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8.223324 - SCHILLINGS: Violin Concerto Op. 25 / Moloch / King Oedipus

Max von Schillings (1868-1933)
Violin Concerto, Op 25 • Symphonic Prologue to the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles, Op 11 (Symphonischer Prolog zu Sophokles’ “König Oedipus”) • Harvest Festival (from Moloch)


The reputation of Max von Schillings has suffered through his overt anti-semitism and his involvement with the National Socialist Party, whose later excesses he avoided by his timely death shortly after Hitler’s accession to power and his own appointment as director of the Berlin Städtische Oper, after the occupation of the Städtische Oper by storm-troopers in March 1933 and the eviction of the Intendant Carl Ebert. Schillings died in July.

Born at Düren in 1868, Schillings was encouraged in his musical interests by his parents. He attended school in Bonn, and had violin lessons with Otto von Königslow, a pupil of Ferdinand David, and lessons in theory and piano from Brambach, himself a pupil of Hiller. He later became a law student at the University of Munich, where he met Richard Strauss and under his influence and that of his circle began to devote hirnself more fully to music. In 1892 he worked as assistant stage conductor at Bayreuth and in 1902 became chorus master there. In the intervening period he had written two operas, Ingwelde in 1894 and Der Pfeifertag in 1899, both Wagnerian in character, the first based on a Scandinavian saga and the second a medieval comedy which seemed to owe something to Die Meistersinger. There were in addition a number of orchestral compositions, songs and chamber music, all of which, coupled with his activities as a conductor and teacher, brought Schillings to a position of prominence in the musical life of Munich, where in 1903 he was appointed Königlicher Professor. 1906 brought another opera, Moloch, and in 1908 he accepted the position of assistant to the Intendant of the RoyalOpera House in Stuttgart, becoming general music director of the house in 1911. His honorific title was conferred by the King of Württemberg the following year. In 1915 his opera Mona Lisa was performed in Stuttgart with considerable success.

Resigning his Stuttgart position in 1918, Schillings was appointed Intendant of the Berlin Staatsoper, a position he held until forced to resign in 1925. As in Stuttgart he was responsible for a reasonably enterprising repertoire, which included a number new operas, including Pfitzner’s Palestrina, Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, works by Richard Strauss and by Busoni, although there were no premières, as in the years that followed. His appointment was controversial, chosen, as he was, by the personnel of the Staatsoper under the democratic régime of the new republic, and he complained early of Jewish persecution. The resignation of Furtwängler from the Staatskapelle concerts, given by the orchestra of the Staatsoper, and of Leo Blech, who moved to the Deutsches Opernhaus, led to an invitation to Klemperer, who demanded terms that would give him complete authority in the house, the offer to him engineered by Leo Kestenberg, Referent of the Prussian Kultusministerium. When these negotiations failed, Schillings secured the services of Erich Kleiber.

The respite was short-lived. By 1925 complaints about the management of the Staatsoper, its standards and its deficit, amounting now to nearly three million marks, were again being made. Kestenberg was brought in to deal with the financial situation, while Heinz Tietjen, former Intendant in Breslau, was to be brought in as joint Intendant, helping in the management of the two opera-houses that were now the responsibility of the Staatsoper, with the recent refurbishing of the Kroll Opera. Matters came to a head when the Deutsches Opernhaus was declared bankrupt and taken over by the city authorities, who reopened it under Tietjens as the Städtische Oper, with Bruno Walter as musical director. The new establishment was a clear rival to the government Staatsoper, and when Schillings refused to resign, he was dismissed by the Kultusministerium. The matter became a cause célèbre. Liberal opinion, which had, after all, been behind the dismissal of Schillings by the minister Becker, with his ideals of a socially relevant and widely accessible State Opera, now supported the apparent victim, Schillings. The political right wing took the opportunity to castigate the Jewish camarilla that had plotted against the Aryan Schillings, and in particular the un-German socialist Kestenberg. The affair, der Fall Schillings, was eventually resolved when the dismissal of Schillings was withdrawn, and he was instead allowed to resign. The Kroll Opera was later established as an independent house under Otto Klemperer.

Although he had been forced out of his administrative position at the Staatsoper, where he had seemed an obstacle to progress, Schillings continued to enjoy an active career, now principally as a conductor, in the opera-house, in public concerts and in the recording studio. His moment seemed to have come with the National Socialist victory of 1933, had not death intervened. His anti-semitism was no new political fashion. This, early in the century, had tempered his attitude to Mahler, whom he had described as the Meyerbeer of the symphony, a dangerous influence on German music, a view that Mahler did not suspect. In later years he was to see the Weimar Republic as Semitanien, suspicious always of fancied Jewish plots against himself and his music. This, coupled with the politically motivated praise of an early biographer who stressed what then seemed the most telling traits of his subject, has tended to obscure the very real value of the music of Schillings, attractively lyrical at its best and no mere feeble echo of the music of his now better known contemporaries.

Schillings wrote much of his music in the earlier part of his life, before occupying himself with administrative duties and with his career as a conductor. He completed his Violin Concerto in 1910. The first of the three movernents is scored for three flutes, pairs of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with a cor anglais, four horns, three trumpets and timpani, with the usual strings. To this the second movernent adds three trombones, tuba, harp, tamtam and bass clarinet, while the third returns largely to the orchestration of the first, with the addition of harp, triangle, side-drum and cymbals.

The first movement opens with a vigorous and brief orcrhestral introduction, to which the solo violin soon adds its own version of the opening figure, moving on to a splendidly lyrical second subject. The material is developed with a fine regard for the technical possibilities of the solo instrument, exemplified in a final cadenza, as the movement draws to a close. The enlarged orchestra is used discreetly in the romantic slow movement, with its expressive solo violin entry on the G string, accompanied by the lower strings of the orchestra. The thematically and rhythmically unified concerto ends with a final movement of some brilliance.

The opera Moloch was first staged in Dresden in 1906. Ingwelde had not been accepted by Mahler for production in Vienna, and perhaps by way of recompense he had originally considered Moloch for staging at the Court Opera, without seeing either the libretto or the score. When he had time to examine both, Mahler was sufficiently impressed to continue plans for production in Vienna. This was only cancelled when a hostile review of the first performance in Dresden appeared. There were hints too of latent anti-semitism in the opera, leading Schillings to suppose that the cancellation of the planned Vienna performance was no more than a Jewish plot. Moloch was based on an unfinished drama by Friedrich Hebbel. The principal character is a Carthaginian high priest of Moloch who establishes his ancestral religion on the Island of Thule, whence he desires vengeance on the Romans who have destroyed his country. He is finally revealed as a charlatan and kills himself. The Harvest Festival scene, adapted by the composer for concert use, is a triumphant example of music that the first critic in Dresden found insipid.

The Symphonic Prologue to the Sophoclean tragedy of Oedipus Tyrannus was published in 1900. The score carries the words of the Chorus:

Gleich dem Nichts
acht’ ich der sterblichen Menschen Geschlechter.
Wem, wem ward
mehr vom Glück als des Wahnes Rausch
und vom Rausch die Ernüchterung?
Steht vor Augen mir, Oedipus,
dein Verhängniss, ja deins, so scheint mir
nichts mehr glücklich was sterblich ist.

(The race of mortal men is as nothing.
Which man’s happiness is other than illusion
Followed by disillusion?
Oedipus, your fate is before me, yours,
Call no mortal creature happy.)

The work is suitably tragic in tone, an overture rather than any attempt at a summary in musical terms of the tragic catastrophe of Oedipus.

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