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8.223328-30 - SCHREKER: Gezeichneten (Die)
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Franz Schreker (1878 -1934)

Franz Schreker (1878-1934)

 

Recent years have brought a revival of interest in the music of the Austrian composer Franz Schreker, whose reputation has been eclipsed partly through political circumstances and partly through the disproportionate fame of other composers who seem to have learned much from him, his older contemporary Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Schreker spent a dozen years, from 1920 until 1932, as director of the Berlin Musikhochschule and enjoyed the greatest respect both as a composer and as a teacher. In the latter year he was forced by the government of Franz von Papen to resign his position, and in 1933 he was dismissed by the National Socialist Party from the work that he had been given as compensation at the Prussian Academy, where he was in charge of the master-class in composition. The destruction of his career brought about a heart-attack and he died in March, 1934.

 

Son of the Austrian court photographer, Franz Schrekerwas born in Monaco, where his father Ignaz Schrecker - the spelling of the name was later changed - was employed briefly in a similar capacity. His father was a native of Bohemia, born at Golc-Jenikau, not far from Kaliste, Mahler's birth-place. His mother was from Styria, a member of an ennobled but impoverished family. The death of Ignaz Schrecker in 1888 left his wife and four children to make a life for themselves in Vienna in relative penury, a fact that made Franz Schreker value all the more the security his later fame brought him, while no doubt increasing his distress when racial persecution brought disaster.

 

In 1892 Schreker entered the Vienna Conservatory with a scholarship, studying there with Zemlinsky's teacher Robert Fuchs. Four years later his Love Song, for harp and strings, was performed in London by the orchestra of the Budapest Opera, while his graduation composition in 1900, a setting of Psalm CXVI, attracted some favourable attention in Vienna. This was followed by his Intermezzo for strings, Opus 8, later included in the Romantic Suite. The work was awarded first prize in a competition held by the Neue musikalische Presse and was given its first performance in the Musikverein in 1902.

 

Schreker went on to establish a reputation for himself in the theatre. The one-act opera Flammen was given a concert performance in 1902 , at a time when the composer seems already to have started work on Der ferne Klang. In 1908 his pantomime Der Geburtstag der Infantin, based on a story by Oscar Wilde, was given in Vienna, bringing the composer his first significant success. There were delays, however, in completing Der ferne Klang, caused by the criticisms of his friends and natural misgivings about the subject of the work and its erotic content. In 1905, after the appearance of Salome by Richard Strauss, Schreker took up the opera again, part of which was given a concert performance in Vienna in 1909. Its generally favourable reception encouraged him to complete the opera, a task he accomplished in the space of four weeks. After various delays and disappointments it was staged at Frankfurt-am-Main on 18th August, 1912, when it won some success.

 

The stage-work that followed, Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, later to be revised, was not so well received. In Vienna the piece provoked open hostility , while in Frankfurt it was received coolly, if without animosity. Schreker achieved greater success with Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgräber, produced in Frankfurt in 1918 and 1920 respectively. These works were followed by Irrelohe, given in Cologne in 1924 under Klemperer, to be damned by the most influential critics. The opera Christophorus was never staged, owing to opposition from the National Socialists, whose influence was increasing. Der singende Teufel was mounted at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 1928 under Kleiber, but failed to impress the public, while Der Schmied von Gent, completed in 1932, had the briefest of runs at the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin two months before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

 

Schreker's reputation as a composer of opera rests largely on Der ferne Klang, Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgräber, and this principally among his contemporaries. His fame, in fact, came to an end with the decline of the Weimar Republic and with the prohibition of performances of his works, in common with those of other composers of Jewish ancestry or allegedly decadent tendency, during the period of the Third Reich. It is only in recent years that more general interest in his music has been rekindled.

 

Keith Anderson

 

Die Gezeichneten

 

In Die Gezeichneten the style for which Schreker became best known reached its height, later to be recreated in Der Schatzgräber. In Der ferne Klang and Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, apart from the use of Leit-Motiv techniques, the relative absence of the influence of Richard Strauss or Wagner is striking. Harmony is generally non-functional and used for colour. Compared with his earlier works, Die Gezeichneten represents a relative retreat from the experimentalism of Der ferne Klang and now opulent, more strongly Wagnerian elements enter the harmonic language, although tonality often remains ambiguous.

 

In the matter of orchestration indeed all these operas reveal Schreker as a master of orchestral nuance, from broad tuttis to the most delicate chamber-music effects, a feature very obvious in Die Gezeichneten. German and Austrian music before Schreker had never been so rich in tone-colour. In this respect he found a means of expression that Debussy had reached through a very different route.

 

Die Gezeichneten was conceived between 1913 and 1915 and first performed after the war, in 1918, in Frankfurt. Its immediate success made Schreker one of the most sought after composers in German-speaking countries. Unlike his contemporaries Richard Strauss and Korngold, Schreker was hardly performed at all outside Germany and Austria.

 

The reputation Schreker had won brought him in 1920 the position of director of the Berlin Musikhochschule. Under his guidance this became an institution of the greatest distinction, numbering among its pupils the violinist Carl Flesch, the cellist Emmanuel Feuermann, the pianist Arthur Schnabel and Schreker's own pupils Alois Haba, Jascha Horenstein, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Joseph Rosenstock and Arthur Rodzinski. Paul Hindemith, the very antithesis of Schreker as a composer, was appointed professor of composition. Schreker at this time was classed with the young modernists, by the side of Arnold Schoenberg.

 

From the 1920s onwards Schreker's reputation declined. From Irrelohe (1923) on, through Christophorus, Der singende Teufel (1931) and Der Schmied von Gent (1932), he set out on new but quite esoteric paths. In 1928 Schoenberg wrote of Schreker and himself as romantics, but he was soon to outpace him in the view of the young avant-garde. The musicologist Carl Dahlhaus claims that Schreker had to be sacrificed to enable Schoenberg to become part of the New Music. Nevertheless Schoenberg continued to treat Schreker's music with respect.

 

As with most of his operas Schreker wrote the libretto of Die Gezeichneten himself. The original conception for the opera came from Alexander von Zemlinsky, who allowed Schreker to make use of it, while himself turning to Der Zwerg, after Oscar Wilde's Birthday of the Infanta, which also treats the subject of ugliness impeding the fulfillment of physical desires.

 

The central character of Die Gezeichneten is the 16th century Genoese nobleman Alviano, who thinks he can overcome his own ugliness by allowing young aristocrats to make use of his island of Elysium as an erotic paradise. After the killing of a number of young girls, he decides to give Elysium to the people, in an attempt to conceal the crimes. He falls in love with the daughter of the mayor, the artist Carlotta, but she is pursued by another admirer, the young nobleman Count Tamare. During the celebration day when the island is to be handed over it seems that Carlotta has been raped in the same way as the other girls had been. Alviano is accused of her murder but leads the crowd to a cave, where they find Carlotta dying in the arms of Tamare. She declares that she has deliberately given herself to Tamare, rejecting Alviano.

 

"There has been no sexual-pathological aberration that Schreker has not chosen for a subject", the musicologists of the National Socialist régime commented, denouncing his music as degenerate. This was, of course, a deliberate and populist refusal to distinguish, as in the case of Kurt Weill's operas, between what an artist knows and what he wants the world to be like. All the protagonists created by Schreker, in Die Gezeichneten Alviano, stand for the artist in society and all these artists fail to cope with the divergence between the artist and society. What the propagandists of the new régime refused to realise was that with Weill's Zeitoper and Schreker's pessimistic naturalism the days of Utopian opera had come to an end. The true modern opera-composer, like Schoenberg, Weill, Hindemith and Schreker, rejected a high-moralistic art. The modern artist turned away from the idealised world of Romanticism or the better world beyond, embodied in the Schopenhauerian, Protestant-Christian redemption conclusions of Wagner's operas. At the same time Schreker rejected the fin-de-siècle notion of the redemption of the artist through his art, as in the operas of Hans Pfitzner. Utopian solutions appealed, of course, to the National Socialist way of thinking, in which modern art could have no place. The artist could only act as a blind prophet Tiresias or a Cassandra. Schreker's decadent Elysium was aprelude to the fall of the Third Reich.

 

Neil van der Linden

 

Synopsis

 

The action of the opera takes place in Genoa in the 16th century.

 

Act I

 

The first ac t is set in a room in the palace of Alviano Salvago, a Genoese nobleman. He is about thirty years old and haunted by his physical deformity. He has created on an island he owns an erotic paradise, where young noblemen take their pleasure in a secret grotto with girls abducted from the city. Alviano himself, a hunchback and cripple, takes no part in these activities, and, alarmed at the disappearance of some girls, decides to give the island to the city. His young friends are angry at his decision, which will put an end to their pleasures, but he is firm in his decision and leaves to make the necessary final arrangements for the transfer of property with the notary.

 

Count Vitelozzo Tamare rushes in in excitement, announcing that he has fallen in love with a most beautiful girl, whom he has seen riding through the city in a golden carriage. Alviano returns, accompanied by the Podestà and his wife and daughter, and members of the Senate of Genoa. Tamare realises that the girl he has seen is Carlotla, the daughter of the Podestà, who now thanks Alviano for his munificence, although ratification of the gift must depend on Duke Adorno. Tamare has meanwhile approached Carlotta, who rejects him, demanding some sacrifice as proof of his love. The Podestà now asks Alviano for a day's delay, so that the consent of the Duke may be obtained, and the company moves into the adjacent banqueting-hall.

 

Now the ruffian Pietro comes in, in argument with Martuccia, Alviano's housekeeper. He has been followed fordays by a woman who mistakes him for Menaldo, the young noble who had abducted her, and is prepared to inform against him. He begs Martuccia to hide the woman in Alviano's house, and she reluctantly agrees.

 

Carlotla and Alviano now return and he asks if she is feeling betIer, since she had seemed about to faint in the other room. She explains that she had used this as a trick to speak to him alone. She is a painter and her ambition is to paint the inner soul, but models are hard to find. She asks Alviano to allow her to paint his portrait. He suspects mockery and is at first angry, thinking she means to show him as a foil for more handsome company, but she explains how, from her studio on the outskirts of Genoa, she has observed him, lonely and unhappy, but moved by the beauty of the sunrise. She has already painted the picture, but needs to see his eyes, in order to finish the task. Alviano agrees to sit for her the following day.

 

Act II

 

The first scene of the second act is set in the palace of Duke Adorno, where the Podestà and sorne of his fellow-senators have been seeking the Duke's permission to accept Alviano's gift to the city. The Duke has been non-committal, and the delegation is impatient at his supposed jealousy of Alviano's popularity and the lack of a firm decision in their favour. In this mood of dissatisfaction they leave.

 

The Duke now comes in with his friend Count Tamare, who explains his own ill-humour by the fact that he has fallen in love with a girl of humbler station, who has refused him and rnocked his protestations. The Duke now promises to speak to Carlotta on behalf of Tamare, but tells him that if he is unsuccessful he must forget her. Tamare agrees to forget her - but only after she has served as his whore. The Duke warns him not to do this, but Tamare points out that girls have been disappearing in Genoa and noone has discovered the kidnappers. Ginevra Scotti, the girl hidden by Martuccia in Alviano's house, has been abducted. The Duke guesses that Tamare is involved in some way and the latter finally tells him of the secret grotto on the island and the orgies that Alviano has encouraged there. The Duke understands that he has a reason now to forbid Alviano's proposed gift on moral grounds and arrest the donor. Adorno again assures Tamare that he will speak on his behalf to Carlotta, but warns him against the use of force.

 

The second scene is set in Carlotta's studio outside the city. She is working on the portrait of Alviano and tells him about a painter she once knew who specialised in the painting of hands. The strangest of this wornan's paintings was of a pale waxen hand, like the hand of a corpse, holding a strangely shining object. The woman had felt her heart grasped by this dead hand and squeezed. Alviano seeks the rneaning of such a painting, but Carlotta suggests that the woman had never found true love.

 

Carlotta finds difficulty in capturing the eyes of Alviano on her canvas, and the two of them rest for a while. Their conversation leads Carlotta to declare her love for him, something that he finds difficult to believe. She now continues painting, since she can now see his eyes clearly and promises to be the light of his future life. As she finishes, she starts to faint, and as she stumbles, reveals another painting, that had been covered with a cloth - the subject a pale, waxen hand, as of a corpse, holding an indistinguishable shining object. Alviano understands that the woman that Carlotta had described earlier was herself. Alviano runs to support her and holds her in his arms, but their embraces are interrupted by a maidservant, who announces the presence of DukeAdorno.

 

Act III

 

The first scene of the third act is on the island of Elysium, with its gardens, fountains, and erotic statuary. The scene is a re-creation of a pagan world, with fauns pursuing naiads, and troupes of Bacchantes, all to the amazement of visiting townspeople.

 

Alviano comes in, with the Podestà. They are looking for Carlotta, who is to marry Alviano. As they move away, Carlotta comes in with Duke Adorno. She confesses that her feelings for Alviano have changed since the completion of his portrait. The Duke tells her that Alviano is wicked and depraved, but she is unwilling to listen. She now finds herself succumbing to the bewitchingly sensuous effects of her surroundings.

 

The enchantment of the island increases. There is a brief scene in which a young man persuades a girl to give herself to him, and a fantastic series of processions, uniting the ancient pagan world with the contemporary world of the Renaissance. Tamare masked, appears, with Carlotta, who now submits to him and goes with him towards the secret grotto. Alviano continues to search for her and is hailed by the people, praising his generosity. At this point the festivities are interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Captain of Justice, with the sinister "Eight", who arrest Alviano as the one guilty of the abductions that have been taking place and declare him possessed by the Devil. In proof Ginevra Scotti is brought in, having succeeded in escaping from Alviano's house, where, at Pietro's request, she had been kept prisoner. The Captain reveals that the Duke's informant in this scandal was Tamare, and Alviano now begins to realise that Carlotta is in danger. Her maidservants come in, announcing that she has disappeared, and Alviano tells the crowd that he will lead them to his poor lost bride.

 

The second scene is set in the grotto where the young noblemen had celebrated their orgies, now apparently suddenly interrupted. The young men have been arrested and are in chains. On a rose-covered bed lies Carlotta, senseless. Alviano threatens Tamare, unwilling to believe that Carlotta has been a willing victim. Tamare, however, declares that Carlotta had in the end given herself willingly, and as he breaks the chains that bind him Alviano stabs him to death. Carlotta now comes to her senses again and repulses Alviano with horror, calling for her lover Tamare. She gives a deep sigh and falls back motionless, while Alviano, his mind now unhinged, makes his unsteady way through the crowd and out of the grotto.

 


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