A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889

by Suzanne Calvin

Thanks to everyone who took the time to come out to Barnes & Noble Prestonwood Center for the second installment of our budding book club. The inspiration, this time, was “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss II and the book we chose to focus upon is a very narrow window into a fascinating place and time.

“A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889″ by Frederic Morton does a “splendid” job of immersing readers in the cultural soup of the Austro-Hungarian capital, and showing us vingettes from the lives of ordinary, struggling citizens, the near-famous and the now-famous (Dr. Sigmund Freud, artist Gustav Klimt, composers Johann Strauss II and Anton Bruckner, conductor Gustav Mahler and more).

These threads are woven into a fascinating tale which centers on the murder-suicide pact of the young heir to the great empire, Crown Prince Rudolph, and his seventeen-year-old lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, at his remote hunting lodge on the edge of the Vienna Woods.

Aside from making us better acquainted with the Vienna of “Die Fledermaus,” this book reveals much about the collective psyche of its people, the impact of technological advances, and the morbid undercurrent to Vienna’s obsession with wine, women and the waltz.

It’s also presents a host of “what ifs?” What if this forward-thinking and liberal minded Prince had lived to democratize his empire? What if he had survived to counter-balance the political and military might of his detested rival, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany? What if his friendship with Edward, Prince of Wales had led to even closer collaboration with the English?

Could the hell of “the war to end all wars” have been successfully avoided had Rudolph lived and reigned? And might the “Teutonic furor” he warned of in the 1880s (being stirred by both the Kaiser and anti-semitic politicians) have been doused by official disapproval and undercut by his probable reforms?

There’s no telling, of course. But the shots that rang out that cold January morning at Mayerling ended two lives and many, many hopes.

Suzanne Calvin, Assoc. Dir. of Marketing, The Dallas Opera

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