The centenary of the start of the First World War is throwing a spotlight on the state of Europe immediately preceding the conflict. Radio 3 did a superb job last week, analysing the music of the different European capitals. It was a time of bewildering creativity, when composers seemed to respond to the catastrophe for civilisation before it happened.

The Skandalkonzert in Vienna and the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in Paris, both in 1913, ended in riots. One of the works played at the Skandalkonzert was by Arnold Schönberg, also something of a painter.

A couple of his works could be seen in the National Gallery’s eye-opening ‘The Portrait in Vienna 1900′ exhibition. I hurried for a second visit before it closed on Sunday.

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Conservative Vienna-and it could be horribly conservative-had its swagger painters, good with sumptuous textiles, but into their midst burst such scarifying artists as Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl. The latter, an introvert, worked very quickly, creating often disturbing images from wild slashes of paint.

He killed himself, at the age of 25, after an affair with Schönberg’s wife, Mathilde (depicted, strangely, as a frump). Gustav Klimt’s glorious, unfinished portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, a Jewish convert who would die in a gas chamber in 1942, ended the show. More like it, please.

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