Olga Novakovic (1884-1946)
Little is known about the life of Olga Novakovic beyond her connection to the Schönberg family. In 1918-1919, she was a Hörerin (listener) in the Master’s composition master class, and then from 1919 to 1921, she studied with him privately in Mödling and in Holland. In 1923, she was established in an apartment in Vienna, where she boarded Schönberg’s son Georg, to whom she also taught piano. Here are some reminiscences of her from the year 1943 by Gertrud (“Susi”) Supan-Schönberg, daughter of Georg, who was thirteen at the time:
In May 1943, I went to see Tante Olga for the first time with my father. She lived on the Linke Wienzeile in Vienna. Her apartment, which was rather darkish, consisted of three rooms in each of which there was a grand piano; in the coaching room, in fact, there were two pianos, a grand and a concert grand. A Miss Cilli also lived in the apartment; probably she was in Tante Olga’s employ as a domestic. This Miss Cilli had been a cook in the Schönberg house in Mödling at the same time as my mother, Anni [née Sax], worked there as a maid. At that time my grandmother, Mathilde [née Zemlinsky] must have been very ill. Possibly Tante Olga took old Miss Cilli in when Schönberg moved to Berlin with his new wife.
I found Tante Olga to be a resolute, energetic person, and she turned out to have a heart of gold for others besides me. I was not the only one she taught free of charge. Among her pupils were other half-Jewish Mischlinge (“mixed breeds” or “social misfits”) who had problems during the Nazi time. But one never talked about this.
On that day in May my father’s one intention was that I, who had been kicked out of school because of my ethnicity, shouldn’t just hang around the house, indeed as I had been doing. I should learn something; if not reading and writing, then at least a little piano. However, we had no piano of our own in our “cow stall” of an apartment, so I studied guitar with Tante Olga for three months until we were able to rent a Pianino (miniature piano). In the fall of 1943, besides taking the lessons from Tante Olga, I was also going to a trade school. It was an underground school for Mischlinge, and she had been instrumental in locating it and getting me into it.
From time to time Tante Olga arranged concerts for her pupils, either in the apartment or in a hall that she rented out of pocket. Each student, including myself, had to play something. The audience consisted of parents, relatives, and friends.
While the war raged on, she was in constant contact with a number of “U-Boats,” that is, Jews who were hiding out in someone’s apartment. Josef Polnauer, another Schönberg student, was one of them, and she helped them as much as she could with food and other things, as those in hiding had no ration books.
About her personality? I believe she was a very strong woman with a firm character, not sentimental yet sympathetic. She was unmarried, I don’t know why. I loved and adored her; nevertheless, after the war we lost touch with one another. I only know that she gave concerts for the soldiers of the Russian occupation then, often driving long distances in old broken-down cars over bomb-shattered roads to do so—this during the dead of winter in unheated halls, just for the sake of coming by a little bread or some potatoes or maybe a piece of bacon. Her life ended in February 1946. It is said that she died of starvation.
One last thing: as you know, after Schönberg went to Berlin with his new wife in 1923, my father lived with Tante Olga for a while–by which I mean he lived at her place; he did not cohabit with her! Schönberg sent him a little money each month. When that was used up and he was hungry, he would steal a few cubes of sugar from Tante Olga.
I cannot say much more about her except that she was very important to me both as a teacher and as a human being. She was the only one who was able to help me uplift my self-image, so important to a teenager–my self-image that had been damaged by my being made into a social outcast for no reason at all. And she did this not through pity but by accepting me as I was.
As a teacher, she was patient but also severe. She did not let even the smallest error slip by. I have no idea when or where she was born or what her private life was like. All I do know is that for a short time–perhaps two and a half years—she was a part of my life, a very important part!
This work was apparently intended for young players, but it is far from being a rote exercise–indeed, it has many delightful ideas. We could find no record of a public performance of it, so we have declared this performance a world premiere.