Klimt’s landscapes at the Neue Galerie

Gustav Klimt, Park at Kammer Castle, 1909, oil on canvas. Neue Galerie New York. This work is part of the collection of Estée Lauder and was made available through the generosity of Estée Lauder.

Opening next week and running through May 6 at New York’s Neue Galerie, Klimt Landscapes examines his nature paintings, a part of his work that has too often taken a back seat to his more well-known paintings and drawings of the human figure. “For the last twenty years of his career,” the Neue Galerie says, “Klimt devoted considerable energy to painting landscapes during his summer vacations on the Attersee in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, known for its tranquil lakes. Created purely for his own pleasure, these bucolic scenes became among his most sought-after pictures and were highly coveted by collectors. Most were made in a square format — a reflection of his fascination with photography.” The exhibition will be situated within a selection of the Neue Galerie’s significant Klimt holdings.

Like the landscapes of Egon Schiele, Klimt’s landscapes are revealing of a rarely seen side of a major Fin de siècle artist — as sensual as his human figures, but within a more holistic view of the physical world. More information can be found at the Neue Galerie web site here.

What can’t be said

The Wiener Staatsoper, from the stage.

I have been slightly revising some earlier posts about opera, and in the process came across the below observation from Kenneth Clark. (My own opera posts can be found here — feel free to scroll down that page to skip this one.)

What on earth has given opera its prestige in western civilisation — a prestige that has outlasted so many different fashions and ways of thought? Why are people prepared to sit silently for three hours listening to a performance of which they do not understand a word and of which they very seldom know the plot? Why do quite small towns all over Germany and Italy still devote a large portion of their budgets to this irrational entertainment? Partly, of course, because it is a display of skill, like a football match. But chiefly, I think, because it is irrational. “What is too silly to be said may be sung” — well, yes; but what is too subtle to be said, or too deeply felt, or too revealing or too mysterious — these things can also be sung and can only be sung.

— Kenneth Clark
Civilisation (1969)

The triumph of wisdom

Bartholomeus Spranger, The Triumph of Wisdom (c. 1595). 163 x 117 cm. Oil on canvas. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Reading through Andrew Wheatcroft’s history The Habsburgs recently (one of my souvenirs from Vienna), I came across mention of Bartholomeus Spranger (1546–1611), a court artist for Rudolf II in Prague; before that he had been a court painter for Pope Pius V and Rudolf’s predecessor as Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II. Although there was a major American exhibition of this work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ten years ago, by far the largest collection of his work now resides at Vienna’s Kunsthistorischesmuseum.

That’s where you can find Spranger’s The Triumph of Wisdom, above. To quote from the KHM’s description of the work (lightly edited from Google Translate):

Minerva, the goddess of the arts and science, is at the center of the presentation. The uncovered breasts can be characterized as “Sapientia lactans,” as the nutrient of wisdom. She has conquered the foolish “ignorance.” But their keeping of suffering also reminds us of the risen Christ. It triumphs over dark forces and becomes the embodiment of the highest human ideals. The refined colour and elegant pose are hallmarks of Rudolfinian court art.

Spranger, an examplar of the Northern Mannerist school, was renowned for his remarkable ability to marry an erotic sensuousness to both pagan and Christian themes. “This style stressed sensuality, which was expressed in smoothly modeled, elongated figures arranged in elegant poses, often including a nude woman seen from behind,” says the ol’ Wikipedia. It’s terrific — I never knew wisdom could look so great. And I wonder if Facebook will permit it. (UPDATE: It won’t.)

Credo: Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark.

Over the past six weeks or so, I’ve been reflecting on my recent visit to Vienna. As I’ve been doing so, I’ve also been enjoying music from the region, in a variety of ways: my wife performed the rather sublime piano music of Arnold Schönberg (not to mention the equally sublime The Book of the Hanging Gardens, which she performed with Deborah Norin-Kuehn) here in New York recently, and a bit further off radio klassik Stephansdom has been providing me with other musical entertainment. I especially enjoy their Nacht program, which runs from midnight to 5:00 am there but from 6:00 through 11:00 pm here. Programming during those hours tends to run more to the quiet side of things, which is just fine by me. (I should add that I’ve been doing my bit to keep radio klassik Stephansdom on the air — you can do so yourself here. Spenden Sie jetzt!)

This music has led me to certain considerations that echo somewhat the words of Kenneth Clark, whose Civilisation program on the BBC in 1969 covered the history of art in the west. (The series is still available via the Britbox channel on Amazon Prime.) At the end of the series he offered a kind of brief credo with which I feel particular affinity, and this I share here for those who might feel a similar affinity. I will begin to share more here too, but this will get us started. I confess that the optimism that Clark mentions at the end has been harder and harder to keep a hold of, at least for me:

At this point I reveal myself in my true colours, as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of the recent triumphs of science, men haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years; and in consequence we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves. I also hold one or two beliefs that are more difficult to put shortly. For example, I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other people’s feelings by satisfying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole, which for convenience we call nature. All living things are our brothers and sisters. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible. …

I said at the beginning that it is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Fifty years ago W. B. Yeats, who was more like a man of genius than anyone I have ever known, wrote a famous prophetic poem:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold:
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Well, that was certainly true between the wars, and it damn nearly destroyed us. Is it true today? Not quite, because good people have convictions, rather too many of them. The trouble is that there is still no centre. The moral and intellectual failure of Marxism has left us with no alternative to heroic materialism, and that isn’t enough. One may be optimistic, but one can’t exactly be joyful at the prospect before us.


An SOS from radio klassik Stephansdom

Well, that was fast — a mere month after I wrote the post below about radio klassik Stephansdom, they’ve put out a call for help; another one of those “existential crises” everybody’s always talking about.

The current owners of the station are unable to support the future of rkS, so the staff is circulating a request for support. As they say on their web site (hat tip to Google Translate):

The current situation of radio klassik Stephansdom is tense, the future is uncertain.

After 25 successful radio years, the owner cannot provide the station with further financial support — due to the tense economic overall situation.

radio klassik Stephansdom needs you urgently now!
With only 1 Euro per day, you save the survival of your classical music channel and the workplace of people who make radio for you every day — with the highest quality and enthusiasm.

The donation page is here. And why should you and I support it? My original post about rkS is below.

Many years ago, when my father was in his 50s and 60s and I was in my teens and 20s, we used to sit together in the evenings and listen to WFLN, Philadelphia’s classical music radio station. For 24 hours a day, mellifluous, plummy-voiced disc jockeys (an unfortunate coinage, that) introduced the masterpieces and less-than-masterpieces of classical music, occasionally interrupted with a commercial break. Founded in 1949, for the first four decades of its existence it barely broke even, but that didn’t much matter; the station’s owners, families by the name of Smith and Green, weren’t particularly interested in turning a profit, only providing music to the city and its environs. In the late 1980s, however, the station’s ownership changed, and in an effort to turn a profit several programming changes were introduced. Instead of playing full symphonies and chamber music works, one got a movement of one, then a movement of another; many of those mellifluous voices were fired; and in 1997 the station finally turned to a pop music format. Announcing the ownership change on the air, Greater Media CEO Tom Milewski rationalized the decision, saying, “Classical music, is, we feel, best presented in a non-commercial context” — a context which wasn’t Greater Media’s, nor was it of many other station owners.  So ended WFLN’s nearly half-century run, a run which had provided my father and myself a unique education in classical music.

There is of course still such a thing as classical music radio; here in New York, WQXR offers it, but fragmenting full compositions just as WFLN did in its later years. And streaming music services offer extraordinarily full libraries of classical music recordings and even live events (my preference is for iDagio and Deutsche Grammophon’s Stage+ service), with splendid sound reproduction through their FLAC formats. But I still miss classical music radio itself: knowledgable voices offering not only context but also companionship, the awareness that there’s another person at the other end of the connection, listening to the music at the same time as you were: a musical bond between these listeners, distance obliterated in an aesthetic experience.

Well, not any more. Recently I stumbled upon radio klassik Stephansdom, a radio station that airs in Vienna at 107.3 FM but streams as well, not only through their web site but through several other internet radio services. I’m not sure why I haven’t come across it before — this year the station celebrated its 25th anniversary — but I’m listening to it even now. (An extra appeal is that I get to practice listening to German, too — I’ve taken the language up again.)

The more I learned about it, the more impressed I was. radio klassik Stephansdom was founded in 1998 as the brainchild of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who himself flipped the switch in the Archbishop’s Palace in Vienna on September 24 of that year; “Shortly afterwards the Danube Waltz sounded, followed by greetings and blessings from Pope John Paul II,” according to the Google translation of this Archdiocesian web page about the anniversary.

Although rkS is funded and operated by the Archdiocese, in 2025 it looks like the station will be on its own. I must say that I find this a little sad. As might be expected, radio klassik Stephansdom’s music programming runs a little more towards the spiritual than the secular; not a surprise, especially when much great music of the past 500 years, from Machaut to Messiaen (whose 115th birthday was yesterday), was inspired by religious faith. The secular, however, also appears on the station’s playlists; just yesterday, rkS played Bizet’s Carmen with Maria Callas in the title role, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Callas’s birth.

I will be visiting Vienna little later this month and plan a visit to the Stephansdom with my kids, of course — it’s a site that can’t be missed, especially over the Christmas season. But over the past few days I’ve been imagining and envisioning the Stephansdom as I listen to some of the music that inspired its construction and has resonated in its halls, not to mention the religious, Christian faith that its architecture and that music reflects. Christoph Wellner, the editor-in-chief of rkS, claims as his area of responsibility: “To form a foundation for passing on the Christian message with the most beautiful music — on the radio, on the Internet, in the diocese, in Austria and worldwide.” Herr Wellner can consider it passed on to me.

You can listen to the station from anywhere in the world through their web site here. And below is the full Google translation of this page from the Archdiocese of Vienna, published there in September of this year, filling out the picture a little bit.

25 years ago, on September 24, 1998, “radio klassik Stephansdom” (then still “Radio Stephansdom”) went on air for the first time. At twelve o’clock sharp, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn activated the start control at a ceremony in the Archbishop’s Palace in Vienna, shortly afterwards the Danube Waltz sounded, followed by greetings and blessings from Pope John Paul II.

In its current edition, the Viennese church newspaper “Der Sonntag” recalls its beginnings a good quarter of a century ago. Austria was the last country in Europe to allow private radio, and only after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which found the right to freedom of expression to be incompatible with a broadcasting monopoly. Ten radio licenses were advertised, for which there were 150 interested parties. Originally, church broadcasters were excluded from the private radio law. This had to be changed after a complaint.

The then head of the public relations office of the Archdiocese of Vienna, Wolfgang Bergmann, and his employees saw the opportunity for a private church radio. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn immediately agreed to it, as he knew of private church radios from France.

In June 1997, the application for a license for the Vienna area was submitted. “In the entire free world, churches are not denied the opportunities of radio, I don’t know why it should be any different in Austria,” said Cardinal Schönborn in a broadcast at the time. The plan was a non-commercial special interest radio that would not be profit-oriented, but would cover its costs through income. The license application stated about the content: “The program wants to invite the listener to pause for a moment and recharge their batteries in the hustle and bustle of the day. It should be an oasis for the ears and soul for radio listeners, away from the constant hustle and bustle and without noisy disc jockeys.”

The archdiocese requested the frequency 107.3. In the spring of 1998, work began on converting a former student shared apartment on the top floor of the Teutonic Order House in downtown Vienna into office space. July 1st was the first day of work for the eight program designers at the time, three of whom are still in the team today: program director Christoph Wellner, editor Bernadette Spitzer and technician Martin Macheiner, who was there before everyone else during the renovation and therefore has personnel number 001. The first editor-in-chief and the decisive role in shaping the radio’s fortunes were in the hands of Anton Gatnar until 2014, who also took over management a little later. The current station manager is Roman Gerner.

Radio faces new economic challenges in the future. Since the Archdiocese of Vienna is planning significant savings in its own media sector, from 2025 the station will have to operate entirely on its own without any diocesan subsidy.

The “radio klassik Stephansdom” can now be received throughout Austria via DAB+. The station can be received terrestrially in Vienna on 107.3 and in Graz on 94.2. The number of listeners is around 200,000.