Elsa Bienenfeld Stands Alone

imageWhenever I return to my research on Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, I find myself fascinated with Elsa Bienenfeld.  Her reviews of Pierrot and other modernist works reveal an amazing insight into contemporary music.

Dr. Elsa Bienenfeld (1877-1942) studied musicology with Guido Adler and composition with Robert Fuchs, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and Arnold Schoenberg.  In 1903, she became the first woman to complete the Ph. D. in musicology when the faculty of the University of Vienna accepted her dissertation, “W. Schmeltzl und sein Liederbuch (1544).”

She must have been a formidable presence.  In their correspondence, Schoenberg writes in a voice he reserved for peers.  Even her stagey placement in the photograph of a musicology conference (she is the fabulously-hatted woman in the second row, far right) suggests a certain deference.


After the Anschluß she was deported from Vienna, the city of her birth,  and executed in the concentration camp Klein Trostinetz, near Minsk.

I’m happy to learn that others are taking stock of Bienenfeld’s work, and I enjoyed reading this informative thesis by Kelsey Draper.