Journal: Secession - Unity in Diversity

The zeitgeist of the Secessionists and a Grand Piano in the spirit of a Gesamtkunstwerk

Since the founding of Bösendorfer, famous architects, including Theophil Hansen, Anton Grosser, Josef Hoffmann, Josef Frank and Hans Hollein, have designed grand pianos for Bösendorfer time and again. Bösendorfer is reviving this tradition in the form of an “Architecture Series” and presenting the Secession model as the first grand piano of this series.Now one of the most photographed buildings in Vienna, the word Secession contains not only the building itself but also an artistic association, a style of construction and design, as well as a philosophy upon which everything is based. Inspired by this zeitgeist, of unity in diversity, the design of the Bösendorfer Secession Grand was developed.

The Secession

Part of Viennese and European History 

Vienna at the turn of the 20th century—The fin de siècle was the era before the First World War and the ensuing collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. The capital city of Vienna listed two million residents and was a melting pot of Central European cultures thanks to the multi-ethnic state. Turn-of-the-century Vienna was a centre for the economic and intellectual elite, a period of blossoming in philosophy, painting, architecture, music and literature, as well as mathematics, medicine, economics and law.


In the milieu of conservative grandeur and progress, Viennese Modernism developed in the art world as a counter-current to naturalism, advocating “art for art’s sake” and opposing lifelike depictions of real circumstances. The fin de siècle came about in Europe as a result, with important centres in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Milan and St. Petersburg.

Industrialisation advanced and also facilitated travel. Adolf Loos travelled to America and later, together with Otto Wagner, left his mark on architecture in Vienna. In 1895, Otto Wagner declared an end to the era and predominance of historicism, of buildings along the Vienna Ringstrasse in Modern Greek, Modern Roman and Neo-Baroque styles. Instead, for Wagner, architecture needed to be adapted to technological progress.


Joseph Maria Olbrich: the Secession building, sketch of the first draft, 1897

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With new ideas into the exciting unknown

Vienna, 1897 a group of Austrian artists splits off from the traditional Vienna Künstlerhaus, the professional body of Viennese painters, sculptors and architects at the time. “A fresh wind shall blow, which shall sweep away the backwardness of the Künstlerhaus.”

The Secessionists (the artists who split off from the Künstlerhaus) aspired to unification and equal status of all art forms, transforming architecture, painting and sculpture into a Gesamtkunstwerk. There should be no distinctions in art, and art should be a common good. All pertinent artistic greats in Vienna around 1900, including Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Max Kurzweil, Carl Moll and many other artists, took part in this exodus and, with Gustav Klimt as their figurehead, commenced their journey into the exciting unknown.

They shaped the Secession style, often also called Viennese Jugendstil, which is named after the building, the organisation and the institution. It was and remains to the present day a laboratory that attempts with great import to uphold Ludwig Hevesi’s slogan: “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.”


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Secession members in the main room before the opening of the 14th exhibition in 1902. Back row, from left to right: Anton Stark, Gustav Klimt (in the armchair), Adolf Böhm, Wilhelm List, Maximilian Kurzweil, Leopold Stolba, Rudolf Bacher; front row, from left to right: Koloman Moser (in front of Klimt with hat), Maximilian Lenz (lying), Ernst Stöhr (with hat), Emil Orlik (sitting) and Carl Moll (lying) / Photo: Moriz Nähr / archiv of Austrian National Libary


Inspired by the British arts & crafts movement, in 1903 Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and the industrialist Fritz Waerendorfer founded the Wiener Werkstätte  (Viennese Workshops) and renewed the term “applied arts.” They successfully produced everyday objects, jewellery and furniture and maintained points of sale in New York, Berlin and Zurich.

Masterpiece and Gesamtkunstwerk

For Secessionists, out of the vision of a Gesamtkunstwerk—a “total work of art”—arises the necessity of physical space in which the artworks can be exhibited. Inspired by Otto Wagner and Gustav Klimt, Joseph Maria Olbrich drafted the Secession building, a “temple of art.” It is a key work of Viennese Jugendstil and a synthesis of antiquity and modernity, a novel construction of typological and symbolic references. Olbrich created a stark contrast between the solemn entrance and the prosaic utility of the exhibition wing.


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Olbrich created a stark contrast between the solemn entrance and the prosaic utility of the exhibition wing. To the present day, the Secession remains the world’s only exhibition centre dedicated exclusively to modern art.

Upon completion, the building inspired diverse reactions both visually and politically, reactions that were also reflected in press coverage. The comments ranged from “unique adornment of Vienna’s new boulevard” to “a masterpiece of original and purposeful architecture,” as well as “the strange building with its shapes taken from the Far East,” all the way to “the greatest architectural mistake.”


Photo: Secession 2018 / Jorit Aust


Today, the Secession is one of the most photographed buildings in Vienna. In the year 2000, the façade once again became the subject of discussion when it offered space for a striking rebellion by artists and the artistic community, using colour to make a statement against the incumbent government at the time.





Unity in diversity

Olbrich drafted and designed, together with numerous other artists, the exterior appearance of the Secession building:

The sculptural décor of the gateway niche with the gorgon heads was made by Othmar Schimkowitz.

The cladding of the entrance doors in copper sheet was done by Gustav Klimt.

The fresco “Dance of the Wreath-Bearing Maidens” on the northern façade and the multi-coloured glass rosette “Archangel of Art” on the end wall of the foyer are by Koloman Moser.

Olbrich himself modelled the owls on the side panels on Moser’s sketches.





Photo: Secession 2018 / Jorit Aust

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The association with music

Both the Secession building and its creative spirit have been inextricably linked to Ludwig van Beethoven since 1902. The fourteenth exhibition was dedicated to the great composer, who is considered the prototype of the artist as lone fighter, suffering for humanity. The Secessionists’ concept—masterpiece and Gesamtkunstwerk rolled into one—was most strictly implemented in this exhibition, thereby making it the most famous and most visited exhibition.

Joseph Hoffmann drafted the exhibition plan together with 21 artists as a homage to the artist and composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The focal point is a Beethoven sculpture by Max Klinger. Beethoven’s Ninth is probably his most famous and most revolutionary symphony. The thrilling final chorus is hard to resist. The text, which refers to Friedrich Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy), reflects a democratic zeitgeist and values which in a society marked by humanism are applicable to the present day.

Gustav Klimt was so fascinated by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that he depicted “humanity’s search for happiness” on works 34x2 metres in size. His Beethoven Frieze is commonly described as a “Kiss to the Whole World.” In it, Klimt illustrates that humanity finds its fulfilment in art, specifically in this work by Beethoven. Gustav Mahler, director of the Vienna State Opera at the time, underscored this significance and opened the Beethoven exhibition in 1902 with his own arrangement of part of the closing chorus of the Ninth Symphony for wind ensemble.

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Gustav Klimt, Beethovenfries, room view Secession / photo: Secession/Jorit Aust

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Gustav Klimt, Beethovenfries, detail from the right wall (the arts, chorus of angel of paradise and this kiss of the whole world), Secession / photo: Secession/Jorit Aust

The outstanding crown - the bay leaf cupola

Particularly impressive is how the Secessionists realized their motto “Ver Sacrum” (holy spring) by means of the cupola’s leaf canopy and the outstanding symbol of the building


Gossamer gold leaf, ingeniously applied to the green-coloured leaves, makes for the overwhelming effect of the primarily iron construction.

2,316 bay leaves, each of them one-of-a-kind, gold-plated on raised surfaces using 23-carat gold leaf, with 342 ball-shaped laurels likewise gold-plated with 23-carat gold leaf, with 217 widely ramified branches, all of them handmade, create a cupola diameter of 9 metres and underscore, in reference to its proximity to Karlskirche (St. Charles’s Church), the slogan “Ver Sacrum.”


Photo: Secession 2018 / Jorit Aust

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Collector's Item Secession

Inspired by the drawings of and the building itself, the design of the piano was created in close cooperation with the Secession. It continues the long tradition of the Bösendorfer manufactory to build pianos inspired by architecture or designed by architects themselves.

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The Secession Grand takes up the Secession’s overarching symbol of bay leaves from the façade in ornamented form and makes it gleam in 23-carat gold on a classical black background of the inside of the lid.

The cast iron frame continues this lustre with its 23-carat gold plating. The inside walls of the case and the pin block likewise reference the “Ver Sacrum” slogan from the cupola with the delicate green colour of the bay leaves. This motto is engraved in the music stand letter by letter and also gold plated using 23-carat gold. The additional elements of the main façade are engraved on the right and left side of the music stand and continue the delicate green.


Photo: Secession 2018 / Jorit Aust




Further Secession elements embellish the feet of the grand piano. Gold-plated lines done by hand form a border around the edge of the lid and the pedal box.

In size 214VC Vienna Concert as its basis the Secession combines technology, design and craftsmanship into a Gesamtkunstwerk.


The Secession Grand introduces the Bösendorfer Architecture Series. As a member of the Collector’s Item range, this design is limited to 21 instruments. A homage to the Secessionist Gesamtkunstwerk, this grand piano exudes both the spirit of unity in diversity and the revolutionary concept of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—a zeitgeist that will likely never lose its validity.

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Further information about Collector's Item Secession

VER SACRUM - the artist magazin

With their splitting off from the artistic establishment, the Secessionists published a periodical named after their motto, “Ver Sacrum,” with contributions from artists, painters, writers, poets, designers and architects. As stated in the Foreword to the first issue from January of 1898: “This periodical should, as an appeal to the general public’s artistic taste, serve the stimulation, advancement and distribution of artistic life and artistic independence.” 

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Like many international magazines from around 1900, which deal with the communication and dissemination of new art, the magazine VER SACRUM contains a wealth of information, supplemented by illustrations and contributions to book decorations. The almost square format is unique and stands out from all other magazines. Constantly changing work teams take over the design and content of the magazine.

The cover shows a tree by Alfred Roller, which bursts the pot in which it grew and digs its roots into the ground—thereby symbolising the return to the origin of nature.







Title page of the Ver Sacrum, Organ of Austrian Artists, 1898, vol. 1, issue 1, designed by Alfred Roller, Archive of the Secession

Turbulent times for the temple of art

In 1914, the First World War transformed the Secession building into the Red Cross Reserve Hospital Secession. Nine per cent of Viennese residents at the time belonged to the Jewish religious community and included major contributors to artistic and scholarly works, including Karl KrausArthur SchnitzlerGustav MahlerArnold Schoenberg and Alfred Polgar.

Like so many Austrians, numerous Secession members hailed the advent National Socialism. With the Second World War in 1939 came the call to make the building available as a granary. Three bomb blasts damaged the building in 1945. Two days before the invasion of Russian troops, the German Wehrmacht set fire to the building’s basement, which burned down except for the foundation walls. Everything lay in ruins: cities, souls—and the Secession building. The initial clean-up efforts began in 1946, and in 1949 the Secession reopened its exhibitions. General renovation of the building was performed from 2017 to 2018, letting it shine anew.

The pioneering spirit of the Secessionists defied all of these adverse and turbulent times.


A great Thank You

The Collector's Item Secession was designed in close cooperation with the Secession. We thank the entire Secession team for the great cooperation, the extensive support and all the information and images provided.