Peter Altenberg

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Peter Altenberg
Peter Altenberg1.jpg
Altenberg in 1907
Born Richard Engländer  [ de ]
(1859-03-09)9 March 1859
Leopoldstadt, Vienna 2, Austrian Empire
Died19 January 1919(1919-01-19) (aged 59)
Vienna, Republic of German-Austria
Literary movement Modernism

Signature Peter Altenberg (signature).gif

Peter Altenberg (9 March, 1859 – 8 January, 1919) was a writer and poet from Vienna, Austria. He was key to the genesis of early modernism in the city.

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital and largest city of Austria, and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Modernism movement of art, culture and philosophy

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.



Memorial for Altenberg in Franzensbrückenstraße [de
] 3, Wien 2 (Leopoldstadt) Peter Altenberg Geburtshaus Wien Franzensbrückenstraße 3.jpg
Memorial for Altenberg in Franzensbrückenstraße  [ de ] 3, Wien 2 (Leopoldstadt)

He was born Richard Engländer on 9 March 1859 in Vienna. The nom de plume, "Altenberg", came from a small town on the Danube river. Allegedly, he chose the "Peter" to honor a young girl whom he remembered as an unrequited love (it had been her nickname). Although he grew up in a middle class Jewish family, Altenberg eventually separated himself from his family of origin by dropping out of both law and medical school, and embracing Bohemianism as a permanent lifestyle choice. He cultivated a feminine appearance and feminine handwriting, wore a cape, sandals and a broad-brimmed hat, and despised 'macho' masculinity.

Danube river in Central Europe

The Danube, known by various names in other languages, is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Bohemianism lifestyle

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties. It involves musical, artistic, literary or spiritual pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may or may not be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

Lifestyle is the interests, opinions, behaviours, and behavioural orientations of an individual, group, or culture. The term was introduced by Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler with the meaning of "a person's basic character as established early in childhood", for example in his 1929 book "The Case of Miss R.". The broader sense of lifestyle as a "way or style of living" has been documented since 1961. Lifestyle is a combination of determining intangible or tangible factors. Tangible factors relate specifically to demographic variables, i.e. an individual's demographic profile, whereas intangible factors concern the psychological aspects of an individual such as personal values, preferences, and outlooks.

Discovered by Arthur Schnitzler in 1894 and appreciated by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Karl Kraus, Altenberg was one of the main proponents of Viennese Impressionism. He was a master of short, aphoristic stories based on close observation of everyday life events. After reading Altenberg's first published collection Wie ich es sehe (1896) Hofmannsthal wrote: "Even though entirely unconcerned with things important, the book has such a good conscience that one can immediately see that it cannot possibly be a German book. It is truly Viennese. It flaunts it – its origin – as it flaunts its attitude."

Arthur Schnitzler Austrian writer

Arthur Schnitzler was an Austrian author and dramatist.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal Austrian novelist, librettist, poet, dramatist, narrator, and essayist

Hugo Laurenz August Hofmann von Hofmannsthal was an Austrian prodigy, a novelist, librettist, poet, dramatist, narrator, and essayist.

Karl Kraus (writer) Czech playwright and publicist

Karl Kraus was an Austrian writer and journalist, known as a satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet. He directed his satire at the press, German culture, and German and Austrian politics. The Austrian author Stefan Zweig once called Kraus "the master of venomous ridicule". He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times.

At the fin de siècle, when Vienna was a major crucible and center for modern arts and culture, Altenberg was a very influential part of a literary and artistic movement known as Jung-Wien (Young Vienna). Altenberg was a contemporary of Karl Kraus, Gustav Mahler, Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, and Adolf Loos, with whom he had a very close relationship. He was somewhat older, in his early 30s, than the others. His oeuvre consists of short, poetic prose pieces that do not easily fit into usual formal categories. The inspiration for his trademark short prose he drew from the concise aesthetic of Charles Baudelaire's prose poems and the spatial limitations of the 'Correspondenzkarte,' the postcard, first launched and disseminated in his native Austria in 1869. [1]

<i>Fin de siècle</i> cultural movement at the end of the 19th Century

Fin de siècle is a French term meaning end of century, a term which typically encompasses both the meaning of the similar English idiom turn of the century and also makes reference to the closing of one era and onset of another. The term is typically used to refer to the end of the 19th century. This period was widely thought to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning. The "spirit" of fin de siècle often refers to the cultural hallmarks that were recognized as prominent in the 1880s and 1890s, including ennui, cynicism, pessimism, and "...a widespread belief that civilization leads to decadence."

Young Vienna

Young Vienna (Jung-Wien) was a society of fin de siècle writers who met in Vienna's Café Griensteidl and other nearby coffeehouses in the late nineteenth century.

Gustav Mahler late-Romantic Austrian composer

Gustav Mahler was an Austro-Bohemian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century. In 2016, a BBC Music Magazine survey of 151 conductors ranked three of his symphonies in the top ten symphonies of all time.

He became well known throughout Vienna after the publication of a book of his fragmentary observations of women and children in everyday street activities. Because most of his literary work was written while he frequented various Viennese bars and coffeehouses, Altenberg is sometimes referred to as a cabaret or coffee house poet. His favorite coffeehouse was the Café Central, to which he even had his mail delivered.

Viennese coffee house type of café

The Viennese coffee house is a typical institution of Vienna that played an important part in shaping Viennese culture.

Café Central

Café Central is a traditional Viennese café located at Herrengasse 14 in the Innere Stadt first district of Vienna, Austria. The café occupies the ground floor of the former Bank and Stockmarket Building, today called the Palais Ferstel after its architect Heinrich von Ferstel.

Altenberg's detractors said he was a drug addict and a womanizer. Altenberg was also rumored to have problems with alcoholism and mental illness. Yet his admirers considered him to be a highly creative individual with a great love for the aesthetic, for nature, and for young girls. He is certainly known to have had a large collection of photographs and drawings of young girls, and those who knew him well (such as the daughter of his publisher) wrote of his adoration of young girls.

Alcoholism broad term for problems with alcohol

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems. The disorder was previously divided into two types: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions are present: a person drinks large amounts over a long time period, has difficulty cutting down, acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time, alcohol is strongly desired, usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities, usage results in social problems, usage results in health problems, usage results in risky situations, withdrawal occurs when stopping, and alcohol tolerance has occurred with use. Risky situations include drinking and driving or having unsafe sex, among other things. Alcohol use can affect all parts of the body, but it particularly affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas and immune system. This can result in mental illness, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, irregular heartbeat, liver cirrhosis and increased cancer risk, among other diseases. Drinking during pregnancy can cause damage to the baby resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Women are generally more sensitive than men to the harmful physical and mental effects of alcohol.

Altenberg was never a commercially successful writer, but he did enjoy most if not all of the benefits of fame in his lifetime. Altenberg was at one point nominated for the Nobel Prize. [2] Some of the aphoristic poetry he wrote on the backs of postcards and scraps of paper were set to music by composer Alban Berg. In 1913, Berg's Five songs on picture postcard texts by Peter Altenberg were premiered in Vienna. The piece caused an uproar, and the performance had to be halted: a complete performance of the work was not given until 1952.

Altenberg, like many writers and artists, was constantly short of money, but he was adept at making friends, cultivating patrons, and convincing others to pay for his meals, his champagne, even his rent, with which he was frequently late. He repaid his debts with his talent, his wit, and his charm. Many academics consider him to have been a "bohemian's bohemian." [3]

Most of Altenberg's work is published in the German language and, outside of anthology pieces, is difficult to find. Much of it remains in university libraries or private collections. Two selections have been translated, Evocations of Love (1960) and Telegrams of the Soul: Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg (2005).

Altenberg, who never married, died on 8 January 1919, aged 59. He is buried at Central Cemetery in Vienna, Austria.

The Altenberg Trio is named after Peter Altenberg. [4]



English translated

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The Skandalkonzert of March 31, 1913, was a concert of the Wiener Konzertverein conducted by Arnold Schoenberg in the Great Hall of the Musikverein. The audience, shocked by the expressionism and experimentalism of the Second Viennese School, began rioting, and the concert was ended prematurely. A punch administered by concert organizer Erhard Buschbeck became the subject of a lawsuit, whereby operetta composer Oscar Straus, heard as a witness, testified that it had been the most harmonious sound of the evening.


  1. Tales of the German imagination : from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann. Wortsman, Peter,. London, England. ISBN   9780141198804. OCLC   802293695.
  2. Tales of the German imagination : from the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann. Wortsman, Peter,. London, England. ISBN   9780141198804. OCLC   802293695.
  3. Halevy, Alon Y. The infinite emotions of coffee (1st ed.). [Mountain View, CA]: Macchiatone Communications. p. 49. ISBN   0984771506.
  4. "Altenberg Trio home page" . Retrieved 3 April 2017.

Further reading