Arnold Schönberg to David Josef Bach, November 15, 1901

Recently we were able to purchase a letter written by Arnold Schönberg to David Josef Bach, who became friends with Schönberg when they were young men. The document refers to the composer’s forthcoming relocation to Berlin at the end of 1901.

In the spring of 1901 Vienna’s theater scene was shaken up by Ernst von Wolzogen’s Berlin cabaret “Überbrettl,” which made a guest appearance at the Carltheater. Wolzogen’s presence also paved the way for the export of Jung-Wien tone-poets to the German capital. Arnold Schönberg, who had attracted Wolzogen’s attention with his “Brettl-Lieder,” accepted the offer of an appointment in Berlin in December 1901 and joined the “Überbrettl” as a kapellmeister.

After Schönberg’s civil marriage to Mathilde Zemlinsky – the sister of his friend Alexander Zemlinsky – in Bratislava on October 7, 1901, their church wedding followed on October 18, 1901 in Vienna. The position in Berlin came at exactly the right time as their first child was on its way and the young family was faced with higher living costs.

Three weeks after the wedding, David Josef Bach wrote with a request for a “little wish list of the things” that his friend Schönberg “would like the most” (letter dated November 10, 1901). It seems he was still looking for a suitable wedding gift. Schönberg responded:

Friday [November 15, 1901]

Dear Bach, We will be here until the end of December since my engagement begins on January 1, 1902. We are using a shipping company for the move; therefore it doesn’t matter if we take one more or one less item with us. Thus if both of us take part in this silliness of gift-giving (= accepting, respectively), then I would prefer it here, rather than in Berlin, so that I won’t arrive there similarly obligated. Besides, it is probably all the same to you, what reasons I give. You see that I have no idea how one conducts oneself vis à vis d’une belle situation. Perhaps you can still visit me one more time, since I would like to learn much more about Berlin. Perhaps you can set some kind of rendez-vous. But tell me, when it would be possible for you to come visit us at midday?

Best wishes,

Arnold Schönberg
[Wien] IX Porzellang[asse] 53

p.s. Regarding Rosé’s admission ticket, I will see1

The postscript presumably refers to a forthcoming concert by the Rosé Quartet (the ensemble would later premiere Schönberg’s Opus 4).

1 Schoenberg’s Early Correspondence, ed./trans. Ethan Haimo and Sabine Feisst, Oxford University Press, New York, 2016, p.51–52