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Father of Heinrich Schenker; medical doctor.

Nothing is known of Johann Schenker's early life other than that he was born in 1828 and brought up in an assimilated Jewish family in Galicia, a province of the Austrian Empire then at the height of Germanization and under a despotic rule and repressive educational system, a state of affairs which gave way after 1848 to gradual social, educational, and linguistic liberalization during the later part of his life.


Schenker records on January 3, 1918 ‒ some 60 years after the event referred to ‒ that a friend of the Schenker family, Marcus Marienberg, "remembered quite precisely [my father's] first meeting with my mother in Wisniowczyk," but gave no hint of the date.

Of the marriage of Johann to Julia Mosler, Schenker wrote to Moriz Violin on December 29, 1927 (OJ 6/7, [36]): My father had originally married according to the Jewish rite; only much later were such marriages recognized also by the state. Later, when rectification was made, it was possible to adjust the official records to suit oneself. I know this because my parents told me so.

Since the synagogue records do not survive, the date of their Jewish marriage cannot be ascertained; but it must have taken place before 1859, the year in which the couple's first child, Marcus, was born. The official state recognition of their marriage did not occur until April 30, 1876 (JRI-Poland), on which date, when Johann was 43 and Julia 42, a civil marriage ceremony may have taken place. (See the official record ‒ right-hand page, sixth entry from the top.)


On the day of Julia's burial in 1917, Schenker, in commenting that his mother's family was characterized by a "specifically intellectual atmosphere," goes on to say: This also explains why two or three of her brothers became doctors, and obviously it was their company that brought my father into the house.

When and where Johann received his medical training ‒ at the time probably a three-year course followed by internships ‒ is unknown. Lee Rothfarb states that he most likely took: a two- or three-year course of study in the lower medical arts. Such a curriculum led to certification as a Wundarzt ("surgeon"), someone trained in the basics of medicine, but not a fully trained M.D. in the modern sense. Typically [such persons] served as town doctors (Stadtärzte), which was precisely Johann Schenker's designation in Podhajce. ("Henryk Szenker," p. 25, fn. 83)

Of this work as a doctor in Podhajce all that is known is that in the Spring of 1916 the town council chose to name a street after him (see below ‒ no street so-named exists today).


According to a record in the registry of the Jewish Religious Community in Vienna dated January 23, 1895, Johann and Julia had six children: Marcus [1859‒79], Rebecka [d. 1889], Wilhelm [1862‒19??], Schifre [Sofie] [Guttmann] [c.1864‒19??], Heinrich [1868‒1935] (all born in Wisniowczyk), and Moriz [1874‒1936] (born in Podhajce).


Heinrich Schenker, when speaking of the piety of Anton Bruckner, once alluded to his father (letter to Karl Grunsky, OJ 5/15, [4], September/December 1908): It reminded me of the piety of my own father who, despite his being a doctor, was filled with genuine religiosity. I enjoyed nothing as much about him as his strength of faith.

When he heard that a street in Podhajce had been named after his father (see above), Heinrich was moved to say: If an honor of this kind in most instances represents nothing short of a demoralizing honoring of wealth, even if the rich man has left an endowment for the benefit of the poor, then in this instance the otherwise so discreditable honoring is, exceptionally, a declaration by the town of a rare mark made upon it by an impoverished doctor, but by a doctor who has stridden through life with incomparable majesty. Though it was my father's most cherished wish to work among mankind not for the sake of personal vanity but in order to offer it increased advantages of all kind, he certainly had no inkling that the very manner of his life and medical practice in itself clearly represented a realization of his wish of which he alone knew nothing because he would gladly have wished to offer far and away more. He always harbored fantasies of one day going to Vienna in order to complete his scientific education, and to do one or two other things. He was clearly of the opinion that only by this means could his ardent wish to benefit mankind be fully realized. In the meantime, his town council has also availed itself of what he modestly offered, and is now honoring ‒ admittedly too late ‒ its ideally-minded, exemplary doctor.

In a Festschrift prepared for Schenker's 50th birthday but never published, Moriz Violin, Schenker's most intimate friend, compared the characters of Heinrich's parents (OJ 70/53 = OC 2/p.53): Intellectually, his father's serious-mindedness; emotionally, his mother's thoroughly hot-blooded temperament.

In a diary entry of January 29, 1930, where Schenker is recalling incidents about his mother and father, he records: I was even younger when an experience with my father – when we still lived in Wisniowczyk [before 1874] – introduced me to moral behavior in the most practical way. He suspected me of taking some medical papers out of the house and giving them to the neighborhood children while at play. After some time, the paper he was looking for resurfaced; and my father then took the trouble to come to me, though I had already forgotten everything, and most formally to ask for my forgiveness for his unjustified suspicions!

Schenker recounts a dream in which first his mother and sister appear, then (diary, June 13, 1914): All of a sudden [...] an opening appeared in the setting [a rock face] which, without being a door, released the image of my father. Completely clothed, wearing a blue jacket and eyeglasses, he moved along the wall a few steps in a direction that apparently led to my mother, who wanted to approach him in the greatest haste. I myself, frightened and shocked, was standing nearly opposite him, and wanted to approach him and speak with him; but he gestured, making it impossible to take just these few steps sideways – whereupon I awoke.


Johann Schenker died in 1887 at the age of 59, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Podhajce. (The gravestone cannot now be located because of the indecipherable condition of most stones in the cemetery.) Heinrich was not present (being in Vienna by that time); nor did he begin his personal diaries until 1896, so for accounts of it we have to resort to fragmentary references recorded in subsequent diaries and in later correspondence.

In his diary for January 3, 1918 Schenker writes that a friend of the Schenker family present at Johann's death remembered: that father called Mozio, who had been summoned from Buczacz, to his bedside and said: "Sadly, I am dying while still young, and I am leaving nothing behind; but love one another ‒ that is my best legacy.

Johann's death had serious consequences for the 19-year-old Heinrich, who had moved to Vienna in 1884 to study and had not yet finished his student years. (His 1887 application to study at the Conservatory survives and is quoted in Federhofer (1985), p. 5, as do his application for exemption from fees, declaration of lack of means, and other documents, all prepared jointly by Johann and Heinrich.) In a letter to August Halm Heinrich wrote on September 25, 1922 (DLA 69.930/10): Already during my earliest years, because I had to support mother, sister, younger brother (today the so ungrateful billionaire), and niece by giving piano lessons, I gladly accepted an offer from a Viennese friend of [Maximilian] Harden to write something for him [for the journal Die Zukunft ].

This offer led to Heinrich's eleven-year career, 1891‒1901, as a music journalist. Thus the death of Johann impelled two important strands of Schenker's career.


  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen ... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), pp. 1‒3, 5, 342‒45
  • Fischer, Isidor, Medizinische Lyzeen: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des medizinischen Unterrichtes in Österreich (Vienna/Leipzig: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1915)
  • Friedmann, Filip, Die galizischen Juden im Kampfe um ihre Gleichberechtigung (1848-1868) (Frankfurt a.M.: J. Kauffmann, 1929)
  • JRI-Poland
  • Rothfarb, Lee, "Henryk Szenker, Galitzianer: The Making of a Man and a Nation," Journal of Schenkerian Studies, 11 (2018), 1‒52
  • Communication from Robert Kosovsky


  • Ian Bent and Lee Rothfarb

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  • DLA 69.930/2 Handwritten letter from Schenker to Halm, dated January 17, 1918

    Schenker has received Halm's article about him, and expresses his appreciation. Schenker's mother died in December 1917; he looked after her and his siblings from the time his father died [1887]. Addresses a reservation on Halm's part—speaking to him as "leader to leader"—and confirms his concept of the Volk. Schenker has a plan to put to Halm.

  • OJ 5/7a, [14] (formerly vC 14) Handwritten letter from Schenker to Cube, dated April 29, 1928

    Schenker sympathizes with Cube over the hostilities he faces; contrasts his own theory to the approach of Riemann. Has arranged for Hammer portraits to be sent to Cube [for bookshop exhibits], and directs him to biographical information about himself. Describes the trials of his 20s, which were surpassed by the difficulties he faced later with publishers and organizations. Upholds Joachim and Messchaert as models of performance art, and speaks of his contact with Brahms. Asks whether Cube will be joining him in Galtür in the summer.

  • OJ 6/7, [38] Handwritten letter, with envelope, from Schenker to Moriz Violin, dated June 23, 1928

    Schenker thanks Violin for his kind birthday greetings, explaining the discrepant birth dates assigned to him. He reaffirms his spiritual solidarity with his friend. He has read some articles and reviews mentioning his work, at all of which he laughs.