Stories of Olden Times that should never be Forgotten

How an old Viennese music school and a Bohemian graveyard interweave.

It was thirty-odd years ago that a friend gave me a birthday present. It was the complete sheet music of the overture of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). But it was not exactly the score - it was the music for the orchestra parts, complete for the orchestra’s music stands: three books for the first violins, that is for six players, two sharing one stand each, two for the second violins, one for the violas, three again for basses and cellos, one for tympani, one for first flutes, and so on.

The music had been edited by the publishing house of Breitkopf & Härtel and showed the impressions of a rubber stamp, identifying them as the property of a Viennese music school: „Vom k. k. Landesschulrathe concessionierte Privat-Musikschule Schallinger“ (private music school Schallinger by admission of the Imperial School Board). Thus, by ancient orthography and reference to the Empire of Austria-Hungary, the music could be dated back to times before 1905. The sheet music was welcomed, smiled at, and henceforth slumbered in some drawer of mine. Nevertheless it stayed in my mind, unforgotten, and last summer I opened the drawer and looked at it again.

The first thing that struck me was the address of the school, since it was in the neighborhood of my own home. But there were no signs of this school to be seen now, when I visited the address, although it must have been an imposing building with a large music room, apparently in the rear building, as I learned from researching on the web, where I found a photograph of the staff of teachers and their pupils, taken in the building’s courtyard (http://acta.musicologica.cz/07-02/0702s01.html, scroll down to the pics).

And there were other things I learnt. For example, that after the Great War, in 1919, Alois Hába, the famed Czech avant-gardist, pioneer of microtonal composing (with quarter-tones, sixth tones and so on), had been teaching at this school. Also the father of the celebrated pianist Friedrich Gulda, Friedrich Gulda senior, taught cello there. I got ever more curious. I didn’t find out too much, but a little more at least. There was a hint that the school’s founder, Ewald Otto Schallinger, might have been a student of Anton Bruckner’s, certainly an admirer of the master and a follower of the modern musical trends of his time, and a noteworthy pedagogue later on.

Then I stumbled upon a book ad for the Lojze Wieser publishing house. There was a short curriculum vitae of its author, Ludwiga Reich. It read that she had been an instructor (for piano, as she wrote me later) at the Schallinger music school, and so I sent her an e-mail, asking if she could possibly tell me something about the school. She answered immediately in a very friendly and gentle way, and it turned out that she administered the estates of the school, and that her daughter, Natascha Reich, had written her master thesis on the life and work of her great-grandfather, or rather step-great-grandfather, Ewald Otto Schallinger (1873-1958). In her first e-mail she remarked that I surely knew one or the other detail from her book about the „Stone Archive of Ivančice“. 

I didn’t, but my curiosity kept growing. I informed myself about the book Ms Reich had written, and she informed me about herself: that she had been teaching the piano at her family’s school (first unwillingly, then with dedication); that the school existed until 1985; that it had been founded by Ewald Otto Schallinger (the legendary, as she said, but now almost forgotten Schallinger) and carried on by his son Walter Schallinger; that her mother Ludovica Reich, widow of the late Walter, had led the school as principal until her death in 1985; and that there still were amicable ties between the families Reich and Gulda. Five months later, I was lucky enough to meet Ms Reich in person. She was presenting her book at the Czech Centre in Vienna and sent me an invitation.

While I was writing this text, I got another e-mail that informed me about a mistake. The photo mentioned above hadn't been taken in the courtyard of the music school but some blocks away in one of the yards of the district administration’s edifice in the Viennese quarter of Favoriten. It was taken on the occasion of the music school’s final concerts on May 5thand 6th1919. A statue of the emperor Franz Joseph once stood there, and Ewald Otto Schallinger had written the music for its unveiling. The photograph also shows, amongst others, Heinz Knöll, the later conductor and choirmaster of the newly founded (1900) Dresden Opera, and Felix Petyrek, an avant-garde and experimental composer and collector of folksongs.

Well, about the book. I don’t want to reveal too much of it, I’d rather have you read it yourself. But let this little bit be given away: the book was published in 2017 (Wieser Verlag, Klagenfurt/Celovec) under the title „Das steinerne Archiv von Ivančice/Kamenný archiv v Ivančicích“. It's written in German and in Czech, and it's about the Jewish cemetery in the town of Ivančice. Furthermore, it's about an old Habsburg-Austrian town with its Czech speaking Moravians, its German speaking Jews, its burghers and their links to the surrounding land, and the influence of the not-so-far-away metropolis of Vienna. Hence the bilingualism. 

It has to be added that the attitudes and traditions of well-meaning everyday Austrians still are rather paternalistic, looking down on the fate of the Czech population in the imperial capital as part of the native Viennese folklore. There were the „brick-Bohemians“, migrant proletarians who worked in the southern suburbs under dramatically morbid conditions for the barons of the brickmaking industry. It was Viktor Adler, the later founder of the Austrian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, who drew attention to the lot of the workers in the clay pits, which led, after a series of articles in Adler’s paper Gleichheit (Equality) and a successful strike, to an amelioration of their working and living situation. Today they are part of the political and social folklore, represented particularly by the name of a pleasure ground called Böhmischer Prater (Bohemia’s amusement park), still situated near the pits and plants where they once laboured.

Likewise, the image of the non-native craftsman, mainly tailor or cobbler, with his funny German accent, betraying his Czech heritage, is a stereotype of Viennese music-hall or folk songs, making fun of the amiable but strange migrant. Nowadays a general boasting about tolerance goes hand in hand with Vienna’s depiction as a cosmopolitan city that had once willingly embraced all the migrants of the Habsburg empire, however  hard and painful this integration may have been. Nothing like this soi disant tolerance or benevolent folklore can be found nowadays in respect to Vienna’s contemporary citizens of Turkish origin, to say nothing of African or Asian emigrants or asylum seekers.

Back to the marvelous book by Ludwiga Reich. None of that hubris is in it. Quite  the contrary. It constrains itself to the history of this small town, once called Eibenschütz, now, but also then, called Ivančice, and of its inhabitants. That this town is (or at least was) inhabited by speakers of two tongues is reflected in the bilingual edition: one page Czech, the opposite page German. But it's not a historian’s work that we admire. It's a deeply personal account, starting with the author’s consternation about an entry in the guestbook of the graveyard’s custodian.

There are various interwoven threads in the narration, of which I will present one or the other. There's the story of the Jewish graveyard, marvelously illustrated by the author’s photographs. And it begins with the guestbook that confronts Ludwiga Reich with a name from her family’s history, though its bearer, Mimi Schallingerova, is no relative. Ms Reich initially didn’t intend to visit Ivančice either. A trip to Italy had been planned, together with a friend, but the weather forecast was not too splendid, so the two women turned in the opposite direction, to Brno and Olomouc in Moravia. And one day before departure, Ms Reich received a call from Hedy Millian, Friedrich Gulda’s sister.

If they were going to Brno, she told them, they’d also have to visit Ivančice. It’s not far from Brno, some twenty kilometers. Her and her brother’s ancestors stemmed from there; one of them, Beneš Metod Kulda (1820-1903), is honoured with a memorial plaque, no excuses to be made. Ms Reich visited Ivančice, looked with her friend for the plaque, didn’t find it, asked about it at the tourist information office, and got a slip of paper with the sketch of a map. A cross marked the house, and a synagogue and a cemetery were to be found, too. They looked for all of it. Thus the book eventually came to life. And so our two trajectories crossed, triggered by accidents: a nice birthday present, and a bad weather forecast some decades later. She wrote the book out of astonishment about her discovery, and I read it because I wanted to know something about some orchestra music.

Here we have a short but interesting history of Ivančice /Eibenschütz, of its development over time, its various names and inhabitants, their lots and fates. We also read a history of migration and settlement and eviction, of ties and relationships, of flights and fights, of disasters and nobleness, and of changing circumstances, changing policies and politics, changing populations, altering the appearance of the town. We also read a history of famous names (and their bearers) such as the already mentioned Kulda, a priest, politician and collector of Moravian folktales, the Jugendstil painter Alfons Mucha, the musicologist and friend of Gustav Mahler Guido Adler, the composer Hugo Weisgall and the Rabbi and scholar Joachim Oppenheim, all from Ivančice, alongside entrepreneurs and others worth being remembered.

The emphasis of this piece of history, written by a non-historian, lies on a large-scale relationship between a rather small though remarkable provincial town and its metropolitan residence, until those ties were cut off by the political and social catastrophes of war, fascism, and genocide. Those ties and relations are traced back and carefully brought forward with a loving attitude and personal interest.

But we find no trace of false moral repentance in the face of bygone times, nor do we find imperialist high-handedness. What we do find is deep respectfulness without any pretense, and unprejudiced curiosity, which makes the book a page-turner and a moving experience. Go for it and for a story real historians would not provide! Read!