The mdw’s First Woman Professor – And the Inspiration for spiel|mach|t|raum in the 2018/19 Academic Year.
On 17 January 2019, the mdw will be presenting a matinée event to commemorate the life and work of Anna Fröhlich. Fröhlich taught voice here from 1819 to 1854 and was the first woman to assume the role of a professor at the mdw. But who was she? And how can her sphere of activity be characterised in the context of the bourgeois era? A search for the title of “professor” preceding the name Anna Fröhlich will turn up nothing. But the fact is that Fröhlich was hired not only as the mdw’s first woman voice “teacher”, but as the first (and for a long time only) woman to teach at the Conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in what was then imperial Austria. Back when it was opened in 1817, this institution had initially been a singing school, with the first instrumental classes and the new name of “Conservatory” only coming along in 1819. That was also the year during which a third singing class—one for girls—was added, with Anna Fröhlich as its teacher; it was open to female students who had already attained an advanced level.
Why was Anna Fröhlich chosen for this job? Since 1812, the founding year of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, she’d been working for this society in the context of its musical events and as a private voice teacher for girls. She was thus already in contact with the Gesellschaft’s leading (male) protagonists, who included Joseph Sonnleithner and Raphael Georg Kiesewetter. At the Kiesewetter home, where regular house concerts of early music took place, Anna Fröhlich was among the performers and at times assumed leading roles. As a pianist, as well, she’d already proven herself at the “evening entertainments” of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde—sometimes as a Lied accompanist. And like her sisters, she made repeated appearances as a singer. Anna (often also called Nanette, Netti, or Nettl, as well as “Fräulein” or “Demoiselle” Fröhlich) was the eldest of Vienna’s four Fröhlich sisters, who were omnipresent in—and decisively influenced—Viennese cultural life. spiel|mach|t|raum is a virtual women’s history storehouse of the mdw that went online on the occasion of the mdw bicentennial celebrations in 2017 in order to introduce the few women* who were privileged to work in prominent roles at this hallowed national cultural institution, reinstating them in the artistic memory of the city and Austria at large.
Franziska Vögle Itzig, known during her marriage as Fanny von Arnstein (1758–1818), was the initial inspiration for this women*’s history initiative at the mdw during 2017/18, its first academic year—and Anna Fröhlich (1793–1880) now follows in the academic year of 2018/19. For in 2019, it will have been 200 years since Anna Fröhlich took up her position as a singing “teacher” for girls at the newly established Conservatory. The example of Anna Fröhlich can provide a basis for the discussion of several gender-politically interesting facets of her life and work, giving rise to further questions that reach into the present. The following provides a brief look at two of these aspects.
Gender Pay Gap?
Of the four Fröhlich sisters, three remained unmarried—which, in the Biedermeier-era police state of Klemens von Metternich (a period also referred to as the Vormärz, 1815–1848), was indeed unusual for bourgeois women, moving one to ask just how unmarried bourgeois women sustained themselves back then: From an inheritance? From unknown benefactors? Or by their own labour? The last of these was not a generally acknowledged option for bourgeois women (working-class women, on the other hand, had no choice in the matter), but it was apparently necessary in the case of the Fröhlich sisters. Anna and her youngest sister Josefine, the two singers, contributed to the family income by teaching, while Katharina—herself a pianist and Lied accompanist—took over the household as “Grillparzer’s eternal bride”. Second-eldest sister Barbara, on the other hand, was married to the musician and Conservatory teacher Ferdinand Bogner and hence no longer lived in the household, but was herself active as a painter. During the 30-to-60 years following the French Revolution and including the decades after the Congress of Vienna, artistic and cultural life faced severe limitations due to censorship while everyday life was eventually also disrupted by the unrest associated with the revolutionary year of 1848. Anna Fröhlich’s employment likewise experienced disruption when the Conservatory was forced to close from 1848 to 1851. Fröhlich’s career as a whole was characterised by her tireless devotion to her students as well as by the further development of vocal instruction (especially with regard to Lied performance) in connection with a willingness to do unpaid work. As is still the case today, it was a matter of course in the bourgeois gender order that bourgeois women’s lives and activities included unpaid charitable work. What’s more, the voluntary or unavoidable performance of paid work by women by no means automatically entailed that they would receive the same pay as their male contemporaries did for the same work. Anna Fröhlich was among those affected by this paradigm of unequal treatment, for all evidence would indicate that her starting salary remained unchanged while her male colleagues at the Conservatory were rewarded with raises after only a few years of employment (see Carl Ferdinand Pohl, Die Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde des Österreichischen Kaiserstaates und ihr Conservatorium, Vienna 1871, p. 38).
Dependence on Men?
In contrast to many of her (bourgeois) contemporaries, Anna Fröhlich was not dependent upon a husband. But almost never, then or now, have the Fröhlich sisters been mentioned separately from two very prominent men in their circles: Franz Schubert and Franz Grillparzer. Despite this fact, the fame of the Fröhlich sisters during their lifetimes was by no means based solely on their widely documented friendship with these two men; it was much rather associated not least with their energetic and shared dedication to opening up the respective dwellings inhabited together by the three single sisters as social locations where men and women could come together to make music, exchange ideas, and generally entertain themselves. They thus acted in a creative way similar to that of many other (married) bourgeois women in Vienna back then.
But what was special about the Fröhlich sisters’ household? Evidence shows that it was precisely there that the abovementioned “famous” men received important impulses for their creative work. It was there that certain Schubert Lieder were performed for the first time (with the composer present), and Anna Fröhlich also had Schubert compose songs for multiple voices for use with her students. Alongside Schubert, Franz Grillparzer was also among the Fröhlichs’ most frequent guests until, in 1849, he became a “lodger” at the sisters’ apartment on Spiegelgasse, where he frequently sat down at the piano with Anna Fröhlich to play works for four hands. Anna Fröhlich also engaged herself actively as an initiator and as a sponsor (as one would say these days) in the interest of upholding the memory of the two outstanding artists Schubert and Grillparzer.
The relationships that Anna Fröhlich maintained with both Franz Schubert and Franz Grillparzer can be viewed as “win-win” situations—mutual “dependencies” that allow one to clearly recognise the creative and artistic potential of Demoiselle Fröhlich while also documenting just what this “teacher” (or professor) of voice at the Conservatory was: a person responsible for the training of young female singers but at the same time a patron of male “geniuses”. Though the question does remain: To what extent has the situation changed since then?