The so-called “Mattsee Incident” in early summer 1921 is generally known as the pivotal antisemitic experience in Arnold Schönberg’s life; research sees it as the initial for his focus and return to his Jewish identity.

He later described the “expulsion” to which he saw himself exposed as “perhaps one of the first Jews in central Europe” in the popular lakeside resort near Salzburg (euphemistically titled “a nice experience in the Salzkammergut” – letter to Stephan S. Wise, 12 May 1934) – doubtless forming a peripety in his biography and Jewish self-concept.

Confrontations with antisemitism can be traced through about six decades in Schönberg’s biography, clinging to individual and collective incidents and ultimately triggering theoretical and aesthetic reflection in his writings on “Jewish Affairs” as well as the confessional works Moses und Aron (scenic oratorio, 1923/28-37), Der biblische Weg (Zionist spoken drama, 1926-27) and A Survivor from Warsaw (cantata, 1947).

After emigrating to the USA in October 1933, Schönberg called the period after the “Mattsee Incident” the time of his spiritual return to Judaism (which did officially take place in Paris in July 1933). However, he had never entirely forsaken his Jewish roots before that, always understanding himself as a Jew. The Mattsee events left deep traces in his biography, also becoming a textbook case of so-called “summer retreat antisemitism.” Here, Mattsee can represent about 70 places in Austria which promoted themselves in the early 1920s with the label of summer retreats “free of Jews.”

From a distance of 100 years, the Arnold Schönberg Center is devoting an online exhibition to the chronology of early summer 1921, introducing a representative object each day. The documentation begins on 2 June with Schönberg’s arrival in Mattsee and ends on 26 July. That was the day on which he reported a landmark compositional innovation to his dear friend Alma Mahler: “The German Aryans who persecuted me in Mattsee will be thankful for this new one (especially this one), in that they will even be esteemed abroad for 100 years, because they belong to the state which has now secured hegemony in the sphere of music.” A piano piece conceived on 24 July 1921 contextualizes the final point of the exhibition, at the same time representing the 100th anniversary of the first compositional fixation of the 12-tone method.

Centenary: The Mattsee Incident
Arnold Schönberg and summer retreat antisemitism in the Salzkammergut

Online memorial exhibition
2 June – 26 July 2021

One object per day will be published over the duration of the exhibition.

Go to online exhibition

Curator: Therese Muxeneder
Digital realization: Christoph Edtmayr


Wo Dollfuß baden ging. Mattsee erinnert sich: Schönberg - Seyß-Inquart - Stephanskrone; Bildungswoche Mattsee 2016 (Ed. Siegfried Hetz)

Journal of the Arnold Schönberg Center 16/2019. Wien 2019 (Ed. Eike Feß, Therese Muxeneder)

The online exhibition is supported by the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria.