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Collecting – Preserving – Remembering
Egon Lustgarten
Egon Lustgarten
Egon Lustgarten was born in Vienna, Austria on August 17, 1887, and died in Syosset, NY on May 2, 1961. Although his parents wanted him to become an engineer or a businessman, his great musical talent convinced them to let him study composition and music at the Vienna Music Academy. During his early years as a composer, Egon Lustgarten wrote numerous songs, a piano quartet, a violin concerto, a brass quintet and many choral works. He also wrote articles for music journals, such as Musikblätter des Anbruch and Pult und Taktstock. Soon he was offered a position as a professor at the New Vienna Conservatory where he taught for 17 years.
At an early age his friend Dr. Ludwig Thieben introduced him to anthroposophy, a spiritual movement founded about 1912 by Rudolf Steiner, which sought to overcome the impasse of materialism by renewing all areas of living from pedagogy to medicine, from art to religion. Soon he became a member of the Anthroposophical Society and often performed at their concerts and even composed music for their eurythmical performances. He also was the music director of a workers chorus for which he wrote the choral piece Der Mensch ist unterwegs (Man is on his way) based on a poem by Heinrich Lersch.
His love for the human voice eventually led Egon Lustgarten to compose his first opera Dante im Exil (Dante in Exile). He and his friend, the librettist Hugo Basch, dramatized the novella Die Hochzeit des Mönchs (The Monk’s Marriage) by the Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. In 1938 the well-known conductor Joseph Krips studied the score of Lustgarten’s Dante im Exil and exclaimed: “You may quote that this is the best opera of the 20th century.” Despite the acclaim by such established musical figures of the time as Bruno Walter and Karl Boehm, Lustgarten was forced to emigrate after Hitler’s annexation of Austria. With the help of Lustgarten’s sister-in-law, who was the widow of William Miller, an American Wagnerian singer at the Vienna Court opera, he and his family found exile in the United States of America. In New York, Egon Lustgarten had to struggle to support his family. But despite financial restraints and difficulties in adjusting to the new environment, he was enormously creative. He had many students and worked closely with the New York Anthroposophical Society. In 1945, he performed, to great critical acclaim, one of his operas in the auditorium of the Anthroposophical Society in Manhattan with a semi-professional cast without orchestra.
A master of orchestration, Lustgarten’s compositional legacy includes numerous songs and five operas. Besides the two act opera Dante im Exil, the four other operas are fairy tale operas: The Blue Mountain is based on the Norwegian fairy tale Helge Hal; The Golden Apron is inspired by the Grimm fairy tale Darling Roland; and The Dancing Princesses based on the Grimm fairy tale The Shoes that were danced through. His last opera is a sacred music drama based on Goethe’s fairy tale The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.

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