Ferdinand Raimund’s father, Jakob Raimann (for whom Raimund was named at birth), was a turner with little means to provide his son with a good education. Raimund was sent to the school of St. Anna in Vienna, where he acquired not only rudimentary skills but also learned drawing, the violin, and some French. He became an orphan when he was fifteen, and his older sister was put in charge of his upbringing. Unable to provide for the boy, she apprenticed him to a confectioner. This confectioner supplied cake and candy to Josephstädter Theater for sale during intermissions, and Raimund became a so-called Nummero (vendor) at the theater. He had to attend performances almost daily, and he quickly grew to love the stage.
After three years, Raimund quit his apprenticeship virtually overnight, attaching a note to some nuts he was to prepare that read, “Diese vierzig Nuss sind meine letzte Buss” (“These forty nuts are my last penance”). He went to the town of Meidling near the castle of Schönbrunn, where a traveling theater company performed at the time. Its director, Kralitschek, let the young boy try out but found him so unsuitable because of his unassuming looks and the inability to pronounce the German stage-r that he sent him away immediately. Undaunted, Raimund continued on to Pressburg, where he was given a second chance. Again he failed, but this time at least during his first performance. He wandered farther away from Vienna and deeper into the Hungarian provinces to the town of Steinamanger, where he finally got his first contract, which forced him to play all kinds of parts, including even the “Pierot in the pantomime” (Wurzbach). After this theater disbanded, Raimund found a new engagement with the director Kunz, and played under dismal conditions for four consecutive years on the stages of Raab and Oedenburg. Villains and comical old men were his most frequent roles. In this period, Raimund wrote a few coarse prologues in verse.
Finally, in 1814, Raimund returned to Vienna, which had been his ambition all along. He received a contract at the Josephstädter Theater and had moderate success in a comedy by August von Kotzebue and as Karl Moor in Schiller’s Die Räuber (pb. 1781; The Robbers, 1792). He was given both serious and comic roles and had a chance to improve his acting from mere imitation of the greats of the Viennese stage to his own individualized style. His pathos in the serious roles was much exaggerated. According to reports of the time, the critic Eduard von Bauernfeld called his Karl Moor “simply disgusting.” Nevertheless, it must have taken a long time to quell Raimund’s ambition to become a tragedian at the much renowned Burgtheater. The same critic Bauernfeld quotes a later tongue-in-cheek confession by Raimund, “I was born a tragedian, and I lack nothing for it, except the figure and the voice.”
In 1815, Raimund had his first major success as the jealous musician Adam Kratzerl in the comedy Die Musikanten am hohen Markt (1815; the musicians at high market) by Josef Alois Gleich. Five continuations had to be written to satisfy audiences. In the same year, he was invited to give a first guest-performance at the Leopoldstädter Theater, which he knew well from his cake-selling days, and in 1817, he transferred there altogether. His opening role at the Leopoldstädter Theater was again in a play by Gleich, who also assumed importance for him on a more private level: In 1820, Raimund reluctantly married Gleich’s daughter Luise on a second try, after failing to show up on the original wedding date. The marriage was dissolved in 1822, and a child from it died in infancy. Altogether, his relationships with women seem to have been more stormy than felicitous. Bauernfeld claims that Raimund, during his days at the theater in Raab, was so shaken by the unfaithfulness of a beloved girl that he threw himself into the river, where he was barely saved from drowning. In 1818, his insane jealousy even led...
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