The Woman who educated Vienna: Eugenie Schwarzwald 1872-1940
In the recent article on Egon Wellesz, I made a passing reference to the fact that there was already a page dealing with Eugenie Schwarzwald to be found as an earlier blog-entry. In fact, it had been uploaded to the book’s Facebook page, and even if Facebook insists that nothing is every deleted, this particular article was. As a result, it was not uploaded to the Forbidden Music blog. This inconvenience led me to write a new article on Eugenie Schwarzwald, as she’s most certainly not a figure who deserves to be swallowed by Facebook in the same manner that she’s been swallowed by history.
She was one of the many fin de siècle players who set the stage for 20th century Modernism: An educationalist who engaged Oskar Kokoschka to teach art, Arnold Schoenberg to teach music and Adolf Loos to teach architecture. Her Salon rivalled Bertha Zuckerkandl’s and the alumnae from her girls’ school were not Vienna’s young ladies, but Vienna’s most dynamic female personalities, individualists and free-spirits: The writers Hilde Spiel, Alice Herden-Zuckmayer and Vicki Baum; the actresses Helene Weigel (Bert Brecht’s wife) and Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel, the painter Ruth Karplus, the psychoanalysts Anna Freud and Elsa Pappenheim.
She became the basis for Robert Musil’s character Diotima in his novel The Man Without Qualities. To everyone who knew her, she was Frau Doktor, and her official title was Fr. Dr. Phil. Eugenie Schwarzwald, used as incautiously as possible as her academic title from Zurich was not recognised in Vienna where women were only allowed to attend university as visiting students, and could not take degrees of any sort.
She was born in 1872 as Eugenie Nußbaum in Czernowitz, the capital of Austria’s Bukovina province. She went to the local institute for instructing teachers before going to university in Zurich, the only school in German speaking Europe where women could take degrees and complete doctorates. Her subject was Germanic studies with secondary subjects in English, philosophy and Pedagogy. She would become one of the first Austrian women to achieve a doctorate.
Following her marriage in 1900 to Hermann Schwarzwald, she took a three year lease on a girls’ upper-school and in 1905, was forced to make its maths teacher the ‘official’ pro forma principal. Unwilling to be defeated, she was able to transform the institution into a centre of education that included the first co-educational primary school along with secondary education and specialist education in selected subjects.
She was friendly with the Italian educational reformist Maria Montessori and their synthesis of ideas would influence the Socialist educationalist, Otto Glöckel, one of the first to promote comprehensive education as an alternative to the elite specialist schools that prepared pupils for university.
It was in fact one of her ‘specialist subject’ classes that brought Arnold Schoenberg together with his pupils Anton Webern, Alban Berg and Egon Wellesz for the first time, thus establishing the basis for Vienna’s Second School of composition.
After the First World War and the defeat of Austria and Germany, she focused her educational efforts on the running of some seven or eight children’s homes for the displaced, damaged and orphaned.
In spite of a personal belief in education for everyone, in 1911, she opened the first school in Austria that prepared female pupils for university entrance. It operated from the centre of Vienna’s first district, just above the Café Herrenhof. To set the tone, she had its interior designed by the father of architectural Modernism and arch-enemy of ornament of any kind, Adolf Loos.
Indeed, it was the fortuitous location above Café Herrenhof that gave her access to Vienna’s most progressive thinkers and artists, all of whom were Herrenhof regulars. Not only did she have Kokoschka, Loos and Schoenberg as teachers, but Egon Wellesz joined Schoenberg to teach music, the legal philosopher and jurist Hans Kelsen taught Sociology and the literary historian Otto Rommel taught literature.
Her holiday home in the Austrian Lake resort Altaussee was a meeting place of Jakob Wassermann, Karl Zuckmayer, Sinclair Lewis and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Her salon in Vienna’s VIII District was the conversational home of some of the city’s most radical thinkers from both left and right of the political spectrum. It was this mix of the likes of Karl Popper, with supporters of the Roman Catholic dictatorship under Dollfuß that drew associations between her and the fictional Diotima in Musil’s novel. The fact that Schwarzwald was Jewish – as indeed nearly her entire circle and most intimate friends – made no difference.
What this remarkable woman was like as a person is more difficult to fatham, which is strange given the circles she moved in and the creative relationships she facilitated. Like Berta Zuckerkandl, she was parodied in the media and the object of anti-Semitic and misogynistic attacks. Even Musil’s fundamentally positive portrayal of Diotima is shrouded with an air of disbelieving condescension. Here was a woman who was so attractive, so clever and so profound in her world view that she enchanted everyone she encountered – yet Musil still leaves an impression that such attributes were somehow unsettling.
Hilde Spiel writes of a formidable personality who took no notice of individuals, meaning she would have no idea who any of her former pupils may have been and certainly not recognised them on the street. Egon Wellesz blandly recalls a generous hostess who seemed not to draw people into her circle for reasons of vanity, but because she found them interesting. Reading all of the accounts of Schwarzwald, I think it unlikely that she had the slightest interest in music, though Rudolf Serkin was a pupil and a regular guest at her summer house and Vienna salon. One can’t help wondering, however, if he was there to participate in the conversations or to play to the guests as they munched their canapés.
In 1933, she helped those fleeing the Nazis in Germany; with the dissolution of the Austrian parliament and the implementation of the clerical dictatorship of Engelbert Dollfuß, she helped newly criminalised Socialists escape the secret police. Austria’s own fall into the hands of the Nazis took place while she was on holiday in Denmark. She never returned and fled to Zurich where she died in 1940. Her possessions were sequestered by the III Reich, her schools closed and most of her pupils fled abroad or were murdered in death camps.
It would be in Berta Zuckerkandl’s salon where Klimt and his friends would form the Secessionists, and again in 1920, it was at a Zuckerkandl social that Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss and Max Reinhardt decided to launch the Salzburg Festival. But Schwarzwald’s influence was more subtle and no less meaningful. Merely bringing the elements of Vienna’s Second School together is something worth noting, though she was probably unaware of its significance at the time. And it was at her summer home that Egon Wellesz met both Jakob Wassermann and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, both of whom would supply libretti and ballet treatments. Yet it was establishing the fact that Vienna’s young women were bright, ambitious and deserved more than being instructed in how to be perfect hostess that changed not only Vienna, but the nature of education itself.