Berlin, Harlem, Vienna: Conflicting Ideas of Heimat in Alexander Zemlinsky's late songs, 1929-1938

Mirjam Frank

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis argues that the lack of stylistic consistency in Zemlinsky’s late songs, 1929-1938, demands an investigative approach which foregrounds the inherently plural nature of the interwar cultures in Germany and Austria, and their conflicted relationship with inherited traditions. Point of departure is Zemlinsky’s stay in Weimar Berlin, where he wrote the Symphonische Gesänge, Op.20 (1929). The set, if interrogated through what Hannah Arendt calls the ‘web of relationships’ (The Human Condition, 1958), even reveals elements of ‘authentic’ jazz, among other things. Only few years later, from 1933, Zemlinsky was forced to move to Vienna, where he wrote the Six Songs, Op.22 (1934) and the Twelve Songs, Op.27 (1937/8). Both sets, if read against the complicated political situation of the Austro-Fascist regime and its impact on culture and the arts,
work towards a defamiliarization of Zemlinsky’s inherited compositional heritage – or Heimat. I argue that the engagement with the idea of Heimat, musically and historically speaking, provides an eminently fitting conceptual framework for an exploration of a highly complex and plural period, as well as the music that came out of it. Stylistic devices including jazz and altered Volk themes only come to the fore if both music and its cultural contexts are interrogated through a different set of materials, one that complements the well-known connections of Zemlinsky’s with the ‘usual suspects’, i.e., Brahms, Mahler and Schoenberg. These materials include the African-American jazz cultures in Weimar Berlin, inherited traditions of (folk) song and the symphony and the tensions arising from these, as well as less visible figures like August Eigner, Anna Nußbaum and Wilhelm Grosz. Put together, these details along with Zemlinsky’s fragmented song writing help to reconsider our presumed narratives of a supposedly well-understood period and its music. This thesis thus offers new insight on an era that is presumably well documented, yet almost always through the same central figures and established narratives. Further, it contributes towards an understanding of the concept of Heimat, usually seen as idealistic Austro-German phenomenon, as a much more global phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Johnson, Julian, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Alexander Zemlinsky
  • Weimar Berlin
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Austro-Fascism
  • Music
  • Musicology
  • Interwar Years
  • Lied
  • Song
  • Jazz
  • Weimar Jazz
  • Vienna
  • Anschluss
  • Austria
  • Censorship
  • World War II
  • Heimat
  • Music and Philosophy
  • Music and Politics

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