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Music: Von Wymetal Family Collection


Von Wymetal Family (1862-1970) Collection, (1909-1970) 

Finding aid created by Jennifer McGillan, Arts Information Assistant, 2003

Extent: Fifteen boxes, or about fifteen linear feet.

Scope and Content Note
Historical sketch
Biographical sketch
Processing Notes
Related Collections
Series 1: Personal Papers (1890-1970) 
Series 2: Papers removed from Score Books (1896-1970)
Series 3: Score Books

Scope and Content Note

The William (Wilhelm) von Wymetal Collection is housed in 15 boxes and is arranged in three series.

Series 1: Personal Papers (1890-1970) 
The Personal Papers series contains the majority of the archival material within the collection, including correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, drawings and watercolors.

Series 2: Papers removed from Score Books (1896-1970) 
The Papers removed from Score Books series is comprised of archival material found in score books that has been extracted for preservation purposes and placed in acid free folders in Hollinger boxes. There are many types of documents in the collection, including correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, drawings, photostats, watercolors and a small amount of plant matter.

Series 3: Score Books 
The Score Books series is comprised of 135 score books, including some librettos.

Provenance: The collection was donated to the Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon University in or before 1987 by Charlotte von Wymetal Anderson, daughter and only surviving child of William (Wilhelm) von Wymetal Jr.

Restrictions: None

Separations: Archival material was found in many of the score books, and has been removed and refoldered. The folder number and location is indicated on a strip placed within the book.

Conservation Notes: Papers found to be acidic should be copied onto acid-free paper and discarded. Those that cannot be discarded should be interleaved with acid-free paper. Watercolors should be placed in 4 flap enclosures; pictures should be sleeved. Blueprints and other oversize documents should be removed and stored flat in map folders.

Preservation Actions

  1. One scorebook for Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander found to be in extremely moldy and bug-eaten condition. Separated from collection and discarded.
  2. One scorebook found to be possession of Vienna Staatsopera Archiv; repatriation in process.

Processor: Jennifer McGillan (2003)

Historical sketch

Writing a history of the Wymetal family and their role in the history of opera is a complex task, hindered mainly by lack of coherent and cohesive information about their individual movements, probably due to their position as producer/stage directors; there is much more general information available about composers, directors and conductors. That the two main creators have the same name and same role, and worked in a number of the same places - at times together - and also on some of the same operas adds to the confusion.

The story begins in old Vienna, where the Wymetals lived on and off from about 1862 to the early to mid-1920s. At some point the family had moved to Cologne, and it was from there that director Weingartner summoned Wymetal Sr. to the K.k. Hopofer (now the Vienna Staatsoper) in 1909, in the middle of a milestone era in the intellectual life of Vienna, a time of major changes in art and musical culture, and in particular of opera.

The Wymetals seem to have shared friendships with many of Vienna’s leading artistic and musical lights, such as composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, artists Alfred Roller (1864-1935) and Joseph Urban (1872-1933) and singer Maria Jeritza. Wymetal Senior in particular was working in opera at the time Mahler and Roller were revolutionizing the way opera looked, clearing the stage of clutter and updating lighting design, and at various times both Wymetals seem to have used Urban and Roller’s designs or discussed design with Roller and/or Urban.

After the end of WWI and the subsequent dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the founding of the Austrian Republic in 1918, the Wymetals left Austria for New York and the Metropolitan Opera. Wymetal Sr. in 1921 and Wymetal Junior in 1927. Only Sr. returned to Vienna to live full-time, and that was in the mid-thirties, after almost a decade in America, shortly before the start of WWII heralded the arrival of the Nazis. The bulk of Junior’s career after his father’s death was in America, although he did make some excursions to Mexico and Sweden. By far his longest gig was the director of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, from 1947-1968.

Biographical Sketch, William (Wilhelm) von Wymetal Senior and Junior

Wilhelm Wymetal Senior, also known as Baron von Wymetal, was born in Austria in 1862. From 1909 to 1921 (est.) he was a producer at the Vienna Opera, where he worked with opera luminaries like conductor Gustav Mahler and set designer Alfred Roller. In the early 1920’s, Wymetal Senior moved to America and to the New York Metropolitan Opera, where between 1922 and 1931 he premiered 49 operas. He also taught a course at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and had previously (?) taught dramatic arts in Vienna and worked as stage manager at opera houses Prague and Leipzig. He died in Austria on Nov. 11, 1937 at the age of 75, after an initially unsuccessful attempt to poison himself.

Wilhelm von Wymetal Junior, also known as William von Wymetal, was born on April 18, 1890 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. After attending military school (probably the Austrian National Defense Academy, in Vienna) and a brief stint in the Austrian army as a major of cavalry during WWI and later as a member of the Austrian General Staff, post-war Wymetal Junior attended the Vienna Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Art and joined his father at the Vienna Opera. In the late1920s he came to America where he followed in his father’s footsteps as a stage director, including working at the Met, where between 1930 (33?) and 1935 he premiered 19 operas. While at the Met, Wymetal Jr. worked with his fellow Viennese scene designer Joseph Urban.

Wymetal Junior also served as director of the Philadelphia Lyric Opera, director of the Curtis Institute of Music (1927), Mexico City Opera, the Royal Opera of Stockholm, City Center Opera in New York, San Francisco Opera Company, Chicago Light Opera, Houston Opera and New Orleans Opera and finally as the director of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera from 1947-68.

Furthermore, Jr. had a career in the film industry, and worked for MGM in the 1940s on some of the Janette McDonald-Nelson Eddy musicals (May TimeRose Marie), and also San Francisco with Clark Gable, I’ll take Romance with Grace Moore and The Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains. Shortly before his death he was awarded the Grand Cross of Austria, the highest award a civilian can receive. He died of a heart attack in Pennsylvania, on November 7, 1970, at the age of 80.

Sr. also had a second son, Erich von Wymetal (1892-1968), who worked as a director (producer?) at the Vienna Staatsoper starting in 1937 for an as-yet undetermined period of time. Official records for Erich are held at the Music Sammlung in Austria, and include his birth and baptism certificate and marriage certificate. No other information about Erich has yet come to light.

Other Biographical notes: Jnr. had a dueling scar, and wore jodhpurs, riding boots and carried a riding crop at rehearsals. He also spoke seven languages. The “von” in the family name indicates that they were of the noble classes, and documents at the Music Sammlung in Austria suggest that they may have been newcomers to the nobility; knighthood was granted to Franz Wymetal in 1876, when Senior would have been only fourteen years old. Jr. dropped the “von” professionally in Pittsburgh (and possibly elsewhere), except for his social register listing. [From card catalogs from Musik Sammlung and Pittsuburgh Civic Light Opera: How Dreams Came True, by Mary Brignano, Pittsburgh: Civic Light Opera, 1996.]

Processing notes

The Wymetal collection is comprised of the papers of two men, Wilhelm von Wymetal Senior and William (Wilhelm) von Wymetal Junior, and the papers of father and son are commingled in the sense that the son literally wrote on his father’s notes; numerous incidences of both hands on one page. Father’s hand is dense, and almost looks like shorthand; he mostly wrote in German. Son’s hand is slightly bigger, looser, often wrote in English, or typed. Multiple languages on some pages; ample use of 19 th/early 20 th c. ink (heavy and black, or sometimes faded to brown) as well as early 20 th c. office technology (ditto copies). As such it is not really possible to separate one from the other ? both directed many of the same operas; son probably built on his fathers designs as well as developing his own. May also be hand of third Wymetal in papers but this has not been confirmed. The 3 rd Wymetal is Jr.’s brother, Erich, who was a producer at the Vienna Staatsoper from 1937 to 1945 (presumed; 1945 is when opera house was destroyed by Allied bombs).

Other weird connection - did Jr. visit Erich von Stroheim in Hollywood? Mention of “actual Austrian nobleman” visiting Stroheim while he was at MGM in Stroheim biography. Wymetal worked on musicals for MGM from 1935-1947. Is it him? If not who else could it be?

Evidence of communication between Erich in Vienna and Wilhelm in NYC (Address on Envelope in Don Pasquale folder)

Ref. To “how you must be feeling these days” - in letter from Mr. Steve van Horn, 1/21/35. Ref. To ill health of Snr. (not clear if letter is to Jr. or Snr., i.e. if comment refers to personal illness or concern for parental illness) or to major snow storm that crippled NYC for three days, 1/21-23/35?

Ref to “my son”, letter to Edward Siedle, 8/1/23, but doesn’t say which son.

Also: Senior uses “von Wymetal”, Junior often just uses “Wymetal”, and rarely “von Wymetal Jr.” 

Related collections

F 106 Wymetal Osterreiches Nationalbibliothek Musiksammlung 1-1010 Wien - see folder containing copies of catalog cards for additional details.

Joseph Urban Collection, Columbia Universersity (contains some letters from Wymetal)

Letters to Mahler’s wife, Alma - Penn State (letter from Wymetal Jr. is included.)