The Time Viennese Music Became Popular


Source: Die Presse

With Hugo Botstiber the historian Robert Lackner found a central figure of the Viennese music scene 100 years ago that has so far been neglected by research.

Hugo Botstiber was one of the driving forces of the Viennese music scene between 1900 and 1938. However, information about the man born as the son of Jewish Hungarians in Vienna are rare. That is why, Robert Lackner put him at the center of his dissertation (Institute for History at the University of Graz, Styria; Supervisor: Siegfried Beer).

“Even though Vienna presented itself as the capital of music, for a long time there was only one professional orchestra - The Vienna Philharmonic,” says the historian. Botstiber was of crucial importance in founding and establishing the Wiener Konzertverein, the predecessor of the Wiener Symphoniker, in 1900. In 1913, he took over as director of the Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, which initiated the construction of the Wiener Konzerthaus as a second music venue besides the Musikverein. For rendering great services to the construction of the Wiener Konzerthaus, which was officially opened in 1913, the Emperor himself awarded Botstiber with the Order of Merit. 

Until his forced retirement at the beginning of 1938, Botstiber, a musicologist and lawyer, worked as the general secretary, today know as intendant, of the Konzerthaus. During this time he also proved himself as being a smart businessman: “For example, he organized various events remembering the big Austrian musical heroes,” mentions Lackner. “The events symbolized patriotism and were designed to give the small country of Austria legitimacy and self-confidence.”

Botstiber recognized the importance of radio very early and started cooperating with the medium. He rented out the halls for balls, charity and political events and, at a time when the economic crises weakened the interest for music, even for sporting events. Voices of protests criticizing boxing matches taking place at the Konzerthaus even reached New York City. 

Supporter of Schönberg

“His biggest feat though is without a doubt the support for modern music,” says Lackner. From the beginning, Botstiber offered a stage to perform to controversial composers such as Arnold Schönberg, Gustav Mahler, Anton Webern and Alexander Zemlinsky, which “sometimes went against the wishes of the supervising committee.” To make profit, Botstiber often outsourced more progressive and expectedly not so well-attended concerts to the concert bureau of the company or to private companies, that booked the halls. “For the Konzerthaus to establish itself as an important venue for modern music, which it is until this day, is all thanks to this man.”