Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

Posted on: January 14, 2016 in: Programmes>2016-17 Season>RE:Imagine>CLoSer: Song of the Earth, Programmes>2016-17 Season>RE:Imagine>The Viennese Salon

Our next RE:Imagine concert, The Viennese Salon, on 24 January celebrates the golden age of the Viennese salons, the drawing rooms of Vienna’s great and good, which became hotbeds of intellectual and cultural activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this blog, we take a look behind closed doors and explore the world of turn-of-the-century Vienna.


Vienna in 1900 stood on a precipice of mounting unrest, between centuries of imperial rule and the chaos of war. As the seat of the Habsburg dynasty for more than 400 years, during which time it served as a capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Vienna was well established as a city of aristocrats and nobles. It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the middle classes took root in the city, and began to make their mark.

A series of revolutions in early 1848 shook the Austrian Empire’s conservative power base. In Vienna, liberal intellectuals gathered in coffee houses and salons to protest press censorship and demand religious and economic freedom, and labour reforms. Beyond Vienna, the numerous national groups which comprised the Austrian Empire fought for their own independence.

The Academic Legion, Viennese students in 1848

In March 1848, the conservative Prince Klemens von Metternich, the State Chancellor and Foreign Minister, and his ministers resigned and were replaced by several short-lived liberal governments. Over the following decades the liberals failed both to gain mass support and to quell the restless populations across the empire. They remained in power, however, by placing restrictions on who could vote.

Towards the end of the century, the new Viennese middle and lower classes demanded a more active role in political affairs and established new social conservative political parties to rival the liberal government. Among these new parties was the Christian Social party, which held deeply anti-Semitic views and swept to victory in Vienna shortly before 1900, the polar opposite of the liberal government it replaced.

Vienna, 1900

Against this backdrop of political uncertainty, Vienna’s coffee houses and salons flourished as spaces for the city’s writers, artists, musicians and thinkers. Indeed, among those living in Vienna at the turn of the century and in the early years of the twentieth century were Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler (whose wife, Alma, was herself a prominent salon hostess), Arnold Schoenberg and many other revolutionary figures in art and beyond. Women in Vienna, much like elsewhere, were mostly excluded from public life, and hosting salons served as one of the only ways in which they could engage with and shape contemporary issues and trends. These society hostesses provided the environment for much of the Modernist developments of the early 1900s, particularly the move towards a more psychological focus, drawing on the new ideas proposed by Freud.

Arnold Schoenberg, 1917. By Egon Schiele


Join us in January at our very own salon with our wonderful patron, Dame Felicity Lott for an afternoon of music, dance and that very Viennese speciality Kaffee und Kuchen. On 17 February, CLoSer returns to Village Undergound with a rare opportunity to hear Mahler’s great Das Lied Von der Erde re-imagined for salon ensemble.

The Viennese Salon
Sunday 24 January 2016, 2pm
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, SE1 9DT
Tickets £62 (premium), £15 – £48, £10 (standing)
Box Office / 020 7401 9919

CLoSer: Song of the Earth
Wednesday 17 February 2016, 7.30pm
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, EC2A 3PQ
Tickets £15 (includes a free drink), £5 students / 16-25s
Box Office / 020 7621 2800