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Irish playwright, literary critic, music critic, and polemicist, writer of sixty plays, many of them dealing with difficult social issues and adopting controversial attitudes.

Shaw and Schenker

Schenker can hardly have approved of Shaw's Marxist past, his left-wing political opinions, or his unconventional views of religion, marriage, and other social issues; but perhaps he admired Shaw's use of polemic ‒ a mode of rhetoric in which Schenker himself engaged robustly, and which he defended vigorously. We know that Schenker either saw, or heard or read ten of Shaw's plays:

  • Mrs. Warren's Profession: Raimundtheater, November 2, 1906 (OJ 1/5, p. 25)
  • Don Juan in Hell: read in the Neue Deutsche Rundschau, November 11, 1906 (OJ 1/5, p. 26)
  • Man and Superman: Deutsches Volkstheater, May 1, 1907 (OJ 1/6, p. 39)
  • The Doctor's Dilemma: Deutsches Volkstheater, December 7, 1909 (OJ 1/8, p. 103)
  • Candida: [unknown theater], November[?] 1910 (OJ 1/9, p. 120)
  • Fanny's First Play: Johann Strauss Theater, September 28, 1912 (OJ 1/11, pp. 240‒41)
  • Caesar and Cleopatra: Burgtheater, February 18, 1913 (OJ 1/12, pp. 311‒315 ‒ long!)
  • Saint Joan: Deutsches Volkstheater, March 27, 1925 (OJ 3/7, pp. 2802‒2804)
  • The Apple Cart: Josefstadt Theater, January 30, 1930 OJ 4/3, pp. 3436‒3437)
  • Misalliance: Radio Wien, March 4, 1933 (OJ 4/6, pp. 3817‒3818).

His reaction to Don Juan in Hell, which he read in the Neue Deutsche Rundschau, was that the play: lifted me suddenly and forcefully out of a mood of dejection. An original, high-spirited, skeptical yet kind, clever play, full of spirit and surprises.

His reaction more than twenty years later to The Apple Cart, in which a mythical king defeats the attempt of his popularly elected Prime Minister and others to deprive him of the right to influence public opinion, to quote it in full, was: We already eat at 6 o'clock, then to the Josefstadt Theater: The Apple Cart by Shaw, with [lead actor] Waldau. Apart from an interpolation of an erotic production a thoroughly magnificent play! With a courage that today is unequalled, Shaw expresses his outright condemnation of minister, union leaders, women. He sees no path to the future, for America as the future is, for him, the end of all civilization and culture. Behind the King's cleverness is concealed that of the author. The only thing that is puzzling is that Shaw calls himself a democrat and probably feels like a democrat – possibly because he has even less trust in the upper classes than in the lower ones. The King's long speech is not to be refuted in any point; Waldau recites it with the most regal intonation and at the same time without emphasis, as only he can do it. I had the impression that he wished to sweep the audience along with him, not merely to applause but to agreement with that which was put forth – the riff-raff sat there, unmoved. I now attempted, as I have so often done in the concert hall, to help out with cries of "Bravo": I was on my own.

Excerpts from several of Schenker's other comments are printed in German in Federhofer (1985), pp. 294‒96.

Sources

  • Wikipedia ("George Bernard Shaw")
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), pp. 10, 277‒80

Contributor

  • Ian Bent

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