Stefan Zweig
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

By the early 1930s STEFAN ZWEIG (1881-1942) was perhaps the world’s most popular German-language writer. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, Zweig immersed himself in the city’s rich cultural foment, befriending poets, artists, musicians, Sigmund Freud. Following a wartime exile in Switzerland, Zweig in 1919 moved to Salzburg and published widely: stories, essays, translation, biography, novellas. Then, on July 13, 1929, Zweig’s hero, 55-year-old Austrian playwright Hugo von Hoffmansthal, died of a brain hemorrhage. Both literature and music grieved, for Hoffsmansthal had written six of the last seven librettos for Germany’s most eminent living composer, 65-year-old Richard Strauss. His genius was irreplaceable! In 1931, a mutual friend introduced Strauss and Zweig. Their correspondence was inspired — they’d adapt Ben Johnson’s 1609 comedy, “Epicoene, or The Silent Woman” and by mid-January 1933, Zweig’s text was complete. Two weeks later, Adolf Hitler came to power. In August 1934, Zweig Austria fled for England; Strauss, apolitical, alternately appeased and challenged the Nazis. He had Jewish friends and family; he wanted only to compose. Strauss and Zweig’s Die Schweigsame Frau, premiered in Dresden in June 1935; neither Hitler nor Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels attended and after four performances, the opera was banned. (Naively, Strauss hoped to work further with Zweig but this couldn’t be; Zweig did find Strauss another librettist, Austrian theater historian Joseph Gregor, and the composer continued, warily, as worlds convulsed.) Strauss and Zweig’s half-Jewish comic masterpiece, Die Schweigsame Frau, lay buried, where it largely remains.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Dawn Powell.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut Generation (1874-83).

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Historian, journalist, and poet Brian Berger is coeditor of New York Calling. He has written for many publications, a few of which even still exist.