The Wagner Journal

Barry Millington, Manifestations of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

Barry Millington, Manifestations of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

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November 2018, Volume 12, Number 3, 4–25.

There is a danger, in speaking or writing about the Gesamtkunstwerk, of falling prey to the characteristically Wagnerian syndrome of over-ambition. Similarly, to attempt to elucidate the multi-faceted artistic glories of fin-de-siècle Vienna in the depth they deserve would require expertise in disciplines as varied as art, architecture, book design, silverware and interior decoration somewhat beyond the powers of the average musicologist. I propose therefore, in this article – which will nevertheless briefly reference a number of the most noted artists and architects of fin-de-siècle Vienna – to focus very specifically on certain key manifestations of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk in this period. In doing so, I will draw together a cluster of these stellar figures, discussing in each case a very limited number of exemplary works. The major figures in this modernist constellation are Wassily Kandinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Oskar Kokoschka, with Alfred Roller and Alma Mahler making coruscating appearances on the periphery. The figure of Gustav Mahler is also in the picture, though not for once in the centre, exactly as in the representation of the Ringstrasse in 1908 by Theo Zasche, where Mahler can be seen in the low hat, to the right of the picture.

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