Alfred Roller: Ver Sacrum

Another founding member of the Viennese Secession who also acted as president from 1902 to 1905 was Alfred Roller, although he never attained the same fame as some of his colleagues. Today, he is mainly known in professional circles.

He took the main concept of his art, the idea of holistic art, from 19th century romantic Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Although Wagner was referring to the fusion of music and poetry, Roller adapted the concept for his own purposes and practiced it in his capacity as a stage designer. Prior to that, he designed the 1898 January cover of Ver Sacrum, developed several typefaces and posters for the 12th and the 14th exhibitions of the Secession.

A photo, presumably from 1903, shows him together with Carl Moll, Gustav Mahler, and Max Reinhardt in the garden of Moll’s villa, having a coffee break. Roller left the Secession in the same year as Klimt. Two years before that Gustav, Mahler had already invited him to work at the Vienna State Opera. After his departure from the Secession, it was his work at the State Opera that made him successful.

Aside from his friendship and working relationship with Mahler, he also collaborated with Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Roller designed and produced all stage settings for the debut performances of Strauss’ plays. Later, he also worked at the Burgtheater (Imperial Court Theatre) with theatre director Max Reinhandt. Reinhardt also employed him as a teacher at his Reinhardt-Seminar, a workshop for actors. A whole generation of famous actors of the German-speaking parts of Europe graduated from the Seminar. Together with Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Roller founded the Salzburg Festival as a successor to the late international music festivals. In collaboration with Hofmannsthal, he also created the stage design for Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann (Everyman) (1911).

On a side note, a yet nameless admirer of Alfred Roller was a man named Adolf Hitler, who would have liked to start an apprenticeship with Roller. They presumably did not meet in Vienna but rather later when Hitler was already chancellor of the Reich and received Roller in an official capacity. Alfred Roller died on 21 June 1935 in Vienna.

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