Full Circle In Vienna: Franz Gräffer, The Music And The Rink



"Walking, dancing, driving, riding and swimming, all these movements are far surpassed by skating... the moderate exertion and strengthening of the muscles, the feeling of power and well-being, the comfortable and exhilirating influence on the mental mood... are the peculiar advantages of skating." - Franz Gräffer, "Das Schlittschuhfahren", 1827

In researching history, there always seems to be one recurring theme... the fact that whatever innovation one may think of, whatever invention... someone we may never have heard of may have thought of it first. In the case of skating to music, one man conceived the idea a good thirty years before Jackson Haines' birth... and when he tried to make it happen, it didn't go so well for the poor lad.

Franz Arnold Gräffer was born in Vienna, Austria on January 7, 1785. He was the son of bookseller August Gräffer. After spending some time as a young man studying art, he abandoned his studies and acted as the librarian to Prince Maurice of Liechtenstein and the Count Karl Philip Harrach, the brother of Auguste von Harrach, the second wife of King Frederick William III of Prussia. He decided to focus his time on following in his father's footsteps and working in the family business. Fortunately, as the bookselling business floundered and he lost much of his money, he found great success as a writer. He also fell in love with skating.


Mary Louise Adams' book "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits Of Sport" (an invaluable resource on more than one occasion, trust me) offered the most detailed account of what happened next I could find: "In 1810 a Viennese bookseller named Franz Gräffer - a 'fanatical skater' who, decades before Haines, had wanted to combine skating with music - tried to open an ice rink. He was refused permission by the police and for another fifty years Viennese skaters had to make do with the uncertain ice on the narrow River Wien and on ponds in city parks." Skate Austria's website echoes that "the Police Chief Directorate" shot down Gräffer's big notion. The reason provided was that his skating rink "could never benefit in political nor military educational views." 

You'd think that a firm and flat no from a police chief might deter someone's passion for skating, but in Franz's case, to the contrary. In 1827, he penned the book "Das Schlittschuhfahren", an instructional manual of sorts for those wishing to take up "the noble art" of figure skating, under a pseudonym.

Plates from Franz Gräffer's 1827 book

Franz wrote over fifty books on everything from skating to Viennese daily life to freemasonry and founded the first Austrian lexicon, but he died in poverty in October of 1852 without seeing his dream of skating to music take off. It seems only fitting that after Jackson Haines' much acclaimed exhibition of free skating to waltz music in Vienna in 1868, Eduard Engelmann Sr. would go home and have an ice rink built in his large garden. His son Eduard Engelmann Jr. would carry on his father's tradition, building Vienna's first artificial ice rink in 1909 and winning the European skating titles for three consecutive years in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Fittingly, Eduard Jr.'s daughter Christine would marry two time Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer, who would skate at this rink himself and become one of history's great masters of interpreting music on ice. Through Jackson Haines and Vienna's rich skating tradition, Franz's dreams were posthumously realized in the grandest of ways. 

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