First Austrian period (1922-1929)

Arrival in Austria – Mödling and Baden bei Wien

On 22 July 1922 Sergei and Elisabeth Bortkiewicz arrived in Austria. Their first stay was in Mödling bei Wien, where they lived in the Kürnbergergasse 8. Soon they moved to Baden bei Wien, where they remained until September 1923 and lived in the Hohenzollern [nowadays Weikersdorfer] Platz 3 and in the Allandgasse 15.

The violonist František Schmitt (Frank Smit [1892-1960]) had already left Kharkov in 1917 as the German army approached. In his Erinnerungen Bortkiewicz wrote: “He crossed the whole of Siberia with the Czech army, concertized successfully in China, Dutch-Indies,” and eventueally returned to Prague in 1922, where he was reunited with Bortkiewicz and premiered Bortkiewicz’s violin concerto (which was dedicated to him) on 17 December 1922 in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Bortkiewicz.

Frantisek Schmitt [Frank Smit] in Indonesia

Frank Smit and Tatiana Kharin in Dutch Indies (now Indonesia) around 1920 (photo courtesy of Silvia Prado Smit Kitadai)

The Prager Tagblatt reviewed this concert in its 19 December 1922 edition:

“Frank Smit, ein ehemaliger Schüler Ševčíks, hat Sonntag abends mit den tschechischen Philharmonikern im Smetanasaal musiziert. Reichlich musiziert, denn er spielte das G-Moll-Konzert von Bruch, die Chaconne von Bach und zum Schluß ein Violinkonzert in D-Moll des Russen Sergej Bortkevic. Smit ist ein sehr temperamentvoller und rhythmisch empfindender Geiger, dem das Technische seiner Kunst keine Schwierigkeiten mehr bereitet. Sein Ton ist groß und edel, doch möchte man sich manchmal wünschen, daß er wärmer wäre. Das Konzert von Bortkevic ist das Werk eines Vollblutmusikers, der dem Solisten und dem Orchester, musikalisch, überaus dankbare Aufgaben stellt. Manchmal klingts von ferne wie eine kleine Erinnerung an Richard Wagner, sonst aber hat ein Musiker von Persönlichkeitswert das Wort. Professor Bortkevic, der selbst dirigierte, wurde mit seinem famosen Interpreten sehr gefeiert. E.R.”

The cello concerto opus 20 was premiered on 22 January 1923 by the cellist Paul Grümmer (1879-1965) in Budapest with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra (Budapesti Filharmóniai Társaság Zenekara) conducted by Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960).

Together with violonist Frank Smit Bortkiewicz gave a concert in The Hague (The Netherlands) on Saturday 3 Februari 1923, organised by the Haagsche Kunstkring. Smit, accompanied on the grand piano by Sergei Bortkiewicz, played Bortkiewicz’s violin concerto opus 22, his violin sonata opus 26, Josef Suk’s Chanson d’amour and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction et Rondo capriccioso. The concert received very enthusiastic reviews in various Dutch newspapers, such as in ‘Het algemeen Handelsblad’ en ‘Het Vaderland’ on 4 Februar 1923 and in ‘De Haagsche Courant’ on 5 Februar 1923. During their visit to The Hague Smit and Bortkiewicz were guest at Hugo van Dalen’s home.

During this period he also completed his Douze études opus 29 which he dedicated to Hugo van Dalen.

Introduction in the Viennese music circle

On 17 September 1923 Sergei and Elisabeth Bortkiewicz settled in Vienna (Albertgasse 10/12) and remained here for six years, with a short break in Paris in 1926, during which they moved regurarly to various rented rooms in sublease, e.g. in the Liechtensteinergasse [23/14], the Wiedener Hauptstrasse [40/10] and the Starkenburggasse [7/11 and 39/20]).

During their stay in Vienna they were supported in a friendly manner by Paul de Conne, their countryman and previous colleague of Sergei Bortkiewicz at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Not only did Paul de Conne introduce Sergei Bortkiewicz to the Viennese music circle and to Viennese publishers, but also helped the Bortkiewicz couple through his connections with the Ministery of Education in obtaining their Austrian citizenship. In 1925 they became Bundesbürger mit Heimatrecht in Baden. As a result of the Austrian Anschluss with Germany on 13 March 1938, they were treated as German nationals as from 3 July 1938. On 27 April 1945 they became Österreichische Staatsbürger.

It was through Paul de Conne that Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven, the founder of the Bortkiewicz Gemeinde, first became aware of Bortkiewicz. Paul de Conne, who appeared very often in sunday concerts in the years 1925-1931, played Bortkiewicz’s beautiful D flat major prelude (opus 33 no. 8) with great success during these concerts. “We all liked it so much that he had to perform it every time and awoke the keen desire in all listeners to learn more about this composer unknown in Vienna till now”, according to Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven.

Bortkiewicz and Paul Wittgenstein

Between December 1922 and Easter 1923 Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), pianist and brother of the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I, approached Sergei Bortkiewicz to commission a piano concerto for the left hand only. During the same period Wittgenstein approached Paul Hindemith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Schmidt with similar requests. Later also Richard Strauss, Sergei Prokofiev and Maurice Ravel amongst others were asked to write concertos which Paul could play in public. As part of the deal each composer had to ensure that the full score and orchestral parts became exclusively owned by Paul Wittgenstein and that he had the exclusive performing rights of the works during his life. Because of this stipulation, Paul Wittgenstein refused other pianists to perform the works he had commissioned. This happened to Siegfried Rapp (1915-1982), who had lost his right arm during World War II. Wittgenstein wrote to him on June 5, 1950: ‘You don’t build a house just so that someone else can live in it. I commissioned and paid for the works, the whole idea was mine […]. But those works to which I still have the exclusive performance rights are to remain mine as long as I still perform in public; that’s only right and fair. Once I am dead or no longer give concerts, then the works will be available to everyone because I have no wish for them to gather dust in libraries to the detriment of the composer’. Even today it is almost impossible to obtain non-published works commissioned by Wittgenstein from the archive of Paul Wittgenstein, which is nowadays in private ownership in Hong Kong. Here we have the primary factor why the score of Bortkiewicz’s second piano concerto for the left hand only, opus 28 was never published in print and why it fell into oblivion after the deaths of Bortkiewicz in 1952 and Wittgenstein in 1961. Nevertheless we know that Siegfried Rapp finally succeeded in obtaining a copy of the score of Bortkiewicz’s second piano concerto held by the Bortkiewicz Gemeinde and played it in public in Reichenhall (1952) and in Dresden (1953) with the Dresdener Staatskappelle under the baton of Kurt Striegler.

The premiere of Bortkiewicz’ second piano concerto took place on November 29, 1923 in Vienna. Paul Wittgenstein played the piano and Eugen Pabst conducted the orchestra. Wittgenstein seemed to like the concerto very much and played it frequently in public before World War II. We know he performed it on a number of occasions including Hamburg (1924), Teschen (1926), Vienna (1928, 1929 and 1932), Munich (1929), Budapest (1929), Bukarest (1929), Sofia (1929), Berlin (1930), Zagreb (1930), Baku (1930), Leningrad (St. Petersburg) (1930) and Kiev (1930).

In 1930 Wittgenstein again approached Bortkiewicz to write a concert piece. For this purpose Bortkiewicz wrote his Russian Rhapsody for piano and orchestra opus 45 (for the left hand only). The full score and orchestral parts are still in the archive of Paul Wittgenstein and waiting to be revealed to the general public. Later on, Bortkiewicz re-wrote his Russian Rhapsody in a two hand version. The full score and orchestral parts of this two hand version are available in the archive of The Netherlands Music Institute (

Short stay in Paris

On 3 July 1926 Sergei and Elisabeth Bortkiewicz moved to Paris to build up a new life. This proved to be so complicated that they returned to Vienna already on 5 December 1926 and moved back to the appartment at the Wiedener Hauptstrasse 40/10, which they had left in July 1926.

The Piano concerto no. 3 opus 32

In Vienna he also composed his Pianoconcerto no. 3 opus 32 “Per aspera ad astra”, which he dedicated to Paul de Conne. The première of this concerto was on April 30, 1927 in the Grossen Musikvereinsaal in Vienna. Bortkiewicz conducted the Wiener Sinfonieorchester (today Wiener Symphoniker). The concert started with the symphonic poem Othello (opus 19) followed by the violin concert (opus 22) performed by Christa Richter-Steiner (1899-1962), after which the Russian pianist Maria Neuscheller (1893- ?) gave the première of the third piano concerto (opus 32). The concert was concluded with a performance of the ballet-suite Tausend und eine Nacht, opus 37.

Maria Neuscheller (Photo 1928)

Maria Neuscheller (Photo 1928)

Ein Roman für Klavier opus 35
In 1928 one of Bortkiewicz’s high points in his pianoworks was published: Ein Roman für Klavier opus 35. This is a cycle of eight pianopieces which form together a story: ‘Begegnung’, ‘Plauderei’, ‘Erwachende Liebe’, ‘Auf dem Ball’, ‘Enttäuschung’, ‘Vorwürfe’, ‘Ein Brief’ and ‘Höchstes Glück’.

Chihiro Ishioka plays Ein Roman opus 35

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