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Object #32 / Langbathsee

July 30, 1907

Private collection

Friends and relatives of Arnold Schönberg were often taken by boat to Ebensee to the south of the lake, the down-to-earth antithesis of aristocratic-bourgeois Gmunden. A postcard to the US painter and sculptor William Clarke Rice was signed by the singer Mela Guttmann Rice, Ida Zemlinsky (née Guttmann), Mathilde Schönberg, the painter Richard Gerstl, and also the composers Alexander Zemlinsky, and Arnold Schönberg.

In 1895 Schönberg joined the “Musikalischer Verein Polyhymnia” (Polyhymnia Music Society) led by Alexander Zemlinsky. Under Zemlinsky’s guidance and strengthened by integration into a larger circle of artists, Schönberg’s composing developed dynamically in only a few years. Some of the relationships that originated in these years endured for decades, as with Melanie (Mela) Guttmann. Mela Guttmann was a singer and performed as a soloist, for instance in the premiere of Zemlinsky’s “Waldgespräch,” a ballad for soprano, strings, two horns and harp, which she “helped to  make a triumph with her beautiful, well-trained voice and her musical performance.” A childhood friend of Mathilde Zemlinsky, Mela Guttmann was a student at Vienna Conservatory and received sponsorship from the Court Opera. She had both an artistic relationship and a love affair with Zemlinsky, who dedicated several songs to her. After the annulment of their engagement, Melanie married the American painter and sculptor William Clarke Rice, with whom she lived in New York from 1901. She taught singing in New York in the ensuing decades and performed regularly. Zemlinsky married Melanie’s sister Ida Guttmann on June 21, 1907. A Protestant baptism of the bridal couple preceded the wedding, at which, on June 11, 1907, Schönberg was present as godfather.
In a note handwritten in 1934, Schönberg stated that he had been painting since 1906. He had met Richard Gerstl, a student of Heinrich Lefler at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, in the spring of that year. Gerstl approached the composer after a concert and asked him if he would sit for a portrait. Otto Breicha reports (mentioning information from Gerstl’s brother Alois) that Richard repeatedly tried to motivate amateurs to paint, including the Schönbergs.
After a stay together in Gmunden in the summer of 1907, the Schönbergs included their friend in their vacation plans the next year – with grave consequences for everyone involved; Richard Gerstl committed suicide in November 1908, some months after his affair with Mathilde Schönberg became known.

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