Richard Strauss Memorabilia: Lost Photo Found - Strauss and Vienna 1929 October 12 2020

Richard Strauss conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra 1929

Two years ago while antique shopping in Purcellville, Virginia, I discovered a black lacquered frame with glass, sitting on the floor of a dingy consignment shop. Its only identifying mark at the time was a raised stamp near the bottom right, Herlango, which was a photograph company of Austria in the early nineteen hundreds. I later realized with shock what is pictured in this lost piece of memorabilia. It is the hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus with composer Richard Strauss standing on the podium. 

Since my discovery, I have been consumed to learn more about this unknown and unpublished photograph. With help from Dr. Dominik Sedivy of the Richard Strauss Institute in Garmisch, Germany, we have determined that the photo was taken likely before concerts taking place on January 22 and 23, 1929 with Richard Strauss conducting members of the Wiener Sinfonie, Staatsoper, and Philharmonic and members of well-known string quartets of the day. 

The photograph beautifully shows a large orchestra, with chorus risers in the background. To date, I have been able to identify approximately 16 musicians shown on stage, many of which were affected by the German Anschluss; many were either exiled, escaped to the U.S., or sent to concentration camps. This concert was advertised only as a Wiener Sinfonie concert, sponsored by the Wiener Schubertbund.

However, through my study, I believe it was a joint concert with members of all three Vienna musical ensembles, including Staatsoper musicians, (similar to the Monster Konzerts of Strauss’ day). This practice was common in that period. 

I am trying to determine the ultimate reason for this piece of memorabilia was made, to include these theories: First, this concert was Richard Strauss' first time conducting his, Die Tageszeiten, for male chorus and orchestra.

Second, I believe (with confirmation from biographer), Alexander Waugh, that pianist, and friend of Richard Strauss, Paul Wittgenstein is pictured far left. He was slated to perform at this concert but fell ill before the performances. Paul Wittgenstein was the famous left-handed pianist who lobbied Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, and many others to compose left-handed concerti, after having lost his right arm during WWI. Of course, Ravel wrote arguably the most famous. 

Wittgenstein’s story alone is worth more words that can be written here. Wittgenstein was able to eventually immigrate to N.Y. city where he taught at a small Universities to include the Ralph Wolfe Conservatory in New Rochelle (1938-1943) and at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart (1940-1945). 

Members of this large orchestra are an extraordinary “who’s who” of musicians of that era and Vienna. My findings imply that Richard Strauss obviously had strong opinions and intentions to require certain musicians to sit in specific chairs for this concert.

For example, clarinetist Viktor Polatschek is sitting in the principal chair but was a member of the VPO at the time. One year later, he left for Boston and was a member of the BSO until his death. He composed some of the most important clarinet etude books used today. I believe Julius Swertka is sitting in the concertmaster chair, and he was a member of the VPO usually sitting second to Alfred Rose’.

Swertka was later killed during the war in Theresienstadt. I have identified cellists Lucian Horwitz and Richard Krotschak. Horwitz was blacklisted as a Jew by Karl Muck, (former director of the Boston Symphony in the early 1900’s) as he had been a regular substitute at the Bayreuth Festival. He later died in Auschwitz. Violinist, Hugo Gottesmann was the current concertmaster of the Wiener Sinfonie, but I believe is shown sitting near the rear of the first violins. Gottesmann immigrated to the U.S. eventually sitting concertmaster of the Ft. Wayne, Indiana Philharmonic.

Marcel Dick is sitting in the principal viola chair and escaped to eventually join the Cleveland Orchestra and the composition faculty of the Cleveland Institute. I also believe violinist Paul Fischer is shown; a member of the VPO and Rose Quartet. I have identified many others. 

This journey continues to be rewarding for me and important for history. It is a document perhaps showing the only photographic record of several important and influential classical musicians on stage together. Many left a musical legacy and taught our teachers.

I am hoping within the year that my findings and photograph will be published in the Austrian peer-reviewed journal, The Strauss Jahrbuch, edited by Oswald Panagl and Matthew Werley,  published by Hollitzer Verlag.

Written by Mark Latimer

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