Peter Altenberg

From Academic Kids

Peter Altenberg (1859 - 1919) was a writer and poet from Vienna, Austria.

His was born Richard Engländer on March 9, 1859. The nom de plume, Altenberg, came from a small town on the Danube River. Allegedly, he chose the surname to honor a woman with whom he was in unrequited love with. Although he grew up in a middle class Jewish family, Altenberg eventually separated himself from his family of origin by dropping out of both law and medical school, and embracing Bohemianism as a permanent lifestyle choice.

At the fin de siècle, when Vienna was considered a major center for arts and culture, Altenberg was a very influential part of a literary and artistic movement known as Jung Wien or "Young Vienna." Altenberg was considered a contemporary of Karl Kraus, Gustav Mahler, Arthur Schnitzler and Gustav Klimt. In addition to being a poet and prolific letter writer, he was also an accomplished short story writer, prose writer, and essayist.

Because most of his literary work was written while he frequented various Viennese bars and coffeehouses, Altenberg is sometimes referred to as a cabaret or "coffee house poet." His favorite coffeehouse was the Cafe Central. He even had his mail delivered there.

Altenberg's detractors (many of whom were also anti-Semitic) said he was a drug addict and a womanizer. There are some who claim he was a pedophile. Altenberg was also rumored to have problems with alcoholism, and mental illness. Yet his admirers considered him to be a highly creative individual with a great love for the aesthetic and for nature.

Altenburg was never commercially successful as a writer, but he did enjoy most if not all of the benefits of fame in his lifetime. Some of his aphorism poetry that he had written on the backs of picture postcard were set to music by composer Alban Berg. In 1913, Berg's Five songs on picture postcard texts by Peter Altenberg were premiered in Vienna. The piece caused a riot, and the performance had to be halted: a complete performance of the work was not given until 1952.

Altenberg, like many other writers and artists, was constantly short of money. Yet, unlike the rest, Altenberg was persuasive and very adept at making many friends, culing patrons, and convincing a variety of people to pay for his meals, purchase champagne, even to cover his rent with which he was frequent late. Yet, he "earned" these benefits with his talent, his wit and his charm...so no one could consider him a "mooch." Altenberg is considered by many academics as the "bohemian's Bohemian."

Most of Altenberg's work is published in the German language. It very difficult to find his original literary works outside of anthologies because it mainly in university libraries or in the hands of private collections.

Altenberg, who never married, died January 8, 1919. He was 59 years old. He is buried at Central Cemetery in Vienna, Austria.

Famous Quotes

  • Art is life, life is life, but to lead life artistically is the art of life.
  • People who are interested in something they are not interested in at all
  • A Happy couple: he does what she wants and she does what she wants
  • Religion is a kind of ideal application of persecution complex on human nerves

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