Hermann Bahr



Hermann Bahr was born in Linz on July 19, 1863 the son of a lawyer. Beginning in 1881, he studied philosophy, law, economics, and philology in Vienna, Czernowitz, and Berlin. He was particularly interested in Henrik Ibsen and Karl Marx, and during a prolonged stay in Paris discovered a fascination for Baudelaire, Barrè, and Maeterlinck. During this time, Bahr also established the criteria for his notion of modernism which he laid down in his essay collections Zur Kritik der Moderne and Die Überwindung des Naturalismus.

In 1890, Bahr started writing art reviews. He relocated to Berlin where he worked for the newspaper Freie Bühne. One year later he returned to Vienna, where he became a well-known figure due to his theoretical essays. From 1894-1899 he served as the chief editor of the culture section of Die Zeit, a weekly paper, and in 1899 he became theater critic for the Neue Wiener Tagblatt. His reputation grew and he was invited to work as director with Max Reinhardt at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin, and starting in 1918, he was dramaturge at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

In the 1890's Bahr or the “Herr aus Linz” as he was called derogatorily by his detractors for his provincial background, was the spokesman and theoretical head of the literary group Jung Wien. Bahr supported young authors, such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Arthur Schnitzler, and, as an active member of the Austrian avant-garde, wrote both criticism and Impressionist plays. He also strongly welcomed the Wiener Sezession, founded in 1897, and acted as an advisor to the art journal Ver Sacrum. He fervently supported the latest literary trends, believing strongly that an artist should always be modern i.e. a revolutionary. Accordingly, Bahr supported different literary concepts at different times and was called
Protheus der Moderne" or "Mann von übermorgen". Bahr’s association with the group Jung Wien as well as his ever-changing enthusiasm for the latest literary movement led to scathing criticism from Karl Kraus who continually ridiculed Bahr in his newspaper Die Fackel.

Bahr was the first critic to apply the label modernism to literary works, and was an early observer of the Expressionism movement. Of his over hundred works many are forgotten today, and in particular his forty plays and nearly 10 novels never reached the quality of his theoretical work. Still his theoretical papers served an important role in defining new literary categories.

Bahr died in Munich on January 15, 1934.

-Gabi Eichmanns-