, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 95-107

First online:

Vienna Around 1900 and the Crisis of Public Art: On Text and Music in Klimt, Mahler, and Schnitzler

  • Carl NiekerkAffiliated withDepartment of Germanic Languages, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Email author 

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Scholarship often has emphasized the importance of the notion of crisis for understanding the dynamics underlying the culture and literature of fin-de-siècle Vienna. The following essay rethinks this notion, taking as its point of departure the ‘crisis of public art’—the idea that art has lost its public function—that manifests itself in Vienna around 1900. The paper examines Klimt’s Beethoven-frieze, Schnitzler’s novella Leutnant Gustl, and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, focusing in particular on the nexus between text and music in each of these works. While these works of art on a textual level indeed each document an element of alienation in the relation between art and its public, this essay argues that they also conceive of the relationship between art and its audiences in new ways: they reconsider how art addresses the public. Music plays a key role in the debate on the public function of art because it invites audiences not only to experience art directly, but also to participate in its creation.


Literature and music Literature and painting Fin-de-siècle Vienna Public sphere German-Jewish culture