Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek – Spiel oder Ernst?
(b. Vienna, 4 May 1860 – d. Berlin, 1 August 1945)
Although Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek is regarded as an equal contemporary of Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Hans Pfitzner, and though his oeuvre encompasses almost all genres, he is known today almost exclusively among experts. However, he achieved lasting fame in the field of lepidopterology, the study of butterflies: he was able to catch over 100,000 butterflies throughout his life and even discover a mutation named after him.
Reznicek was born into a wealthy Bohemian family in Vienna. His father, General Josef Reznicek, was knighted in 1853 and, three months before Emil’s birth, raised to the rank of baron in Austria, while Emils maternal ancestors came from the Romanian high nobility. The family was adequately secured financially, but the early death of his mother made it difficult for Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek – he fled early from his father’s authoritarian upbringing into the world of music. At the age of ten he learned the piano, beginning with the Viennese classics and quickly discovering Wagner’s music. When he sang for Brahms in place of his sister, the great composer offered him to become a member of the Singverein after his voice breaking, which he could not perceive due to the family’s move to Graz soon afterwards. Under the guidance of Wilhelm Treiber, Reznicek wrote his first compositions in his new native town. After he – probably deliberately – failed in his law studies, his father reluctantly allowed him to pursue a career as a composer. Reznicek had already taken music lessons from Wilhelm Mayer during his law studies, and now he moved to the Leipzig Conservatory, where Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) and Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902) took him under their wing. In the following years he lived from different, mostly rather short employments as Kapellmeister, which were indispensable inasmuch as he had bet a large part of his inheritance on a summer theater and lost it by its failure.
Shortly after finishing his studies Reznicek married Milka von Thurn-Valsassina who died in 1897. A short time later he met Berta Juillerat-Chasseur, a then still married woman of Jewish descent – two factors that would cause Reznicek problems. When Emil-Ludwig’s child saw the light of day illegitimately in 1898, Reznicek was expelled from his position as court kapellmeister in Leipzig, after which he was unable to find suitable work for decades. In 1903 the family moved to Berlin and remained there until the bombing in 1943. One year after his move Reznicek became a German citizen. …
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