The Pernerstorfer Circle was a group of late- 19th-century Viennese intellectuals who developed and shared a collective outlook. This outlook strongly influenced their individual activities within their own specialties, including politics, philosophy, poetry, music, and theatre. The core of the Circle was formed in the 1870s as a reading group in social democratic literature. One can trace the development of common ideas within the group through the end of the century, when the Circle divided into those most interested in political activism and those most inspired by Wagner’s aesthetic-religious path. By the first decade of the 20th century, key members of the group occupied prominent and influential positions in the cultural and political life of Austria, most notably Victor Adler and Gustav Mahler.

The Pernerstorfer Circle is one striking example among the numerous reading societies and discussion groups which were deeply integrated into the culture of 19th-century Vienna. Such groups facilitated a dynamic intersection between philosophy, politics, and the arts. The Circle provides a glimpse at the way in which numerous influential figures in turn of the century Vienna were steeped in concerns and activity outside of their own realm of specialization via significant and influential contact with each-other. Named after Engelbert Pernerstorfer (1850-1918).

Gustav Mahler

Mahler first came into contact with the Pernerstorfer circle via Siegfried Lipiner in 1880. Victor Adler was hosting meetings at his home at the time that Mahler first entered the Circle. Apparently, Adler purchased a top quality piano for his house so that Mahler could practice on it. Further, he worked to find piano pupils for Mahler, providing Mahler with income while he attended the Vienna Conservatory.

Mahler also played piano for Circle meetings. His friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner describes hearing him play Wagner’s Die Meistersinger at Kralik’s house.

Mahler’s interest in the circle reflects intense philosophical and metaphysical interests that were an integral part of his work as a composer and conductor. Mahler was influenced to some degree by Nietzsche; he uses one of Nietzsche’s poems in his Third Symphony. He changed his opinion of Nietzsche in his later life, though; during his courtship of Alma Schindler he reacted with some horror to finding Nietzsche’s complete works on her bookshelf and demanded that she burn them immediately. He certainly was influenced by Wagner. Besides conducting Wagner’s work, Alma Mahler noted in her commentary on Mahler’s letters that Mahler had often said that except for Wagner in [his book] Beethoven, only Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Idea had had anything worthwhile to say about the essence of music.

Mahler was also quick to espouse Wagner’s vegetarianism, writing in November of 1880 that I have been a complete vegetarian for a month. The moral effect of this way of life resulting from the voluntary servitude of my body and the resulting freedom from wants is immense. You can imagine how convinced of it I am when I expect a regeneration of the human race from it. Mahler also shared with some other Circle members an interest in occult spiritualism.



  • Critique of liberalism, vision of radical social change and renewal.
  • Socialism.
  • German nationalism, volk ideology and racism.
  • Dionysian transcendence.
  • Vegetarianism.
  • The occult.
  • Spiritualism.
  • Theosophy.

Student circles in Vienna, 1875-1880 (Year 1875Year 1876Year 1877Year 1878Year 1879Year 1880)

  • Rott circle.
  • Frank circle.
  • Pernerstorfer circle.
  • Hauflein der Vierzehn.

Pernerstorfer circle

See also: Akademischer Wagnerverein.

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