Edmund Josef von Horváth (9 December 1901 Sušak, Rijeka, then in Austria–Hungary, now in Croatia – 1 June 1938 Paris) was a German-writing Austro-Hungarian-born playwright and novelist. He preferred the Hungarian version of his first name and published as Ödön von Horváth.
Early life and education
Horváth was the oldest son of an Austro-Hungarian diplomat of Hungarian origin from Slavonia, Edmund (Ödön) Josef Horvát, and Maria Lulu Hermine (Prehnal) Horvát, who was from an Austro-Hungarian military family.
From 1908 he attended elementary school in Budapest and later the Rákóczianum, where he was educated in Hungarian. In 1909, his father was ennobled (indicated in German by the preposition "von", and in Hungarian by an additional "h" at the end of the last name) and assigned to Munich, but Ödön and his mother did not accompany him. The young Horváth went to high school in Bratislava and Vienna, where he was taught German – this not being his native tongue – beginning in 1913, and where he also earned his Matura (high school diploma), before finally re-joining his parents at Murnau, and, from 1919, studying at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich.
Later life and death
He started writing as a student, from 1920. Quitting university without a degree in early 1922, he moved to Berlin. Later, he lived in Salzburg and Murnau am Staffelsee in Upper Bavaria. In 1931, he was awarded, along with Erik Reger, the Kleist Prize. In 1933, at the beginning of the Nazi regime in Germany, he relocated to Vienna.
Following Austria's Anschluss with Germany in 1938, Horváth emigrated to Paris.
Ödön von Horváth was hit by a falling branch from a tree and killed during a thunderstorm on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, opposite the Théâtre Marigny, in June 1938. Ironically, only a few days earlier, von Horváth had said to a friend: "I am not so afraid of the Nazis … There are worse things one can be afraid of, namely things one is afraid of without knowing why. For instance, I am afraid of streets. Roads can be hostile to one, can destroy one. Streets scare me." And a few years earlier, von Horváth had written poetry about lightning: "Yes, thunder, that it can do. And bolt and storm. Terror and destruction."
Ödön von Horváth was buried in Saint-Ouen cemetery in northern Paris. In 1988, on the 50th anniversary of his death, his remains were transferred to Vienna and reinterred at the Heiligenstädter Friedhof.
Important topics in Horváth's works were popular culture, politics and history. He especially tried to warn of the dawn of fascism and its dangers. Among Horváth's most enduringly popular works, Jugend ohne Gott (Youth Without God) describes the youth in Nazi Germany from a disgruntled teacher's point of view, who, himself at first an opportunist, is helpless against the racist and militaristic Nazi propaganda that his pupils are subjected to and that de-humanizes them. At last, the teacher loses his job but gains his identity.
The title of his novel Ein Kind unserer Zeit (A Child of Our Time) was used in English by Michael Tippett for his oratorio (1939–1941), composed during World War II.
- Das Buch der Tänze, 1920
- Mord in der Mohrengasse, 1923
- Zur schönen Aussicht, 1926
- Die Bergbahn, 1926, originally Revolte auf Côte 3018
- Sladek der schwarze Reichswehrmann, 1929, originally Sladek oder Die schwarze Armee (Sladek in volume Plays One, translation by Penny Black, Oberon, 2000, ISBN 1-84002-133-0)
- Rund um den Kongreß, 1929 (A Sexual Congress in volume Plays One, translation by Penny Black, Oberon, 2000, ISBN 1-84002-133-0)
- Italienische Nacht, 1930 (Italian Night in volume Plays Two, Oberon, 2000, ISBN 1-84002-152-7)
- Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Wood), 1931, winner of the Kleist Prize the same year ; available as well in volume Plays Two, Oberon, 2000, ISBN 1-84002-152-7)
- Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung, 1932 (Faith, Hope, and Charity in volume Four Plays, PAJ Publications, 1986, ISBN 1-55554-002-3)
- Kasimir und Karoline, 1932 (Kasimir and Karoline in volume Four Plays, PAJ Publications, 1986, ISBN 1-55554-002-3)
- Die Unbekannte aus der Seine, 1933
- Hin und her, 1934
- Don Juan kommt aus dem Krieg, 1936 (Don Juan Comes Back From the War, Faber & Faber, 1978, ISBN 0-571-11301-X)
- Figaro läßt sich scheiden, 1936. Giselher Klebe wrote the libretto and composed his 1963 opera of the same name based on this work; Elena Langer's 2016 opera Figaro Gets a Divorce, to a libretto by David Pountney, is also largely based on the play. (Figaro Gets a Divorce in volume Four Plays, PAJ Publications, 1986, ISBN 1-55554-002-3)
- Pompeji. Komödie eines Erdbebens, 1937
- Ein Dorf ohne Männer, 1937
- Himmelwärts, 1937
- Der jüngste Tag, 1937 (Giselher Klebe composed his 1980 opera of the same name based on this work; Lore Klebe wrote the libretto) (Judgement Day in volume Four Plays, PAJ Publications, 1986, ISBN 1-55554-002-3)
- Sechsunddreißig Stunden, 1929
- Der ewige Spießer, 1930 (The Eternal Philistine, 2011)
- Jugend ohne Gott, 1938 (The Age of the Fish, 1939)
- Ein Kind unserer Zeit, 1938 (A Child of Our Time, 1939)
- Sportmärchen, 1924–1926
- Interview, 1932
- Gebrauchsanweisung, 1932
- "Nothing conveys the feeling of infinity as much as stupidity does." (Motto of Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald)
- "Eigentlich bin ich ganz anders, nur komme ich so selten dazu." "Actually I'm quite different. But I so rarely have time to show it."
- Ödön von Horváth was once walking in the Bavarian Alps when he discovered the skeleton of a long dead man with his knapsack still intact. Von Horváth opened the knapsack and found a postcard reading "Having a wonderful time". Asked by friends what he did with it, von Horváth replied "I posted it".
- "If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg [Bratislava], Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria–Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German."
In popular culture
- Christopher Hampton's play Tales from Hollywood (1984, adapted for television in 1992) portrays a fictional Horváth. He survives the falling branch and moves to the United States, where expatriate German authors such as Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Mann write for the motion picture industry.
- Danilo Kiš's short story, "The Man Without A Country", published in the 1994 collection "The Lute and The Scars" fictionalizes the death of von Horváth.
- Lydia Davis' short story, "Ödön von Horváth Out Walking," published in the 2014 collection "Can't and Won't," concerns Horváth's encounter with the skeleton in the Alps.