Posted on March 8, 2010 by Tia Lalani

Christopher Thrall discusses music professor Alex Carpenter’s presentation on fin-de-siecle Vienna at the Freud Museum in London.

By Christopher Thrall –

Over the past few years, Augustana music professor Alex Carpenter consulted London’s Freud Museum several times while he researched the interactions between contemporary Viennese intellectuals, Arnold Schoenberg and Sigmund Freud. With his article on the subject about to be published in the Musical Quarterly, the Museum invited Carpenter to present a talk on “Music and Psychoanalysis in fin-de-siècle Vienna”.

Freud definitely influenced the music and musicians of Vienna – and they very likely had a greater impact on him than he admitted. He treated a number of Viennese musicians such as Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg and Bruno Walter. His literature and pool of patients were in frequent contact with Schoenberg and his circle. Both Freud and Schoenberg would have witnessed Wagnerian references to dream interpretation and contemporary operas that hinted at psycho-therapeutic themes.

However, Carpenter found that it was difficult to connect the two intellectuals, though they moved in similar circles and lived within blocks of each other in Vienna’s 9th District. It isn’t surprising that there was little evidence: though Schoenberg wrote copious letters, he didn’t start keeping copies until later. Furthermore, Freud claimed to be unmusical. Despite writing extensively on all of the other arts, the Father of Modern Psychoanalysis virtually ignored music.

“Schoenberg began to articulate a psychoanalytic compositional ethos in the first decade of the 20th century,” says Carpenter. “By 1909, he had composed arguably the first psychoanalytic opera.” Carpenter’s research suggests numerous links between the two controversial figures: both had groups of followers and increasing international renown, both explored the importance of instinct and memory, and both advocated a stream-of-consciousness approach as a means to access the unconscious.

Carpenter presented his talk on February 18 at the Freud Museum in London, where Freud and his family lived after they escaped the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. “I had a cup of tea in Freud’s kitchen,” Carpenter recalls, “and I got to see Freud’s famous couch. While I stared at it, I had this wonderful feeling of vertigo: I couldn’t believe that I was there!” About 30 people attended his talk, which was followed by a lively question-and-answer session among the educated crowd.

Carpenter just had a paper on psychoanalysis and opera accepted for publication, and he feels that there is a lot of material to explore on the subject. However, despite the musicologist’s interest in Freud, the field of psychoanalysis and his talk at the Museum, he only purchased one thing at the gift shop: a pair of Freudian Slippers.

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