This volume originated in a 2007 dissertation by Andrea Brandner-Kapfer at the University of Graz: a complete historical-critical edition of the works of the playwright and actor Johann Joseph Felix von Kurz (1717–1784, also remembered in theater history as Kurz-Bernadon, after the variant of the Hanswurst that he created, Bernadon). The present volume abridges this larger dissertation, including representative works from all phases of Kurz’s work. In this abridgement, Brandner-Kapfer has done literary scholars the enormous favor of making selected works of the most important theater author of Austria’s eighteenth century available to a modern audience in exemplary form and at a reasonable price.
Kurz-Bernadon was the godchild of the man who created the Viennese theater’s original Hanswurst, Joseph Anton Stranitzky, and Kurz-Bernadon proved a worthy heir to this tradition when he started his career at the Kärtnerthortheater in Vienna in 1737 and then conquered Central European and germanophone stages throughout Europe. These acerbic, witty parodies and comedies deserve a broad readership as part of the political mass media of the era—in 1752, Maria Theresia herself banned his plays with the instigation of Joseph von Sonnenfels (456)—as an original dramatic intervention into the theatrical norms of the day. This Hanswurst was banned from German stages not because his conduct was disorderly—but because his politics were discomfiting. Gottsched’s Hanswurstvertreibung made him only the first most [End Page 133] prominent of a long line of censors of this tradition of the Stegreifspiel, the scripted but improvised anarchic comedy.
Like so many of the projects on the sociology of the theater coming out of Graz thanks to their Forschungsschwerpunkt Literatur- und Theatersoziologie, Brandner-Kapfer’s volume is a perfect introduction to theater in Central Europe as the Baroque era gave way to the Enlightenment, because Kurz-Bernadon worked in virtually all of Europe’s contemporaneous musical and comic genres, including commedia dell’arte (a parallel to Marivaux’s work), Europe’s Théatre italien tradition, pantomimes, machine-opera, burlesques, Possen and operettas, with texts characterized by witty wordplay and an eye for theatricality of performance. The editor makes this achievement accessible by including fifteen plays, adding notes on history, passage commentary, information on performances (what little exists), manuscripts, and publication history. She also includes Kurz-Bernadon’s biography (as a table and in prose explanations of issues), explanations about the contemporaneous theater world, and an extensive bibliography on this origin point of the Viennese Volkstheater of the nineteenth century, remembered mostly because of Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nestroy but also the libretti of Mozart’s operas.
The result is a handy, usable edition that with any luck will be followed up with the full historical-critical edition; at least one volume of that edition is already available: Andrea Brandner-Kapfer’s Johann Joseph Felix von Kurz. Das Komödienwerk. Historisch-Kritische Edition. The publisher also has a two-volume Philipp Hafner edition by Johann Sonnleitner (2001, 2007).
It would have been helpful if notes on the editorial principle had been included here; apparently, some explanatory notes were also eliminated. Thus the researcher will need to seek out the more complete edition. But it will be this volume that, because of its accessibility and usability, sets the program for future literary scholarship. Read it, enjoy it, and set the Hanswurst material of eighteenth-century Austria alongside the other great comic theater literatures of Europe. [End Page 134]