Aleksandër Moisiu

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Aleksandër Moisiu
Alexander Moissi.jpg
Aleksandër Moisiu in 1906
Born Aleksandër Moisiu
(1879-04-02)2 April 1879
Trieste, Italy (then Austria-Hungary)
Died 22 March 1935(1935-03-22) (aged 55)
Vienna, Austria (then Federal State of Austria)
Ethnicity Albanian
Occupation Actor
Years active 1899–1935
Religion Christian[1]
Spouse(s) Maria Moissi (div.)
Johanna Terwin
Children Beate Moissi, Bettina Moissi
Parents Moisi, Amalia
Relatives Nicolas Berggruen, Gedeon Burkhard, Spiro Moisiu, Alfred Moisiu
Signature Aleksandër Moisiu Signature.svg

Alexander Moissi (German: Alexander Moissi, Italian: Alessandro Moissi; Albanian: Aleksandër Moisiu; 2 April 1879 – 22 March 1935[2]) was an Austrian Albanian stage actor.

Early Years[edit]

He was born in Trieste[2] to Moisi Moisiu from Kavajë,[2] who was a rich Albanian merchant of oil and wheat, and an Arbëresh mother,[2] Amalia de Rada from Trieste, daughter of a Florentine doctor.[3]

After an international childhood in Trieste, Durrës and at a Graz boarding school, 20-year-old Aleksandër finally settled with his mother and two sisters in the Austrian capital Vienna.[4] He began vocal studies and applied for a drama training at the k.k. Hofburgtheater, but was rejected due to his strong Italian accent and had to confine himself to non-speaking roles. It was his performance in Molière's Tartuffe of the Burgtheater 1899/1900 season, which stunned the renowned Austrian actor Josef Kainz, playing the leading part. With Kainz' encouragement and support, Moisiu's career as one of great European stage actors of the early-20th century began. The following year took him to the New German Theatre in Prague and in 1903 he joined the ensemble of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where he became a protégé of the influential director Max Reinhardt.[5] Together with Rudolph Schildkraut he performed in Reinhardt's staging of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, now emphasizing his melodious speech, which despite first damning reviews finally made him a star.

Moissi and the Reinhardt ensemble toured the Russia in 1911 and was acclaimed in Saint Petersburg by critic and dramatist Anatoly Lunacharsky for his interpretation of Sophocles' Oedipus. Travelling all over Europe and the Americas, his most famous role was Fedya in Tolstoy's The Living Corpse — performed more than 1400 times by him and seen by more than one-and-a-half-million people. In 1914, Moisiu acquired German citizenship to become a volunteer in World War I, and during the German Revolution of 1918–19 joined the Marxist Spartacus League.

Moissi as Prince Kalaf in Gozzi's Turandot, Deutsches Theater, Berlin, December 1911

In 1920 he played the leading part in the first performance of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Jedermann adaption of The Somonyng of Everyman at the Salzburg Festival. However, Moissi did not keep up with the German Expressionist and epic theatre movement initiated by directors like Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht. He finally left Germany after the Nazi Machtergreifung in 1933 and was offered the Albanian citizenship by King Zog.

Alexander Moissi died of pneumonia on 22 March 1935 in Vienna[6] (other sources claim 23 March 1935 in Lugano) and is buried at the Morcote cemetery overlooking Lake Lugano in Switzerland.[7] According to Stefan Zweig (in his autobiography) he died in the Grand Hotel, Vienna.


His repertoire of leading roles encompassed the whole spectrum of European drama, from Greek tragedy to 20th century modernism. He was the first in Europe to interpret characters from August Strindberg, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Luigi Pirandello, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

In Berlin Moissi was acclaimed for his 1906 performance of Oswald in Ibsen's Ghosts and in the premiere of Wedekind's Spring Awakening. His interpretations in the leading roles of Hamlet, Œdipus, Faust, Dubedat (in George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma), and many others, were celebrated at the time, as were his voice and emotional range. Beside the Deutsches Theater, Moissi performed at the Vienna Volkstheater and the Theater in der Josefstadt. Though primarily a stage actor, he also appeared in ten film productions from 1910 to 1935, of which seven were silent,[8] most notably in The Student of Prague by Hanns Heinz Ewers in 1913.

Although a Christian, Moissi was often labeled as either being a Jew or being of partial Jewish descent due to his name (which translates to "Moses") and his friendly relationship with fellow Jewish actors at a time when anti-semitism was on the ascendency.[1][9][10][11] Moissi strongly rebuked his critics in the German press challenging the Christian world to live up to its ideals and desist from persecuting the Jews noting that: "Where Jews are concerned Christian morality, humaneness, and values are trampled underfoot" and "The road of anti-semitism is a throwback to the dark days of the Middle Ages."[1]


Moissi's grave, Morcote cemetery

Streets are named after Alexander Moissi in Berlin, Salzburg and Vienna, where also a monument was unveiled in 2005. In Albania he is highly venerated as a most important national actor. In his honour, the drama school of the Academy of Music and Arts in Tirana as well as the university and the city theatre of Durrës were named "Aleksandër Moisiu". In his father's hometown of Kavajë, the main public high-school and the local theater are also named after him. The 60th anniversary of his death was remembered in Albania in 1995 with an "Artistic Year" dedicated to him; it was sponsored by the Aleksandër Moisiu Foundation. Spiro Moisiu and Alfred Moisiu are direct family relatives of Alexander Moissi.

Personal life[edit]

Moissi was married twice:

  • His first marriage was to Maria Moissi who was from Vienna. She founded the drama school Schauspielschule Maria Moissi Berlin where her husband also taught.[12] They had one daughter, Beate Moissi, (born1908 ) Alexander Moissi had another daughter with Herta Hambach, Bettina Moissi (born 1923). Bettina would later marry the Jewish American art collector Heinz Berggruen in 1959. One of their two children, Nicolas Berggruen, is a billionaire financier and art collector.
  • His second marriage was to German actress Johanna Terwin.[12]

The German actor Gedeon Burkhard is Moissi's great-grandson.


  • "The voice and gestures of Moisiu presented us with something hitherto unseen on the European stage." – Franz Kafka
  • "Hamlet is written for Moissi, and Moissi was uniquely born to interpret the Prince of Denmark." – Max Brod
  • "I salute Aleksandër Moisiu to whom I am forever grateful, as one of the most brilliant interpreters of my characters." – Luigi Pirandello
  • "Man of the South, always Man of the South. In order not to be frozen he takes the sun of his country whenever he goes. Whenever you are with him you'll learn something new about life in this world." – Stefan Zweig

Selected Filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Jacobean: "Alexander Moissi, Non-Jewish Actor, Indicts Christian World for its Persecution of the Jew" page 5 | December 4, 1931 | "As a Christian, states Moissi, he cannot stand by and see the virus of anti-semitism infect Christian people, nations, and states, robbing them of all semblance of humanity and justice."
  2. ^ a b c d Elsie, Robert (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Albania. Scarecrow Press. p. 309. ISBN 0-8108-6188-7. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Schaper, Rüdiger (2000). Moissi.: Triest - Berlin - New York. Eine Schauspielerlegende. (in German). Argon Verlag. p. 42. ISBN 9783870245139. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  4. ^ Elsie, Robert (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Albania. Scarecrow Press. pp. 309–310. ISBN 0-8108-6188-7. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Elsie, Robert (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Albania. Scarecrow Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-8108-6188-7. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Albania Today. University of Michigan. 1979. p. 35. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Elsie, Robert (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Albania. Scarecrow Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-8108-6188-7. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Elsie, Robert (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Albania. Scarecrow Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-8108-6188-7. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Becoming Austrians:Jews and Culture between the World Wars By Lisa Silverman Although actor Alexander Moissi was not Jewish, many assumed he was because of his name..."
  10. ^ Bernad Shaw's Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch By George Bernard Shaw, Siegfried Trebitsch page 335 | In February, 'Too True' opened in Manheim with Alexander Moissi (not a Jew) in the leading role and was disrupted by Nazi shouts of "Jew Moissi" "Jew Shaw" until police intervened.
  11. ^ Jews and the Making of Modern German Theatre edited by Jeanette R. Malkin, Freddie Rokem page 76 | "The appeal and success of some non-Jewish foreign actors among German audiences, however, was due at least in part to their foreignness. Such was the case with star actor Alexander Moissi, whose German was tinged with an "Italian singsong, which fascinated many."
  12. ^ a b German Wikipedia Entry on Alexander Moissi

External links[edit]