John Nestroy

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Johann Nepomuk Nestroy

Johann Nepomuk Eduard Ambrosius Nestroy ( December 7, 1801 in ViennaMay 25, 1862 in Graz ) was an Austrian playwright , actor and opera singer ( bass ). His work is the literary highlight of the old Viennese folk theater .


Johann Nestroy, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber , 1839

Johann Nepomuk Nestroy was born as the second of eight children to a respected Viennese bourgeois family. Like his father, the Viennese "court and court advocate" Johann Nestroy, who immigrated from Moravia-Silesia , he was supposed to become a lawyer, but was more interested in the theater. Nestroy attended the Akademisches Gymnasium from 1811 to 1813, then from 1814 the Schottengymnasium , in the same year his mother Magdalena died on April 15th. That year he made his first public appearance as a pianoforte player in a concert. Nestroy began studying philosophy in 1819 and law from 1820 at the University of Vienna , but at this time he was already singing a bass solo role by George Frideric Handel in the Redoutensaal of the Hofburg . He finished his studies in 1822 and began his opera singing career as a bassist at the Kärntnertortheater and at the Vienna Court Opera as Sarastro in Mozart's Magic Flute .

In 1823 he went to the Hoogduitse Schouwburg Amsterdam (German Theater) in Amsterdam as a singer, where he made his debut on October 18 as Kaspar in Weber's Der Freischütz and stayed for three years. Later he became an actor at the theaters in Brünn (1826), where the police banned him from the stage for extemporaneously , in Graz (1826) with director Johann August Stöger , where he wrote and acted his first farce himself in 1827, also alternating on the stage of Pressburg . He switched from the opera to the theater stage, because his role in Twelve Girls in Uniform (he played Sansquartier) convinced him of his comic talent. In 1829 he had a guest role at the Josefstädter Theater in Vienna, then in 1831 he received an engagement to Lemberg and made his debut there as Rappelkopf in Raimund 's Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind .

Fleeing from Lemberg because of a cholera epidemic, he got his first engagement as a playwright and comedian from director Carl Carl at the Theater an der Wien in 1831 , where his career as an avid playwright began. His father died in 1834, the same year he turned from the magic plays of his early days as a writer to local farce, parody and popular satire.

In 1836 he received a prison sentence for extemporization, which he served from January 16 to 21. In September of that year he was engaged as a guest in Graz for the first time. In this and the following years he completed annual summer tours abroad, which took him to Hamburg (1841) and Berlin (1844). In 1838 director Carl also took over the Leopoldstadt Theater , so that from 1839 Nestroy had to write and act for two stages.

During the 1848 revolution , Nestroy, as an author, took advantage of the abolition of censorship, a situation that did not last long. For this reason, some of his later plays were not released for performance and have only become known to us from his estate.

Memorial plaque for Johann Nestroy at Elisabethstraße 14 in Graz

From November 1854 to November 1860, after Carl's death, Nestroy was director of the Carltheater in Leopoldstadt. In 1857 his favorite stagemate Wenzel Scholz died . He spent his last years in Graz , where he bought a house in May 1859, as well as a villa in Bad Ischl in August . Nestroy's last role in Vienna was Knieriem in Der Böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus in the Theater am Franz-Josefs-Kai by his colleague Karl Treumann in March 1862, and for the last time he was on stage in Graz on April 29 of that year. Next to Raimund, he was probably the most popular Viennese folk play author of the Vormärz and a predecessor of Ludwig Anzengruber .

Marriage to Wilhelmine Nespiesni

Maria Wilhelmine Philippine (von) Nespiesni (* 1804 in Vienna ; † 1870 ibid.) was the illegitimate daughter of Franz de Paula Emmerich Karl Josef Graf Zichy de Zich et Vasonkeö and of Katharina, née von Nespiesni, wife of the notary's secretary Franz Wilhelm Zwettlinger. From 1800 Wilhelmine's mother Katharina was married for 13 months to the councilor Franz Zacher Edler von Sonnenstein, after which she became the mistress of Count Zichy, with whom she had five children, the second of whom was Wilhelmine. In 1813 she married Franz Zwettlinger, who lovingly took care of the illegitimate children.

Young Johann Nestroy

In 1822 Wilhelmine Nespiesni met Johann Nestroy at private theater performances in her stepfather's house. His mother-in-law-to-be, Katharina Zwettlinger, got him the aforementioned engagement at the Vienna Court Opera through her relationship with court music director Joseph Weigl .

On September 7, 1823, the then 22-year-old married 19-year-old Wilhelmine in the Augustinian Church and traveled with her to his first foreign engagement in Amsterdam, where he made his debut in the Hoogduitse Schouwburg Amsterdam. This offer, which he received on August 29, 1823, gave him the financial means to get married, his salary was 1,600  Dutch guilders . On April 22, 1824, their son Gustav was born in Amsterdam. On May 24, 1824, Wilhelmine and Gustav had to leave Amsterdam in a hurry because of a fever caused by contaminated drinking water. Nestroy fell ill, but was soon able to recover. Wilhelmina returned on July 30, but the family only stayed until August 13, when they traveled leisurely through Holland and Germany to Brno for seven weeks.

After Nestroy had to leave Brno in 1826 on the orders of the local police headquarters, the family moved to Graz, where he found a new job. Wilhelmine, bored in the provinces, began a love affair with Count Adalbert Batthyány and left her husband in 1827. The three-year-old son Gustav stayed with his father.

In 1841 Wilhelmine was left by all her lovers - she had a few more after Count Batthyány - and was financially drained. She asked her estranged husband for support and Nestroy negotiated a tough contract with her through his lawyer. Wilhelmine Nespiesni had to sign that she was solely to blame for the breakdown of the marriage, that Nestroy would pay her debts of 160 guilders, but could deduct this amount in installments from the alimony agreed at the same time. From now on she has no more claims and in future no more debts will be taken over by her husband.

Due to the then Austrian marriage law - marriages were performed according to the Catholic rite, a divorce was therefore not possible - Nestroy was only able to legally divorce Wilhelmine on February 15, 1845 after a lengthy and unpleasant annulment process. A renewed marriage, however, remained impossible forever. Nestroy's longtime partner Marie Weiler stayed out of all the disputes about Wilhelmine.

According to a police report dated October 21, 1854, Wilhelmine Nespiesni must have led a fairly questionable lifestyle in the years that followed, because she was described as follows:

"Nestroy has been legally divorced from his morally deficient wife for 29 years [...]"

This police report - which incidentally turned out to be very positive for him personally - had become necessary because Nestroy had successfully applied for the management of the Carltheater on behalf of the community of heirs after director Carl Carl's death.

Cohabitation with Marie Weiler

Although he loved his partner, the singer Marie Weiler , whom he always referred to as "the woman" in his letters, he cheated on her constantly. They had three children together, Carl, Marie and Adolf, and she was a great support to him in financial and administrative matters until the end of his life. Nestroy expressly emphasizes in his will that he only has her to thank for his wealth. In addition to legacies for his children and siblings, he made them universal heirs.

Affair with Karoline Köfer

On March 12, 1855, Johann Nestroy wrote a long letter to the young provincial actress Karoline Köfer. He had found out through an official investigating on his behalf that she lived in the inner city , 402 Shoulder Lane, on the third floor. Experienced in the initiation of relationships, he formulated:

"My girl! Not only the letter in and of itself, but even more the daring length of this letter, in the event that it may be completely unsuccessful, is what will amaze you. […] Since I never go by night without going to the theatre, it so happened that I saw her, that I saw her repeatedly in town and suburban theaters…”

Johann Nestroy : Letter to Karoline Köfer

On two pages he asked for a date, and Karoline, flattered by the attention of the famous Nestroy, was happy to hear that he wanted to be her "discreet friend" . Nestroy bought her clothes, jewelery and other gifts and even furnished her a stately apartment on the Laurenzerberg . Since he was spending more and more time there, the young lady soon hoped to be able to oust Marie Weiler. She, otherwise patient with Nestroy's many affairs, had had enough this time because of the generous lover's high expenditures. She moved out of the shared apartment and insisted on separating property. Nestroy fled the troubles as far as Heligoland , from where he asked mutual friends to intercede for him with the angry woman. Anonymous letters from Karoline Köfer, diatribes about Marie Weiler, then turned Nestroy so against his lover that he decided to get rid of her with a financial settlement of 500 guilders. As a "gift of reconciliation", he left the administration of the Carltheater to his partner Marie, who was solely responsible for it.

Nestroy's handling of the language

The claim that Nestroy is a "Viennese dialect poet" is an oversimplification of his use of language. Karl Kraus always emphasized this when he rediscovered Nestroy's work and during his readings. In fact, the original plays consist of a mixture of high-level language, colloquial language and dialect – in later versions it is hardly noticeable because of the “verwieung” – with the neologisms , the rhetorical figures and the speaking names being typical creations of the poet.

The following examples are only an excerpt, further stylistic devices can be found in the individual plays:

  • neologisms:
  • rhetorical figures ( metaphor ):
  • rhetorical figures ( homonyms ):
    • She has perished, now she rests in the deep ground, her death is the cause of my misfortune, a misfortune was the cause of her death, the ship of my joy is bored into the ground, isn't that reason enough, the name reason from reason out to be an enemy? (The death on the wedding day 1829)
    • Now the glue is running out, nothing sticks for me anymore. ( The Evil Spirit Lumpacivagabundus 1833)
    • Of course, what is a promise of marriage? A promise from which a smart girl doesn't expect much anyway. ( Tangled Story! 1850)
    • Disguises will not protect the lord from my lord, my lord will show the lord a lord, I know my lord for that. ( The Dyer and His Twin Brother 1840); show the Lord = threaten someone
  • speaking Names:
    • Butcher Hackauf (The Evil Spirit Lumpacivagabundus 1833)
    • Baker master Kipfl ( railway marriages 1844)
    • Brewmaster maltster (Kampl 1852)
    • Kaffeesieder Gschloder (free! 1857) Gschloder = Viennese for bad, weak coffee
    • Cook Ho-gu ( chief evening wind 1862) from the French haut goût = (wild) taste

controversy surrounding his works

As an actor, Nestroy was an original, humorous character draftsman; as a playwright, he opposed the tragedy and sentimentality of Romanticism with rough realism . His pieces are characterized by a seemingly superficial plot that is repeatedly interrupted by pieces of song, so-called couplets . These songs, with a catchy melody and simple lyrics, were mostly connected to the plot only by a few transitional words. Only two to three stanzas of the couplet were written down, all other stanzas were improvised by the singer for each performance. With his successful improvisations , Nestroy often offended the censorship spies who were always present - he had to break off his first engagement in Brno and leave the city on police orders.

Nestroy was once arrested for five days for his extemporization in the role of Johann ( Zu evener Erde und first floor ) , because during the performance he alluded to his enemy, the critic Franz Wiest, and deviated from the script that had been submitted:

" Whist is played on the table - it is curious that the wittiest game invented in England should have the same name as the dumbest man in Vienna."

The audience reacted partly with frenetic applause, partly with signs of disapproval. Even the foreign press, such as the Dresdner Abend-Zeitung of October 20, 1835, reported on it and took a stand for the offended journalist.

At the premiere of Eine Wohnung ist zumiet on January 17, 1837 in the Theater an der Wien , there was a theatrical scandal when Nestroy held up a mirror to all social classes from the bourgeois-saturated middle class to the overbearing caretakers in the bourgeois satire and those affected – i.e. the majority of his regular audience in the suburban theaters - against himself. Nestroy's scathing criticism of philistinism and hypocrisy was described as a "witless and meaningless hodgepodge" and only played three times.

In the years leading up to the 1848 revolution , the performer once took the stage with buns instead of shirt buttons. By this time, bakers had fallen into disrepute because the rolls weighed half what they had twenty years earlier, but cost the same. He spent a night in detention for mockery of a profession and made a public apology the next day. At the apology ordered for the next performance, he thanked the jailers for putting rolls through the cell's keyhole. This event is called the Bread Anecdote.

A scandal also erupted at the world premiere of The Relatives on May 25, 1848 in the Carltheater, a political comedy that dealt with the bourgeois revolution based on the play Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens , because of the verses alluding to the Frankfurt National Assembly :

"Many a voter for Frankfurt ran 'no' who
knew nothing about Frankfurt apart from the Frankfurter sausages."

In chants, the audience asked Nestroy to publicly apologize for the missed piece. Nestroy relented and sent a colleague to the ramp to deliver his apologies to the outraged crowd.

Scholz and Nestroy as members of the National Guard

When director Carl Carl formed a "theater company" from his actors in 1848, which he had marched out with great pomp and music - they were armed with sabers and other objects from the theater stock - Scholz and Nestroy were also standing at the Ferdinand Bridge over the Danube Canal , also armed with martial arts wake up. In fact, this was planned by Carl as a gigantic advertising spectacle for his theater and also attracted large audiences. A contemporary account reported:

“On April 20, a dense knot of people was seen rolling down the Jägerzeile over the Ferdinand Bridge; it was the thousands of people in Vienna who wanted to see their darlings Scholz and Nestroy in adornments. There the two stood, Nestroy, the slender warrior, girded with the sword of Kaspar the Thorringer, Scholz on his left, planted firmly on his short, thick legs, on his face the martial expression of the tyrant Sakribandos.

In 1850, Twelve Girls in Uniform caused a real scandal at the New Year's show, which was still echoing in the newspapers throughout January. As a result, the journalist and Nestroy's main opponent, Moritz Gottlieb Saphir , even sought police protection against Nestroy's attacks, since he turned to the audience during the performance, in which there had been hissing, and extemporaneously: "Surely Mr. Saphir is there!"

Nestroy's scent for everything contradictory, ambiguous in human nature, his gift for portraying the broken figures made him the heir of Laurence Sterne and placed his stage psychology alongside that of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw . Karl Kraus was a great admirer of Nestroy, recited many of his plays, especially the less well-known ones, in readings and dedicated the essay Nestroy und die Nachwelt to him on the 50th anniversary of his death in 1912 .


Johann Nestroy's grave in Vienna's Central Cemetery
20 shilling coin (2001)

Nestroy died on May 25, 1862 at the age of 61 in Graz and was initially buried in the Währinger local cemetery. On September 22, 1890, he was reburied in a grave of honor at the Vienna Central Cemetery (group 32 A, number 6), without mentioning Marie Weiler, who was also buried there, on the gravestone. The inscription that can be seen today was only added in 2004.

In 1872, in Hadersdorf-Weidlingau , since 1938 part of the 14th district of Vienna, Penzing , Nestroygasse was named after him, in the same year Nestroygasse in the 2nd district, Leopoldstadt , and in 1932, also in the 2nd district, Nestroyplatz (since 1979 subway station); the Art Nouveau building Nestroyhof has been located there since 1898 .

At Praterstraße 17, at the junction with Zirkusgasse, there has been a monument to Johann Nestroy created by Oskar Thiede since 1983. It originally stood on Nestroyplatz since 1929, later at the Reinhardt Seminar in the 14th district.

The International Nestroy Society was founded in Vienna in 1973 . It organizes the annual Nestroy Talks in Schwechat and was the patron of the historical-critical complete edition , which was published by Deuticke Verlag between 1977 and 2001 . The company also publishes the biannual magazine Nestroyana .

The Johann Nestroy Ring and the Nestroy Theater Prize were also named after him.

The third Reichsbrücke crossing the Danube in Vienna was to be named after Nestroy as a new building because the winning project in the building competition bore his name. This name change was simply not accepted, so the name Reichsbrücke was retained for the new bridge.

Many of Nestroy's plays are now part of the standard repertoire of German-speaking theaters, especially Austrian ones. Nestroy's works are also regularly on the program of some summer stages, including the Nestroy-Spiele Schwechat , the Nestroy-Spiele Liechtenstein and the Festspiele Reichenau .

list of works

historical drama

Magic plays, antics, parodies

Johann Nestroy (lithograph by August Prinzhofer 1846)


The works marked with * are described in this main article

work editions

  • Fritz Brukner , Otto Rommel (ed.): Works - historical-critical complete edition. 15 volumes (volume 15 is the detailed biographical appraisal by Otto Rommel, state of knowledge 1930), Vienna (Schroll) 1924–30; reprinted 1974; also as Kraus reprint AMS Press New York.
  • Jürgen Hein , Johann Hüttner , Walter Obermaier , W. Edgar Yates (ed.): Complete Works - Historical-Critical Edition. (With over 50 volumes, which are available individually, the most comprehensive and up-to-date critical, annotated edition of the pieces and letters), Deuticke/ Zsolnay, Vienna/ Munich 1977ff.
  • Franz H. Mautner (ed.): Johann Nestroy. comedies. Edition in six volumes. Insel Verlag , Frankfurt am Main 1970, 2nd edition. 1981
  • Otto Rommel (ed.): Collected Works. 6 volumes (a selection from the 15-volume edition), Vienna 1948–49; reprinted in 1962.
  • Reinhard Urbach : keywords and key words. Deuticke/ Zsolnay, Vienna/ Munich 2000, ISBN 3-216-30568-6 .

role models

See also


web links

Commons : Johann Nepomuk Nestroy  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Johann Nepomuk Nestroy  - sources and full texts


  1. Ahrens: I don't rise to the laurels. pp. 395-402. (Biographical data for the entire chapter Life )
  2. in the somewhat imprecise NDB biography , an otherwise unknown Maria Ludovica v. Maliz (Malix) named as Wilhelmine's mother
  3. It cannot be determined with certainty whether the "from" was justified, or whether it was merely assumed by Katharina's father, a major from Moravia , on his own authority
  4. in some sources the name is written as sunshine, see
  5. Ahrens: I will not rise to the laurels. pp. 230-231.
  6. Rommel: Nestroy's Works. p. XIV, as well as footnote 2; S.LXXX.
  7. Lorenz: An Unknown Child of Johann Nestroy , Vienna, 2015 (English)
  8. Hellmuth Karasek : Letters move the world . Part 2: Love, Destiny, Passion . teNeues, Kempten, 2011, ISBN 978-3-8327-9452-1 , pp. 98–103.
  9. Ahrens: I don't rise to the laurels. pp. 346-356.
  10. Hunger: Thinking along the wire of language. (for the entire chapter Nestroy's Handling of Language )
  11. Ahrens: I don't rise to the laurels. p. 176.
  12. G. Pfeisinger, The Revolution of 48 in Graz , 1986.
  13. Ahrens: I don't rise to the laurels. p. 303.
  14. Ahrens: I don't rise to the laurels. pp. 302-303.
  15. Volker Kahmen: Dear Princess: Karl Kraus and Mechtilde Lichnowsky; Letters and Documents, 1916–1958. Wallstein Verlag, 2001, ISBN 3-89244-476-5 .
  16. Nestroy †. In:  Leaves for music, theater and art / Leaves for theatre, music and art / Zellner's leaves for theatre, music and fine arts , May 27, 1862, p. 2 (online at ANNO ).Template:ANNO/maintenance/mtk
  17. (Exhumation of Nestroy's bones.). In:  Die Presse , September 18, 1890, p. 9 (online at ANNO ). Template:ANNO/Maintenance/apr, accessed May 9, 2020
  18. Late honor for Marie Weiler Rathauskorrespondenz of October 29, 2004 (Accessed June 9, 2010).