Youâd be forgiven for thinking the British Libraryâs Stefan Zweig Study Day, which took place on Monday 20 March, would be a sombre occasion. Beginning with Klemens Renoldner, esteemed Director of the Stefan Zweig Centre in Salzburg, and his presentation entitled âWhen Europe was destroyedâ and ending with translator and poet Will Stoneâs readings from the essay collection, Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink (London, 2016; ELD.DS.115440), the programme might have struck a warning rather than warming tone. Yet the Libraryâs day of events brought together experts and fans â old and new â in a true celebration of Stefan Zweig and his collection of manuscripts around the 75th anniversary of his death.
In the sold-out Eliot Room of the Libraryâs Knowledge Centre, guests were presented a programme that united the very latest research â namely on Zweigâs personal library, and on the relationship between Richard Strauss and Zweig â, the anecdotal and personal aspects of Zweigâs experiences across Europe, as well as the writerâs own words in the most recent translations of his more political essays. As Will Stone read from the concluding essay in Messages from a Lost World, âIn this Dark Hourâ, written in 1941, the day approached its end with the lines: âDarkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our headsâ.
As darkness fell on Monday and on the study day, the shining stars of the Stefan Zweig Collection took centre stage at the Libraryâs âEvening of Music and Poetry from the Zweig Collectionâ. As Samuel West spoke the first lines in the role of Zweig himself, the audience was welcomed into a different era.
In the words of West, and Zweig, following the performances of Schubertâs âGretchen am Spinnradeâ and âAn die Musikâ by soprano Ilona Domnich and baritone Simon Wallfisch respectively, accompanied on the paino by Simon Callghan, we forgot âtime and space in our passionate enthusiasm, truly transported to a better worldâ.
Our performers navigated the often turmoiled life of Stefan Zweig through diary entries and letters, piercing the darkness of war and exile with moments of hope and friendship, and by bringing to life the sublime moments of creativity present in the manuscript collection.
From Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, via Keats, Verlaine and Wilde, to Mahler and Richard Strauss, Europeâs cultural heritage was on show, so that we for a moment could only share Zweigâs feeling that in the collection was the whole universe. As Zweig exited the stage, disillusioned with collecting and with a Europe lost to him forever, it was left for Ilona Domnich to bid us goodnight and to let the darkness fall once again with Straussâs âBeim Schlafengehenâ.
We thank all those involved in bringing the Zweig Collection to life and we hope to become aware once more in the near future of the majesty of those stars above our heads and in our collections.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library / University of Bristol
The Catalogue of the Literary and Historical Manuscripts from the British Library Stefan Zweig Collection is now published and can be purchased through BL Publishing. A display of manuscripts from the Zweig Collection will be in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery until 11 June.