Schreker, Franz (August Julius)
(b Monaco, 23 March 1878; d Berlin, 21 March 1934). Austrian composer,
teacher, conductor and administrator. He is a central figure in that remarkable
flowering of opera in Austria that included the works of Zemlinsky, Berg
and Korngold. Integrating his aesthetic plurality (a mixture of Romanticism,
naturalism, symbolism, Impressionism, Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit),
timbral experimentation, strategies of extended tonality and conception
of total music theatre into the narrative of 20th-century music has contributed
to a more differentiated understanding of central European modernism.
Schreker was the oldest of four surviving children born to Ignaz Schrecker,
a court photographer of Jewish birth, and Eleonore von Clossmann, a member
of the Catholic aristocracy of eastern Styria. Ignaz Schreckerís restless
travels took him and his family from Vienna to Monaco, Spa, Brussels, Paris,
Trieste and Pola before he settled at last in Linz in 1882. After his death
in 1888 the family moved to Vienna, where in 1892, with the help of a scholarship,
Schreker entered the Conservatory. There he graduated as a violinist (under
Ernst Bachrich and Arnold Rosé) in 1897 and as a composer (under
Robert Fuchs) in 1900. His first public performance took place in London
in July 1896, when the Budapest Opera orchestra performed his Love Song
for strings and harp, a work now lost. In 1900 the Andante from a symphony
in A minor and a setting of Psalm cxvi (his graduation exercise) were performed
by the conservatory orchestra, and during the following two seasons he
achieved notable performances with the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Psalm
cxvi under Loewe), the Konzertverein (Intermesso under Loewe), the Vienna
PO (Ekkehard under Hellmesberger) and the Singakademie (Schwanensang under
his own direction), as well as the concert première with piano of
his first opera, Flammen, in the Bösendorfer-Saal on 24 April 1902.
Several of his early works and most of his songs were published (by this
time he had dropped the second ëcí in his surname), and his Intermezzo
won firstprize in a competition sponsored by the Neue musikalische Presse.
Probably in the midst of this flurry of early success, though possibly
as late as 1904, he began Der ferne Klang, for which, as with all his subsequent
operas, he wrote his own libretto.
He had begun conducting in 1895, when he had founded the Verein der Musikfreunde Döbling, whose orchestra and chorus he had led until 1899. After graduating from the conservatory he had applied unsuccessfully for a number of theatre positions until a year spent as a rehearsal coach and assistant conductor at the Vienna Volksoper (March 1907 to March 1908) cured him of any lingering illusions about a career in the opera house. In 1907 he formed the Philharmonic Chorus, which became a leading forum for new music in Vienna. He conducted the group until 1920, and among its many premières were Zemlinskyís Psalm xxiii and Schoenbergís Friede auf Erden and Gurrelieder.
The success of his pantomime Der Geburtstag der Infantin, commissioned by Grete Wiesenthal for the opening of the 1908 Kunstschau, called attention to his development as a composer. In 1909 he signed a general contract with Universal Edition and resumed work on Der ferne Klang, whose Act 3 interlude, ëNachtstückí, was first performed on 25 November that year by Oskar Nedbal and the Vienna Tonkünstlerorchester. The opera was completed at the end of 1910 and given its première on 18 August 1912 in Frankfurt under Ludwig Rottenberg, an event that overnight established Schrekerís fame. This auspicious première coincided with his appointment as a professor of counterpoint, harmony and composition at the Music Academy in Vienna. His next opera, Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, which was given simultaneous premières in Frankfurt and Vienna on 15 March 1913, was less well received, and the outbreak of World War I the following year interrupted the continuing success of Der ferne Klang, which had been performed in Leipzig, Hamburg and Munich, and accepted for production in Prague and Paris.
With the première of Die Gezeichneten (Frankfurt, 25 April 1918) Schreker moved to the front ranks of contemporary opera composers. A monograph on his work by the influential Frankfurt critic Paul Bekker unleashed a firestorm of controversy when Bekker compared his talent with that of Wagner. The première of Der Schatzgräber (Frankfurt, 21 January 1920) was the highpoint of his career, and in March that year he was appointed director of the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he took up his duties the following autumn. Together with his vice-director Schünemann, he transformed a distinguished but tradition-bound institution into the pre-eminent conservatory of its day, with a renowned faculty that included Schnabel, Flesch, Feuermann, Edwin Fischer and Hindemith. As a teacher Schreker was remarkably undogmatic. His emphasis on technical fluency and creative individuality produced an exceptionally diverse school of students, among them Victor Babin, Max Brand, Paul Breisach, Jerzy Fitelberg, Walther Gmeindl, Berthold Goldschmidt, Wilhelm Grosz, Alois Hába, Paul Höffer, Horenstein, Krenek, Alois Melichar, Petyrek, Paul A. Pisk, Karol Rathaus, Artur Rodzinski, Joseph Rosenstock, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Ignace Strasfogel, Herbert Windt and Grete von Zieritz.
Schrekerís fame and influence were at their peak during the politically and economically unstable early years of the Weimar Republic. He toured widely to supervise and conduct productions of his operas, often with his wife, the soprano Maria Schreker, whom he had married in 1909. During the later 1920s he developed expertise in both recording and broadcasting technologies and followed with interest developments in the Hochschuleís electronic music laboratory, the Rundfunkversuchstelle. His Kleine Suite was the first work commissioned specifically for German radio, and his Vier kleine Stücke for film were part of the same project as Schoenbergís op.34. In 1932 he supervised the development of the first concert films, featuring performances conducted by Blech, Busch, Kleiber, von Schillings, Stiedry and Walter.
The decline of Schrekerís artistic fortunes began with the lukewarm
reception of his sixth opera, Irrelohe (Cologne, 1924), and the failure
of Der singende Teufel (Berlin, 1928). The process was accelerated by the
economic turmoil of the late 1920s, which threw German opera houses into
crisis. Right-wing demonstrations marred the première of Der Schmied
von Gent (Berlin, 1932), and National Socialist pressure forced the cancellation
of the scheduled Freiburg première of Christophorus. In June 1932
Schreker was forced to resign his position at the Hochschule. He took up
a masterclass at the Prussian Academy of the Arts, but was placed on leave
in May 1933 and officially dismissed in September that year. In December
1933 he suffered a stroke, to which he succumbed two days before his 56th
By nature Schreker was drawn to dramatic music, and even as a child he was fascinated by the associative properties of harmony and timbre. His earliest works display a propensity for modal ambiguities and non-chordal tones, but this predisposition for colouristic effect was balanced by the strict conservatory education that imbued him with the aesthetic and technical precepts of the Viennese classical tradition. Most of his student works, such as the Violin Sonata (1898) and Psalm cxvi (1900), are Brahmsian in their formal balance, motivic interrelationships, bass-led harmonies, and rhythmic and contrapuntal refinements. His songs, most of which were written before 1902, and his first opera, Flammen, add to this mixture an increasing chromaticism and such devices of harmonic dislocation as chordal elision. Schrekerís early works won praise for their craftmanship but were thought to lack originality, a criticism with which the composer himself concurred. His struggles to find his own style preoccupied him for most of the first decade after his graduation and bore their first fruit in the pantomime Der Geburtstag der Infantin, one of a series of dance-related instrumental works that reveal a freer harmonic language of rapidly shifting tonal centres and polytonal chordal constructions, long-breathed melodies of irregular phrase lengths, and a new assurance in timbral combinations. Significant, too, is the use of neo-classical forms and a contrapuntal texture of twisting, angular lines. Still more harmonically daring are the Fünf Gesänge (1909, orchestrated 1922), which were written after he had become personally acquainted with Schoenberg.
The principal document of Schrekerís self-discovery is Der ferneKlang, whose social and ethical concerns, including a critique of art-for-artís-sake idealism and a frank exploration of the enigmas of sexuality and eroticism, would remain central to his output for the stage. As in most of his subsequent operas, the plot springs from and is encapsulated by a musical-dramatic symbol. His bold heterogeneity of dramatic devices and musical means, in addition to the sheer fecundity of his timbral imagination, make Der ferne Klang one of the seminal works of 20th-century opera. The collage of onstage and offstage vocal and instrumental ensembles, polyrhythmic juxtapositions, layering of styles and improvised sounds in the second act bears comparison with contemporaneous experiments by Ives and with the emerging visual vocabulary of the cinema. The mix is also a prime example of Schrekerís lifelong preoccupation with ëRaumwirkungí, the interaction of timbral effect and acoustic space. Schoenberg cited the operaís nonfunctional chord progressions in his Harmonielehre, and in its formal structure, orchestration, declamation and dramatic characterization Der ferne Klang had a profound influence on Berg, who prepared the vocal score in 1911. The poor reception of Schrekerís next opera, Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, had more to do with the obscure symbolism of its libretto than with any musical weakness. The operaís succession of contrasting atmospheric scenes, meticulously differentiated lighting directions and heightened sensitivity to timbral subtleties suggest a proximity to the stage works of Dukas, Delius and Debussy. In turn, the work influenced Szymanowski, who heard the Vienna première. The one-act revision, Das Spielwerk (Munich, 1920), clarified and tightened the libretto and resulted in significant changes in the closing scene.
Schrekerís mature style is most closely associated with a trio of works completed during World War I: Die Gezeichneten, the Kammersymphonie and Der Schatzgräber. All three employ an orchestra whose colours are defracted and reconstituted through divided strings, delicate use of percussion and subtle doublings that tend to obscure the identity of individual instruments. In his harmonic language Schreker continued to juxtapose tonal with chromatic and polytonal passages, often heightening his effects by omitting the roots of chords in the bass. At the same time the vocal lines in these works have greater focus and, as Schrekerís sketches suggest, serve as the central inspiration for his fundamentally linear style, a quality that is brought out in his own recordings of his music, as well as in radio performances from the 1950s and 1960s by a generation of conductors such as Heger, Rosbaud, Scherchen and Zillig who were still familiar with the style. In this middle period Schrekerís works have an undeniable element of Wagnerian harmony and dramaturgy. This is particularly true of Der Schatzgräber, his most popular opera, in which he achieved a balance of harmonic languages resembling that achieved by Strauss in Der Rosenkavalier.
His next opera, Irrelohe, is in many ways a turning point. The libretto is dramatically taut, and in keeping with the menacing subject matter the orchestra is harder edged and more opaque. The scoreís writhing linear counterpoint and chordal juxtapositions, which are close to late Mahler and the Strauss of Elektra, produce a high level of dissonance, without, however, undermining overall tonal structure. Particularly striking is a second-act love duet in the form of a canon. In the years of crisis following Irrelohe Schrekerís style was transformed by a number of influences, including the aesthetic climate of Neue Sachlichkeit and his interest in technology. The orchestral Kleine Suite and Vier kleine Stücke employ the sparse textures and contrapuntal style an angular linearity that had been present in his music since Der Geburtstag der Infantin so ideally suited to the limitations of the contemporary microphone. Among his other non-operatic works of the 1920s, his settings of Whitman texts (Zwei lyrische Gesänge, 1923, orchestrated as Vom ewigen Leben in 1927) must be counted his supreme masterpiece, characterized by an assured synthesis of pliant vocal lyricism, supple and sinewy accompaniment, and a harmonic language suspended between functional and non-functional tonality.
These same elements are present in the later operas. Christophorus, oder die Vision einer Oper is a Zeitoper that parodies contemporary styles, including jazz, the popular chanson, Neue Sachlichkeit and the radical avant garde. It is at the same time a deeply felt document of Schrekerís own struggles with his times. Dedicated to Schoenberg, the score contains Schrekerís most advanced harmonic language alongside passages of diatonic and modal harmony, broad cantilenas alongside spoken dialogue and Sprechgesang. The complexity of the workís dramaturgy, in which vision and reality intertwine, invites comparison with the most advanced constructions of contemporary film and theatre. The dramaturgy of Der singende Teufel, by contrast, is far more traditional, but its brooding, medieval setting inspired an austerely archaic musical language that ranges from simple modal counterpoint and sharp timbral detail to massed, clustered effects for the full orchestra.
Superficially Der Schmied von Gent, based on a folktale by Charles de Coster, belongs to that genre of comic Zauberoper made popular by Weinbergerís Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer (1927), but the underlying themes of individual destiny and social responsibility cause it to resonate profoundly with other works of the period, such as Hindemithís Mathis der Maler, Schoenbergís Moses und Aron and Krenekís Karl V. It is a vibrant piece, whose occasionally raw tone and grim satire helped provoke the politically inspired demonstrations at its première. Musically it combines the lush harmonic and timbral palette of Schrekerís earlier operas with folk material and the more dissonant, neo-baroque contrapuntal forms of the later works.
The rise of National Socialism brought an end to performances of Schrekerís works and began the systematic corruption of secondary sources that haunts Schreker reception to this day. Performances in the postwar period were sporadic, and a genuine revival of interest in the composer did not begin until the 1970s.
Principal publishers: Alkor, Heinrichshofen, Universal
Flammen (op, 1, D. Leen), op.10, 19012, concert perf., Vienna, Bösendorfer-Saal, 24 April 1902
Der ferne Klang (op, 3, Schreker), c19031910, Frankfurt, 18 Aug 1912
Der Geburtstag der Infantin (pantomime, Schreker, after O. Wilde), chbr orch, 1908, Vienna, 27 June 1908; rev. as Spanisches Fest, 1926, Berlin Staatsoper, 22 Jan 1927
Der Wind (Tanzallegorie, G. Wiesenthal), cl, hn, pf, vn, vc, 1908, Vienna, 2 March 1910
Rokoko (ballet, Schreker: Ein Tanzspiel), 1908
Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin (op, prol, 2, Schreker), 190812, Frankfurt and Vienna, Hofoper, 15 March 1913; rev. in 1 act as Das Spielwerk (Mysterium, 1, Schreker), 1915, Munich, National, 30 Oct 1920
Die Gezeichneten (op, 3, Schreker), 191315, Frankfurt, 25 April 1918
Der Schatzgräber (op, prol, 4, epilogue, Schreker), 191518, Frankfurt, 21 Jan 1920
Irrelohe (op, 3, Schreker), 191922, Cologne, 27 March 1924
Der singende Teufel (op, 4, Schreker), 1924, 19278, Berlin, Staatsoper, 10 Dec 1928
Christophorus, oder Die Vision einer Oper (op, prol, 2, epilogue, Schreker), 19259, Freiburg, 1 Oct 1978
Der Schmied von Gent (Grosse Zauberoper, 3, Schreker, after C. de Coster: Smetse Smee, from the Flemish folktale), 192932, Berlin, Städtische Oper, 29 Oct 1932
Love Song, str, hp, c1896, lost; Scherzo, 1899; Sym., a, op.1, 1899; Scherzo, str, c1900; Intermezzo, op.8, str, 1900, incl. in Romantische Suite; Ekkehard, sym. ov., after V. von Scheffel, op.12, orch, org, 19023; Romantische Suite, op.14, 1903; Phantastische Ouvertüre, op.15, 1904; Festwalzer und Walzerintermezzo, c1908; Valse lente, c1908; Vorspiel zu einem Drama, 1913, abridged as prelude to Die Gezeichneten; Kammersymphonie, 23 insts, 1916; Der Geburtstag der Infantin, suite, 1923; Kleine Suite, chbr orch, 1928; 4 kleine Stücke, 192930; Das Weib des Intaphernes (E. Stucken), spkr, orch, 19323; Vorspiel zu einer grossen Oper, 1933 [for uncomposed Memnon]
Der Holdestein (R. Baumbach), S, B, SATB, orch, before 1898; Versunken (Baumbach), male vv, pf, c1898; Schlehenblüte (Baumbach), male vv, c1898; Auf dem Gottesacker, SATB, c1898; Meereswogen (E. Scherenberg), male vv, c1898, inc.; König Tejas Begräbnis (F. Dahn), male vv, orch, 1899; Ps cxvi, op.6, female vv, orch, org, 1900; Schwanensang, op.11 (D. Leen), SATB, orch, 1902; Gesang der Armen im Winter (F. von Saar), SATB, 1902; Vergangenheit (N. Lenau), SATB, 1906
for 1 voice, piano unless otherwise stated
Die Rosen und der Flieder (O. Gruppe), 1894; Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen (R. Weitbrecht), 1894; Allegro-Lied der Fiorina, 1896; Waldeinsamkeit (J.P. Jacobsen), 1897; Überwunden (anon.), 1897
Fünf Lieder (M. Holm), before 1898: O Glocken, böse Glocken [op.5/1], Kennt Ihr den Sturm, Heute Nacht, als ich so bange, Ich habí in Sorgen, Durch die Fenster zitternd sacht
Zwei Lieder auf dem Tod eines Kindes (M. Holm), op.5, before 1898: O Glocken, böse Glocken, Dass er ganz ein Engel werde
Drei Lieder (V. Zusner), 1899: Ein Rosenblatt, Noch dasselbe Keimen, Vernichtet ist mein Lebensglück
Das hungernde Kind (Des Knaben Wunderhorn), before 1900
Auf die Nacht (P. Heyse), before 1900, inc.
Fünf Gedichte (Heyse), op.3, before 1900: In alten Tagen, Im Lenz, Das Glück, Es kommen Blätter, Umsonst
Fünf Lieder, op.4, before 1900: Frühling (K. v. Lemayer), Unendliche Liebe (L. Tolstoy), Wohl fühl ich wie das Leben rinnt (T. Storm), Die Liebe als Recensentin (J. Sturm), Lenzzauber (Scherenberg)
Acht Lieder, [op.7], 18981900: Wiegenliedchen (Sturm), Zu späte Reue (Sturm), Traum (Leen), Spuk (Leen), Rosentod (Leen), Ach, noch so jung (Scherenberg), Rosengruss (Scherenberg), Lied des Harfenmädchens (Storm)
Zwei Lieder, op.2, after 1901: Sommerfäden (Leen), Stimmen des Tages (F. von Saar)
Ave Maria, 1v, org/hmn/pf, 1902; Ave Maria, 1v, org/pf, 1909
Entführung (S. George), 1909
Fünf Gesänge, A, pf, 1909: Ich fragí nach dir jedwede Morgensonne (The Thousand and One Nights), Dies aber kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen (E. Ronsperger), Die Dunkelheit sinkt schwer wie Blei (Ronsperger), Sie sind so schön, die milden sonnenreichen (Ronsperger), Einst gibt ein Tag mir alles Glück zu eigen (Ronsperger); version for A, orch, 1922
Das feurige Männlein (A. Petzold), 1915
Und wie mag die Liebe (R.M. Rilke), 1919
Zwei lyrische Gesänge (W. Whitman), S, pf, 1923: Wurzeln und Halme sind dies nur, Ein Kind sagte: ëWas ist das Gras?í; version for S, orch, Vom ewigen Leben, 1927
Chbr: Sonata, vn, pf, 1898
Pf: Melodie, c1895; Apassionata, 1896; Adagio, F, before 1900; 2 Walzerimpromptus, c1901
Orch arrs.: Wolf: Heimweh, Verschwiegene Liebe, 1916; Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody no.2, 1933
KdG (S. Rode-Breymann)
P. Bekker: Franz Schreker: Studie zur Kritik der modernen Oper (Berlin, 1919, 2/1983)
Musikblätter des Anbruch, ii/12 (1920) [Schreker issue]
R.S. Hoffmann: Franz Schreker (Leipzig, 1921)
J. Kapp: Franz Schreker: der Mann und sein Werk (Munich, 1921)
P. Bekker: Klang und Eros (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1922)
Musikblätter des Anbruch, vi/2 (1924) [Schreker issue]
ëFranz Schreker zum 50. Geburtstagí,Musikblätter des Anbruch, x (1928), 81118
G. Neuwirth: Franz Schreker (Vienna, 1959)
T.W. Adorno: ëSchrekerí, Quasi una fantasia: musikalische Schriften II (Frankfurt, 1963), 181200; repr. in T.W. Adorno: Gesammelte Schriften, vi (Frankfurt, 1984), 2725; Eng. trans., 1992
W. Zillig: ëSchrekerís Der ferne Klangí, MT, cv (1964), 6524
H. Schreker-Bures: El caso Schreker (Buenos Aires, 1968); Ger. trans., rev., with contributions by H.H. Stuckenschmidt and W. Oehlmann, as Franz Schreker (Vienna, 1970)
H. Schreker-Bures: Hören, denken, fühlen: eine kleine Studie über Schrekers Operntexte (Buenos Aires, 1970/R)
P. Granzow: Franz Schrekers Kompositionsstil in seiner Oper Die Gezeichneten (diss., U. of Innsbruck, 1972)
G. Neuwirth: Die Harmonik in der Oper ëDer ferne Klangí von Franz Schreker (Regensburg, 1972)
N. Chadwick: ëFranz Schrekerís Orchestral Style and its Influence on Alban Bergí,MR, xxxv (1974), 2946
S. Döhring: ëFranz Schreker und die grosse musiktheatralische Szeneí, Mf, xxvii (1974), 17586
F.C. Heller, ed.: Arnold Schönberg Franz Schreker: Briefwechsel (Tutzing, 1974)
F.C. Heller, ed.: Der Franz-Schreker-Fonds in der Musiksammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek: Katalog (Vienna, 1975)
O. Kolleritsch: Franz Schreker. Am Beginn der Neuen Musik (Graz, 1978)
R. Blackburn: ëFranz Schreker, 18781934í, MT, cxix (1978), 2248
C. Hailey: ëFranz Schreker in seinen Schriftení, ÖMz, xxxiii (1978), 11927
R.A. Zondergeld: ëTraum und Klang: zum Phantastischen in den Operndichtungen Franz Schrekersí,Phaïcon 3: Almanach der phantastischen Literatur (Frankfurt, 1978), 13143
Franz Schreker: Berlin 1978
E. van den Hoogen: Die Orchesterwerke Franz Schrekers in ihrer Zeit (Regensburg, 1981)
H. Schreker-Bures: Spaziergang durch ein Leben (Buenos Aires, 1981)
P. Franklin: ëStyle, Structure and Taste: Three Aspects of the Problem of Franz Schrekerí,PRMA, cix (19823), 13446
R. Ermen, ed.: Franz Schreker (18781934) zum 50. Todestag (Aachen, 1984)
L. Wickes: ëA Jugendstil Consideration of the Opening and Closing Sections of the Vorspiel to Schrekerís Opera Die Gezeichnetení, Art Nouveau and Jugendstil and the Music of the Early 20th Century: Adelaide 1979 [MMA, xiii (1984)], 20322
P. Franklin: ëSchrekerís Declineí, The Idea of Music: Schoenberg and Others (London, 1985), 13960
C. Theobald: Das Frühwerk Franz Schrekers bis zum ëFernen Klangí (diss., Free U. of Berlin, 1985)
U. Rügner: ëTraum als tönendes Bild: ein Versuch über Franz Schrekerí,Traum, Texte und Bilder, ed. K. Oesterle (Tübingen, 1986), 12543
P.C. Snook: Franz Schreker and Alban Berg (diss., RNCM, 1987)
M. Brzoska: Franz Schrekers Oper ëDer Schatzgräberí (Stuttgart, 1988)
K.H. Cochran: Franz Schrekerís ëDer ferne Klangí and its Relationship to Alban Bergís ëWozzeckí (diss., U. of North Carolina, 1988)
C. Thiede: Untersuchungen zu Franz Schrekers Oper ëDas Spielwerkí in ihren beiden Fassungen (diss., U. of Cologne, 1988)
L. Wickes: Studies on Aspects of Schrekerís Opera ëDie Gezeichnetení (diss., Technical U. of Berlin, 1990)
P. Franklin: ëDistant Sounds Fallen Music: Der ferne Klang as "Womanís Opera"í, COJ, iii (1991), 15972
C. Hailey: Franz Schreker (19891934): a Cultural Biography (Cambridge, 1993) [incl. further bibliography]
M. Brzoska: ëFranz Schrekers Diskursí, Visionen und Aufbrüche: zur Krise der modernen Musik 19081933, ed. G. Metz (Kassel, 1994), 30320
C. Hailey, ed.: Der Briefwechsel zwischen Paul Bekker und Franz Schreker (Aachen, 1994)
W. Krebs: ëTerzfolgen und Doppelterzklänge in den Gezeichneten von Franz Schreker: Versuch einer energetisch-psychoanalytischen Betrachtungsweiseí, Mf, xlvii (1994), 36583
U. Kienzle: Das Traum hinter dem Traum: Franz Schrekers Oper ëDer ferne Klangí und die Wiener Moderne (Schliengen, 1998)