Othmar Schoeck (1 September 1886 – 8 March 1957) was a Swiss
composer and conductor.
He was known mainly for his considerable output of art songs and song
cycles, though he also wrote a number of operas, notably his one-act
Penthesilea, which was premiered at the
Dresden in 1927
and revived at the
Lucerne Festival in 1999. He wrote a handful of
instrumental compositions, including two string quartets and concertos
for violin (for Stefi Geyer, dedicatee also of Béla Bartók's first
concerto), cello and horn.
1.1 Early life and career
1.2 Influence of Busoni
1.3 Stylistic shift
3 Popular culture references
6 External links
Early life and career
Schoeck was born in Brunnen, studied briefly at the Leipzig
Max Reger in 1907/08, but otherwise spent his whole
career in Zürich. His father, Alfred Schoeck was a landscape painter,
and as a young man, Othmar seriously considered following in his
father's footsteps and attended classes an art school in Zürich
before dropping out to go to the Zürich Conservatory.
Schoeck was left destitute at the start of World War I. His
appointment as conductor of the St Gall Symphony orchestra (with
special permission to remain resident in Zürich), combined with the
annuity which his patron
Werner Reinhart gave him from 1916 onwards,
allowed Schoeck to give up his jobs as chorus director and to compose
more or less undisturbed.
Influence of Busoni
In 1916, Schoeck became acquainted with Ferruccio Busoni, who had
moved to Zurich from Berlin to escape the adverse effects of the war.
Busoni was not alone in coming to Zurich. The war had turned
"provincial" Zurich, in neutral Switzerland, into an international
metropolis. Schoeck was a great admirer of the songs of Hugo Wolf;
Busoni disliked them, and he said so. Despite their differences, their
relationship quickly developed into one of mutual respect, and even
one with a bit of affection. In fact, it was Busoni's suggestion that
Schoeck use Ludvig Holberg's Don Ranudo de Colibrados as the subject
of an opera.
On 19 June 1917 Philipp Jarnach, a French composer who was also a
refugee in Zurich, and an assistant of Busoni, gave Busoni a copy of
Martin Buber's book Chinesische Geister- und Liebesgeschichten
[Chinese Ghost and Love Stories] (Frankfurt, 1911). Jarnach suggested
that one of these short stories might be suitable for an opera. Busoni
immediately wrote a libretto, Das Wandbild [The Picture on the Wall],
a short scene and pantomime, which he finished eight days later.
Jarnach composed a prelude and the first scene, but lost interest and
dropped the project. Undaunted, in June 1918 Busoni offered it to
Schoeck. Schoeck, who appears to have taken the offer as a sort of
challenge, immediately set aside the orchestration of Don Ranudo, and
in three days, produced the new opera.
Das Wandbild is set in a Parisian antique shop around 1830. A student,
Novalis, is captivated by a picture of a girl hanging on a wall of the
shop. The picture comes to life, and in typical Busoni fashion, the
scene immediately dissolves into a fantastical Chinese temple. The
opera ends with Novalis awaking from his dream-state and escaping from
the shop into the reality of the street. It is one of Schoeck's most
unusual creations, "almost minimalist in conception."
Around 1918 Schoeck's music began a stylistic shift. At this time he
became involved with the pianist Mary de Senger, who appears to have
had a profound influence on his compositional style. The second act of
his next opera Venus (1919–1921) employs interesting polyrhythmic
and bitonal effects. As he became acquainted with the work of Alban
Les six in Paris, he began to feel isolated by his stylistic
conservatism. By 1922 his former mentor, Busoni, who was now back
in Berlin, wrote a letter to Volkmar Andreae, saying: "Schoeck has
completely abandoned me. I have not entirely given him up. He lacks
(or lacked) certain ingredients, which are not available at the
chemists'. Which should however be manufactured in his own
In the summer of 1923 Schoeck visited
Arthur Honegger in Paris, and he
later participated in the Salzburg ISCM festival. Not long afterwards,
his affair with de Senger came to an end. His distress over the
breakup, combined with the shock of the new music he had heard in
Paris and Salzburg, seems to have led to a new maturity in his
compositional style. Two weeks after his affair ended, he composed the
song Die Entschwundene (1923), which was "as much a farewell to the
tonal world of his previous music as to his departed lover."
Schoeck was not given to overt signs of gratitude, but he dedicated
the song cycle Gaselen (1923), the Sonata for Bass Clarinet and
Piano (1927–28), and the Suite in A flat for Strings (1945) to
Werner Reinhart .
His work with the German poet Hermann Burte on the opera Das Schloss
Dürande, for production at the Berlin State Opera, caused great
controversy for Schoeck with the Swiss, because of his association
with artists of
Nazi Germany. The opera was premiered in Berlin on 1
April 1943 in the presence of Schoeck. Schoeck himself did not harbor
Nazi sympathies, but the angry Swiss reaction to Schoeck's actions
damaged his reputation and put great strain on Schoeck. He suffered a
heart attack in March 1944, but continued to compose.
See also: List of compositions by Othmar Schoeck
Popular culture references
Wier Chrisemer, Teller and Penn Jillette were The Othmar Schoeck
Memorial Society for the Preservation of Unusual and Disgusting Music,
which later became the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society.
^ The Schoeck Home Page
^ Walton, pp. 3–4.
^ Beaumont, p. 262n.
^ a b Walton, p. 4.
^ a b Walton, Chris. "Schoeck, Othmar," New Grove, 2nd edition.
^ Letter (original in German) to Volkmar Andreae, dated 28 May 1922.
Beaumont, p. 353.
^ Musinfo Archived 13 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Lawson, Colin James (14 December 1995). The Cambridge Companion to
the Clarinet. Cambridge University Press. pp. 102–.
^ Theodore Front Musical Literature[permanent dead link]. tfront.com
^ Walton, Chris (September 1986). "Othmar Schoeck: Politics and
Reputation". The Musical Times. 127 (1722): 485–487.
^ Penn and Teller FAQ. faqs.org
Beaumont, Antony, ed. (1987). Busoni: Selected Letters, New York:
Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06460-8.
Sadie, S., & Tyrrell, J., eds. (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians. New York: Grove's Dictionaries.
Walton, Chris (2000). Essay in booklet accompanying the CD The Eye of
the Storm: Ferruccio Busoni's Zurich friends & disciples, pp.
3–6. Ramsen, Switzerland: Guild Music Ltd. GMCD 7189.
Jumeau-Lafond Jean-David, "Venus d'
Othmar Schoeck ou le commandement
de la statue", in "De l'archet au pinceau", (Dir. Philippe Junod),
Payot / University of Lausanne, Lausanne, 1996.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Othmar Schoeck.
Othmar Schoeck – a 2009 biography of the composer by Chris Walton.
Othmar Schoeck Site
Karadar entry on Othmar Schoeck
Othmar Schoeck String Quartet No.1 in D Major, Op.23-Sound-bites and
Free scores by
Othmar Schoeck at the International Music Score Library
ISNI: 0000 0001 0968 1533
BNF: cb147943237 (data)