Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904–1985)
Orchestral Works • 2
Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling was one of the composers of the ‘lost generation’ in Germany whose career was greatly affected by the course of history. Considered one of the most promising talents as a young man, he scaled the heights of contrapuntal skill and sovereign mastery of larger forms in his String Quartet in F minor, stylistically spanning the arc from Bach via Beethoven, Bruckner and Kaminski to his own vision, when he was 28 years old. But the Third Reich and Second World War were destructive turning-points, and after the war any music based on tonality was held by dogmatic opinion-makers to be ‘anachronistic’. It is only recently that we have begun to view creative pluralism at a time of ideological trench warfare in a new light.
Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling was a man whose integrity, discretion, and courage of his convictions deserve the greatest admiration. Through his mentor Heinrich Kaminski (1886–1946) he had found not only his artistic direction, but also the woman in his life: Dusza von Hakrid, an excellent concert pianist from Poland. Only long after the death of the couple did the world get to know that she was of Jewish descent, as a result of the research of their son Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who served as a minister in the German federal government and as High Representative of the United Nations in Bosnia Herzegovina, and who is today better known than his father. It was only due to a courageous official in the Upper Bavarian town of Kochel, who had falsified her documents, that the family was saved from the Nazi terror. Until the end of the war they lived in fear of being found out, frequently interrogated by the Gestapo. But even in times of greatest danger and fear Schwarz-Schilling, who taught at the Berlin Academy of Music, never joined the Nazi party.
After the two symphonies, both post-war works (from 1957 and 1963), and the string orchestra version of the first movement, Introduction and Fugue, derived from his 1932 String Quartet, this second volume of Schwarz-Schilling’s orchestral works presents both the orchestral works written before the war, and his only solo concerto. There is a considerable stylistic gap between the two works from 1934–35 (Partita) and 1936 (Polonaise) and the Violin Concerto, which was completed in 1953—the latter is more dissonant, structurally purer, more austere and, at the same time, more expressionistic—the Kaminski-related hymnic feature, the emphatic connection to the great German contrapuntal tradition, is noticeable only occasionally.
In his expansive String Quartet in F minor (1932), which is perfectly suited for string orchestra in its complex construction, Schwarz-Schilling had presented his first large instrumental composition in an unmistakably personal style, a truly coherent large-scale composition. With his Partita of 1934–35, he produced his first orchestral work that led to immediate and initially wide-ranging success. It is evidence of highly elaborate polyphonic artistry, based on powerfully resonating and individually coloured harmony. The world première of the Partita was conducted by Hellmut Schnackenberg in Wuppertal-Barmen on 15 February 1935, and as early as 1936 it received its New York première under Dante Fiorillo (1905–70). Distinguished musicians such as Heinz Schubert and Joseph Keilberth included it in their repertoire, and Eugen Jochum repeatedly programmed it with the Berlin Philharmonic before and after the war. Schwarz-Schilling commented on his Partita as follows:
“Even the orchestration shows a tendency more towards the orchestra of Bach than to that of the classical symphony. The orchestration is restricted to single woodwinds, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets and strings, including a solo concertino of violin, viola, and cello. From the second movement onwards, a harp joins in, and in the finale the percussion is expanded by xylophone, glockenspiel, tambourine, and other percussion instruments. The name Partita indicates that the forms are not based on symphonic sonata-like developments; rather they are ‘motion impulses’ which strive towards concise dance-like forms, without any stylizing or historicizing intention. ‘Dance-like’ here also refers to the majestic striding of the (thematically single-bar articulated) Entrata as well as the following three-section Allegro, which frames a calm, melodic-rhapsodic central segment, where the concertino acts in a solo capacity for the first time (and remains obbligato in the varied repetition of the Allegro). The second movement employs only the three solo strings, as well as woodwinds, horn and harp. The following Canzona brings in the whole orchestra again; the first chorale-like development is followed by a more flowing section. Having merged into former sections which are now altered and extended, the movement dies away quietly. The introduction to the Rondo begins attacca and recalls the start of the Entrata. In the Allegretto giocoso, oboe and bassoon introduce the Rondo theme, varied many times in the course of the movement. A remarkable interpolation is made by a Grave section, where the trumpet gives the Rondo theme a modified, heavy character. An enhanced Allegro takes up the dance game again. To these remarks on formal aspects one could add that the score avoids chordal underpinnings in favour of the linear flow of the participating voices.”
The compact and concisely constructed Polonaise for orchestra bears the subtitle Pyrmonter Kurmusik. It was composed in 1936 as a light and at the same time sophisticated piece for the Pyrmont Music Festival. With all its melismatic artisanship it is a simpler successor to the dance-like idioms of the Partita and an occasional work that Schwarz-Schilling could also use in order to pay creative tribute to the homeland of his wife. The rhythmically jagged main character (Tempo giusto) frames a quieter Trio, melodically and, in its subtle woodwind setting, reminiscent of Franz Schubert, which is repeated in its entirety. The Polonaise was premiered by the Niedersächsisches Landesorchester, conducted by Fritz Lehmann, at the Pyrmont Music Festival on 28 August 1936. There has been no second performance until the première recording of the work by the Staatskapelle Weimar conducted by José Serebrier. Schwarz-Schilling left the following comment on the score of the Polonaise: “Unrevised score, no definitive version! Not to be published!”
Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling’s Violin Concerto, completed in 1953, with the definitive solo cadenza worked out in collaboration with Leon Spierer in 1966, is one of his most played compositions, requiring a first rate soloist and a first rate and wide-awake orchestra and conductor. It is not an easy piece, but very rewarding and stylistically unique. The Violin Concerto was first performed by concert master Siegfried Borries and the Berlin Philharmonic under Joseph Keilberth in Berlin on 28 February 1954. This was followed by repeated performances in concert and on radio by Wolfgang Marschner, Saschko Gawriloff and Leon Spierer, who made the first commercial recording of the work. In 1974 Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling left the following comment on his Violin Concerto:
“The origins of my Violin Concerto go back to the war years. The first entrance of the soloist was clearly etched in my mind from the very beginning as a theme for my compositional design. At the same time, I could hear within the theme a contrasting orchestral introduction, in which I sought to attain an instrumental colour wholly devoid of individuality. What I favoured instead was a vividly sculpted entrance for the solo violin, which in turn provokes a concertante performance from the orchestra. The stylistic fabric so typical of this work results from the violin’s urge to maintain its leadership throughout the emerging counterpoint. I completely dispensed with filler parts in the orchestral writing; everywhere the finished texture derives from motion bearing the imprint of the motivic material. From the first entrance of the soloist—Allegro vivo—the movement is developed in three sections. The beginning of the slower central part is clearly marked by a fanfare-like theme in the trumpet. After the resumption of the fast tempo, elements of the introduction and central section are further developed. Shortly before the end a solo cadenza again concentrates the motivic material. The slow movement—Aria—is framed by an identical introduction and closing section that embrace a three part Adagio; the recurring trumpet fanfare articulates the beginnings of the different sections. The central part belongs to the tutti, whereas before and after it the soloist leads. With the exception of a few linking bars, the whole Adagio is based on a canonical structure. The slow movement is followed attacca by the finale, Allegro con spirito, where there is no longer any reference to the motivic material of the former movements. The solo violin presents the main material in a dance-like, taut tempo, and the first section is repeated. The previous short exchanges between solo and tutti parts are then contrasted by a more extensively realized fugato of the tutti strings (the theme results from new combinations of existing motivic particles). After the solo violin’s re-entrance, joined by the winds, the freely extended recapitulation ends with a coda-like conclusion. The tonal language of the work may facilitate comprehension; at the same time it demands a mentally active participation from the listener.”
The leading Berlin critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt wrote about the Violin Concerto after the Berlin première in 1954:
“The rigorous spirituality of his language and the virtuosity of the violin part form strange bedfellows. The slow movement is, in its expressive unity, the most convincing thing that Schwarz-Schilling has shown us to date. This is music […] that lives at once in a world of yesteryear and tomorrow.”