Arnold Schönberg's European Family


Chapter TWO


The stories about Arnold Schönberg in this chapter have come down to me first and foremost from my mother Trudi, who was the composer’s oldest child and for many years the person closest to him. Other stories were told to me by my uncle Görgi, Schönberg’s beloved son, my father Felix Greissle, the Maestro’s son-in-law, and my second-cousin Hansi Zemlinsky, daughter of my great-uncle Alexander von Zemlinsky, who was Schönberg’s best friend and teacher as far back as the 1890s.

These stories will, I hope, help to shed light on my grandfather as an everyday person rather than as a genius and brilliant composer. Schönberg’s complex nature, his aspirations and fears, and his love for and rejection of tradition are almost proverbial—he is often referred to as a "conservative revolutionary." But behind it all, as we shall see, was a human being like the rest of us, with as many faults as virtues, indeed an individualist, even an egotist, who always managed to have the last word in an argument and immediately took charge of a situation whenever and wherever he appeared on the scene. At the same time, he was also kind and gentle, often to the point of deep humility.

When I Paint a Hand

Schönberg’s house in Mödling is situated in a quiet residential section with many lush, well-kept gardens and immaculate sidewalks; their inlaid yellow bricks hardly show a trace of wear, even though they date from the turn of the last century, when Austria was still a huge empire stretching across a goodly part of Europe. With its cone-shaped dome and tall, narrow windows, the house looks like a small French chateau and indeed reminds one of Chambord and Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley. On the inside, though, it looks pretty much like any other middle-class residence from the last decades of the Habsburg dynasty.

A wrought-iron fence with thick hedges separates the house and a garden to the rear from the street. In this garden are two ancient cherry trees that bear large, juicy, pinkish-yellow fruit in July. There are also apple trees and plum trees, and a sprawling lawn.

In 1974, when Arnold Schönberg would have been a hundred years old, the house was on the point of being sold to a developer, who wanted to demolish it, bulldoze the garden, and put up a modern residential complex in their place, a fate that had already befallen many a venerable building during the sixties and seventies. And thus another bit of old Mödling—indeed, of old Austria!—would have vanished.

Fortunately, musicologist Walter Szmolian and Elisabeth Lafite, head of the International Schönberg Society, came to the rescue, prevailing upon the Mödling civic authorities to declare the house a landmark because Schönberg had lived and worked there during perhaps the most important period of his career (1918 to 1925). In this house, they pointed out, the Maestro had composed major works like Erwartung, Die glückliche Hand, and the Wind Quintet (which, I might add, he had dedicated to me, his first-born grandchild). Further, not only had he taught and performed there with his best-known pupils but it was also there that he had invented the Twelve Tone System for musical composition, as well as announced it to the world and vigorously defended it. Added to that, all of the furniture in Schönberg's study, with the exception of the piano, had been built by the Maestro himself—tables, chairs, his writing stand, and bookcases. Even the ashtrays were his handiwork! Once these items were reassembled from Los Angeles and other sources, the place would make an ideal museum and visiting place for tourists, which indeed it is today.

This house has come to have a special significance for me because Schönberg lived there with his first family—my family—namely, my grandmother Mathilde (née von Zemlinsky) and their two children, my mother and my uncle. Also, in this house my mother met and married my father, and finally, as I have already said, I was born there, in a small room on the second floor.

My mother told me that in those days the house was watched over by a large German shepherd named Wulli, who was inseparable from the family and traveled everywhere with them. It seems that there was something very special about this Wulli. The story goes that he would bite people, but only stupid ones—the intelligent ones he left alone!
Let me describe an event that took place in this house at Bernhardgasse no. 6 in Mödling in 1922, the year before my birth. Many people visited Schönberg during those years, men and women who were to become famous the world over. One especially frequent guest was Anton von Webern, who lived only a few steps away in the Neusiedlerstrasse. Other composers and members of the Kreis (circle) also visited from time to time, namely, Alban Berg, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Ernst Krenek, Rudolf Kolisch, Hanns Eisler, Max Deutsch, Erwin Ratz, and Josef Polnauer. On one occasion, the house was the setting for a meeting with Matthias Hauer, who had also invented an unconventional system for musical composition. Also joining the Kreis from time to time were other members of Vienna’s intelligentsia, like Alma Mahler, writers Karl Kraus and Franz Werfel, architect Adolf Loos, and photographer Lisette Model—all of them bent on mingling with and learning from one another, as has been traditional with Austrian artists through the centuries.

The gatherings were always lively and animated with everyone eating, drinking, but especially talking and, frequently, quarreling, sometimes late into the night. They all had concrete, well-defined opinions about everything imaginable, especially about the arts. Whatever the subject—whether music, literature, art, medicine, architecture, politics, religion, philosophy, or technology—it was of world-shaking importance, both for the speaker and the listener. Those intellectual giants, especially the men, did not speak quietly and on an even keel as folks normally do, but rather forcefully, with enormous conviction, as if their pronouncements were irrefutable—until the other fellow raised his objection. At the same time, they expressed their thoughts with unusual clarity and quick-wittedness, ever on the ready with a bon mot or clever turn of thought at the right moment.

A loud voice was the rule of the day, and on the occasion of a difference of opinion, a shouting match was not unheard of. But simple hotheadedness would not do: one had to set forth one’s arguments in a logical manner. If anyone dared to utter something that was unproven or assumed, he was immediately put in his place, briefly and succinctly with such exclamations as "Wrong!" "Nonsense!" or "You're way behind the times!" Also forbidden was small talk of any kind, which would have been censured in no uncertain terms—as would the trite and the commonplace.

My father was esteemed throughout his life as a musicologist and conductor in Austria and later in America as general editor of G. Schirmer and E. Marks, major music publishers. If he had a fault, it was a tendency to be hard-nosed and somewhat opinionated on occasion. It happens that he was also a skillful, conscientious artist, having studied painting and drawing as a youngster before World War I and having produced a fair number of traditional-looking still lifes, landscapes, and portraits by the time of this story. While he was rather adept in the use of colors and quite articulate when it came to discussing the art of painting theoretically—as well someone should who had been trained in the best Viennese tradition—he was far from happy about recent trends in European painting. Yes, strange as it might seem, while Felix enthusiastically endorsed Schönberg's Twelve Tone System for composing music, he felt ill at ease with such contemporaneous movements in the fine arts as Expressionism, Jugendstil, and—worse yet—Cubism.

One day, the painter Oskar Kokoschka joined the Kreis. Then in his mid-thirties, he had studied at the Vienna Academy of Arts in the first decade of the century, come under the influence of Art Nouveau, especially Gustav Klimt, and then, like most other super-talents, proceeded to chart his own course. It wasn’t long before he came to the attention of Adolf Loos, who felt that he had discovered a true genius. Befriending Kokoschka, Loos made the introductions to Schönberg and the others.

Kokoschka is best known today for his somewhat unrealistic-looking portraits. His aim was not to present viewers with a likeness of his subjects—any everyday photographer could do that—but to portray the inner man, his essence, his psychological gestalt, his soul. Hence, a person’s eyes didn't have to be parallel to each other; a nose could look like a dog's, and the ears could be very large or absent altogether. Kokoschka’s mode of painting was at that time just as unpopular with the general public as Schönberg's "new music."

One day, my father encountered Kokoschka at Bernhardgasse no. 6 in Mödling. Naturally, the two of them began to discuss painting. My father, who as I said was a good amateur painter of a traditional bent and had almost as extensive a background in art as in music, wanted to know just what the purpose was of the new-fangled tendencies that Kokoschka represented, what this new school of painting Kokoschka was associated with was trying to accomplish. To come right to the point, what was Kokoschka hoping to convey with his drawings and paintings of humans that were so untrue to life?

As always, when he got fired up, Felix switched to the Viennese dialect. "Look, Herr Kokoschka," he said, "let me explain what happens when I paint somebody's portrait. Let me tell you how I work."

Kokoschka looked at him expectantly, probably trying to anticipate what was about to issue forth from this musician who also painted.

"You see, Herr Kokoschka"—and here Felix emphatically thumped his chest with a finger —"Wann ich eine Hand mal’, schaut’s aus wie a Hand!" (When I paint a hand, it looks like a hand!).

Schönberg and Gerstl

In the spring of 1906, a young artist named Richard Gerstl approached Schönberg because he wanted to paint his portrait. This fellow, an intelligent, handsome chap, had already asked Mahler and been turned down—probably because Mahler was too busy, but possibly also because he had fears for Alma. Schönberg agreed to be painted and willingly extended a hand of friendship to the young man.

Possibly he saw in Gerstl a mirror image of himself in music. The young man had initially followed the school of the Secessionists but had soon broken with it, to the point of refusing to allow a painting of his to be exhibited in one of their group shows because it would have appeared side by side with several by Klimt, whose work he had grown to detest. By the time of his meeting with Schönberg, Gerstl had developed new, impressionist techniques involving a luxurious use of color and a special interest in Fleckenmalerei (pointillism). Being highly argumentative, often to the point of outright aggression, he had no friends in the world of art and was very much alone, in fact was shunned by other artists.

Schönberg and his family were at that time residing in an apartment at Liechtensteinstrasse 70 in Vienna’s Ninth District. Gerstl’s studio, in which he lived, was only a short distance away at Liechtensteinstrasse 20.

Gerstl’s portrait of Schönberg, which has become particularly important for providing a personalized glimpse of him at that time of life, was only a beginning. He went on to paint the family, and he did so over and over again. There were portraits of Mathilde, some of these with my mother, who was then four or five years old, and one of the whole Schönberg family.

During this period of intense activity, Gerstl and Schönberg engaged in lengthy discussions on a variety of subjects, especially music and painting. Gerstl began frequenting the Schönberg household as if he were a member of the family, and soon the two men were walking, talking, and eating together almost on a daily basis. Schönberg became intrigued by the idea of painting, especially as Gerstl represented it, and soon wanted to become a painter himself. And what Schönberg wanted to do, he always did. Learning quickly from the young man, he became convinced that if he applied himself, he, the great musician, would most certainly become an equally outstanding artist with brush and paint on canvas.

It wasn’t long before Gerstl began meeting Schönberg’s friends and followers and painting some of their portraits. The importance of Gerstl’s acceptance into the Kreis can hardly be exaggerated. It gave him a new lease on life; at last he, the loner, felt respected, accepted, and even appreciated by some of the great minds of the day.

Unfortunately, the friendship between Schönberg and Gerstl was to come to a tragic end. In the summer of 1907—my mother was five years old at the time—Schönberg decided to return to the eastern shore of Lake Traunsee in the Salzkammergut, where he and the family and friends had vacationed in 1905, and invited Gerstl to come along. The Schönbergs stayed at the Engelgut at Traunstein no. 22 and Gerstl at a nearby miller’s house, the Feramühle, at no. 18. A narrow path, about a quarter mile in length, connected the two houses.

In July 1908, the entourage returned to the same area, and this time Schönberg and family stayed at the Haus Maria Ziegler (no. 24), while Gerstl lodged at no. 22 (where the Schönbergs had stayed the year before). Among those in the party that year were Anton von Webern and Schönberg’s pupils Heinrich Jalowetz and Viktor Krüger, who were quartered at other nearby places along the shore.

Gerstl, it should be noted, paid his own way on both of these trips. While he had practically no income from his paintings, his father, who was well-to-do, had been helping out and thus making it possible for Gerstl to pursue his art full time. In the summer of 1907, however, it is possible that he paid for his room by painting a portrait of the miller.

Sometime in the early part of that year and perhaps as late as that summer, Gerstl and Mathilde had begun having an affair. It is important to realize that Gerstl was in his early twenties and thus in the full bloom of manhood; Schönberg, by comparison, while highly intelligent, was not particularly attractive, being somewhat plump and short and prematurely bald. Added to this, Mathilde had just turned thirty, a dangerous age for a woman. Her marriage to Schönberg had not been very happy. He made all the decisions; she silently acquiesced. He was constantly occupied with something; underneath she must have been full of indignation at his having so little time for her and resentful about the lack of romantic content in her life. Still, the rapprochement with Gerstl could not have happened easily, as she was a quiet, unobtrusive woman who much preferred to be left alone and he, because of his introverted, combative ways, was not exactly a woman’s man. The two of them must each have recognized these traits in the other and so felt encouraged to fill the other’s void. The result: the wrong romance under the wrong circumstances.

Some people believe that Schönberg had surmised what was going on, and there’s a rumor that on that one day in August 1908 at the Traunsee, he actually walked in on them. It has also been bruited about that he once told Gerstl that he was aware that something was afoot, and then with perfect composure added, "Zwei solche wie wir sollten sich nicht wegen einer Frau entzweien" (Two men like us shouldn’t let anything like a woman come between us). Certainly, Schönberg must at least have had his suspicions, because at one time little Trudi reported to him that she had observed Gerstl kissing her mama ("Dieser Herr küsst die Mama"). Be that as it may, after their affair was discovered, Mathilde and Gerstl picked up and left for Gmunden, then Vienna, together.

Arnold realized that Mathilde was gone when he found both children alone in their beds. Trudi woke, felt that something was wrong, and began to cry. "Don’t worry," he tried to reassure her, "she’ll be back soon." But little Trudi looked at him and said, as if to correct her father, "Nein, Papa, die Mama kommt nicht mehr!" (No, Papa, Mommy is never coming back).

Schönberg took the train back to Vienna with Webern and the children. He was in terrible shape because of the breach of faith, and it is said that for a time he considered suicide. Some days later, Webern went as peacemaker to Gerstl’s studio and there found the two of them together. He persuaded Mathilde to return to Schönberg for the children’s sake; Schönberg generously agreed to take her back after she asked him to forgive her and gave her word that she would never return to Gerstl. From that day forward, Gerstl’s name was seldom even mentioned in the family. I remember that when my parents occasionally referred to "der Gerstl," it was always with an air of secrecy, a subject that was quickly passed over.

The person who turned out to be the biggest loser in the triangle was Gerstl himself. Not only had he lost Mathilde but, far worse, Schönberg never forgave him for betraying his friendship, and he was immediately excluded from the Kreis. Once again he was all alone, shunned, despised, and excluded from the contact with his fellow artists that had been so important to him.

Nor did Gerstl apparently understand fully the gravity of his transgression—at least not at once. One day there was a private concert and gathering of artists from the Schönberg Kreis, to which Gerstl did not receive an invitation. A day or two before the event Gerstl encountered a former friend in the street. When he asked him why he wasn’t invited, the friend replied simply, "Forget it, Richard!" and walked on.

On November 5, 1908, the day after the concert, Gerstl was found dead in his studio. There was a rope around his neck, and a rusty kitchen knife protruded from his chest. He had destroyed most of the paintings he kept there as well as numerous letters and notes, leaving little for future biographers to refer to.

There is an interesting epilogue to this story, which shows the psychological impact on Schönberg of Gerstl’s betrayal. Even though he loved the Traunsee, Schönberg did not return there for many years after that fateful summer of 1908, and when he and Mathilde finally did, in 1921, he avoided the eastern shore and stayed at the Villa Roner (today the Villa Spaun) in Traunkirchen on the lake’s western shore. It was there in Traunkirchen, in September 1923, that Schönberg was photographed with his first grandchild, the newborn Bubi Arnold, who is now in his eighties writing these lines.

Schönberg and the Number Thirteen

In some parts of the world, like Italy and Spain, thirteen is a lucky number; in Latin America, many young girls as well as older women and men go so far as to wear a gold or platinum "13" on a necklace, rings, or other pieces of jewelry. However, in English- and German-speaking countries, the number thirteen is generally regarded as unlucky. In America, for instance, many buildings do not have a thirteenth floor; elevators go straight from the twelfth to the fourteenth. Along many highways, there is no Exit 13, and 13 as a house number is rarely to be seen.

Members of the Schönberg family have always taken this superstition and many others very seriously, often allowing their daily lives to be governed by such taboos. For instance, my mother, an otherwise an intelligent, enlightened woman, simply remained at home on the thirteenth day of the month, and doing anything of any consequence on Friday the 13th was to be avoided at all costs. Her rule for lighting cigarettes was only two to a match, never three. A broken mirror inevitably brought with it seven years of bad luck. A black cat crossing one’s path in the street or even in the hall constituted a valid reason for turning around and going straight home again. The same held true for a black horse, whereas if the horse encountered were white, it was a good omen and provided an incentive for undertaking a special venture that one would ordinarily not have attempted.

Felix, my father, on the other hand, was the soul of rational thinking and totally opposed to superstitions of any kind. He was always nagging at my mother to listen to reason and seeking to prove to her that there was nothing to the "signs" and "portents." But all of his efforts were to no avail and elicited only consternation and complaints from Trudi.

One day, he decided to go a little further to prove his point. In our apartment in Mödling was a small room for a servant, which in the lean years of the Thirties stood empty except for its use occasionally by an overnight guest. This room was sparsely furnished, with only a bed, a desk, a small chest, and a chair. Its whitewashed walls were bare, without even a single picture; there was but one small window. One day Papa went to this room with his paint box, some old rags, and a ladder and spent the whole day there; no one was allowed to enter. Inside we heard him rumbling around, moving the ladder to and fro, and muttering to himself the way creative artists do. Now and then when he left the room, to have lunch for example, he carefully locked the door behind him, only to shut himself in again on his return.

In the evening, Papa came out, double-locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and went to the bathroom to wash his hands. At dinner my brother and I tried to find out what he was up to in the little room, but he answered simply that he was working on a painting without giving any indication as to what, and why. Early the next morning, he locked himself in again and remained busy with his mysterious task all day long.

Finally, after working the better part of that day, Papa was finished with the job and ready to let us in on the secret. After carefully washing his brushes and himself in the bathroom, he led us children and Mama to the door, ceremoniously unlocked it, and swinging it wide with a flourish, bid us go in.

At first the room looked the way it always had, with its few sticks of furniture standing exactly where they had been. Bed, chest, desk, nothing seemed to have changed. But then suddenly something made us turn toward the wall opposite the window. My brother and I stared, shaken to the marrow of our bones. Mama gasped and let out a little shriek.

What greeted our eyes was a larger-than-life male figure stretching from the floor to the ceiling. The thing had a tail; a long, red tongue protruded from his mouth; and two little horns peeked up from either side of his head, like a goat's. Also, while its right foot was that of a human, its left was a horse's hoof. In short, it was clear to see that this thing staring down at us was the Devil. For two days my father had labored long and hard on this work with his brush, and verily, it was a true masterpiece.

There’s a proverb in German: "Man soll den Teufel nicht an die Wand malen" (Don’t paint the devil on the wall), meaning "don't tempt fate, leave well enough alone." So, naturally, my mother was very upset. It was a terrible thing for Felix to do, even if he’d wanted to prove a point. Finally, though, she felt ashamed. An intelligent, enlightened woman like herself shouldn't take matters like this so seriously, she thought. And so she decided to laugh it off and not let such a trivial matter bother her—that is, until a few weeks later, when it suddenly occurred to her that the apartment needed a paint job. Yes, the whole place got a fresh coat of paint, and in the process, the portrait of the Evil One was completely covered over with himmelblau (heavenly blue).

My mother came by her superstitious nature via Schönberg, her father, who especially lived in absolute terror of the number thirteen. The reason for this very likely stems from a seemingly trivial occurrence in his youth. One day, so the story has come down to me, he was on his way to an office in Vienna. To get there, he had to cover a considerable distance on foot. As he was walking along on a side street, an old woman appeared around a corner and came directly toward him. Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks, blocking his path, so that he, too, had to come to a halt. The woman was positively ancient, and ugly besides, with only a few teeth in her mouth and her face heavily wrinkled. Added to that, she was dressed in rags.

Coming up close to Schönberg, she grabbed him by the sleeve, dug her fingers into his arm, and looked deeply into his eyes. "You'll have a hard life, young man," she said in a crackling voice. "The number thirteen means bad luck for you. Beware, especially, of June 13th and July 13th." Whereupon, without another word or asking for money, she released his arm and went on her way.

A fear of the number thirteen haunted Schönberg for the rest of his life. Needless to say, he avoided the thirteenth day of the month like the plague; he would never buy the thirteenth ticket to a concert or the theater or sit in the thirteenth row. Whenever he had to prepare a list and there were more than twelve items on it, he replaced the number 13 with 12a. In that way, the sequence was not disturbed and the portentous number was avoided.

And then, most important, in composing music, he always seemed to get bogged down on page 13. On one occasion, to get around this, he began notating a score with page 3, but wouldn’t you know it, when he reached page 15, he was fresh out of ideas. So he wrote, to his brother-in-law Alexander von Zemlinsky, in a letter of 1917. And, Schönberg added, in the future he would compose very rapidly through page 15 so as to gather sufficient momentum to speed past the disastrous influence of the thirteenth page.

When it came to the title of his opera Moses und Aron, Schönberg was well aware, of course, that the name of Moses’ brother is written with a double A, and that was how he spelled it in the title originally. But then he counted the letters and, lo, there were thirteen of them—MOSES UND AARON—which could not be; something had to be done. He considered using another title but finally decided to remove one of the A's from "Aaron," which would change only the spelling, not the pronunciation, and result in a title of twelve letters, a favorable omen.

As a footnote to this story, during his last year, when Schönberg was aware that he had only a little time left, he frequently used the spelling "Aaron" when answering letters regarding the opera on his little typewriter. Only in 1996 did I learn from his pupil and assistant Richard Hoffmann that he was dictating his correspondence to Hoffmann, who in typing rendered the name with its conventional spelling.

Everyone in the Kreis was only too well aware of the Maestro's phobias. And so, in 1923, when he proclaimed his revolutionary new system for composing music, one of his "apostles," who was not quite convinced that it was such a good idea (and who shall go nameless), privately joked that it was probably going to be thirteen tones, but the Maestro made it into twelve because of his superstition.

Schönberg, it should be noted, was born on September 13th, 1874. Richard Hoffmann told me that on his deathbed, the Maestro was aware of the date and tried to make it through to the next day, but to no avail. He passed away a few minutes before midnight on July 13, 1951, a Friday no less—just as that old crone he’d encountered on a deserted Vienna side-street seemed to predict all those years ago.

Schönberg Sells His Pictures

One day in 1937, I came home from school at the Mödling Gymnasium very upset. I had suddenly realized that through my own fault I had fallen way behind everyone else in my class in all of my subjects. For literature, I was supposed to learn half of Schiller’s "Lied von der Glocke" by heart but knew only a few of its hundreds of lines. For Latin, I had to do a very difficult translation and hadn’t even begun. In the readings for Natural History, Chemistry, and Geography, I was behind by two or three chapters. In Math, I was in a total fog. There was homework pending as well for Physics, English, History, and Geometry, and even for my favorite subject, Shorthand, I had an enormous assignment to get through. The load was staggering, and I had no idea how I was ever going to finish that much work.

My mother noticed how troubled I was, and looking at my assignment book, agreed that I had a problem. Then she told me how her papa, Schönberg, did things and advised that I follow his example: "He simply begins on something and doesn’t stop until it’s done. If one does that and works constantly, without letup, there’s nothing one cannot accomplish."

I followed my mother’s suggestion. I began one task and kept at it until it was done, and then went on to the next, and the next, and the next, without taking time out for anything, just to eat and sleep—and at night I slept like a log. After a week, mirabilis mirabile, everything was done. I was even able to recite the first six stanzas of the Schiller without faltering.

What I had done for one week my grandfather Arnold Schönberg practiced all his life long. When not composing, he was writing letters or doing handcrafts or teaching or drawing up an outline for some new project. His efforts were interrupted only by activities that were necessary to sustain life, such as his meals, walking from one place to another, and sleep. Even during vacations, he was always at work on something. The word leisure simply did not exist in his vocabulary.

Besides composing, he was a master of handcrafts; he built, stained, and finished attractive, sturdy furniture—tables, chairs, bookcases—some of which are still in use today. He bound his own books, tastefully and durably, in linen, leather, or cardboard. He crafted decks of playing cards, designing the figures for each and painting them in highly original color combinations. He invented new board games, among them a chess set for four players with a board consisting of one hundred fields instead of the traditional sixty-four. For this, he devised new chessmen with novel ways of moving, and carved and painted the whole set.

In the days before World War II, people were still writing with steel penpoints fitted into wooden holders. The pen point had to be dipped into an inkwell every few strokes, and the ink in the well had to be at a certain level. If it was too low, the writer would have to dip his pen in very frequently and the letters would look scratchy or possibly become illegible. If the ink was too high, the pen would pick up too much of it and the result could be stains and blots. My grandfather invented an inkwell in which the ink would always be at the right level, without having to be refilled constantly. If the ballpoint pen hadn’t appeared on the scene in the early Forties, his inkwell might well have swept the globe.

Another invention of his was a writing device for making five parallel lines at the same time so that he could create instant musical notepaper. It consisted of a penholder with five pencils attached to it, and all one had to do was drag it in a single motion across the page, using a ruler as a guide.

One of my grandfather’s earliest pieces of craftsmanship was a cello dating from 1895, which he put together with strings from an old Austrian zither that he dismantled because he did not have enough money to buy a regular cello. He brought this home-made instrument with him to the Viennese music society Polyhymnia, but while immediately recognizing the talent of the maker, the conductor just as quickly saw the flaws in the instrument and went with my grandfather to buy a regular, though second-hand, cello. The conductor, by the way, was none other than Alexander von Zemlinsky, whose sister, Mathilde, my grandfather was to marry a few years later.

After the turn of the century, Schönberg began to paint. As I said earlier, he started in 1906, with guidance from Richard Gerstl, who was his only teacher. After the friendship with Gerstl ended, he continued on his own, turning out literally hundreds of paintings and drawings within a few years. This doesn’t mean that he abandoned composing or teaching or writing about music, or that he conducted less or fought less vehemently to get his works performed. He simply wanted to paint as well, and incredibly he somehow found the time to do so; I would almost say that he "invented" the time to paint.

Among his works were portraits of family members, friends, and admirers, as well as caricatures, set designs, and still lifes. But above all, as we have seen, there were self-portraits, so many that he probably holds the all-time record for the number of them that he executed. There is no doubt that he was a talented painter, especially when it came to color, but a Rembrandt he was not, nor even a Kokoschka. Let’s face it, today his pictures are of interest primarily because they were painted by him, the controversial composer whom many believe to have been among the musical greats.

It so happens that during the period when he was painting, he was in serious financial difficulties. He had to provide for his children, Trudi and Görgi, who were then only eight and four, and of course for his wife Mathilde. Very little cash was coming in from his students, to many of whom he gave lessons for free because they could not pay for them. Certainly, he received next to nothing for his musical compositions.

The situation worsened from day to day with debts beginning to pile up, until finally one day in 1910, he realized that some drastic measures had to be taken and sounded out various friends. Someone suggested that he should try selling his paintings, and with the help of some admirers, he managed to put together a one-man show in the Heller Galleries, one of Vienna’s leading exhibitors. It was made clear to one and all that this was a move born of utter desperation—Schönberg needed money desperately not only to support his family but also to continue his work. Out of consideration, Hugo Heller, owner of the gallery, had agreed to accept a commission of only 20 percent.

The Exhibition, which opened in October, included quite a few self-portraits; portraits of Mathilde and the children, Mahler, Zemlinsky, Alban Berg, and Erwartung librettist Marie Pappenheim; The Critic; and so on, about fifty paintings in all. The event was enlivened by the performance of several of Schönberg’s compositions.

Amazingly, most of the paintings were sold almost at once, and the proceeds turned out to be enough to keep the proverbial wolf from the door for quite some time to come; in fact, the sum exceeded Schönberg’s wildest expectations. Who had purchased them was anybody’s guess, but it really didn’t much matter.

A year or so later, Schönberg received a letter from his friend Anton von Webern. There were some special circumstances connected with the sale of the paintings that Webern was aware of and wanted to unburden himself of at this time. Webern had initially promised that he wouldn’t tell a soul about it and had kept his word until now. However, the person concerned had recently died, and now Webern was free to speak; indeed, he felt obliged to do so. And what was the secret? All of the paintings had been purchased by a single individual, none other than Gustav Mahler.

I should add here as a postscript that, as already alluded to in the previous chapter, my brother Hermann, Schönberg’s second grandson, seems to have inherited the Maestro’s penchant for the canvas as well as his love for making things with his hands, such as constructing furniture, building a staircase, or laying a new floor. As a young painter, studying in Mexico, Hermann did some splendid representations of native Indians and a large number of still lifes, and he also delved into cubism and surrealism. His greatest strength, however, was his woodcuts and book illustrations, an example of which can be found among the links to Chapter One.

Schönberg, Zemlinsky, and Mahler

One lovely summer day in the late 1890s, two young men were taking a walk through one of Vienna’s better districts. The older of the two was shorter and had a thin, pale face with a high forehead but almost no chin at all. What was not lacking in either size or prominence was the fellow’s long, pointed nose. His head was crowned with a mop of bushy black hair. Indeed, his only attractive feature would have been his large eyes, that is, if they hadn’t peered out from between his reddish, slightly swollen eyelids with just a trace of lashes. The young man was Alexander von Zemlinsky.

His companion was taller and chubbier, and although barely twenty, he already had a shiny bald head. Even so, his features were more pleasing to the eye than were young Zemlinsky’s, and while he, too, was no great beauty, he certainly was better looking. This was Arnold Schönberg.

Engaged in an animated conversation, the two young men were speaking in loud voices almost as if they were in the midst of a quarrel. They waved their arms wildly about, rolled their eyes, and shook with excitement. From time to time, one of them would stop and turn to face the other in order to lay particular emphasis on what he was expounding. However, nothing extraordinary was going on; that was simply the way the two of them always carried on when discussing their favorite and, in fact, only topic, music. Nor did the conversation lag for a single moment; they each had a lot to say.

Schönberg was an ardent "Brahmsian" at the time, while Zemlinsky leaned toward Wagner. But of course Schönberg still had a lot to learn, especially where composition was concerned, and for him, Zemlinsky was not only a friend but also his teacher, albeit serving without pay. As mentioned earlier, both were in the Polyhymnia music society, Schönberg as cellist, Zemlinsky as conductor. Yes, there was much to talk about....

Suddenly Schönberg stood stock still in the middle of the sidewalk and hissed to Zemlinsky: "Sh-sh-sh! Be quiet!" They were in front of a three-story building from whose upper windows the sounds of a piano were coming. The two young men stood there transfixed, listening to a sad, lilting melody. After a few minutes, the street door opened and a woman came out. Schönberg asked her who was playing that lovely music. "Oh, that’s Herr Mahler," she replied. "He wrote it himself."

The next moment the piano was silent. The two young men stepped timidly into the vestibule and, with hearts pounding, went up the stairs and knocked on the composer’s door. An elderly woman opened and bid them come in. In hushed voices, they inquired if perhaps the Maestro might spare them a few minutes. Whereupon she called into the next room, "Gustl, two gentlemen are here who would like to speak with you!" But alas, Mahler had to leave at once for an appointment and with a brief nod, hurried past the humble petitioners....

The first meeting between Mahler and Schönberg occurred a few years later, in 1899, at the final rehearsal for the premiere of the Verklärte Nacht sextet. Sometime before this, Zemlinsky had met Mahler through Arnold Rosé, leader of the Rosé Quartet, an ensemble dedicated to performing works by new composers. When Rosé agreed to perform the Verklärte Nacht, Zemlinsky invited Mahler to that last rehearsal. Schönberg was then an ardent admirer of Johannes Brahms, whose musical style was a far cry from Mahler’s; still, he was very much aware of Mahler’s particular genius. Mahler, on the other hand, did not have a high regard for Schönberg’s music then. Only with time did their understanding grow, culminating after some years in the most enthusiastic mutual admiration.
acquaintance with Mahler was to bring about a sad turn of events. In the late 1890s, Zemlinsky had a student who was not only a talented musician but also an exceptionally attractive young lady whose name was Alma Schindler. Little by little, while teaching her, he fell madly in love and finally proposed to her. If the truth be told, Ms. Schindler was not nearly as excited about him as he about her; still, for a time she did not reject his proposal. Somehow Alma then got to meet Mahler, and from that moment on, poor Zemlinsky never had a chance. Alma felt herself immediately and overwhelmingly attracted to Mahler; the two became inseparable and were married in 1902.

No question about it, Alma really was most unkind to Zemlinsky, who after all had been her teacher. When she decided to get rid of him, she began bad-mouthing him to her friends; all too often she referred to him as "dieser hässliche, kinnlose, ungewaschene Gnom" (that ugly, chinless, unwashed gnome), and it got back to the poor man. Those unkind words of Alma’s accompanied him all of his life. Everywhere he went, people called him an ugly dwarf behind his back. Even his dear friend and brother-in-law Schönberg, when irritated with him for some reason, referred to him as the Gartenzwerg (twerp). As a child, I heard similar references to Uncle Alex from the mouth of my mother, who normally was not given to using offensive language like that about people.

Zemlinsky never recovered from Alma’s rejection and the insults, and behaved like a beaten man for the rest of his life. Again and again in his operas and lieder, ugly dwarves are paired with beautiful princesses, and there is much deception and unhappiness in love. I believe that Zemlinsky’s frequent recourse to these themes reflects, at least in part, the wounds that the evil tongue of Alma Mahler had inflicted. As if that were not bad enough, Zemlinsky did not meet with any success as a composer in his lifetime, and in fact, it is only now, sixty years after his death, that the musical achievements of my great-uncle Alex are finally being recognized.

There’s a little story that goes back to the days of Zemlinsky’s deepest despair. It originated with Olga Novakovic, a member of Schönberg’s Kreis, and then made the rounds of Vienna’s music circles.

One day Olga got on a trolley in Vienna, took a seat in the rear of the car, and began to read a book. Suddenly her attention was arrested by someone whistling a tune several rows in front of her. Since Olga was a musician, she listened to the whistler with curiosity, and gradually the curiosity turned to interest. The tune was quite lovely and complicated in a pleasing way—in fact, ingenious; in other words, it didn’t sound like a popular one but clearly belonged to the realm of serious music.

Olga craned her neck to look for this talented whistler. It was a man, and somehow from behind, his head looked familiar. So she got up and approached him, and now standing beside him, she recognized Zemlinsky, who left off with his music making.

"Grüss Gott, Herr Alex," she greeted him. "My, but you’re in a happy mood today. And what is that lovely melody you’re whistling?"

"Oh, that’s an aria from one of my operas," Zemlinsky answered. "No one performs my music anymore, so—Ich pfeif’ sie auf dem letzten Loch, sozusagen (I’m whistling it with my last gasp, so to speak). But of course, if you liked it," he added, "then I really didn’t whistle it in vain."
In 1903, after Schönberg moved from Berlin to the small apartment at Liechtenstein Strasse 70 in Alsergrund, Vienna’s Ninth Bezirk, he began having a lot of trouble with bells. The district was a residential area, and so there were many churches, and bells were to be heard sounding from one belfry or another every quarter hour—as indeed is still the case today.

For most people, bells are a calming sound that conveys a sense of familiarity, of home, but for Schönberg, though he had nothing against churches and was a God-fearing man, they were a nuisance, constantly drowning out the new music he heard in his head and was trying to write down. One day he began complaining about this problem at a musical gathering, and Mahler, who happened to be present, couldn’t resist making a sarcastic remark: "Machen Sie sich nichts d’raus, Herr Schönberg. Nehmen Sie die Glocken einfach in Ihre nächste Symphonie!" (Don’t worry, Mr. Schönberg, just bring the bells into your next symphony!)

Some time later, at another such gathering, Schönberg had a chance to get back at Mahler. It happens that Mahler spent his summers in the Austrian Salzkammergut, where he loved to compose. Of course, there were always many birds in the neighborhood. As is well known, some species of birds like to chime in when they hear the sound of music, and this Mahler found rather unnerving. When he complained about it, Schönberg, who was never at a loss for words, snapped back, "Aber, mein lieber Mahler, das Zwitschern kann Ihnen doch behilflich sein um Ihre nächste Symphonie ein bißchen aufzumuntern" (Well, my dear Mahler, perhaps the twittering will help you liven up your next symphony a bit)."
One day in 1910, an article by the painter Max Oppenheimer appeared in the Viennese press in which he described how he had worked on his portrait of Arnold Schönberg, and then he went on to speak of a concert he had attended that featured the Maestro’s music. First came a short symphony, which the audience received with profound displeasure. "Aufhören! Gemeinheit! Ist das Musik? Tauber Esel! Schluß mit den Kakophonien! Schwindel! Humbug! Aus! Raus!" they yelled. (Stop it! A lot of cheek! Is this supposed to be music? Deaf ass! No more cacophonies! Fraud! Humbug! Finished! Out!) Then came a selection from the Gurrelieder. When it was finished, everyone began to applaud—gradually at first, but then it swelled into a regular ovation. Schönberg stood there, flabbergasted, as if he couldn’t believe his ears. But then, pushing his shoulder forward as he had done that morning while being painted, as if resisting an onslaught from the world, he said with an air of resignation, "Hörts, die klatschen. I’ glaub’ es is doch schlecht!" (Well, how do you like that? They’re applauding! Perhaps the piece is no good after all!).

Schönberg’s contempt for the Viennese concert-going public was not genuine, however. Actually, he was enormously grateful whenever that public showed even a glimmering of understanding, for in his eyes it meant that they might in time grow to like all of his music. The fact that he used the Viennese dialect in his remark rather than his usual Hochdeutsch (i.e., high or standard German) shows his relief and at the same time his pleasure. I believe I’m reading this correctly because my mother, Trudi, would also break into dialect whenever anything touched her heart.

Usually, though, in those early days, Viennese audiences pretty much rejected Schönberg’s new music outright and gave a somewhat cool reception to works by Berg and Webern as well. It is to Mahler’s credit that he stood up for them and other controversial "new" composers again and again, even though his own idiom was more traditional.

A good case in point is what happened at the Bösendorfer Concert Hall one evening when a work of Schönberg’s was performed and the greater part of the audience began whistling, booing, and shouting invectives. Mahler and some friends nearby countered by applauding as loudly as they could. Suddenly, Mahler became aware of a man sitting behind him who was hissing noisily. Turning around, Mahler shouted at the hisser: "Sie dürfen nicht zischen wenn ich klatsche!" (How dare you hiss when I’m applauding!). The man was quick to respond: "Beruhigen Sie sich, Herr Mahler, ich zische auch bei Ihren beschissenen Symphonien!" (Don’t worry, Herr Mahler, I also hiss at your shitty symphonies!)

Mahler, it should be remembered, was rather on the frail side and not in the best of health, but next to him sat his friend Josef Polnauer, who while not a musician at the time, was an enthusiastic supporter of the "new music" and a giant of a man. As soon as Polnauer heard what the hisser said, he jumped up, whirled round, and socked the fellow in the jaw. Stunned for a moment, the man ran out of the hall but then returned minutes later, brandishing a knife—which he thrust into Polnauer’s left cheek! The result was a huge scar that Polnauer carried—indeed, proudly carried—to the end of his days.

I remember it vividly—a deep cleft in his fleshy pink face—from a visit that my father and I (as a boy) paid him in Vienna in 1935. I also remember his huge, plump hands; it must have been no pleasure being bashed in the face with something like that. No wonder applauders liked to sit somewhere near Josef Polnauer at those early performances of the new music.

But the man was no ruffian. He simply loved music above all else. In fact, he was so intensely interested in "new" music and later in composition according to the Twelve Tone System that Schönberg accepted him as a student even though he had no prior musical training. And once in the Kreis, he learned quickly.

Polnauer was an official with the Austrian Federal Railways. I visited him again in Vienna with my Uncle Görgi in 1962, on one of my frequent trips back to Austria. By then he was wearing glasses with heavy lenses, and behind them his eyes looked like those of a fish peering out from its glass tank. The scar decorated his fleshy pink cheek, unchanged by the years.

Polnauer was a Jew and, like so many others, lost his job after the Anschluss. He remained in Vienna during the war and was able to survive, so he told me, thanks to his English teacher, who hid him in her home and provided sustenance for him with the help of Erwin Ratz, another member of the Kreis, who was a baker and restauranteur. After the war, Polnauer got his job back with the Austrian railroad and married the lady who had hidden him, with whom he lived happily ever after. Following his retirement from the Austrian Railways, he became a highly respected instructor of music theory, even though he had no formal training or certificate from a music school.

A Man of Contrasts

No doubt about it, Schönberg was endowed with what Americans so colorfully refer to as the gift of gab. He always had the right word ready at the right time for any situation, especially when it came to criticizing someone and, yes, often to putting a person down. He was particularly venomous with respect to composers he didn’t approve of, and besides being well put, his quips were often cruelly unerring.

One of his bêtes noires was a Viennese composer named Robert Fuchs, functioned during the early years of the twentieth century. This Fuchs, who is all but forgotten now, wrote music in a traditional style that was very popular in Austria at the time of Emperor Franz Joseph. Not only were his works frequently performed but he was welcome at court and on occasion was heaped with honors. Fuchs was a professed admirer of Brahms, and for reasons best known to himself, Brahms esteemed him enough as a composer to recommend him for a position at the Academy, where Fuchs then taught composition until 1912. That same period, the first decade of the century, was, as I have already mentioned, one of the worst for Schönberg both in terms of the reception of his new works by the concert-going public and the press, and his financial woes.

While suffering profoundly from the constant battery of rejection, Schönberg kept it all to himself and went on writing, performing, and conducting. His true feelings are perhaps best expressed in the painting entitled The Critic, the portrait of an utterly heartless, diabolical creature. However, when a mediocrity like Robert Fuchs, whose works he described as "Musike" (musical dabblings), was universally honored and celebrated, Schönberg was beside himself with anger. On one occasion, when a newly composed symphony by Fuchs received a standing ovation, Schönberg vented his extreme displeasure by making up this parody of the Austrian folk song about the fox’s (Fuchs) theft of the goose (Gans) and singing it to one and all: "Fuchs, die hast du ganz gestohlen; gib sie wieder her, sonst wird dich der Jäger holen, mit dem Schiessgewehr" (Fuchs, you’ve stolen this one in its entirety; now give it back or the hunter will get you with his gun).

Another bête noire was Igor Stravinsky, whom Schönberg knew but heartily disliked. As he saw it, Stravinsky was presumptuous and arrogant. Schönberg particularly made light of his sporting a pigtail in imitation of Bach, which was indeed ridiculous. "Ja wer tommerlt denn da?" Schönberg would lisp like a little boy. "Lookee here who’s coming! Had the barberman make him a piggy tail just like Papa Bach." Closer to the heart of the matter, Stravinsky had sold out artistically by choosing an easy middle road between traditional music and the new wave—and this earned him the arresting Schönbergian epithet, "Modernsky."
Schönberg’s treatment of Fuchs and Stravinsky were by and large more playful than malicious and involved an exercise of wit that, in its brilliance, is surely reminiscent of Mozart. However, there were other occasions like the following, when he was totally wrong and quite obtuse, to say nothing of downright arrogant. The scene is the quiet Brentwood suburb of Los Angeles, and I got the story from one of the pupils of composer Josef Schmid.

In Europe, Schönberg had never needed a car, so he had never learned how to drive. But once settled in suburban California, he realized that he was now living in automobile country. If a person didn’t have a car here, he couldn’t go shopping, couldn’t visit people, and couldn’t get to work. For all practical purposes, he was a prisoner in his own home. There was almost no one who didn’t have some kind of engine-propelled four-wheeled vehicle no matter how modest it might be. Ergo, he absolutely had to lay his hands on one by hook or by crook.

No sooner said than done. Schönberg went and bought himself a used car with a stick shift—the only thing in those days—and a manual for new drivers. Every morning, for as long as it took to go through the book, he sat in the driver’s seat painstakingly locating the various essential parts and reviewing the instructions for using them. One day, after he had covered everything to his satisfaction, he put the key in the ignition, gave it a flick, and hit the starter—so far so good. He then devoted a number of sessions to shifting the gears, which he found a little tricky to coordinate with stepping on the clutch. But happily he soon realized that it was no more difficult than fingering the strings and drawing the bow across them on a violin or cello.

After some days, he finally felt ready to go for a trial spin, understandably, at five in the morning. Around the block he drove and came right back, and everything was just fine except for one thing: the motor stalled out every time he turned a corner. Time and again he had to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.

At first, Schönberg attributed this to his ineptitude, but when the same thing continued to happen on succeeding days, as his expertise increased and confidence grew, he surmised that the problem lay elsewhere. It seems that the corners were at right angles, requiring a driver to make a very sharp turn that involved a very tricky coordination not only of gear shift, clutch, and gas pedal but also wheel and brake pedal. So, he decided, there was only one thing to do: he sat down at his typewriter and wrote the Los Angeles City Council a letter. In it he explained the problem and requested that they reconstruct the city’s streets so as to make the corners rounder."
Of course, there were times when Schönberg played it safe—very safe—and for good reason. There was the time, for instance, at the beginning of the cold war when the House Committee on Un-American Activites, forerunner of the infamous witch-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy, began searching out communist script writers and actors in Hollywood. Schönberg, who was usually quick to announce that he had no interest in politics, began declaring to anyone who cared to listen that he was NOT a communist, had NEVER been one, and had NO interest whatsoever in that evil cause.

At one time he was approached by Hanns Eisler, a former member of the Kreis and an exceptionally talented composer, with whom he’d had a disagreement some years before. Schönberg believed that music should be composed for its own sake, Eisler that it should have a political message. Eisler wanted to make it up, but he was a self-confessed communist, so Schönberg rejected him out of hand. Soon after, Eisler went off to live in communist East Germany, and as far as I know, a reconciliation between the two of them never came to pass. I might also mention here that in 1934, after Schönberg’s arrival in Los Angeles, Eisler had recommended in all earnestness that Schönberg emigrate to the Soviet Union, which didn’t exactly help their faltering friendship and which Schönberg had considered as being utterly absurd.

Schönberg’s treatment of the German conductor Hermann Scherchen was much of a muchness. In the late Forties, Scherchen was conducting large-scale works like Moses und Aron and Die Jakobsleiter as the sole champion in a world that seemed to have left Schönberg behind. In 1950, Schönberg wrote him a letter from Los Angeles informing him that he had heard from various sources that he, Scherchen, was a communist. As he, Schönberg, was an avowed anti-communist, he wanted to make it clear that he did not wish to have anything whatsoever to do with anyone who espoused those vile doctrines. However, not wanting to close the door entirely, Schönberg urged Scherchen to assure him that the rumors were untrue. Scherchen, who was obviously a real gentleman, responded that while he’d always sympathized with socialist ideas, he had never been politically active or belonged to a political party. Schönberg decided that this was an acceptable reply because it could be inferred from it that never having belonged to a political party, Scherchen could not possibly have been a member of the communist party. Happily, on thinking things over, Schönberg had the good sense to apologize to Scherchen for this absurd cross-examination.

Yes, no question about it, Schönberg could be gross. But he also had a modest, unassuming, and even self-deprecating side that is little known to most people. For instance, on his enlisting in the Austrian army at the beginning of World War I, he had to get in line at the induction center to be registered, just like any other new soldier. When his turn came, the interviewing officer, who must have been a music lover, immediately recognized the name: "Aren’t you the controversial composer?"

"Yes, unfortunately," Schönberg replied, "but somebody had to be it!"

"It is a great honor to be able to serve in the same unit as Arnold Schönberg!" the officer shot back.

"Not such a great honor as you think, sir," Schönberg said. "Don’t forget, there are 400 men in the unit. That’s not very much honor for the individual member."

The unit he was reporting to belonged to the Royal Imperial Infantry in the province of Lower Austria, and shortly thereafter Schönberg was to have an encounter with another music lover, a young officer named Alfred Berlstein. This Berlstein, who was born in 1892 in an area of Austro-Hungary that is now part of Ukraine and had studied law at Vienna University, was a one-year volunteer.

The morning after his arrival, after being issued his uniform and equipment, Berlstein had his breakfast and then proceeded to the latrine. As he entered, he nearly tripped over a soldier washing the floor on his hands and knees. Berlstein paused by the door to watch as the soldier conscientiously dipped a brush into a pail and ran it over the floor in thorough circular motions. The pail was filled with a steaming green solution that had a strong medicinal smell, so strong that the painstakingly exact scrubber was coughing and choking over it. His eyes were red and filled with tears, which he kept wiping with a handkerchief.

The poor fellow was no youngster, Berlstein saw, certainly already in his forties, and somehow he looked familiar. Where could he have seen him? The fellow was short and rather chubby, with a round face and a bald head surrounded by thick patches of black hair. Suddenly Berlstein froze. Well, I’ll be, he thought, there could be no mistake, he had seen the face often in newspapers and prospectuses and on leaflets.

"Excuse me, please, but...but aren’t you the...the composer Arnold Schönberg?" he asked.

The latrine-cleaner looked up at him and nodded.

"But how come you’re doing...I mean, who told you to wash...?"

"Oh," Schönberg replied, "that’s part of being a soldier. I really don’t mind it at all." In fact, he was quite happy to be treated like a "normal" human being.

The two broke into an animated conversation about music, and over the next several days became good friends. Schönberg gave this officer Berlstein a photograph of himself, signed with a dedication, which is now in the possession of Berlstein’s son, George, who told me this story.

As for Schönberg’s latrine duty, after that first conversation, Berlstein went to Colonel Holly, the unit’s commanding officer, whom he knew from civilian life. "For God’s sake," he said, "you can’t allow a brilliant man like that to do such things." Whereupon Holly said that he would take care of it, which indeed he did. And so Schönberg was never assigned to clean-up details like that again—though he never did find out why."
In addition to having his arrogant and humble sides, Schönberg could also be a genuine human being, a mensch. A good example is how he bailed out Fuchs, that same Fuchs whom he’d jokingly accused of being a plagiarist: "Fuchs, die hast du ganz gestohlen; gib sie wieder her."

After World War I was over and the Austrian monarchy had fallen, Fuchs’s career as a composer went quickly downhill. His music was performed less and less, Schönberg’s more and more, and so Schönberg’s resentment of him pretty much petered out. In 1923, when Austria was convulsed by a cruel inflation and many prominent people became impoverished, some to the point of starvation, Fuchs, by then over 75 years old, was among them. Learning of this, Schönberg appealed to and was able to persuade an American relief organization to give Fuchs a subsidy, explaining to the director, Amy Winslow, that Fuchs was a significant composer who had been held in high esteem by Brahms himself.

But that was not all. In that same year, Schönberg was able to obtain what was called a "gold loan" in order to help out four other people who were in terrible straits: Alban Berg, Anton von Webern, Rudolf Braun, and—Josef Matthias Hauer, his rival in the invention of a new system of composition. And in the 1930s, when the madman with the mustache made life in Europe impossible for Jewish, and non-Jewish, intellectuals, Schönberg spoke, wrote, and agitated wherever he could in order to obtain an emigration visa for this one, an affidavit for that one, and boat tickets for another. If he could not personally sign an affidavit of support for someone, he persuaded American friends and admirers to do so or else to guarantee the refugees a permanent job. At his home in Los Angeles, in order to save on expenses, he let the maid go and took on much of the housework himself, including washing dishes, cooking, and taking care of the children.

Yes, my grandfather was able to help a good many brilliant and talented people—about twenty-five or so, I’d say—get out of the witches’ cauldron that was Hitler’s Third Reich. Unfortunately, he was unable to help his own son, Georg, nor could he get his sister Ottilie out of Berlin. But more about that later."
No survey of the many sides of Schönberg’s character would be complete without mention of his sense of humor. He loved to tell jokes, as did Trudi, my mother, and my Uncle Görgi, her brother. The best of them, alas, often had a slightly antisemitic flavor. Here’s one that came down to me from him through either my mother or uncle:

An aristocratic gentleman is riding along in his coach somewhere in Poland. Suddenly, one of the wheels comes loose from its axle and rolls into the ditch. The gentleman and his coachman retrieve the wheel and try to reattach it to its axle, but it won’t stay on. Again and again they try, but the wheel keeps falling off, and they become desperate.

An old Jew comes walking along and stops to survey the situation. Then he says, "Excuse me please," puts the wheel back on, digs a rusty old nail out of his pocket, and secures the wheel to the axle with it. The wheel stays on and the gentleman is delighted.

"How much do I owe you?" he asks the Jew.

"Forty zloty," the old one answers.

"Forty zloty?" the gentleman asks. "How can that be? That nail is worth one zloty, if that!"

"Correct," says the old one. "One zloty for the nail. And thoity-nine zloty for knowink how...."

Schönberg adored word games and puns, and like Mozart, he delighted in doing all sorts of funny things with words, including turning them around and reading them backward. He sometimes referred to himself (as I do) as Dlonra and named his son by his second wife with an anagram, Ronald. Had he had more sons, he might have named them Roland, Landor, or Dorlan. One of his grandsons is Randol.

When Schönberg sent a telegram, which he did quite often in the old days, he would invent all sorts of abbreviations in order to save on words and, of course, money. So instead of wiring a message like "Please advise Gertrud, Susi, Felix, and Ronald," he would write "Advise Gersufero."

Schönberg also loved creating sentences that could be read in either direction, for example, "Ein Neger mit Gazelle zagt im Regen nie" (literally, A negro with gazelle never hesitates in the rain). But his greatest loves were the Schüttelreime, or spoonerisms. Let me cite just one example of his more humorous inventions: "Hier stehe ich und schwöre es bei Warschaus Asche, dass ich mir nie den" (the completion of which I leave to the reader’s imagination).

There is, of course, a long tradition of creating Schüttelreime among Austrian school children. A common one oft-repeated by my friends and me and probably by my grandfather as a child was Paprikaschnitzel, Schnaprikapitzel, Piprikaschnatzel, Schniprikapatzel, and back to Paprikaschnitzel. Nowadays, I am constantly regaling my author-wife Nancy Bogen with such relative banalities in English. For instance: "The cat is running but the rat is cunning...." "See the flight, flee the site, sight the flea, flight to sea...." "Take a shower, shake a tower...." "Lunatic, tuna lick, tick a loon, lick a tune." I composed this little ditty on the road: "You’re driving a little fast. So what if you fiddle last. If you are the last to fiddle, you’ll just have to fast a little." And this father’s admonition: "If you’re hot in the shed, you’ll get a shot in the head."

The Cap

In spite of enjoying a reputation for being way out, my grandfather was really a traditionalist in many ways. He not only had a profound respect for the musical past but insisted on passing that respect on to the younger generation, as this story will show.

It must have been in 1929; I was six years old at the time and my brother Hermann, four. In the fall of that year, Schönberg, who was then living in Berlin, spent several days in Vienna and one morning came to visit us in Mödling—just a half-hour’s ride by train from the Südbahnhof. He was accompanied by Alban Berg, one of his former students.

It was a Sunday, and after one of my mother’s good hearty meals, we all went out for a walk, heading for Mödling’s "Old Town," with its winding little streets and quaint houses dating back to the Middle Ages that boast of all sorts of sculptures, coats-of-arms, and paintings. Mödling was, and still is, a musical town; besides Schönberg and his Kreis in the house on Bernhardgasse, Schubert had lived there, and Beethoven had rented his summer quarters there from 1818 to 1824, the years of the Hammerklavier and Missa Solemnis.

Our mother led the way with my brother Hermann and me. I remember that it was quite brisk out, and we children were all bundled up in woolen caps and winter coats and went along with our mittened hands stuck deep in our pockets.

At a distance behind us promenaded Schönberg, my father, Berg, and another of grandpa’s former students, Anton von Webern, who also lived in Mödling. It should be noted that my brother and I had very distinct hot-and-cold feelings about Webern and Berg. Webern never smiled, so we had nicknamed him "der Herbst," meaning "Mr. Autumn." Berg, on the other hand, who was then composing that very grim opera Lulu, usually had a congenial smile on his face, and he, a huge man, was best remembered by us two children for his presents of chocolates and teddy bears.

Let me digress here for a moment. This is one of two first-hand memories that I have of Schönberg’s face, figure, and voice; the other is earlier, going back to1927, so let me speak of that one first. The place was a Vienna coffee house, and the occasion was to welcome Schönberg during one of his visits. The party consisted of about fifteen people, among them my parents and myself, Webern and Berg, and several women who were presumably their wives. Josef Polnauer with the deep scar on his cheek was also there.

We were in a small, windowless hall illuminated by dull reddish-yellow light from old-fashioned oil lamps that were mounted along the wall. There was a long table, and everyone had sat down at it, six or seven people on each side. The surface of the table was a dark green felt with some kind of wooden border perhaps four inches wide. I, little four-year-old Arnold, was at one end, mounted atop two thick pillows. At the other end sat my grandfather—I had a direct view of him as he must have of me—Schönberg, an "old man" in his middle years with a roundish face out of which gazed a pair of expressive black eyes, and his shiny bald head bordered by dark hair, an image oft-painted by himself....

Let me return now to our walk on that chilly autumn day in Mödling in 1929. Our pace was leisurely. All four of the musical gentlemen to the rear of Mama and us boys walked with their hands behind their backs—gloved hands because of the cold—talking of their favorite topic, which is all they ever talked about when they were together. On this particular occasion they were critically dissecting a concert they had recently attended, and one heard a good deal about adagios, fortissimos, andantes, and the like.

Webern and Berg both spoke quietly, in deep, calm tones. My father, who often punctuated his sentences with the Viennese phrase "Net wahr? Net wahr?" (Isn’t that right?) could also be heard from time to time. But as usual, grandpa had more to say than anyone else, and whenever he began to hold forth, always loudly and emphatically, or indicated that he wished to speak with a raised hand, the rest of the company fell silent.

Grandpa had a very distinctive voice. It was a very high but at the same time quite masculine tenor, and usually sounded forced as if he were having trouble getting the words out and had to make a special effort to do so. Whenever he was excited about something or nervous, this Sprechstimme, or song-like speaking voice, became especially pronounced.

Anyway, on the musical conversation went, with this one saying something and that one saying something else, and then when the maestro began, with everyone becoming still and just listening.

Our walk had taken us down Mödling’s picturesque Hauptstrasse (Main Street). Now we branched off onto Achsenaugasse, one of those crooked, winding streets that are so characteristic of old European cities. On the right side of this Achsenaugasse, the Mödling brook bubbles along—the very brook in which Schubert’s trout once swam—flanked by massive old chestnut trees that perhaps had shaded it in that maestro’s time.

Soon, on our left, there was a pretty house, two stories high, with a lovely front lawn and colorful flower beds—indeed very lovely, but after all just one of many such houses with gardens in Mödling. As we children were about to pass this house, an icy wind came whipping along, causing us to pull our caps way down and sink deeper into our coats.

Behind us, the musical discussion had ceased a moment or two before.

Now, all of a sudden, as we went along, grandpa’s voice rang out— "Hermann!"— indeed so loudly and shrilly that everyone stopped dead in their tracks and turned to face him. While Hermann, my little brother, was the particular object of his attention, it seemed as if the warning or reprimand that was about to issue forth was intended for me as well, in fact for everyone. Schönberg’s eyes flashed, and his face displayed an utter earnestness of purpose that required unquestioning respect. His index finger pointed imperiously in the air.

"Hermann!" Schönberg repeated in his same high-pitched voice. "Hermann!" he yelled yet again, even more stringently. "Nimm deine Mütze ab! Du gehst am Haus vom Beethoven vorbei!" (Take off your cap, you’re passing by Beethoven’s house!)

Tante Otti

As we have seen, from the time of his arrival in Los Angeles in 1934 until America’s entry into World War Two in 1941, Schönberg was instrumental in helping quite a few people to get from "inside" the hell that was Nazi Germany to the "outside." But unfortunately, one of those near and dear to him whom he was unable to bring over was his sister Ottilie.

Not that he was unwilling, and he certainly would have found the money, somehow, if she had been willing. But no, Tante Otti, who lived in Berlin and was married to an Aryan named Felix Blumauer, was one of those Jews who kept telling themselves that a regime like Hitler’s couldn’t last and that this, too, like all else, would pass. As for the Nazis’ threats against the Jews, she felt that their bark was bigger than their bite. "After all, we are living in Germany!" she would argue, meaning one of the longtime oases of civilization.

Ottilie had two daughters: Susanne Kramer by her first husband; and Inge by husband #2. Both were "Mischlinge," half-Jews, which was not quite as dangerous in Nazi Germany as being a full Jew. The older daughter, Susanne, had been an actress and soubrette before Hitler came to power in 1933. During the Nazi years, as a half-Jew, she was no longer able to get engagements although she was able to continue living in Berlin. After Blumauer’s death, her widowed mother Ottilie moved in with Susi and spent the war years with her as an "Unterseeboot"—a "submarine" as Jews-in-hiding came to be called.

Inge, Otti’s younger daughter, married Werner Hoffmann, a member of the Nazi party, who obviously had no objections to her racial background. Werner had joined the Nazis even before 1933, when the party was still illegal in Germany and as such was recognized in Hitler’s Germany as an "alter Kämpfer"—"old fighter for the cause," a status which in those years brought with it a good deal of respect. However, Werner was a decent man who loved his wife dearly and, after witnessing some of the early excesses committed by the brown regime, the Nazi turned into an anti-Nazi. Of course, he couldn’t leave the Nazi party—in those days that would have been a very unhealthy step for him to take, would probably have cost him his life. He did help his wife Inge and her half-sister Susi, however, as much as he could, by providing food and money to help sustain Otti as an "Unterseeboot."

In 1941, a decree was issued by the Nazi regime mandating that all Jews wear a yellow star so as to be easily recognized wherever they went. Otti, for the sake of her own safety, simply didn’t leave the house anymore. 1942 came and went; then came 1943, and bombs rained endlessly down on Berlin. One day, near the end of that terrible year, Werner learned from a friend in the offices of the SA, Hitler’s brownshirt organization, that the name of Ottilie Blumauer née Schönberg appeared on a list of Jews still living in Berlin. It is believed that her name got on the list because someone had reported her to the Gestapo. The paper at the SA stated that these people were to be picked up in the next few days, to be "resettled in the East." While most people had no idea at the time about what was going on in the so-called General Gouvernement, the former Poland, suspicions were growing that nothing very wonderful was in store for these "resettled" Jews.

The possibility that Otti was to be forcibly removed and sent to parts unknown was, of course, deeply alarming to Susi and Inge, as their mother was sixty-eight years old then and not in the best of health. It was, however, quite clear that if the stormtroopers wanted to take her with them, pleas of age and illness would be to no avail, and in fact, any protest or resistance would not only be useless but could also have terrifying consequences—no one had any illusions about that. So all one could do was hope that this was a false alarm.

Alas, the next evening the bell rang and there was an energetic knocking on the door. Susanne came down and admitted them to the vestibule: two SA men dressed in the well-known uniforms with swastika armbands. They were there to pick up the Jewess Ottilie Blumauer née Schönberg for resettlement, they said.

Susanne somehow found her cool and kept it; the only thing to do, really, was to try to brazen it out. And, sometimes, the best ideas are born out of dire need: "What’s the matter with you people? Are you crazy?" she yelled at the top of her voice. "You were here already and took her! Ten days ago! Didn’t somebody write it down in the records? How can you be so inefficient? Shame on you! I have a good mind to report you!" So convincing was she in her indignation at their inefficiency that they, aware that the neighbors were hearing all this, almost hung their heads with embarrassment. "Sorry, there must be some mistake," one of them mumbled, and they went away, never to return.

Otti continued to live in Berlin as an Unterseeboot through the remainder of the war. Susanne, Inge, and Werner shared their food allowances with her. In 1944, Werner was drafted into the Volkssturm, a civilian Home Guard consisting of older and disabled men that was created by the Nazis as a last-ditch effort against the Allies, who were beginning to close in. Somehow Werner survived, and with the end of the war, he thought that they could now all live a normal life.

But alas, that was not to be. One day, a few days after war's end, Werner and Inge were stopped in the street by some Werwölfe. These "werewolves" were fanatical young Nazis who had belonged to the Hitler Youth or the SS and who now, after the defeat of Hitler's Germany, wanted to perpetuate their movement as an underground fighting force. It was known, of course, that Werner had turned against the Nazis and had hidden a Jewess during the war.

The "werewolves" called him a traitor and shot at both of them as they tried to flee. Werner was mortally wounded and died right there in the street. Inge was taken to a hospital. At any other time she might have been saved, but under the conditions then existing in Berlin, that did not happen. She lived on for several months, suffering intensely, and finally succumbed to her injuries. The Nazis had found yet two more victims.

Otti, Arnold Schönberg’s sister, lived on with her daughter Susi, for another twelve years, until 1957. I should add that Inge Hoffmann, who died a few months after her husband Werner, had inherited a business he had owned, an antique store. Then, after Inge died a few months later, the store went to her mother Otti and Susi, her half-sister. Susi continued to run the business after the war, dealing in antiques, wrought iron, and ceramics.

After her mother’s death, Susi finally got married. She had met her husband, a man by the name of Remus, through an advertisement in a newspaper. As things turned out, it was not to be the happiest of marriages. Susi finally died in 1985, the last surviving member of the Schönberg family in Berlin.