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Agreement reached to move composer’s archives to Vienna

LOS ANGELES, April 10 (JTA) — The much-contested musical archives of Arnold Schoenberg will soon move to Vienna, the composer’s two sons announced this week. In a news conference Monday at the Austrian Consulate here, Lawrence and Ronald Schoenberg said the opening of the new Arnold Schoenberg Center is slated for spring 1998. When first reported, the move from the present Schoenberg Institute on the University of Southern California campus to Vienna was strongly denounced by some Jewish scholars and admirers of the composer’s work. They objected particularly to a venue they characterized as having a long history of anti-Semitism before and during the Hitler period. Schoenberg, often dubbed the “father of modern music” for his development of atonal music and the 12-tone technique, left behind a huge collection of musical manuscripts, writings and art works, now valued at close to $60 million. These archives, together with some 200 paintings by Schoenberg, valued at $25 million, will be housed at the renovated Palais Fanto in the heart of Vienna. The composer was born a Jew but converted to Lutheranism when he was 24. In 1933, he formally returned to Judaism in a Paris ceremony, witnessed by the artist Marc Chagall. At the news conference, the question was raised whether Vienna’s historical anti-Semitism, from which Schoenberg himself suffered and which led one Princeton University professor to describe the move as “a form of blasphemy,” should disqualify the city as a repository of its native son’s legacy. Ronald Schoenberg, a municipal judge, said, “I don’t see what good it does to prevent a country from doing something good to some extent make up for what it has done before.” Lawrence Schoenberg added, “The collection belongs there. Hitler was wrong when he said that people like Schoenberg don’t belong there.” The Austrian and Vienna governments are underwriting most of the costs of the new Schoenberg Center. It has been suggested that this subsidy represents a form of compensation or reparation for past anti-Semitic sins. “I hope it isn’t just that, but that’s part of it,” said Ronald Schoenberg. For close to half a century, Austria was in a state of denial as to its complicity in Hitler’s war on Europe and the Jews, preferring to view itself as the “first victim” of the Nazi conquests. One of the first signals of a changed attitude came in 1994, when Austrian President Thomas Klestil, addressing the Israeli Knesset, declared: “We know that much too rarely do we speak of the fact that many of the worst accomplices of the Nazi dictatorship were Austrians.” Other signs of a new sense of responsibility during the past few years can be found in the opening of the Jewish Museum in Vienna, and the creation of the country’s first, albeit meager, Fund for Victims of National Socialism. The new Schoenberg Center appears to be another effort by Austria toward reconciliation with the Jewish people. There is another “Jewish” footnote to Schoenberg’s legacy. Shortly before his death in 1951, he wrote a letter that, according to various scholars, contained a request that his archives be transferred to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Questioned on that point, Ronald Schoenberg, and his son Randol, asserted that the letter referred only to that part of the composer’s writing that he categorized as “Jewish Affairs.” Included in that category were the composer’s extensive correspondence with Albert Einstein, and his early proto-Zionist drama, “The Biblical Way.” Nevertheless, none of the “Jewish Affairs” papers was ever sent to Jerusalem. They remain part of the general collection headed for Vienna. The original Schoenberg Institute was established at USC in 1973. During the first 20 years valuable work was done to catalog and preserve the vast collection, said Leonard Stein, director-emeritus of the institute. By contrast, the last four years have been marked by escalating legal and personal disputes between university administrators and the Schoenberg heirs, until a final break became inevitable. At that point, Berlin and The Hague also bid for the collection, but lost out to Vienna. The USC institute’s veteran archivist, Wayne Shoaf, will work closely with the new Vienna team to assure a smooth transition. The Palais Fanto, the Schoenberg legacy’s new home, is a 3-story, triangular building, with a baroque-style facade and an interior inlaid with marble. It was built in 1917 and restored in 1994. Despite its name, it was never a palace but has been used for business purposes. Plans for the center call for easy accessibility for scholars and the general public, close ties to the Vienna Academy for Music and the Performing Arts, and wide use of communication technology, including a Web site on the Internet. The center’s 1997 budget of $3 million includes funds for renovation and startup. The annual budget thereafter is expected to be $1.5 million. Christian Meyer, a 34-year-old economist with a strong musical background, has been named director-manager of the Schoenberg Center. Nuria Nono Schoenberg, the composer’s daughter, will serve as the center’s president. In welcoming the new center to Vienna’s cultural life, Mayor Michael Haupl said, “I am excited about this project as it will help the city’s reputation to reach beyond a famous boys choir and white horses.”