchant went bankrupt.


All his life, Freud saw himself as a neurologist, a neuroscientist. For him psychoanalysis was a real science. A photograph of Freud’s study at 19 Berggasse was shown; In fact, he did not adapt well to Vienna. His twin heroes and influences were Charles Darwin and Shakespeare. He revolutionised the way one thinks about health in general, mental as well as physical. Freud also knew that some people might not want to get better. In 1914, he published The History of the Psychanalytic Movement. Freud often referred to ‘ the atmosphere of sensuality and immorality in Vienna foreign to other cities - conditions, it was imagined, which were peculiar to Vienna. He thought this was a crazy idea, and said that ‘ the reproach of being a citizen of Vienna is only a euphemistic substitute for another reproach which no one would care to put forward openly.’


In 1884 Freud started his detailed research into neurology. He introduced a tinting technique for the study of tissues under the microscope. Demonstrated that evolution applies t the brain, developed the medical use of cocaine, and produced studies such as On Aphasia and Cerebral Palsy.  Many drawings by Freud exist of the different parts of the nervous system and its cells.


In his Consulting Rooms in Vienna, he wanted patients to look at and appreciate works of art. There was a picture of the Pyramids at Abu Simbel, Egypt, above his couch, for instance. He was never a successful hypnotist, perhaps because of his scepticism towards religion, ritual and ceremony. He disliked the idea that there was no systematic reflection about what was going on. Freud experimented with different types couches in his Vienna rooms. In 1891/2 a wealthy female patient gave him a more comfortable interviewing couch - we were shown this; it had a pillow - and this same lady gave him a softer couch still, with a cover - also shown. His watchword was ‘ Say whatever goes through your, as though you were a traveller sitting next to the window in a railway carriage, and describing changing views. In 1912, he published Recommendations to Physicians Practising Psychoanalysis, saying that ‘You should never forget that you promised to be absolutely honest, and never to leave anything out, just because, for some reason or another, it is unpleasant to tell it.’


A basic principle was the digging up of something which had been long -buried in the patient’s consciousness. He said that’ only by confounding this can we deal with the future. He created the idea of ‘pushing x away - and bringing x back’.  A woman (lame) came to him. She could hardly walk, and was bent double. Freud came to the conclusion that she had been in live with her brother-in -law. This lady had recently lost her father and her sister. The sister had become ill after her wedding, and died soon afterwards. Freud said that the lady was desperately trying to reject / to be unaware of her feelings for her brother-in-law, now a widower.  There was a numbness in her legs. She needed help. The brother-in-law ended up as her helper. The lady stormed out of Freud’s office after the diagnosis, but she returned later, accepted the insight, and did slowly recover.


The nature of Freud’s practice revolved round the relationship between the clinician and the patient, by definition. There was natural problem over the intimate bond between a young male clinician and a young female patient. Much anger was shown by some of Freud’s female patients when the close relationship with fathers came up in discussion. In fact, most of Freud’ s patients were quite severe, long-running cases. Yet he also had long waiting lists.


Around his studio were numerous works of three-dimensional art, ranging for Etruscan bronzes (350-250 BC) to 19thcentury Taoist wood and textile images, e.g. of a sage, to animals (e.g. a porcupine) and a warrior on horseback masks, statuettes, and a balsamarium. We were shown all these. Freud was not a great lover of music, but was passionate about works of art. He was interested in culture (anthropology) and literature.


In 1922, Freud stated that he regarded the there principal subjects of psychoanalysis as (!) The unconscious mental processes (2) resistance and repression (resignation) and (3) the importance of sexuality and of the Oedipus Complex. He saw the persistence of behaviour patterns from former times as not just the rules and habits of old societies, but as indications of ‘the way we want to see ourselves.’ He spent much of his career thinking about the child/parent relationship and its endless complexity. On dreams, he said that it was not enough to recall a dream in general. There was a need to recall and analyse the different parts of it.


Near the end of his life (he died in London in 1939, aged 83) Freud said: ‘I started a s a neurologist, working on the unconscious mind, and the role of individual images, creating a new science, psychology, and the treatment of neuroses. People did not believe in my ideas, and thought my theories unsavoury. I finally succeeded, but the struggle is not over yet.’




Talk No. 3


Painting and Design in Late Habsburg Vienna


Dr Bernard Vere, Programme Director, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London


Bernard came by invitation back in 2020, to speak at the Modernism Symposium we ran in October of that year. This talk linked directly with that of Dr Charlotte Ashby of Birkbeck, University of London, at the beginning of the afternoon session.


Bernard’s talk covered the leading Vienna based artists of the day, Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka, but also a range of lesser-known figures. It was copiously illustrated, and shall try to list all the key works of art he showed on the screen.


He began with Loge in Sofiensaal, by Josef Engelhart (1903) – very influenced by great French painting of a slightly earlier period, especially Degas and Manet. The picture showed, characteristically, male-female interaction. In the 1890s, Austrians were producing history paintings, but this was soon to change. Then came Farm Woman with a Sickle, c.1893, by Theodor von Hoermann, who lived in Paris, and again showed vast French influence. Hoermann died in 1895.


There was a big exhibition of his work after his death, even though he may now be forgotten. Franz von Stuck’s The Sin (1893) was shown at the Munich Secession Exhibition in that year.

The main part of Bernard’s talk was devoted to the major figures, as follows: 

  • Gustav Klimt: Uncensored and Censored Versions of the poster for the First Secessionist Exhibition of 1898 Theseus and the Minotaur, with the figure of Pallas Athene; the uncensored version appeared in the Secession journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring)
  • Alfred Roller (leading theatrical designer of the day): Cover for the first issue of Ver Sacrum 1898
  • Josef Hoffmann: Ver Sacrum Room at the First Secession Exhibition 1898 A ring of single chairs - showing the influence of the British Arts and Crafts movement and Charles Rennie Mackintosh; there was an emphasis on integrating fine art and design. The detail of the environment was seen as important
  • The Secession Building in the centre of Vienna, near the Ringstrasse and the Karlsplatz, 1898 Designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, and completed in 1898. The key manifesto is over its frontage: ‘To every age its art - to every art its freedom.’  The Secession project was seen as a means of raising Vienna’s prestige and production.
  • Gustav Klimt: Pallas Athene, 1898 - the first work of Klimt’s ‘golden’ period
  • Gustav Klimt: Judith and Holofernes, 1901 - a link with Wide’s Salome
  • Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein, 1905. She was the sister of Ludwig and Paul Wittgenstein.  Most of Klimt’s clients were wealthy, like the Wittgenstein family. 
  • Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer! 1907 - in gold leaf. Link with the 6th century ceiling mosaic at Ravenna
  • Gustav Klimt left the Secession for mixed reasons. He blamed the artist Max Liebermann in part.
  • Gustav Klimt: The Kiss, 1907-8 Incorporates gold leaf again. Shown in the 1908 Kunstschau. Almost every thing is surface decoration. A theme used by Rodin and Brancusi.
  • Gustav Klimt: Judith II, 1909 Venice: Museum of Modern Art - 1909 was the year of Marinetti’s Futurism manifesto
  • Gustav Klimt: Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912. Possible influence of Egon Schiele here. There are wider currents of Expressionism rather than Symbolism. Strong oriental influences, too.
  • Gustav Klimt: Litzlberg am Attersee (Upper Austria) 1914 - Landscape, in a square format.  Also a photograph of Klimt and Emilia Floege in a rowing boat on the Attersee - with Klimt in a flowing kaftan.  Wealthy patrons were still buying his paintings.
  • Elena Luksch-Makowsky: Adolescentia, 1903 (Lower Belvedere Exhibition, Vienna) - shows a very slim (epicene) young woman, with naked figures in the background - mostly male
  • The Beethoven Exhibition was at the centre of the Secession in 1902 - Max Klinger’s Beethoven Monument, 1902
  • Broncia Koller-Pinnell: The Artist’s Mother, 1907. Compare with JM Whistler’s famous Whistler’s Mother. 
  • Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser: Letter head for the Wiener Werkstaette. This lasted until 1932, and was sold in shops in New York and Berlin.
  • Further designs of tables, flower baskets and a coffee pot by Josef Hoffmann were shown, also a sugar bowl, and armchair and a cabinet by Koloman Moser.
  • Egon Schiele:  The Hermits (Self Portrait with Gustav Klimt) 1912
  • Egon Schiele: Standing Girl, c. 1908-9 Her hands are older and twisted.
  • Egon Schiele: Arthur Roessler, 1910. Roessler was Schiele’s great friend and supporter. He is depicted as a man in a brown suit, against a neutral grey background, with splayed hands, a drooping right shoulder and showing animated anxiety.
  • Egon Schiele: Schiele’s Self Portrait, 1910 and Reclining Nude, 1914 - woman with splayed thighs and her hands behind her head
  • Egon Schiele: House with Hanging Washing, 1914. This was Schiele’s mother’s birthplace. There is arrow of washing, two blocks of houses, a neutral ridged background and no real perspective.
  • Egon Schiele: Individual Houses, 1915 (a strange title) Rows of trees in front. A bleak environment. In 1915, Schiele had been called up for the Austrian army, but had not yet seen action.
  • Poster of the Secession 49th Exhibition, 1918.
  • Helene Funke: Dreams, 1913. Helene Funke lived in Paris, but moved to Vienna in 1911-12. The style of this picture is Expressionist. It shows portraits of eight women, variously dressed, and at different angles, one seen only form the back of her head.
  • Oskar Kokoschka: Three postcards for the Wiener Werkstaette, 1907
  • Oskar Kokoschka: Portrait of Herwarth Walden, c.1910 Walden was the impresario of German Expressionism, and a figure at the heart of Berlin’s artistic scene.
  • Oskar Kokoschka: Bride of the Wind, 1913. This is Oskar Kokoschka in bed with Alma Mahler, Mahler’s widow. They were lovers for some years, and Bride of the Wind is perhaps Kokoschka’s most famous painting.
  • Oskar Kokoschka: Woman in Blue, 1919 - this is also Alma Mahler, a depiction of her in memory of their long affair
  • A Doll of Alma Mahler, c. 1916, by Fraulein Moos




Talk No. 4


Architecture and the City:  Late Habsburg Vienna


Dr Charlotte Ashby, Programme Director, Department of the History of Art, Birkbeck College University of London


Charlotte began by stressing that Vienna is and was a very conservative city, yet during this period embarked on a programme of industrialisation, mass production, large-scale town planning, and the proliferation of new ideas. At the end of the century Art Nouveau (Jugendstil in German) dominated, and there was much talk about the integration of all the arts.


We were shown a View of Vienna (1894-1900) by Rudolf Lechner, was compared with a map of the Old Town from 1858. This latter showed the extensive wall of military fortifications, and the broad expanse of empty land, known as the ‘glacis’ which was part of the apparatus for military protection. The Inner City, or Innenstadt was not touched when the Ringstrasse was built. Only cosmetic changes were allowed. There were no radial roads. The result was quite different from the boulevards of Paris created by Baron Haussmann. The Danube runs past, not through Vienna, which has only the narrow Donaukanal as a city centre waterway. 


Charlotte stressed the contradictions in the Viennese psyche - what is on the surface, and what lies beneath. The aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie dominated the city centre. The Ringstrasse was deliberately built with a chain of important public buildings, in various styles, indicating an imperial, cosmopolitan city. The State Opera (Staatsoper) was built in Italian Renaissance style, the Rathaus (Town Hall) in classical style (1872-83, architect Friedrich von Schmidt) and the Parliament Building  (1871-84, architect Theo von Hansen) in Greek style. The huge Rossau Barracks of 1865-70 is now police station. The logic of all this was to embrace all civilisation, and to express the power of Austria and the Habsburg dynasty. Parliament and the Town Hall symbolised democracy.


The famous Burgtheater of 1874-88 was designed by Gottfried von Semper and Carl von Hasenauer. Its function, along with the entertainment it provided, was to allow people to see other people, and observe what they were wearing. The Grand Staircase of the Burgtheater was decorated with murals by Gustav Klimt. Theo von Hansen designed the Heinrichhof, 1860-63 - apartments all round the RIngstrasse, as well as many of the cafes for which Vienna became celebrated.


As time went on, Germany was no longer ‘little brother’, but a looming, powerful neighbour. The right wing movement grew, with anti-Semitism never far below the surface.


Otto Wagner emerged as the leading Viennese architect. His Laenderbank (1882-4) is a good example of his early style, classical, and functional, with still pilasters. The sculptural additions have gone. There has been a rejection of mid 19th century historicism, but not of ornament entirely. Ornament was felt to have a symbolic function, to represent pure pleasure for its own sake. We were shown the interior loggia of Otto Wagner’s Laenderbank, with its inner glazed lobby/courtyard, the Imperial Pavilion at Hietzing (1898) and the Karlsplatz Station (1899) were all shown. The Karlsplatz Station, which can still be seen today, used vast wrought-iron wok structures - as there was a need to see exactly where the Stadtbahn stations were.  However the Imperial Pavilion was a lightweight structure, very decorative.


Josef Maria Olbrich designed Secession House (1897-8), which had a huge blank area for the Pallas Athene poster, and no windows. It was a structure which looked inwards, and emphasised interiority. 


In Vienna around 1900, there was anxiety about cheap goods, and also concern about mental health. Parliament was beset by the problem of warring factions. The emperor Franz Josef was holding down the far-right groups, or at least trying to. The Mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger was, regrettably, an ardent antisemite, and very influential. there is a street named after him to this day.


Charlotte suggested that there was no real equivalent in Vienna to the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, which was optimistic and utopian. In Britain, we looked back to the Middle Ages, a monument to distant nostalgia. Elsewhere in Europe, the Hellenistic past prevailed, and the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) took hold in the later 19th century, in part through the influence of the music dramas and theories of the composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883).


The Ver Sacrum, shown in Dr Bernard Vere’s talk, appeared again here. This was the sacred spring of creativity, a vigorous opponent of 19th century materialism. The white and gold of the Secession Building in the city centre (1898) was vital to its expression.   We were shown a side view of Secession House. The Beethoven Exhibition (1902) had an orderly processional route within the Secession House, with an emphasis on theatricality. This revealed an understanding of Vienna’s vibrant theatrical culture.


A key Otto Wagner building in the heart of Vienna was the Postal Savings Bank (1903-6), which is now a sort of Otto Wagner museum. The front of this famous building is decorative, a visual performance, rather than functional. It was aimed at encouraging people to save money for emergencies or essentials. There were bricks as flooring of the main interior. Otto Wagner designed everything - light fittings, heating, door-handles, and so on. The post Office Savings Bank was a functionally innovative project.


Josef Hoffmann designed the Purkersdorff Sanitarium, built in 1904-5. This was a private sanatorium for patients with severe nervous or other illnesses - from the problems of modernity. It was patronised, as one would expect, by many Viennese ladies of means. Resolving the problems of ill-health, for example tuberculosis, implied the need for light and for clean, fresh air. There was a need to reassure stressed and anxious people.  Richard Luksch created ceramic entrance figures for the Purkersdorff Sanitarium in 1905. His statues were thin, and slender to the point of emaciation. Their wringing hands reflected general anxiety.  The upholstery of seating was of a chequered patter fashionable, but progressive and practical.


Josef Hoffmann designed a Sitzmachine (Machine for Sitting) about this time, and Emilie Floege designed Reform Dresses, for the Salon Schwestern Floege, 1905.


Otto Wagner designed St Leopold’s Church Steinhof, on the outskirts of Vienna, built in 1905-7. It was another hospital for people with profound mental illnesses (people with money, of course). Patients would attend church as a place of healing. The interior had no steps and good sightlines. It was decorated in white and gold, cleansing imagery, spiritually elevating. Deliberatly, there were no disturbing images, no Crucifixion, and nothing from the Biblical narrative that was in any way upsetting.


Cahrlotte showed us the Café Museum of Adolf Loos (1899), with the cashier’s stand at the centre, ad spread out tables and chairs. The wallpaper was striped with green and there was much empty floor space. We compared this with the old-style Stierbock’s Caffeehaus in Leopoldtadt, which showed a man playing pool or billiards.  Other scenes near the end of Charlotte’ very well-received talk included Adolf Loos’s Apartment (1903) in which the fireplace was described as an affectation, Lina Loos’s bedroom in their apartment, Adolf Loos’s Steiner Haus (also 1903), with its slender structure, white skin and absence of decoration, and its intimate and flexible interior, with strikingly dark staircase, plus the Goldman and Salatsch Building of 1909-11, with bay windows, all recessed.





Talk No. 5


The Young Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)


Professor Genia Schoenbaumsfeld, Department of Philosophy, University of Southampton. 


Professor Schoenbaumsfeld is the author of, among other studies, The Illusion of Doubt, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein on Philosophy and Religion, and A Confusion of the Spheres.


Ludwig Wittgenstein was born into one of Vienna’s richest families in 1889,and died in Cambridge, England in 1951. The Wittgenstein family had made its money from the armaments industry, and Ludwig was the eighth and youngest member of the family. Their motto was ’only the best is ever good enough’ and there was huge pressure on the Wittgenstein children to achieve. While studying aeronautics at Manchester University (he was an instinctive engineer by inclination, a natural designer) Ludwig was inspired by the works of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell.  He founded two philosophies, earlier and later, and his real spheres were logic and mathematics. Wittgenstein felt that the main philosophical problems come from a misuse of language and a misunderstanding of language. These days, Genia argued, there are new ways of trying to link the continuities of early and later Wittgenstein, bearing in mind that the Tractatus of 1921 was the only book he published In his lifetime. The famous Philosophical Investigations appeared only after his death. In his later work Wittgenstein says ‘no’ to metaphysics.


Much of the formidably difficult Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was written while Wittgenstein was at the Front during the Great War, and later at a POW Camp in Italy. In one of his Notebooks, he wrote that ‘ My work has expanded from the foundations of logic to the essence of the world.’ In a letter to Von Ficker, he said that ‘ the point of the book is ethical. Drawing a limit to thought and to what is expressible.’ Wittgenstein inspired the later Logical Positivists and the Vienna Circle, but was not a Logical Positivist himself. Wittgenstein’s sister Hermine visited Ludwig in Cambridge. Russell said to her that they expected that the next great step in philosophy would be taken by Ludwig, her brother, and she was amazed.


Wittgenstein said, characteristically and ambiguously of the Tractatus that the part he did not write was more important than what he did write. Russell himself, while admiring the earlier parts of this short treatise, could not understand the mystical passages at the end of the Tractatus. Many in Vienna and far beyond were annoyed by the work, and found Wittgenstein far too clever and knowing.


The early view of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was that Wittgenstein felt that there was a harmony between language and the world, consisting of ‘logical form’. He asked ‘What has to be true of language and the world for meaning to be possible?’  Logical form is the thing that language and the world share. The basic idea is that propositions picture the world. Canvases are pictorial - propositions are linguistic. Both are representations of the world.


Propositions depict facts. They consist of names, and names refer to objects. The meaning of a name is external to the name; it is the object for which the name stands. Propositions are just pictures - they don’t refer to anything. They have a sense - an ‘internal’ arrangement that tells us something.  The link between language and the world is affected by names occurring in propositions referring to objects. These cannot be ‘natural’ objects. They are ‘absolute samples’ - the result of complete logical analysis.  Only propositions can be true or false, not names. 


In order to know whether a proposition is true, we need to compare it with reality. But to do that, a proposition must already have a sense - we must know what it means. The sense of a proposition is a function of names having a reference, as well as being put together according to the rules of grammar or logical syntax.


Language and the world share (inexpressible) logical form. For example, ‘the cat is black’ is a possible combination. ‘Blackness is cat’ is not a possible combination. The proposition shows its sense, but does not assert it. Propositions are bipolar. They must be capable of being true and capable of being false. For example ‘Raining and not raining’ (contradiction), then 1 plus 1=2 (true). Logical propositions are very peculiar, Contingent propositions are ones that could be otherwise - empirical propositions.  There are implications for the propositions of logics, which are always true, true whatever the circumstances, or in the case of contradictions, untrue whatever the circumstances.  This theory also implies that there can be no ‘propositions of philosophy’ – because these would necessarily be true if they could be said, and therefore would not be bipolar.


Wittgenstein’s own famous sentence here ‘The World is all that is the case’ is either a tautology, and therefore senseless, or it tries to say what can only be shown, and is therefore nonsense. Wittgenstein’s own proposition thus fails the test that the Tractatus propounds.


Philosophy is the activity of logical clarification. Hence what is regarded as the strictly correct method in the Tractatus is not the method actually practised in the Tractatus itself. The Tractatus went on to become the swansong of metaphysics.


Wittgenstein’s method in the Tractatus consists of constructing a ladder that is to be discarded once we have climbed it. Propositions propounded in the Tractatus are themselves nonsense—violations of the boundaries of sense. ‘What we cannot speak of, thereof we must pass over in silence’ is the most famous single sentence in the Tractatus.


Genia asked ‘Does the Tractatus self-destruct?  Did Wittgenstein really mean the theory to be true?  And is it compatible with him saying originally that his statements are unassailable and definitive?  The Tractatus is trying to gesture at what can’t be expressed. Again (as stated earlier) the important part of the Tractatus is the one he did not write. In his later work, such as the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein rejected much of what he said in the Tractatus. But we don’t and can’t discuss everything that Wittgenstein said in the Tractatus. Genia ended by observing that philosophy is a system of clarification, rather than a body of knowledge.




Talk No. 6


Drama and Theatre in Late Habsburg Vienna


Dr Judith Beniston, Associate Professor, School of European Languages, Literature and culture, Faculty of Arts and humanities, University College, London


Judith is a Germanist, with a long-standing interest in Austrian and Viennese culture, especially in the theatre. She makes a point of not teaching plays to students which are not still in the repertoire.


A self-conscious modern generation of performers, writers, theatre makers and impresarios emerged in late 19thcentury Vienna, offering entertainment that reflected a changing world, and repeatedly challenging the establishment, not least in the exploration of the human psyche, and of relations between the sexes. Judith reminded us again that Klimt did the murals for the Burgtheater in the city, which included his depictions of Romeo and Juliet.


She went on to give brief overview of the development of theatres in Vienna, starting with 1776, and the granting by the Emperor Josef II of the freedom to put on plays in Vienna, both opera and spoken theatre. Going further back, opera had been either French of Italian, but there had been no German opera. The question of censorship remained, of course.  In the late 18th century there had been several theatres in Vienna, in particular the Theater an der Josefstadt.  The Theater an der Wien (1801) had a capacity of nearly 2000.


Vienna expanded exponentially between 1858 and 1904, in ways shown in earlier talks. In 1850, the Austrian capital’s population was 550,000. This increased to 900,000 by 1859, then to 1.4 million by 1890 and to 2.2 million by 1916.  Vienna became the second largest Czech city in population.  The demand for entertainment exceeded supply.  The old Burgtheater in Vienna had a spiral staircase going up to the ‘gods’. 384 people lost their lives in the burning down of the old Burgtheater on 8 December 1881. The problems of safety curtains (should they be solid iron?) had to be addressed urgently. Severe rules were introduced about not taking things/ objects into the theatre. Heavy fire rules were inevitably introduced. The Staatsoper (1869) and the rebuilt Burgtheater (1888) are both still there.  Many new commercial theatres were built outside the Ringstrasse in this period, under the Dual Monarchy.  Austria was well aware of Chancellor Bismarck and the German Empire after 1871, and of pan-German nationalism within Austria, which was anti-Semitic, anti-clerical and anti-Catholic.


Viennese theatre offered light comedy, operetta, and variety theatre, usually in the format of a full evening’s entertainment (Abendfuellend). The Deutsches Volkstheater opened in 1889, but the Deutsches part of the name was dropped after 1945.  Many of Ibsen’s plays were performed in German, left leaning, liberal and socialist. The Raimund-Theater, named after one of the great German dialect dramatists, was opened in 1893, a long way out of the city centre.  Ferdinand Raimund, actor and dramatist (1790-1836) had been a major Austrian literary figure in the years before 1848. There was also a place for minor figures, such as Adam Mueller-Guttenbrunn (1852-1923), mentioned by Judith at this point.  He was Austrian -born, though the town of his birth is now in Romania. Mueller-Guttenbrund wrote several successful plays, plus novels and stories, most of which appeared serially. 


The Kaiser-Jubilaeums Stadttheater opened in 1898. This was German nationalist and anti-Semitic. The name was code for ‘Christian’ theatre. This was the time of the anti-Semitic Mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, and his ‘Christian Socialism’, which many in this still growing, cosmopolitan city were all too willing to follow. In the Vienna of 1900, the theatrical landscape was very varied, in the midst of all this right-wing ascendancy. But Jewish writers, composers and performers were variously attacked in the right wing press, and were largely unable to reply or defend themselves. Judith, who had looked at some of this openly hostile material, described it all as ‘horrible to read’. 


Vienna idolised its star actors.  The repertoire at the Burgtheater was very traditional, with plenty of Schiller and Shakespeare, plus light French comedies (in translation of course) and elegant salon comedy, such as the then new plays of Oscar Wilde. In 1895, the Burgtheater was showing Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) The Silesian Gerhard Hauptmann (1862-1946) and the Viennese Jewish playwright and novelist Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931).  An Ibsen week in Vienna was held in 1891: his plays were also popular in the German cities, including the capital, Berlin.  But the more controversial works by these writers were not given on stage - Ibsen’s Ghosts, for example, Hauptmann’s The Weavers, or Schnitzler’s Reigen.  One play by Schnitzler, Liebelei (Dalliance, 1895) at the Burgtheater portrayed ‘an ordinary young girl telling of her love and her despair, in Viennese dialect.’ In 1933 this was made into a film by the director Max Ophuls.


Ibsen’s reputation was emphatically on the rise throughout Central Europe, especially the ‘social realist’ and even the ‘semi-mystical’ dramas, such as Rosmersholm, Little Eyolf, and The Lady from the Sea. The Viennese also developed a taste for the plays of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a generation younger than Ibsen himself, and also the author of The Quintessence of Ibsenism, and The Perfect Wagnerite. Shaw was lucky in finding Siegfried Trebitsch (1868-1956), who became his regular German translator, as well as his agent in Europe. This arrangement went on right up to 1939. The world premiere of Shaw’s Pygmalion, in Trebitsch’s translation, was given at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1911. The actress playing Eliza Dolittle spoke with a thick Saxon (Leipzig) accent. 


There was, naturally, and in spite of censorship, greater openness about sexuality, and especially women’s sexuality. Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen (Round Dance): Ten Dialogues   was performed privately in 1900, though not on the public stage. The ten dialogues are each of them between a man and a woman.  Each scene presents a couple before and after the act of sex. The play is ‘ a dance of sex’ and all sections of society are represented, even though no woman is paired with  a man of lower social class. Reigen is essentially about extra-marital sex, and creates a process of gradual audience disillusionment. (Judith referred here to Round Dance and Other Plays, translated by JMQ Davies, OUP, 2004)  There was no chance of Reigen being staged in a public theatre under the Empire. However, in the new climate after 1920, there were many performances - but also many protests, including anti-Semitic ones. Schnitzler, over his long life  (he died in 1931, one of the most prolific of all Austrian writers) became used to the vicious anti-Semitic assaults in the Viennese press on his work as a leading, successful writer of both plays and prose fiction.


In Britain, there was no legitimate stage production of Reigen until 1982.  Schnitzler himself had banned the play, as did his son Heinrich. Laurence Olivier wanted to do it at the National Theatre in London, bur Heinrich Schnitzler refused to allow it. Once copyright had ended in 1981, there were many productions, some with a ‘death’ figure on the stage, or a handkerchief passed through many figures as a motif. Max Ophuls, again, made a famous film of Reigen (La Ronde) in 1950, which he inevitably chose to set in the Vienna of 1900. Much more recently, The Blue Room  (1998) appeared, in which Nicole Kidman and Ian Glenn played all the parts. (This is not to be confused with the 2014 French erotic thriller The Blue Room, directed by Matthieu Amalric, which is based on a novel by Georges Simenon.)


In a brief excursus, Judith referred to the brilliant success of Franz Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow (Die Lustige Witwe).  Following its first performance at the Theater and der Wien in December 1905. This starred two already very experienced singing actors, Mizzi Guenther as the widow Hannah and Lois Treumann as Count Danilo Danilovitch, First Secretary at the Viennese Embassy. Lehar (1870-1948) was an experienced composer, conductor and bandmaster, with a genuine melodic gift. The light-heated libretto (derived from an 1861 French play) centres on an emancipated woman, a very wealthy widow who is a disruptive force in a conventional, patriarchal society.  Judith had seen a modern production of The Merry Widow recently at the English National Opera. She emphasised the need to keep politics off the stage. The small Balkan state in the story was fictionalised from Montenegro to Pontevedro. It was forbidden on stage to include criticism of institutions, the monarchy, or the military.


Arguably, one of Schnitzler’s best and most successful plays was Professor Bernhardi, first given at the Kleines Theater, Berlin in 1912, and published in the same year. He called it ‘a comedy’, though the theme could be described as anything but. Performance of Professor Bernhardi was banned by censorship until the end of the Austro- Hungarian state in 1918, because of the criticism of Austrian public life. This play is not well known to British audiences, so I am reproducing the plot summary set out in Henry and Mary Garland’s Oxford Companion to German Literature (1976), page 685:

‘Professor Bernhardi is a well-known Jewish consultant in charge of a ward in which a girl is dying of sepsis after an abortion. She is under sedation, and is unaware of the seriousness of her condition. It is Bernhardi’s intention that she should be allowed to die unperturbed under the analgesic. A priest, summoned by the ward sister, arrives to administer Extreme Unction, but is refused admission by Bernhardi. While they argue, the girl dies, having been told by the ward sister that the priest is there.


‘Out of this episode arises a storm in the press, in the hospital administration, and in high society. As a Jew, Bernhardi becomes a special target for pro-Catholic, anti-Semitic demonstrations. He is tried for assault and obstruction, is convicted, and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment - which proved to be a far from rigorous experience. The fifth act is a relaxed discussion of the case between the released Bernhardi and Hofrat Dr Winckler.’  (Winckler’s character is based on the ironic but very progressive figure of Max Burckhard (1854-1912) Director of the Burgtheater from 1890 to 1898. Burckhard pioneered contemporary drama there.)


A play derived from Professor Bernhardi, called The Doctor, was created by the director Robert Icke in 2019, with Juliet Stevenson as a white, female Jewish doctor, and was given at the Almeida Theatre in London. The Doctor made a considerable impact on audiences. Today’s view of Professor Bernhardi is that it is a well-constructed play, with an unexpectedly serene ending, intelligent and thought provoking.


At the opposite extreme from Schnitzler’s prolific writing centring on human sexuality in its multiple forms are the play, poems and other writings of Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) librettist for six of the operas of the composer Richard Strauss  (1864-1949). Hofmannsthal was a poet first of all, very precocious, who came from a privileged, part Italian, part-Jewish background. His allegorical drama and morality play Jedermann (Everyman) was given in Berlin in 1911 and in Vienna in 1912. It benefited from the big revival of religious drama in Central Europe after 1918, and became a regular feature of the Salzburg Festival from its inception in 1920. Between 1920 and 1937, Jedermann was staged at Salzburg every year but four. It was taken off after the 1938 Anschluss (the invasion of Austria by the Germans) because of Hofmannsthal’s Jewish ancestry and because of the Jewishness of the gifted theatre director Max Reinhardt.  (Reinhardt had directed the very young Micky Rooney as Puck in his famous film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in 1932). Once again, because English audiences are not generally familiar with Jedermann, I reproduce the short summary off this drama from the Garlands’ Oxford Companion to German Literature, page 429:

‘The play is a parable of the rich man who is unexpectedly faced with death, and for the first time, gives thought to the salvation of his soul. Jedermann eats, drinks and is merry; he has no ear for his mother’s warnings, no compassion for his debtor’s distress. In the middle of a banquet, with his paramour and fellow-drinkers, Death suddenly appears, and warns him that the end is near. In vain he pleads for time, begging the friends of his prosperity to accompany him on his dark journey - but to no avail.

‘He bids his servants carry his treasure chest on the journey, but they flee. As he seeks to console himself at least with the possession of the chest, the lid opens, and Mammon emerges to mock him. Only the allegorical figure of Good Works is willing to go with him, but his good works have been so few that she is too frail and feeble to endure the journey.

‘Another allegorical figure, Glaube (Belief) appears, and in his presence, Jedermann undergoes a conversion. His repentance restores Good Works to vigour and beauty. An attempt by the Devil to carry Jedermann off to Hell is thwarted by an Angel, and Everyman descends with a contrite and believing heart into his grave.’




All summaries Copyright 2019 Dr Robert Blackburn.  These summaries were compiled from notes taken at the Vienna Symposium talks, with some added material.