Within his relationships to various friends, certain preferences, interests and occasionally even partisanship manifested themselves. Gottfried von Einem’s circle of friends extended well beyond musicians and was a reflection of his broad interest in creativity of every kind.
Visual art ranked almost as highly as music, and the most significant name here was that of the set designer Caspar Neher: “Next to Boris Blacher, the relationship with Caspar Neher was the deepest and most creative friendship of my life.” Neher designed the sets for the operas “Danton’s Death,” “The Trial” and “Torn Apart”. The artistic understanding between the two was one of congenial, like-minded intuition; discussions and detailed explanations were never necessary:
“One never had to explain very much to him – three or four key words, and he understood.”
At Einem’s request, Neher was called to Salzburg, where he received much praise for his redesign of the Felsenreitschule [Summer Riding School]. His early death in 1962 was one of Einem’s most devastating experiences.
Einem’s friendships with Oskar Kokoschka, Fritz Wotruba and Max Weiler, if not as intensely personal, were marked by deep mutual respect. Einem had felt close to Kokoschka, a “figure of the century,” since his Salzburg years. He had long discussions with Wotruba about the question of what man was able to gain through art, and considered a bronze stele by the sculptor as among the most precious works of art in his Rindlberg house. Max Weiler was a fellow member of the Artistic Senate; it was here that they came to know one another and began their friendship, one which called for few words, as Weiler was “one of the quietest people that I have ever known.” Einem saw Weiler’s paintings as translations of musical concepts such as line and counterpoint into forms and colors.
Einem’s compositional role models were to be found in the past. Though wary of being thought iconoclast, he considered Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Mahler as the creative figures against whom he measured himself. He treasured beauty in Mozart, a principle which was not dominant in the contemporary aesthetic:
“Beauty, in my opinion, is what one needs as comfort, not only in times of difficulty, but also for its own sake.”
With Bach, Einem was fascinated by an “immense gestural power”, which he felt expressed itself in Bach’s energetic handwriting. Finally, the multifaceted and mysterious realms of Mahler’s music made a great impression on him; during the Third Reich, he listened to BBC broadcasts of Mahler’s music, thereby risking the punishment meted out to listeners of “enemy radio broadcasts.”
It would distort a portrait of Einem were one to avoid mentioning the personal enemies which he made in the music world:In most cases, the confrontational atmosphere came from Einem himself. One of the biggest names whom the still young composer set himself against was Richard Strauss. For all his brilliance, Einem maintained, Strauss was “an opportunist through and through.” As a member of the Salzburg Festival Board of Directors, Einem forbade performances of Strauss’ work, which deeply angered the aged composer. Einem was also not on the best of terms with his composing colleague Friedrich Cerha, whose reconstruction of the third act of Alban Berg’s opera “Lulu” Einem considered sacrilegious:
“I left the Artistic Senate the moment that the composer Friedrich Cerha joined it.”
Near the end of his life, Einem summed up many of the relationships he had had:
“I was often quite unbearable, particularly also to my closest friends and partners. Today, I regard this not from some lofty perch, not with detachment, but certainly with clarity.”