Category Archives: Guest post

A librettist and his composer: Stefan Zweig and Richard Strauss as seen through their letters (guest post by Kimberly Taylor)


Stefan Zweig, ca. 1935. Photographer unknown. Stefan Zweig Collection, Reed Library Archives & Special Collections.

In February 1935, Austrian Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), commonly regarded as the most translated German language author of his time, wrote to German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949), “One day, your letters, your decisions, will belong to all mankind.” (Richard Strauss and Stefan Zweig, A confidential matter: the letters of Richard Strauss and Stefan Zweig, 1935-1935, trans. Max Knight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977, 67.) Having recently completed the libretto for Strauss’s opera Die schweigsame Frau, this solemn admonition was a response to Strauss’s suggestion that, due to political developments, the two might do well to continue their artistic collaborations in secret. Aware of the impending jeopardy in which his association with Zweig – a Jewish writer with a now-dangerously high profile – was sure to place him, Strauss, then head of Hitler’s Reichsmusikkammer, had entreated, “Should I have the good fortune to receive one or several new libretti from you, let us agree that nobody will ever know about it.” (Ibid., 67.) It was a policy to which Zweig could never adhere as artist or citizen, whether to the end of his own safety or in deference to a musical genius he considered to be the apotheosis of his generation. Beyond its case-specific context, Zweig’s caution to Strauss demonstrates the former’s belief in the potency of epistolary correspondence in fleshing out the historical record. Zweig himself composed thousands of letters in his lifetime, many of which have indeed survived to the great benefit of posterity, academic and otherwise. In another communication with Strauss, seen below, Zweig wrote, “… nur jetzt keine Uraufführung in Deutschland!”, concerned that Strauss’s insistence on the premiere of the opera in Germany would further enable both the work itself and its creator to be used as political pawns.


1st page of letter from Stefan Zweig to Richard Strauss, 13 December 1934. The Stefan Zweig Collection, Reed Library Archives & Special Collections.

The above exchange comprises only a snippet of the revealing missives sent between Strauss and Zweig in the early 1930s which will be the focus of an exhibition planned as part of an upcoming celebration of Stefan Zweig and his lifelong proclivity for music, Zweig at Fredonia 2016, a 3-day event offering lively discussion, a musical performance – including selections from the now infamous libretto which heralded Strauss’s resignation of his post on the Reichsmusikkammer, and the 4th Biennial Stefan Zweig Lecture, all to be held on the campus of The State University of New York at Fredonia in New York State.

The exhibition, Zweig and Strauss: Artistic Collaboration in a Time of War (3-27 October 2016), will emphasize selected correspondence alongside other manuscripts held by Fredonia’s Archives & Special Collections. Fredonia’s renowned Stefan Zweig Collection, the most significant and extensive archive of Zweig manuscripts in North America, was initiated in 1967 with a purchase of documents from Zweig’s first wife, Friderike, then living in the northeastern United States. Her selection of Fredonia as the permanent repository for the manuscript correspondence between herself and Zweig was encouraged in no small part by a longtime acquaintance of both hers and her first husband, Dr. Robert Rie, then a Professor of German Studies at Fredonia. Among the most precious items included in Friderike’s Nachlass was Zweig’s last letter to her, composed (in English, to avoid war-time censorship) in 1942 the day before he and his second wife, Lotte, were found dead – a double suicide – in their adopted home of Petrópolis, Brazil.



“Dear Friderike when you get this letter I shall feel much better than before …” Final letter from Stefan Zweig to Friderike Zweig, 22 February 1942. The Stefan Zweig Collection, Reed Library Archives & Special Collections.

Further accruals to the Zweig Collection at Fredonia would include the voluminous correspondence containing over 6,000 letters, postcards and other epistolary devices written to Zweig from some of the most pivotal writers, artists, musicians, composers and intellectuals of his age. Among the hundreds of correspondents – including the likes of Felix Braun, Max Brod, Georges Duhamel, Sergei Eisenstein, Benno Geiger, Pierre Jean Jouve, James Joyce, Frans Masereel, Joseph Roth, Albert Schweitzer, Fritz von Unruh and Virginia Woolf – Strauss himself was no mean contributor. His correspondence alone comprises over 75 items sent to Zweig between 1931 and 1935, for the latter a period of time fraught with, at best, uncertainty about the future and, at worst, the unambiguous realization that his livelihood, life, and limb lay within the ever-increasing reach of oblivion. Zweig himself, though perpetually and avowedly apolitical insofar as he could manage, endured constant pressure from many sides to use his authorial notoriety as a spokesperson against the rising Nazi influence. However, he consistently refused to play such a role, as seen in a letter he wrote to Strauss from Zurich, dated 19 May 1935: “As an individual one cannot resist the will or insanity of a whole world; enough strength is needed to remain firm and self-respecting and to reject all feelings of bitterness and hatred. This alone has become a sort of accomplishment these days, and is almost harder than writing books.” (Ibid., 93. This letter from Stefan Zweig to Richard Strauss is held by the Richard-Strauss-Institut in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.) Zweig seemed unwilling to allow the insanity of the world interfere with either his art or his humanity.

Although the focus of events for Zweig at Fredonia 2016 will concentrate on the author’s relationship with Strauss and music, the collection as a whole encompasses an interdisciplinary scope of immeasurable value to scholars everywhere, elucidating not only Zweig’s own aesthetic acumen but his unwavering support of and collaboration with the greatest thinkers and creators of his era. He was, in fact, a true man of letters.

Zweig at Fredonia 2016 details:

Dates: 3-5 October 2016
Location:  The State University of New York at Fredonia, Fredonia, NY
Organizers: Birger Vanwesenbeeck (;
Kim Taylor (

3 October 2016
15:30, Zweig and Strauss: A Continuing Conversation
Faculty panel led by musicologist Dr. Matthew Werley (Oxford).
17:00, Zweig and Strauss: Artistic Collaboration in a Time of War
Opening of manuscript exhibit featuring correspondence written by Strauss to Zweig from Fredonia’s Stefan Zweig Collection.

4 October 2016
20:00, Selected Songs and Arias of Richard Strauss
Fredonia School of Music faculty and students perform songs and arias of Richard Strauss, including excerpts from Die schweigsame Frau.

5 October 2016
18:00, 4th Biennial Stefan Zweig Lecture
Keynote lecture by George Prochnik, author of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (2014).

Twitter: @FREDarchives

Note on the author: Kimberly Taylor is Coordinator of Archives & Special Collections, Daniel A. Reed Library, The State University of New York at Fredonia



Introducing Rahel Varnhagen and the Varnhagen Society (guest post by Nikolaus Gatter)

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Images from left to right: Rahel Varnhagen von Ense; Karl August Varnhagen von Ense with Alexander von Humboldt

‘Every creature endowed with reason can educate itself to criticize. Inspiration, swift combination, wit, etc. – these are gifts; at any rate, we do not remember the process, the striving for it, the activity; and enjoy them as such, like we enjoy spoils – the possession of which makes you eventually forget the war.’ (Rahel Varnhagen)

Who was Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, née Levin?
She was born in 1771 in Berlin to Chaje and Markus Levin and died in Berlin in 1833; she was married to Karl August Varnhagen von Ense (1785–1858). At a time when there were no institutions for educating girls, Rahel educated herself to become, according to many of her contemporaries, the wittiest woman in Europe – with an immense talent for socializing. Goethe, one of her personal acquaintances, wrote of her: ‘she is what I would call a beautiful soul.’ Rahel’s letters are unconventional, rhapsodic, full of inspiration and emotion – a philosophy without system nor the trappings of religious thought.

Rahel Varnhagen as salonnière and activist
Based on philosophical reasoning that yields challenging questions for the present day, Rahel’s salon turned into a free-spirited republic. In a time of political stagnation, people of different social standing and various professions, men and women alike, met in her salon to exchange views in a tolerant and unbiased way. The Humboldt brothers were among the many celebrities that visited her salon, Schlegel and Schleiermacher, the Prince of Lingne and Prince Louis Ferdinand. Eduard Gans, Ludwig Börne, Bettina von Arnim, the Prince of Pückler and Heinrich Heine frequented her second salon. The wars of liberation forced Rahel to flee Berlin. In Prague she founded and ran an organisation to take care of wounded soldiers. Throughout her life she was committed to helping socially disadvantaged people and to women’s liberation. She followed her husband to the Congress of Vienna and to Baden, where the diplomat Varnhagen was dismissed due to his democratic opinions.

Rahel Varnhagen’s legacy
Rahel Varnhagen passed an idea on to us: of a vast network of communication in which people of different origins and different religious creeds, political opinion and social origins are connected. The Varnhagen Society was founded 1998, when the Städtisches Abendgymnasium Hagen was named Rahel Varnhagen College. The society is dedicated to continuing this network, to initiate a discourse of tolerance and education, and to commemorate the initiators of the Varnhagen Collection as well as all those who contributed to it. Rahel’s legacy includes an extensive correspondence. As requested in her will, her husband collected and began to publish her letters. Their niece Ludmilla Assing (1821–1880) bequested the Varnhagen Collection – which by that time had grown to contain a number of manuscripts, paintings, pictures, books, and various letters (correspondence between about nine thousand people) to the Königliche Bibliothek in Berlin (today the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz).


The Varnhagen Society’s aims and activities
The Varnhagen Society intends to initiate dialogue between readers of this collection. A part of the Varnhagen Collection is still kept in the Berlin library. Many manuscripts were discovered in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków. The Varnhagen Society has asked for assistance of these libraries in granting Ludmilla Assing’s request and make all parts of the Collection accessible to the public. Both libraries are institutional members of the Varnhagen Society. A 1000-page inventory with the names and biographical data of the letter writers and recipients, prepared by Ludwig Stern (Berlin, 1911), is distributed among our members for a nominal fee. At our meetings, discussions of these topics are accompanied by lectures and artistic performances. The exhibition we curated about the Collection’s history was opened in 2005 and has toured since then to university libraries, public colleges and galleries in Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Offenbach am Main, Marburg, Siegen, and Mannheim.

The Varnhagen Society publishes a newsletter (subscription to the e-mail-version is free) and an almanac of which two volumes are in print: Wenn die Geschichte um eine Ecke geht (Berlin, 2000), Makkaroni und Geistesspeise (Berlin, 2002). Further publications followed with the exhibition catalogue Lebensbilder, die Zukunft zu bevölkern – Von Rahel Levins Salon zur ‘Sammlung Varnhagen’ (Cologne, 2006) and Paris, 1810 (Cologne, 2013), a journal-like newsletter Karl August Varnhagen wrote to a number of friends about his journey to and audience at Napoleon’s court, including nine letters by Henriette Mendelssohn. The archive of the Varnhagen Society includes the works of Rahel and Karl August Varnhagen, Ludmilla Assing and others, scientific literature, a vast collection of paper clippings from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century and some unpublished material. It is accessible to members of the Varnhagen Society and to students.

Contact details and website
Varnhagen Gesellschaft e.V.
Hausweilerstrasse 250968 Cologne/Köln
fon/fax ++49 (0) 221 16 81 27 18

Jana Dambrogio on ‘Letterlocking: the art and security of letter writing’ (guest post)

What is ‘letterlocking’?
Letterlocking refers to the process by which a substrate has been folded and secured shut to function as its own envelope. Letterlocking is part of a 10,000 year-old information security tradition, ranging from Mesopotamian clay bullae to internet Bitcoin. Locked paper documents have been used in cultures throughout the world since the late Middle Ages by regents, their secretaries, spymasters, soldiers, and the general public. Oftentimes the same person used more than one letterlocking format, some more secure than others. Why? Documenting the physical evidence – the tiny slits, folds, and cut-off corners – of well-preserved ‘opened’ original manuscripts helps to define their different ‘closed’ locking formats. Collaboration with experts in allied professions helps to figure out the significance of letters as artifacts in a specific moment in history.

A note on Jana Dambrogio
Jana Dambrogio is the Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator for Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Her work with Dr Daniel Starza Smith of Lincoln College, Oxford, on John Donne’s letterlocking techniques brought her to Oxford for Smith and Dambrogio’s participation in the international symposium ‘What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach’ in Oxford this past July.

Workshops on letterlocking and further information
Jana lectures and teaches workshops internationally on her process of making models to understand the physical nuances of historic letters and archival bindings and discusses how conservators preserve their function and format for access and interpretation. Workshop participants have a hand at ‘un-locking’  and securing shut models of several types of locked letters with varying levels of built-in security devices based on historic examples. Resources are available on a letterlocking website and a YouTube channel which feature a growing reference collection of documents and bindings in motion.

PS from MI Matthews-Schlinzig: There is another great blog post on this topic, ‘Let’s make a model’, which was co-written by Dr Heather Wolfe (Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library) and Jana Dambrogio.


The photos in this post were all taken at the letterlocking workshop Jana Dambrogio and Dr Daniel Starza Smith gave at the symposium ‘What is a letter? An interdisciplinary approach’.