Gustav Klimt: ‘Auditorium in the old palace theatre in Vienna’, 1888, oil on canvas

‘It’s like declaiming on a beach facing out to sea’

Theatre in the nineteenth century


During the Vormärz period Viennese theatrical life experienced a heyday, despite the fact that theatre and literature were subject to strict controls. The works as performed were abridged and reworked, and writers wrangled with the censor. In the suburban theatres public idols critical of society such as Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nestroy were acclaimed. During the nineteenth century the Burgtheater confirmed its reputation as the ‘foremost theatre’ of the German-speaking countries. For many years it served primarily for the entertainment of the imperial family, a role that was as it were immanent to its location as part of the Hofburg complex. On transferring to the new building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse the actors found themselves confronted by problems arising from the size of the auditorium. A people’s theatre, the Volkstheater, was also built, only a few yards away from the Ringstrasse.

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