Jewish Music & Poetry Project

Poets & Musicians

Alexander Zemlinsky, composer

Composer, conductor, and teacher Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) is a major transitional figure between the Romantic style and the Second Viennese School.  Born in Vienna to a mixed family with Catholic, Sephardic Jew, and Muslim roots, Zemlinsky was raised Jewish. He studied with Fuchs, was lauded by Brahms, and taught counterpoint to Schoenberg, who married his sister and with whom he had a falling out, reportedly over twelve-tone music. Zemlinsky’s first great love was his composition student Alma Schindler: although she shared his feelings, she broke off the relationship after strong opposition from her family and went on to marry Mahler instead.  After posts in Vienna, Prague, and Berlin, Zemlinsky lost his ability to earn a living after the Nazis came into power and eventually moved to New York. There he was unable to gain the same kind of stature as Schoenberg acquired on the West Coast, and he suffered a series of strokes in 1939, reconciling with his former brother-in-law in 1940.