Franz Grillparzer, water-colour by M. M. Daffinger, 1827
Grillparzer, Franz, b. Vienna, Jan. 15, 1791, d. Vienna, Jan. 21, 1872, dramatist, narrative writer and poet. Artistically one of the most versatile Austrian poets, though full of contradictions. The son of the influential Viennese lawyer Wenzel G. (d. 1809) and his wife Anna Franziska (d. 1819, suicide), a sister of the secretary of the Court Theatre, J. Sonnleithner; wrote in his "Selbstbiographie" ("Autobiography"), that "two creatures entirely isolated from each other live within me. A poet of all-embracing, racing imagination and a rational person of the coldest and toughest sort."
1796-1799 attended St. Anna's elementary school and the Piarist school as a private student, from 2nd grade a public student at St. Anna's secondary school. Studied philology (1807-1809) and law (1807-1811) at the University of Vienna. In 1812 G. accepted a position as court tutor and master of ceremonies with Count Seilern. In 1813 unpaid work as a clerk in the Court Library and (after holding various other offices) became a clerk in the treasury in 1823. From 1832 until his retirement in 1856 director of the treasury archives (Archives). founding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1847 and from 1861 life member of the upper chamber of the Reichsrat.
His first attempts as a dramatist date back to his time at university. 1807 wrote the tragedy "Blanka von Kastilien", which was rejected by Sonnleithner and not performed until 1958. The publication in 1816 of a part of his translation of the drama "A Dream is Life" ("Das Leben ein Traum") by Calderon in the newspaper "Wiener Moden-Zeitung" caught the attention of J. Schreyvogel, literary and artistic director of the Hofburgtheater. At first angered about the alleged attack on his own version, Schreyvogel consequently became G's spiritual mentor and most significant supporter. Upon his advice G. revised the tragedy "The Ancestress" ("Die Ahnfrau"), which had its première in January 1817 at the Hofburgtheater. Subsequently G. wrote the tragedy "Sappho" (1819), a great success, upon which he was awarded a 5-year contract as Imperial and Royal Poet of the Court Theatre, which he cancelled again in 1821. Travels to Italy, Greece, Germany (where he met Goethe in 1826), France and to Turkey exposed G. to various political systems and currents of thought.
His most productive period was between 1820 and 1831. His poem "The Ruins of Campo Vaccino" ("Die Ruinen des Campo Vaccino") published in 1820 brought him into disfavour at the Imperial Court; from then on problems with censorship. For L. van Beethoven G. wrote the libretto for the opera "Melusina" (1823), but Beethoven never took this up. Works like the trilogy "The Golden Fleece" ("Der Gastfreund", "Die Argonauten", "Medea", 1822), the tragedies "King Ottokar's Fortunes and Fall" ("König Ottokars Glück und Ende") 1825 including the famous hymn to Austria,"Hymne auf Österreich", or "Ein treuer Diener seines Herrn" (1830) were completed and met with ready acceptance by the audience. G's relationship with C. v. Paumgartten, his "eternal fiancée" K. Fröhlich but especially with M. von Smolk-Smolenitz had a major influence on his love poetry written 1826-1828 and published in 1835 under the title "Tristia ex Ponto". The story "Das Kloster von Sendomir" was published in 1828. The tragedy "Hero and Leander" ("Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen") was a failure with his audience. G. celebrated his last great success in 1834 with the dramatic tale "Der Traum ein Leben". After the failure of the comedy "Weh dem, der lügt!" (literally: "Woe To Him Who Lies") in 1838 G. withdrew from theatre life.
With the exception of a few works (i.e. a fragment of "Esther" in 1868) G. then refused to have new plays performed. In his will he even decreed the destruction of his 3 late works "Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg", "Die Jüdin von Toledo" and "Libussa", all written between 1847 and 1851. Their premières were staged only after G's death.
The almanac "Iris" in 1847 featured the narrative "Der arme Spielmann" ("The Poor Musician"), an allegory of the inner division of man. Another important late work (incompleted) is the "Selbstbiographie" ("Autobiography") of 1872, based on diaries and written for the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1853.
G.'s plays draw their dramatic tension from the ambivalence between public responsibility and individual motivation. They also reflect G's political indecisiveness, as, in spite of being an opponent of Metternich, G. was full of scepticism about the "fever of freedom" and the Revolution of 1848 (symbolic poem "Feldmarschall Radetzky", 1848).
Franz Grillparzer, living room with desk and piano in his flat in Spiegelgasse, 1st district of Vienna. water-colour by F. Alt, 1872
Editions: Sämtliche Werke, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe, publ. by A. Sauer and R. Backmann, 42 vols., 1909-1948; Selected works, publ. by O. Rome, 10 vols., 1919; Works, publ. by von H. Bachmaier, 6 vols., 1986ff.
Literature: J. Nadler, F. G., 1948; P. v. Matt, Der Grundriß von G. Bühnenkunst, 1965; H. Politzer, F. G. oder Das abgründige Biedermeier, 1972; W. E. Yates, "Die Jugendeindrücke wird man nicht los ...", 1973; F. Sengle, Biedermeierzeit, vol. 3, 1975; D. C. G. Lorenz, G. Der Dichter des sozialen Konflikts, 1986; H. Bachmaier, F. G., 1990; Zw. Weimar und Wien. G. - ein Innsbrucker Symposion, publ. by S. Kettenhammer, 1992; H. Haider-Pregler (ed.), Stichwort G., 1994; G. Neumann (ed.), F. G., 1994; G. Scheit, F. G., 31999.
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