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Norwegian playwright and poet, one of the founders of modernism in European theater.

Ibsen and Schenker

Schenker had a wide-ranging interest in the world of literature and drama, for which his diaries served as the vehicle ‒ notably his comments on Shakespeare, especially on King Lear and Hamlet, but also on Goethe and Schiller, and also on poetry and drama in general.

It is perhaps paradoxical, since he was so antagonistic toward all forms of modernism in music throughout his career, that Schenker harbored a special interest in the works of the modernist dramatists Henrik Ibsen, Gerhard Hauptmann, and Artur Schnitzler (Federhofer suggests that in this he was influenced by his literary-minded friend Ferdinand Löwe), and also George Bernard Shaw.

Schenker attended several of Ibsen's plays when they were produced in Vienna, as well as reading them privately. On most such occasions, he wrote short, considered essays in literary style in his diary. The first of these occurs on November 24, 1898 and discusses Ibsen's An Enemy of the People: Excellent first and foremost is his projection of incident, thus of the poetic problem, directly into the close relationships that exist among the people of a small bathing resort, who, because fewer in number, are so much more on public view to one another. Ibsen avoids letting his hero shine as always entirely in the right vis-à-vis his fellow citizens. Instead he shows him to be unable to find a practical solution to this eminently practical question. An idealist by nature! In this lies the antithesis to the older dramatic technique.

In 1919, Hans Weisse asked Schenker's opinion of Ibsen, and Schenker's reply is recorded in his diary for August 26: I portray him as a master of his trade who always executes his works the way he intended, which is the trademark of a master. With regard to the choice of material, there is a noticeable difference vis-à-vis classic German authors: what the latter quickly discard because it may appear superfluous, what they handle in at most a few sentences or lines of verse containing the solution to the question, is in Ibsen officially the material of the drama. In most cases, the fault – he illustrates and teaches – lies in an at first seemingly unimportant event of which no one takes notice, like a minor point in a curriculum vitae, and it is apparently his opinion, that no improvement in fate can be expected until people pay attention to their paths at such moments as well. To conjure up an image from the New Testament: thus shall the last moment be the first, as one has the chance to see in retrospect, unfortunately too late for those affected. Our masters, on the contrary, have placed individual fate on a broad horizon, allowing outwardly more significant events to play a role as levers, etc.

Schenker attended performances of the following plays (most or all at the Theater an der Wien), and noted his attendance or wrote substantive essays in his diaries:

  • The Wild Duck May 22, 1906 (OJ 1/5, p. 13)
  • Hedda Gabler October 31, 1906 (OJ 1/5, p. 23)
  • Rosmersholm October 31, 1906 (OJ 1/5, p. 24)
  • The Lady from the Sea February 1[?], 1910 (OJ 1/9, p. 110).

There are also several other more general commentaries on Ibsen's work: (undated) 1899 (three pages), September 23, October 18, December 6 and December 30, 1912, November 7, 1913, and October 18, 1916. Excerpts from several of these are printed in German in Federhofer (1985), pp. 277‒80.


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


  • Ian Bent

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