Franz Grillparzer 1791–-1872
Austrian dramatist, novella writer, poet, and critic.
Grillparzer was a well-known Austrian writer who wrote in an age of transition, between the classical romanticism of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller and the realism of the middle and late nineteenth century. Known primarily as a dramatist, Grillparzer's reputation as a short story writer is based on his novella, Der arme Spielmann. This story is considered a classic Austrian novella and has garnered much critical commentary throughout the ages.
Born on January 15, 1791, in Vienna, Austria, Grillparzer was raised in a wealthy and privileged family. His father was a lawyer; his mother possessed great musical talent. Like his father, Grillparzer studied law at the University of Vienna. Following his graduation in 1811 he worked as a private tutor for an aristocratic family. In 1814 he became an administrator at the Imperial Archives, and in 1832, he was appointed director. Grillparzer began to write for the stage, and on January 31, 1817, Die Ahnfrau was performed at the Theater an der Wien, launching his prestigious playwriting career. In 1826 he was arrested as a member of the Ludlamshöhle Club, a group of writers and artists suspected of propagating subversive ideas. The charges were dropped. On his retirement from the Imperial Archives in 1856, he was named Hofrat (privy councillor). Furthermore, he was appointed a member of the Upper House by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1861. Grillparzer died on January 21, 1872, at the age of eighty-one. He was so popular at his death that tens of thousands of people participated in his funeral procession.
Grillparzer wrote two novellas in his career: the little-known Der Kloster bei Sendomir and the renown Der arme Spielmann, which was written in 1848. As Spielmann opens, the narrator visits a street festival in a Viennese suburb and is intrigued by the horrible fiddling of a seventy-year-old street musician, Jacob. The two men meet, and a few days later Jacob relates his tragic background to the narrator. Raised in a respectable, middle-class home, Jacob was working as an unpaid copy clerk in a government office. One day he heard his neighbor, the grocer's daughter Barbara, sing a popular song, and at that moment, decided to devote his life to music. When Jacob visits Barbara to learn about music, a servant sees the two together and a scandal ensues. Jacob is expelled from his father's house, and the tragedy is compounded when his father dies suddenly. He is befriended by Barbara as well as her father, who hopes for a share of Jacob's inheritance. When Jacob discovers that he has been swindled out of his inheritance by his father's clerk, Barbara's father discourages their deepening relationship. Eventually she marries a butcher. Jacob throws himself into music, becoming an itinerant street musician. After hearing Jacob's story, the narrator loses touch with him, only to find several months later that Jacob died of a fever. The narrator attempts to buy Jacob's violin from Barbara, but she refuses to part with the instrument. As he departs, the narrator sees her silently crying over the loss of her former lover.
Der arme Spielmann is considered one of the best Austrian works of fiction in the nineteenth century. At the time of its publication, the novella was virtually ignored. In fact, serious critical examination of the work did not begin until 1925, when scholars began to explore the autobiographical aspects of the story. A recurring theme of commentary has been the perception that the narrator and Jacob should be considered as the two sides of Grillparzer: the pragmatic cynic and the idealistic artist. Jacob's problems with women and his inability to communicate his ideas seem to parallel Grillparzer's life. Several critics have attempted to place Der arme Spielmann within the literary and political context of the nineteenth century. Stylistic examinations of the novella focus on the role of the narrator and the effect of the frame story. In addition commentators have discussed the portrayal of Jacob and debated the role of music in the story.