Theatre in Vienna 1900


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Much like the institution of the Viennese coffeehouse that fostered a vital culture of exchange between the arts, literature, and philosophy, theater in Vienna at the turn of the century was linked to a lifestyle of aesthetic and dramatic self-representation. The Habsburg monarchy had a long tradition of aristocratic sponsorship of classical theater, to the extent that by the end of the nineteenth century the Viennese displayed more genuine enthusiasm for the theater than did their counterparts in other European cities. The well-known historian of Vienna 1900, Carl Schorske, even claims that "by the 1890's the heroes of the upper middle class were no longer political leaders, but actors, artists, and critics." The theater became a substitute for the life of action. Many authors such as Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote plays that are still popular and part of the German-language theatrical repertoire. The icon of all classical theaters was, of course, the Viennese Burgtheater, conceived in early Baroque style in reference to an era in which the theater served as a mirror of society. The ceiling of its grand staircase was decorated by Gustav Klimt in 1886-88 with scenes depicting the history of the theater and celebrating the unity of theater and society. Across the Wienzeile and a few blocks away from the Ringstrasse stood one of the oldest centers of popular theater, the Theater an der Wien, which had seen the premiere of Mozarts Magic Flute and, at the turn of the century, flourished under Alexandrine von Schönerer's able management. This was also the venue where Johann Strauss's operettas were performed and where theater played its role as a form of popular entertainment. Both the classical and the popular Viennese theater displayed a devotion on the part of young Austrians of the fin-de-siècle to the cultivation of an aesthetic lifestyle that was characteristic of Viennese modernism.