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8.220469 - SCHREKER: Vorspiel zur 'Memnon' / Romantic Suite
Franz Schreker (1878-1934)
The Austrian composer Franz Schreker must seem a very real victim of political circumstances. For a dozen years director of the Berlin Musikhochschule and respected as a composer and teacher, he was forced by von Papen's government to resign his position in 1932, and the following year was dismissed by the National Socialist Party from the work 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 caused a heart-attack and he died in March, 1934.
Franz Schreker was born in Monaco, where his father Ignaz Schreker – the spelling of the name was later changed – was employed briefly as court photographer. His father was a native of Bohemia, born at Golc-Jenikau, not far from Kalist, Mahler's birth-place. His mother was from Styria, a member of an ennobled but impoverished family. The death of Ignaz Schreker 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 was to bring him and no doubt increased 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 given its first performance in the Musikverein in 1902.
Schreker was to go on to establish a reputation for himself in the theatre. In 1908 his pantomime, based on the work of Oscar Wilde, Der Geburtstag der Infantin, was given in Vienna. The success of the ballet was followed, in 1912, by the welcome given to the opera Der ferne Klang, performed in Frankfurt-am-Main Less successful was Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, which was later to be revised. In Vienna the work provoked open hostility, while in Frankfurt it was received coolly, if without animosity. He achieved greater success with Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgraeber, 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, and by the opera Christophorus, which 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 was to rest largely on Der ferne Klang, Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgraeber, and this largely 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 Jewish composers, during the period of the Third Reich. It is only in recent years that more general interest in his music has been rekindled.
Schreker has a claim to our attention, of course, as a teacher. His pupils included composers of the stature of Ernst Krenek and Alois Haba, while Berg, who prepared the vocal score of Der ferne Klang, an opera that won Schoenberg's approbation, was strongly influenced by some of the techniques used by Schreker. As a composer he must seem in many ways characteristic of the period in which he flourished, a late romantic, whose style sorted equally ill with the mood of the Neue Sachlichkeit proposed by Hindemith, the world of Brecht and Kurt Weill and with the conservative tastes and Aryan cultural policies of the new régime.
The Vorspiel zu einer grossen Oper was written in 1933 as an Overture to the proposed opera Memnon, which was never written. The work is in effect a tone-poem based on the ancient legend of Memnon, son of the Dawn and later ruler of Ethiopia, whose statue was identified by the Romans with that of the Pharaoh Amenophis, a figure that provided miraculous music of its own with the change of temperature as dawn broke. Schreker makes use of a large orchestra, and exotic melodic contours and instrumental colouring to suit his ancient Egyptian subject.
The Romantic Suite is music of the more confident decade at the beginning of the century. Completed in 1902, the year in which his first opera, Die Flammen, was given a concert performance in Vienna, the Suite, which includes the effective prize-winning Intermezzo for strings as the third of its four movements, is an assured work, in the idiom of its own time, handled with clarity and assurance. The Suite opens with an expansive and monumental Idylle, which includes elements of intense drama in a more tranquil context, and closes with a dance movement that seems at moments to have the stature of a symphonic finale. Both works included in the present recording remain unpublished, except for the Intermezzo, which appeared as Opus 8.
NOe Tonkuenstler Orchestra
The orchestra has a wide repertoire, ranging from the Baroque to the present day, and has a special interest in contemporary music, being the only Austrian orchestra to be given honorary membership of the Austrian Society of Contemporary Music. At the same time the orchestra has provided a platform for young conductors who have gone on to make distinguished careers for themselves. These include Zubin Mehta and Christoph von Dohnanyi.
In 1963 Uwe Mund was appointed solo-repetiteur at the Vienna State Opera under Herbert von Karajan and Assistant Conductor of the Vienna Singverein. His subsequent career took him to positions of Principal Conductor in the State Theatres at Kiel and Frankfurt-am-Main and in 1977 to that of Music Director at Gel senkirchen. At present, he is Music Director of the Gran Teatro del Liceld in Barcelona, Spain.
Uwe Mund has appeared as a guest conductor at home and abroad, including engagements with the Hamburg State Opera, the Berlin German Opera, the Mannheim National Theatre, the opera-houses of Munich and Frankfurt and elsewhere. Abroad he has appeared with the San Francisco Opera, in Lisbon, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Brussels, Stockholm, Barcelona, Paris and Venice.
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