Jan 23, 2013

A Schubert Memorial Vanishes

The first public performance of a secular work by Franz Schubert took place on 1 March 1818, in the hall of the inn and hotel "Zum Römischen Kaiser" at Vienna's Freyung.

The "Hotel zum Römischen Kaiser" at Vienna's Freyung (drawing from 1840)

A concert by the violinist Eduard Jaell included a performance of Schubert's "Ouverture in the Italian Style" D 590. On 14 March 1818, the Wiener allgemeine Theaterzeitung wrote:
On Sunday, March 1st, at 5 p.m., a musical-rhetorical academy for the benefit of Mr. JÄLL took place  in the hall of the Römischer Kaiser [...] The second part began with a wonderfully lovely overture by a young composer, Mr. Franz Schubert. This student of our esteemed Salieri already knows how to touch and move all hearts. Although the theme was strangely simple, an abundance of surprising and pleasant thoughts developed from it, executed with power and elegance. We wish that this artist will soon delight us again with a new offering.
On March 12th, the same overture was performed again in an arrangement for two pianos for four hands each (with the participation of the composer) after which the reviewer Franz von Schlechta praised "the deep mind and the controlled and outright force and appealing loveliness" of Schubert's works.

The program of the concert on 12 March 1818 at the "Römischer Kaiser" (the original document, which was once held by the Wienbibliothek, is now missing)

On 28 February 1819, in the hall on the first floor of the house "Zum römischen Kaiser", music history was made again, when the tenor Franz Jäger performed the song "Schäfers Klagelied" (D 121). This was the first ever public performance of a Schubert song. On March 22nd 1819, the Berlin journal Der Gesellschafter wrote about this concert: "A vocal piece »Schäfers Klage«, composed by the young Schubert and sung by our fine tenor Jäger granted the greatest enjoyment. We are indeed looking forward to the delight provided by an upcoming greater work of this hopeful artist." Five years earlier, another important musical event had taken place in the very same venue: on 11 April 1814, Beethoven's "Archduke Trio" Op. 97 had been performed there for the first time. Until 1887 the house on the Freyung (today Renngasse 1), which after a remodeling in 1834 housed a luxurious hotel, was owned by the Rothschild family. Then it was sold to the Union Bank which in 1927, sold it to the insurance company Österreichische Bundesländer AG.

The right half of the former hotel in 1900 (A-Wn, EP 452 - C)

The former hotel in 1910 (Wien Museum, I.N. 41306)

In the twentieth century, the significance of this building for Schubert's work was not forgotten in his hometown. On 26 May 1929, at the instigation of the Vienna Schubertbund, a plaque on the house Renngasse 1 was unveiled in the presence of the Federal Minister of Education, the Dean of the University, numerous other prominent cultural personalities, and descendants of Franz Schubert's brother Ferdinand. The main part of this memorial had been designed by the sculptor Robert Ullmann (1903–1966). It consisted of a relief of a shepherd with a sheep slung around his neck and a tablet. The inscription on the plaque (whose unveiling seems to have been originally scheduled for the Schubert anniversary of 1928) read as follows.
Franz Schubert trat in diesem Hause als Tondichter zum erstenmal vor die Öffentlichkeit: Am 1. März 1818 mit einer Ouverture im italienischen Stil, am 28. Februar 1819 mit seinem Liede »Schäfers Klagelied«. Wiener Schubertbund 1929.

In this house Franz Schubert went public for the first time as a composer: On 1 March 1818, with an overture in the Italian style, on 28 February 1819, with his song »Schäfers Klagelied«. Wiener Schubertbund 1929.
On the following day, the conservative newspaper Reichspost raved: "On behalf of the insurance company, its general manager Dr. Habich took charge of the monument, a work of art that will tell everybody, who holds precious the cultural heritage of Franz Schubert, about the cradle of fame that spread from the small Old-Vienna-hall of the erstwhile »Römischer Kaiser« all over the world."

A clip from an article in the Reichspost on 27 May 1929

 The report on the front page of  the Neue Zeitung on 27 May 1929

So far, I was unable to locate a really good picture of the memorial. There is none among the holdings of the Wien Museum and I did not want to bother the Magistratsabteilung 7. The only historical photograph I found was taken in 1941, and shows the left wing of the house, with the memorial's relief barely visible between two windows of the first floor.

The Schubert memorial at Renngasse 1 in 1941

The course of history was not kind to the house Renngasse 1. During the great bombing raid of 12 March 1945, it suffered a severe hit that destroyed nearly a third of the building. A five-window section of the right wing collapsed to the level of the first floor. Although the house was restored, the original infrastructure was not preserved and the old structural core of the building has been replaced.

 The house Renngasse 1 in 1965 on a photograph by Otto Simoner (A-Wn, 218.354A(B))

What about the Schubert memorial at the Freyung that was supposed to tell posterity – "that holds precious the cultural heritage of Franz Schubert" – about "the cradle of fame" in times to come? The memorial is gone.

In June 2003, a complete remodeling of the house was begun on behalf of Armisola Immobilien AG. The architect DI Peter Klein completely redesigned  the house into a modern office building for Deloitte Austria, preserving the original façade only above the first floor. Within fourteen months of construction work, the symmetry of the original façade (resembling the old Trattnerhof) was dissolved and the two old entrances were replaced by two entrances on the very left part of the building, at precisely the area where the Schubert memorial had been located. Owing to the company's plate "Deloitte", there was no space anymore for the memorial which was simply removed. The architects, who were involved in the remodeling, did not even think of integrating the sculpture, which had adorned the building for 74 years, into the new entrance area. The companies responsible for this brutal procedure are actually quite proud of their work and particularly boast about "the preservation of the original façade". In a booklet (deloitte: 15 antworten für kids), published for children by the architects, we find the following euphemistic statement: "Da gab es einen Architekten, den Herrn Klein, der hat das Haus gebaut, mit Kränen und starken Maschinen, und so raffiniert, dass aussen[sic] sogar die alte schöne Fassade stehen geblieben ist, obwohl es drinnen ein ganz modernes Haus ist." ("There was an architect, Mr. Klein, who built the house with cranes and heavy machinery in such a sophisticated way that on the outside even the old beautiful façade was preserved, although inside it is a very modern building."). It seems possible, however, that the addressed children might pose the question, if there really were no nicer lights available for the illumination of the "old beautiful façade".

 The new entrance area of Renngasse 1 in 2008 after the ruthless removal of the 1929 Schubert memorial

The remodeling of the building's façade and its merciless stripping of all "historical trinkets" was apparently carried out in full agreement with the City of Vienna and the Bundesdenkmalamt (the Federal Monuments Office), because the responsible building promoter A.C.C. proudly states on its website: "In enger Zusammenarbeit mit den zuständigen Behörden wurde die Fassade den Erfordernissen des Platzes und den umgebenden Gebäude angepasst." ("In close cooperation with the authorities in charge the façade has been adapted according to the requirements of the square and the surrounding buildings."). My search for the missing memorial turned out to be quite fascinating. I got the first hint from the general planning manager of the reconstruction and after an on-site inspection an employee of IFM (Immobilien Facility Management) confirmed my suspicion – heavy blocks of stone rarely travel far – that the Schubert memorial is now located "in safe custody of the property management in the basement of the house".

The ignorance and blindness of local Viennese historians is exemplified by Dr. Herbert Kretschmer, who in the book WIEN Musikgeschichte (Vienna: LIT Verlag, 2011[!]), wrote: "Only a memorial plaque on the house, which since the late 19th century has been used as an office building, is a reminder that an important musical site was once located here."

Of course, we must not always quarrel with aesthetic principles that are uncompromisingly realized by architects. And yet, unfortunately, none of the involved designers hit upon the really not far-fetched idea to integrate this sculpture into the redesigned atrium as a reminder of the fascinating history of the building. (After all this is also the house, where, in 1834, the physician Romeo Seligmann first made the acquaintance of Ottilie von Goethe). The observant city resident is surprised that the Bundesdenkmalamt turned a blind eye to this procedure. He is forced to surmise that Ursula Stenzel, the then Bezirksvorsteherin of Vienna's first district, was prevented from devoting the necessary attention to a radical razing of a historical downtown façade by more important issues, such as the containment of Glühweinhütten and street artists. Should it really be true that in Vienna, the self-proclaimed "City of Culture", a monument to the greatest genius that this city has ever produced, is only an impeding piece of stone in the path of urban progress?

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2013

Updated: 25 November 2023

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating piece of research. Thank you. A miserable story, to be sure. Perhaps there is still the possibility of hauling the heavy block of stone out of the basement to some place where it will be appreciated? Reestablishing the monument can only enhance one's enjoyment of a visit to the Freyung, something the surrounding merchants probably would welcome.