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Alexander von Zemlinsky

Although he himself was a highly gifted composer, Austrian-born Alexander Zemlinsky is today better remembered as the man who taught both Arnold Schoenberg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold than for his own creations. Zemlinsky was born to a Vienna-based Polish family in 1871. After attending the Vienna Conservatory from 1887 to 1892 (first studying piano with Anton Door and later composition with J.N. Fuchs) he joined the Wiener Tonkünstlerverein (Vienna Composer's Society) in 1893. He made the acquaintance of Arnold Schoenberg in 1895, teaching him counterpoint for many months, and thus becoming that remarkable musician's only formal teacher.

Zemlinsky's Piano Trio, Op. 3, had already received the approval of Johannes Brahms (to whose music the work bears a strong resemblance), who recommended the work to Simrock for publication, and his Viennese reputation was furthered by the successful premiere of his Symphony No. 2 in 1897 and by Mahler's presentation of his opera Es war einmal in 1900.

Zemlinsky served as Kapellmeister at the Carltheater in Vienna from 1899 until his appointment as Kapellmeister at the Volksoper in 1906. From 1911 until 1927 he worked in Prague as opera conductor of the Deutsches Landestheater, where he gave the premiere of Schoenberg's Erwartung in 1924. Moving from Prague to Berlin at the end of his tenure with the Landestheater, Zemlinsky served first as Kapellmeister at the Kroll Opera where he worked under Otto Klemperer, and later as professor at the city's Hochschule für Musik. Fearful of the frightening state of politics in Berlin, Zemlinsky returned to Vienna in 1933, devoting himself to composition full-time (while still making occasional appearances as a conductor), before relocating to the United States in 1938. He died in Larchmont, New York four years later.

Zemlinsky's music, highly regarded by the Viennese circle which he did a great deal to help create, has since fallen into disuse. While his early music owes a great deal to Brahms, by the turn of the century Zemlinsky had adopted a more progressive Wagnerian chromaticism. As the Schoenberg circle's innovations during the early decades of the twentieth century grew more and more daring, however, Zemlinsky responded with an increased belief in the value of tonality. Of particular value is the Lyrische Symphony, Op. 18, of 1923, which set the precedent for (and was quoted in) Alban Berg's Lyric Suite of 1926.