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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Swiss music has inevitably been dominated by the cultural influences of the two major language blocks, French and German. Up to the latter half of the 19th century, Swiss composers concentrated almost exclusively on piano and choral music, until Hans Huber (1852-1921) introduced a Swiss awareness into his symphonies and stage and choral works (for example, his S ymphony No.1, titled Tell). However, his idiom was still based on German models (Brahms and St rauss), and much of the work of Swiss composers in the 20th century has followed developments in Germany or Austria: the heady late-Romantic sensuousness of Othmar Scho eck (1886-1957), the formal severity of Willy Burkhard (1900-1955), the 12-tone compositions of Rolf Liebermann (born 1910, and now better known for revitalizing the Paris Opera as impresario), or the Germanic avant-garde of such composers as Heinz Holliger (born 1939). The one particularly Swiss emphasis in the output of these composers is the prevalence of vocal and choral works (reflecting a strong choral tradition), and a relatively large number of stage works.

A more obviously nationalist element appeared in the music, especially for voice, of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) and Gustave Doret (1866-1943), both of whom reflected the folk-music of the Suisse Romande (French-speaking Switzerland). The former is also famous for inventing the system of rhythmic education through physical movement with music, known as `eurhythmics'. A further impetus to French influence was the work of the conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969), who founded the Suisse Romande Orchestra in 1918, and with it became internationally famous for the interpretation of modern French music and of Ma hler, and for the championing of Swiss composers.

Chief among these were Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) and Frank Martin (1890-1974), the most distinguished Swiss composers to date, and of international significance. Both show a refinement of sensibility that is a French inheritance, and the former has become permanently associated with French music, especially by his (somewhat spurious) inclusion in the Paris group known as `Les Six'. The third major Swiss composer of the century, Ernest Bloch, also had his musical origins largely in French music, but not only emigrated to the U.S.A., becoming deeply involved in musical life there, but also became the major 20th-century composer to attempt a Jewish aesthetic in his music. Willy Burkhard once had an international reputation for his vocal and choral works, now little known outside Switzerland. His major works reflect his deep religious convictions and his love of Bach and the Baroque. His uncompromising severity of technique, based on strict counterpoint and harmonies that include the pentatonic scale and sometimes bitonality, gradually softened, allowing a wider sense of colour and texture. His major works are the oratorio Das Gesicht Jesajas (The Vision of Isaiah, 1933-1935), the dramatic cantata Das Ewige Brausen (The Everlasting Roar, 1936) and the oratorio Das Jahr (The Year, 1942, describing the four seasons). His final work, S ix Preludes (1955) for piano includes 12-note techniques.

More recent composers have followed international trends, although the work of Klaus Huber (born 1924, and not to be confused with the equally avant-garde German composer Niclaus Huber, or the Swiss composers Hans Huber, 1852-1921, and Paul Huber, born 1918) continues the predominance of vocal and choral music in the Swiss canon. He is concerned with spiritual matters, and attempts a restatement of the soul, the spirit, over the excess of the rational, often using medieval, religious, or mystical texts in radical sound-patterns that emphasise spatial sense and effect. His use of avant-garde and serial techniques moves towards a kind of mosaic of effects, in which musical elements are gradually formed "from the darkness". The powerful ...inwendig voller figure... (1971), has moments of violence, spatial effects, whispered and half-formed texts, andLigeti-like clusters. Other major works include Tenebrae (1966-1967) for orchestra, with its symbol of a solar eclipse (recalling that at the hour of Christ's death) and the Violin Concerto `Tempora' (1969-1970). In the concerto the solo violin gradually rises out of a structured crescendo of orchestral chaos, and pursues an essentially flowing and lyrical line interacting with or lying on top of an evolving mobile of orchestral sounds, including guitar and mandolin. Heinz Holliger is primarily known as the foremost oboe virtuoso of the present day, for whom many contemporary composers have written, but he has been active as a composer of mainly vocal and chamber works. His earliest works follow Berg and Schoenberg, and were succeeded by a series of small-scale vocal works using serial techniques and cyclical structures. His later vocal work uses texts only for phonometric extraction of sounds and for other unconventional vocal effects. A major theatre piece, Der magische Tänzer (The Magic Dancer, 1963-1965) is of interest more for its imaginative scenario (on a text by Nelly Sachs) than its musical virtues. A number of his later works transfer his experience of extended techniques on the oboe to other instruments; t(air)e for solo flute is marvellously written for the instrument, using the whole range of effects, harmonics, breathing, treating the keys percussively.

Of Swiss composers once relatively well-known but now ignored, mention should be made of Heinrich Sutermeister (born 1910), whose opera R omeo und Julia (1940), in an easygoing idiom, was for two decades one of the most successful of all 20th-century operas, and of the Russian born Vladimir Vogel (1896-1984), who developed a form of choral declamation, embraced serial technique, and is best remembered for his gigantic oratorio Thyl Claes (1937-1945).

At first sight there would therefore seem to be little that is obviously Swiss classical music, but rather Swiss adjuncts to German and French traditions. But among their diverse output many of the works ofBloch, Hon egger, and Martin do share an aesthetic of a particular kind of neo-classicism for small forces, infected with bright colours and vigorous rhythms and structures (an echo of the Germanic tradition), nonetheless strong for being relatively unobtrusive. This would seem to be a particularly Swiss combination - the only other major composer who shares a similar aural aesthetic is the Czech Martinu, in his later works, and it is perhaps significant that many of those were written while he lived in Switzerland.

A common factor in many of these works has been the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher (born 1906), to whom all lovers of music are deeply indebted for his advocacy of contemporary music, and the extraordinary number of major works commissioned from composers all over the world for his small orchestra (the Basle Chamber Orchestra, which he founded in 1926), with an uncanny recognition of which composers have something major to express. In its own way his achievement is as remarkable as that of the composers he has championed.







BLOCH Ernest

born 24th July 1880 at Geneva

died 15th July 1959 at Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.


Ernest Bloch (not to be confused with the philosopher Ernst Bloch) divided his life between his native Switzerland (1880-1900, 1904-1917, 1930-1938) and his adopted U.S.A. (1917-1930,1938-1959), becoming a U.S. citizen in 1924. The Franco-German inheritance was to remain an element of his musical personality (with an occasional touch of the Swiss pastoral); American influences are few; but above all Bloch, especially during the middle of his life, consciously set out to be a Jewish composer. His reputation for local colour in this genre (and the popularity of one work, Schelomo [Solomon, 1916] for cello and orchestra) has obscured the value of the rest of his work, and contributed to his relative neglect.

His earliest work of substance is the Symphony in C sharp minor (1903), a large late-Romantic work indebted to Str auss, with a touch of the macabre, skilfully constructed but of interest mainly to the insatiably curious. Impressionism is the major influence in Hiver - Printemps (Winter - Spring, 1904-1905), while Debussy is a major inspiration behind his only opera Macbeth (1904-1909) which uses cyclical techniques and which was a failure at its first production in Paris (1910), but a considerable success in an Italian revival (1938). It has recently been re-evaluated for its dramatic and musical qualities.

But with the Trois poèmes juifs (Three Jewish Poems, 1913-1914) for orchestra, he initiated a number of works that have become known as the `Jewish Cycle'. In these works he tried, in an emotional (rather than an intellectual) Romantic fashion, to create a music that would reflect the essence of the Jewish cultural heritage rather than employ direct quotation of Jewish folk and religious songs. Certain stylistic traits give the music its exotic (often Middle Eastern) `oriental' touches: the harmony employs augmented seconds, and bare 4ths and 5ths, the melodies have long chanting lines originating in synagogue cantor singing, the rhythms echo the Hebrew accent on the penultimate or last syllable, and the orchestration favours brass fanfares and bright exotic colours. Typically the violin or the cello (both instruments well-suited to the rhapsodic, Romantic nature of the style) are utilized, as in Baal Shem for violin and piano (1923, orchestrated 1939) or the best-known of Bloch's works, the `Hebraic Rhapsody' Schelomo (1916). The singing cello, using the contrasts of the higher and the lowest registers and oriental touches, is pitted against the opulent orchestral sound in wide-ranging, large-scale and grandiose emotional moods. The symphony Israel (1912-1916) for five solo voices and orchestra, is the only work of the `Jewish cycle' to quote actual Jewish material.

The Vo ice in the Wilderness (1936) for cello and orchestra, still sometimes encountered, continues the idea of Schelom, but is irritating in its combination of brilliance (the powerful cadenza, the haunted orchestral landscape of the opening) and banality (the suggestions of Hollywood film music). In ethnic terms, the culmination of the Jewish works is the Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service, 1933), imposing enough with its combination of a Western choral tradition and elements of Middle Eastern colour, but really too slim in musical interest to hold the attention when divorced from its context.

These works, relying on emotional impact rather than intellectual depth, will find a ready and undemanding response. They have rather obscured the rest of Bloch's output, which is wider in range than is commonly supposed. The huge `Epic Rhapsody' America (1926) for orchestra with choral ending (designed for audience participation, and which he hoped might become a national anthem) is a grandiose curiosity of a work, bombastically fascinating in its mixture of neo-Baroque fanfares, American-Indian tunes, shanties, spirituals, hymns, and quasi-jazz, but otherwise best forgotten. A motto theme based on an American-Indian idea with an associated rhythmic figure is also found in the much more successful rhapsodic Violin Concerto (1938), which, avoiding virtuoso fireworks although employing a very large orchestra, has both oriental touches and neo-classical elements. Of his large-scale late works, both the Sinfonia Breve (1952) and the virtually unheard Symphony in E flat major (1954-1955) use 12-tone themes, but in a strictly tonal milieu.

The works that listeners may find ultimately more rewarding are more intimate in tone, and generally characterised by a gradual abstraction and refinement of idiom, and tauter structures than the rhapsodic abandon of the better-known music. The neo-classical C oncerto Grosso No.1 (1925) for string orchestra with piano obbligato may have been written as a demonstration piece for students, but it is an arresting work in its own right, with vigorous outer movements and a gently alluring Pastorale incorporating Swiss tunes. The Concerto Grosso No.2 (1952) for string orchestra (with a central quartet) is even more overtly neo-classical, austere and abstract. The two Violin Sonatas (1920 and 1924, No.2 subtitled Poème mystique) have long been popular with violinists. All the five string quartets have an emotional intensity and command of string writing powerful enough to deserve a place in the repertoire; they use the French cyclical structure, with movements sharing a motif, as in many of Bloch's works. The String Quartet No.1 (1916) is violent and lengthy, and was once greatly admired. The terse String Quartet No.2 (1945) is atonal, while the Str ing Quartet No.3 (1951-1952) is lighter and more joyful in feel while being more concentrated in structure. The final two quartets (1953 and 1954) are introverted, spartan works, thoughtful and ethereal (notwithstanding the strange off-key dance in No.4), tautly argued, not immediately obvious but repaying close study. Perhaps the most successful of these chamber works, consistent, powerful and immediate, is the Piano Quintet No.1 (1923). Using quarter-tones as an expressive device to great effect, it moves from a driving, dark urgent first movement, overlaid with soaring melodic lines, through a tortured highly-charged central movement to a finale of a kind of impassioned resolution, in music that is never allowed to stay still, and constantly has exotic touches (high harmonics, swoops and sudden bursts). The angrier Piano Quintet No.2 (1957) has a haunting slow movement.

In all Bloch's music there is a sense of the rhapsodic, with little suggestion of traditional thematic development, but he is at his best when that feeling of freedom is allied to an internal logic of structure. His overall tone has the strong emotional expression of reaching out of the turbulence of humanity towards resolution. This essentially Romantic notion will appeal to some more than others, and the relatively small number of major works will probably ensure his music is left to the occasional airing.

However, his influence, especially on American music, will endure through the results of his extensive teaching, which included the post of director of the Cleveland Institute of Music (1920-1925), and includedAntheil and Ses sions among his pupils.


works include (75 published works):

- 3 symphonies (unnumbered, the last for trombone or cello and orch.); Sinfonia Breve

- 2 Concerto Grosso; violin concerto; Concerto Symphonique for piano and orch.; concertino for flute, viola and string orch.; Proclamation for trumpet and orch.; Scherzo Fantastique for piano and orch.; Schelomo for cello and orch.; Suite for viola and orch.;Suite Hébraïque for viola or violin and orch.;Suite Modale for flute and stings; Voice in the Wilderness for orch. with cello obbligato

- epic rhapsody America (with chorus); Evocations,Helvetia, Hiver-Printemps, In Memoriam, In the Night and other works for orch.

- 3 Suites for solo cello; 2 Suites for solo violin; From Jewish Life and Méditation Hébraïque for cello and piano

- 2 sonatas and other works for violin and piano; Two Pieces for viola and piano; Three Nocturnes for violin, cello and piano; 5 string quartets and other works for string quartet; 2 piano quintets

- sonata and other works for piano

- 6 Preludes and 4 Wedding Marches for organ

- Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service), Israel, and other works for voices and orch.

- opera Macbeth


recommended works:

Concerto Grosso No.1 (1925)

Concerto Grosso No.2 (1952)

Piano Quintet No.1 (1921-1923)

Piano Quintet No.2 (1957)

rhapsody for cello and orchestra Schelomo (1915)

String Quartet No.2 (1945)

String Quartet No.4 (1953)

String Quartet No.5 (1956)



E. Bloch Biography and Comment, 1925

S.Bloch & I.Heskes Ernest Bloch, Creative Spirit: A program Source Book, 1976

D. Kushner Ernest Bloch and his Music, 1973

R. Strassburg Ernest Bloch, Voice in the Wilderness: a Biographical Study, 1977



born 10th March 1892 at Le Havre

died 27th November 1955 at Paris


Caught between his native German-speaking Switzerland and his regular country of residence, France, and between the tug of modernism and the tow of Romanticism, Honegger is now better known by name than by his music. It is his general style that is currently out of fashion rather than his abilities or accomplishments, and it seems likely that some of his works will filter back into greater prominence as fashions change.

His earliest works showed the influence of the two major models of the day, Wagner and Debussy. However, his studies in Paris, and his return there after Swiss military service in 1916, led to his association with movements reacting against these twin influences, first as a member of `Les Nouveaux Jeunes' in 1918 (Auric, Poulenc, Roland-Manuel and Tailleferre), and then (thanks to an article by Henri Collet) with the group known universally as `Les Six' (1920), whose other members were Auric, Durey, Milhaud, Poulenc and Tailleferre. However, the label was misleading, for Honegger was not in sympathy with their musical mentor, Satie , and although he occasionally worked with the group's intellectual mentor, Jean Cocteau, and collaborated with other members of the group (particularly Milhaud) on numerous films, these were incidental to the main thrust of his music, and his occasional modernism was of a different hue. The aesthetic of Paris café and jazz music of the 1920s and early 1930s was alien to his background, although it is an indication of his wide-ranging tastes and abilities that he could collaborate with Ibert in the Offenbachian trifle of an opera L'a iglon (1935), and sometimes echo jazz patterns (e.g. the last movement of the Concertino for piano and orchestra, 1924).

The first work in which his individuality was established was the String Quartet No.1 (1916-1917), with a rigorous rhythmic drive and polyphonic and contrapuntal techniques that echo Honegger's love of Bach. From then on his music, for all its considerable diversity of styles and influences, follows an essentially consistent pattern. The chief characteristic is that of structural integrity and logic, the result of a meticulous sense of craftsmanship. Sonata structures are regularly used, as well as variation techniques and extensive thematic development (often in sonata form with a return of the second subject before the first). The flow is polyphonic, often emphasized by incisive rhythms; webs of melodic lines (the melodies themselves long and flowing) or chordal structures interweave in a 20th-century counterpart to Bach, also echoed by chorale elements. The orchestration varies from the wildly savage and mechanistic to a neo-classical simplicity. The emotional tone has three predominant features: a sense of grandeur, a suggestion of mischief or fun (from the grotesque to the macabre), and an underlying feeling of sombreness, or tragedy (exemplified in the darker orchestral colours). The restraint that is often a feature of his music is not just a temperamental trait or merely a consequence of the logical craftsmanship, but also a result of the desire to reach out to a wide audience.

Against this general structural pattern appears a temperamental contrast or duality, overt in the earlier works, latent in the later. On the one hand are simplicity and lyricism (and also gentle modal harmonies), on the other aggressive rhythms, massive instrumentation, and complex polytonal elaborations. The former is exemplified by the ImpressionistPastorale d'été (Summer Pastorale, 1920), the latter by Prélude pour `Le Tempête' (Prelude to `The Tempest', 1923), both for orchestra, and by the `mime-symphony'Horace victorieux, with echoes of St rauss and now largely forgotten. In subsequent works these two traits co-exist.

Although he wrote extensively in all fields, his major works (and those most likely to be encountered), fall into three areas: the short orchestral pieces (mostly written in the 1920s), the large-scale quasi-dramatic works (mostly written in the 1920s and 1930s), and the numbered symphonies (1930, 1942-1951). Such is the impact of the orchestral pieces, and their conciseness and internal logic, that it seems surprising that they have not held their place in the concert-hall. Pastorale d'été is a gentle delight, as if trying to move away from Impressionism and still having it caught by the coat-tails. Pacific 231 (1923) was once a cause célébre, and is still a stunning tour-de-force of motoric depiction, inspired by a type of express steam railway locomotive (231 stands for the wheel configuration, classed by the British as Pacific). Its unabashed futurism, far removed from Parisian models, was closer to the Russian aesthetic of Stravinsky or Prokofiev, and the work was of enormous influence, from the Russian Mosolov to the American Ant heil. It still stands as a touchstone to the understanding of art in the 20th century. Rugby (premiered in the interval of the England vs. France international rugby game of 1928) takes the genre yet further, but musically the most impressive of these shorter pieces is Prélude pour `La Tempête', with its wild, powerful and violent orchestration and harmonic clashes.

In addition to operas and ballets, Honegger's dramatic works included dramatic cantatas (large-scale `frescos') that created his reputation (with Pacific 231), and it is partly the popular decline of the genre that has been responsible for the decline in Honegger's popularity. The dramatic psalm Le Roi David (King David, 1921, reorchestrated for concert platform 1923), in 27 short sections in three parts linked like other Honegger works by a narrator, succeeds by its underlying simplicity (choruses often in only two parts, a sense of the antique), by its mixture of styles (from quasi-Handel to Primitivism via Impressionism, mixed with the aggression of some of the polytonal choruses), and by the sincerity that shines through and successfully binds them together. The dramatic oratorio/opera Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher (Joan of Arc at the Stake, 1935, prelude added 1944), is equally consistent, more demanding, and more powerful, offering a major opportunity for an actress rather than a singer in the title role. The last of this type of vocal work is an unusual Christmas cantata, Une cantata de Noël (1953), which is of considerably more depth than most works of this type. While using carols woven into the general texture, its moves from a sense of despair (with an unusual division between a wordless, chordal chorus, and busier sections of the orchestra) to a general sense of joy. For those looking for Christmas music, this would make a welcome alternative to the usual offerings. Honegger's operatic masterpiece is the 45-minute Antigone (1927), a collaboration with Cocteau (after Sophocles). Honegger plays close attention to the text, setting it syllabically (a single note being assigned to each syllable), often with unexpected stresses. The result is a white-hot work of relentless tension in both vocal and orchestral writing, with scarcely a moment of repose. There are virtually no lyrical aspirations at all, but as music drama it is concise and powerful. Single orchestral colours often emerging for the unsettled orchestra to point up the emotional tensions, and the chorus provides passages of climax that serve to provide a breathing space from the flow of solo lines, if not from the psychological anguish.

Of the five numbered symphonies, the under-rated Sym phony No.1 (1929-1930) is a good introduction to Honegger's styles and concerns. The bleak Symphony No.2 (1942) for strings with a trumpet chorale at the end (silent in the first performance in occupied Paris) is not easily forgotten, its stark neo-classicism unmistakable in intent, its closing chorale tremulously hopeful.Symphony No.3 (1945-1946) is subtitled Liturgique, referring to the mood and the movement titles rather than any musical quotation. It is a protest at the barbarism of the times, with a return to aggressive motoric rhythms and violence, an anguished but moving slow movement, and an extraordinary epilogue of hope. The Symphony No.4 `Deliciae basilienses' (Delights of Basle, 1946) is a more relaxed work incorporating Swiss tunes, rhythmic but pastoral, and not without its darker hues. The Symp hony No.5 (1951), subtitled Di tre re as each movement ends on a D, is enigmatic, tragic and noble. The best of these symphonies (Nos. 2, 3 & 5) are not especially easy to grasp, in spite of their surface accessibility. Their scale seems more intimate that is customary for the form and their idiom requires close concentration. But, with their attendant extra-musical themes, they are powerful and thoughtful works, worthy of a period that our art still prefers to forget.

Of his other works, the two Violin Sonatas (1916-1918, 1919), the sombre Cello Sonata (1920) and the String Quartet No.1 (1916-1917) are the most interesting of the chamber music, while his numerous film scores include May erling (1935) and Pygmalion (1938). His strong streak of pessimism is evident in the macabre subjects of some of the ballets and works with voice.

Honegger was a noted music critic, and taught at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. If his music can be criticized for eclecticism of style and for over-meticulousness, there is no denying the sincerity of purpose or effectiveness of his best works.


works include:

- 5 numbered symphonies (No.3 Liturgique, No.4 Deliciaebasilienses, No.5 Di tre re); mime-symphony Horace victorieux

- cello concerto; Concerto da Camera for flute, English horn and strings; piano concertino

- Chant de joie, 3 Mouvements symphoniques (No.1Pacific 231, No.2 Rugby), Pastorale d'été, Prélude pour `La Tempête' and others works for orch.

- cello sonata; clarinet sonatina; viola sonata; 2 violin sonatas; violin sonatina; sonatina for two violins; 3 string quartets; Prélude et blues for harp quartet; 3 Petit suite for various forces and other chamber music

- piano music

- many songs and song cycles

- stage oratorios Cris du monde and Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher; dramatic legend Nicolas de Flue; dramatic psalm Le roi David; spectacle Les mille et une nuits (A Thousand and One Nights)

- 1 ballet-melodrama and 14 ballets including Skating Rink and one collaboration with Tcherepnin

- operettas Les aventures du roi Pausole,Les petits cardinales; biblical opera Judith; operas Antigone and Charles le téméraire; opera in collaboration with Milhaud L'aiglon; vaudeville La belle de Moudon

- 26 scores of incidental music; music for 8 radio plays; 43 film scores, some in collaboration with Milhaud and other composers


recommended works:

opera Antigone (1927)

dramatic psalm Le roi David (1921)

Pacific 231 (1923) for orchestra

Pastorale d'été (1920) for orchestra

Prélude pour 'La Tempête' (1923) for orchestra

Rugby (1928) for orchestra

String Quartet No.1 (1916-1917)

Symphony No.2 (1942) for strings and trumpet

Symphony No.3 Liturgique (1946)

Symphony No.4 Deliciae Basiliensis (1946)

Symphony No.5 Di tre re (1951)



A. Honegger Incantation aux fossiles, 1948

Je suis compositeur , 1951 English trans. I am a Composer, 1966

A. Gauthier Arthur Honegger, 1957



born 15th September 1890 at Geneva

died 21st November 1974 at Naarden, Holland


The music of Frank Martin is slowly becoming recognised as a major musical achievement of the 20th century, an intensely individual and personal voice that is all the more extraordinary for its late development. Martin did not evolve his own style until the completion of the oratorio Le vin herbé (The Doctored Wine) in 1941, when he was 51. In marked contrast to his major Swiss contemporaries Bl och and Honegger (whose successes came early), all his most valuable works were written after this date, and the only 20th-century parallel is that of the Ja nácek. Like Janácek, Martin instigated no startling innovations, but used elements of contemporary ideas to forge an idiom that is so personal that he has had no imitators.

His works divide broadly into vocal works, mainly with orchestra and often on religious subjects, and orchestral music, mostly for smaller forces; there is very little piano music, and only a modest body of chamber music. His hallmark is a wonderful lucidity, a lightness of feel, a transparency of texture (often with very unusual instrumental combinations) that at its best feels almost transcendental. There is little that is overtly dramatic or exotic in colour - Martin's art is one of subtlety, which therefore grows in stature on repeated acquaintance.

His earliest works reflect the duality of his country, being influenced first by German Romanticism and Franck, and then after 1915 by the French Impressionists. His search for an idiom that would satisfy him led (1925-1932) to rhythmic exploration (oriental, Bulgarian and ancient music), exemplified in Rhythms for orchestra (1926), and to an interest in folk music. But at the end of this period he adopted the 12-tone principles of Schoenberg, notably in the String Trio (1936); he was one of the first composers outside Schoenberg's circle to do so. But the Pi ano Concerto No.1 (1933-1934, discussed below) showed how little Martin sympathized with Schoenberg's aesthetic, for it is a dramatic, quasi-Romantic work in which serialism is used only for the construction of some of the thematic ideas. As his subsequent music showed, Martin was not by temperament a serial or 12-tone composer.

Instead, he realised that the kind of harmonies and changing harmonic patterns that he was looking for (tonal pathways in an atonal landscape) could arise from the interaction of 12-tone principles and the traditional major/minor triads. Thus melodic lines, constructed on the 12-tone principle, could have the anchor of an usually static bass. Alternatively the row could be the bass-line beneath traditional harmony. This use of serial thematic material is the antithesis of Schoenberg's objectives, and ensured that Martin remained an essentially tonal composer, emphasizing harmonic concerns. The work with which he established this style was the secular dramatic oratorio Le vin herbé ( The Doctored Wine, 1938-1941) for twelve solo voices, seven strings and piano, and based on a modern novel treatment of the medieval Tristan legend. Various voices individually take 12-note themes, and the tonality, briefly established by the characteristic triads in the accompaniment or by the bass line, is constantly in motion. The story follows the legend closely, with its medieval twists and turns and symbolism, and is dramatic enough to make it virtually an opera without staging. Martin's beautiful score, sometimes restrained and formal (expressed in the often homophonic choral writing), sometimes broadening from this base into a more passionate expression of emotions, captures that sense of distancing inherent in such legends. In both literary style and musical treatment, it is an antidote to Wagner's more celebrated treatment of the same tale, and if on first acquaintance it seems restrained, the virtues of its subtle scoring and exact evocation of the spirit of the original soon weave their own spell.

Le vin herbé initiated a series of vocal works that developed its idiom. It was followed by the dark and hauntingly expressive Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke ( Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke, 1942-1943, also known as Cornet Rilke). The stream of the alto vocal line, with its feel of the inflections of emotional speech, is harmonically supported by a sparsely-used chamber orchestra that typically includes a piano. The eventual drama is all the more powerful for the restraint. Jedermann (Everyman, 1943 orchestrated 1949) for baritone and piano or orchestra continued the style, again with chromatically-shifting triads. The four parts of the short oratorio In Terra Pax (1944), for soloists, two choruses and orchestra, representing the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, express the despair of wartime, the joys of earthly peace, human reconciliation, and the joys of heavenly peace. The two choirs are often used antiphonally, the final `sanctus' is particularly beautiful, and there is a haunting moment when the tenor cries "Watchman, what of the night" over sustained high strings. Martin then turned to the concept of a Passion work. The lengthy oratorio Golgotha (1945-1948) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, is divided into seven `pictures' of the events of the Passion, divided by settings of the meditations of St.Augustine. It is rather a lean work, regularly allowing the intimate story-telling to be carried on the barest of melodic textures, with many moments of affecting beauty. It has the feel of something to be brought out for a special occasion, and those unfamiliar with Martin's idiom may prefer to turn to the earlier works or theRequiem first. The scenic oratorio Le mystère de la Nativité (1957-1959), based on part of a 15th-century mystery play, is of almost operatic dimensions, and was intended to have stage elements. Pilate (1964) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, is a cantata drawn from the same mystery play cycle. The sense of restraint, of the exploration of the detailed and subtle meaning of a text rather than its immediate outward effect culminated in the sombre but moving Requiem (1971-1972) for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra, whose lines swell from a grave contemplation into passionate expression or luminous soft held major chords, with gripping unearthly orchestral sonorities, and with snarling percussion and half-spoken vocal lines in opening of the `Dies Irae'.

Martin transferred the ideas initiated in Le vin herbé to the orchestra in his most popular work, the Petite symphonie concertante (1945). The instrumentation (harpsichord, harp, piano and two string orchestras) is unusual, as with many of Martin's later works, setting the kind of technical problem that inspired him, and gaining the clarity needed to express the harmonic feel and to create a matching transparency of timbre. In the same vein is the delightful and beautiful Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra (1952), whose rocking opening was inspired by the waves of the North Sea. In both these works the use of rows in the opening material, the harmonies (minor thirds predominant in the Harpsichord Concerto) and the cast of the melodic lines give a darker hue to tonal base. This contrasts with the other aspects of the style: the lucid orchestration, each instrument finely placed; the rhythmic verve founded on emphatic `walking' bass lines; and the often jaunty expression. The resulting impression is of a number of layers of emotions occurring simultaneously; but technically this duality of idiom is so perfectly integrated that those emotions appear as different faces of the same coin, and it is this holistic completeness that makes Martin's mature idiom so effective. The Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion and String Orchestra (1949) is more rumbustious, allocating different ideas to each instrument in dialogue in the lively first movement, and making full use of the contrasting timbres and sonorities of the solo instruments. The middle movement takes on the mantle of a passionate slow march, with eerie colour combinations in the orchestration, while the finale has a Parisian bounce and a lively series of highlights for each soloist, with a return of the march. The proportions of the whole work, which lasts about 18 minutes, seem perfectly suited both to its material and its orchestral composition, a modern equivalent to the delights of the 18th-century classical concerto. A similar clarity pervades the Violin Concerto (1950-1951). The Études (1956) for string orchestra maintain the general idiom, while concentrating on various techniques that justify the title. A prelude for the whole string orchestra opens the work. The first study passes chromatic lines between string voices, in the second bows are discarded entirely, the third, for violas and cellos, is slow and expressive, and the last opens with a double fugue with accompaniment, turns to a chorale, and reverts to the fugue. Such is the skill of the writing, there is not a hint of academicism throughout the work, and the technical tricks serve the expressive content. Martin's religious awareness and the refinement of instrumental texture combine in the suite Polyptyque (1972-1973) for violin and two string orchestras, being a series of musical images reflecting the Passion of Christ. The writing is more consciously lyrical than in the works of the 1940s, with soaring lines for the soloist, and paradoxically it sounds more old-fashioned and less finely shaped than those earlier works. The operas Der Sturm (The Tempest, 1952-1955, based on Shakespeare's play) and Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1961-1962, based on Molière) failed to establish a place in the repertoire, although the orchestral overture to Der Sturm is sometimes heard on its own. Well worth hearing it is, too, tone-painting a rocking sea-scape with delicate orchestration and lyrical moments and rhythmic effects strongly reminiscent of Britten.

In addition to these orchestral works, there are a series of rhapsodic Ballads for solo instrument and orchestra, cast in one-movement forms divided into sections. Brilliant effects characterize the Ballade for Flute, String Orchestra and Piano (1939, orchestrated 1941), which was originally written as a competition set work. The Ballade for Piano and Orchestra (1939) is in the nature of a discursive conversation piece, the soloist sometimes providing arpeggio commentary, at other times taking the lead. The Ballade for Trombone and Orchestra (1940) provides a rare concertante opportunity for the trombone, while the much later Ballade for Viola, Wind Instruments and Percussion (1972) uses the harp and the harpsichord percussively, and is a more delicate and ethereal work, with lyrical writing for the solo instrument. The two piano concertos span a major part of Martin's compositional career. The P iano Concerto No.1 (1933-1934) disappeared from the repertoire after its initial success, but it deserves better. The intimate feel of the later concertos is evident, but the fusion of 12-tone elements and a tonal base is less complete and less satisfactory. Rhythmically alive, it has a long slow orchestral introduction that foreshadows later works, and includes a 12-tone row taken up by the piano on its entry. The piano writing is often florid, a remnant from more Romantic idioms, except when the influence of 12-tone technique twists the melodic lines into angular shapes. The finale combines the infectiously boisterous with a still, calm lyricism. At the end of his career, Martin produced a work to match the interest and delicacy of the earlier concertos. The Pi ano Concerto No.2 (1968-1969) is not so obviously immediate as those earlier works, but at the same time seems to reforge many of his earlier concerns: a bouncy jauntiness, moments of discursive writing for the soloist, an infectious sense of the delight in instrumentation, a jazzy moment for saxophone. The restrained beauty of the second movement is built in the form of a passacaglia on a 12-note row, but again the use of 12-tone elements and the technical facility is totally integrated into the expressive content, which has the assured luminosity of old age.

Martin's achievement was to fuse many of the sound-patterns that had been realised through 12-tone techniques with a predominantly tonal idiom. In this fusion of a new aural experience and an older tradition he was perhaps ahead of his time, without gaining the kind of attention that a pure experimenter would command. But few have married the two so successfully and naturally, or forged such a personal, if often self-effacing idiom. He is primarily a composer of intimate reflection rather than display or power, even at more emphatic moments giving a rather demure sheen to his expression. As such, he is not a composer to grab the listener by the scruff of the neck; rather his best works demand contemplation, a willingness to savour, and the desire to enter a very personal musical world.

Martin moved from Switzerland to the Netherlands in 1946, and taught at the Cologne Hochschule für Musik (1950-1957), where Sto ckhausen was among his pupils.


works include:

- symphony; Symphonie burlesque sur des thêmes savoyards; Petit symphonie concertante for harpsichord, harp, piano and two string orchestras

- cello concerto; harpsichord concerto; 2 piano concertos; violin concerto; concerto for 7 wind instruments, wind quintet, trumpet, trombone, percussion and strings; 6 Ballades for various soloists and orch.; Trois danses for oboe, harp and strings; Sonata de Chiesa for viola d'amore and string orch.; Polyptyque: six images de la Passion du Christ for violin and 2 string orch.

- Études for string orch. and other orch. works

- 2 violin sonatas; string trio; string quartet; piano quintet; Rhapsody for 2 violins, 2 violas, and double-bass

- Fantaisie sur des rhythmes flamenco and 8 Preludes for piano; works for two pianos

- Guitare for guitar (also versions for piano, and for orch.)

- Jedermann, Maria-Triptychon,Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke, Five Songs of Ariel and other song-cycles and songs, mostly with orch.

- cantata Pilate; Mass for double chorus; oratoriosGolgotha, La mystère de la nativité, In terra pax and Le vin herbé; Requiem

- ballets Die blaue Blume and Das Märchen vom Aschenbrödel

- operas Monsieur de Pourceaugnac and Der Sturm


recommended works:

Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra (1951-1952)

Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion and String Orchestra (1949)

Études (1955-1956) for string orchestra

oratorio Golgotha (1945-1948)

oratorio In terra pax (1944)

song cycle Lay of Love and Death of Cornet Rilke (1942-1943)

Maria Triptychon (1967-1968) for soprano, violin and orchestra

Petit Symphonie Concertante (1945)

Piano Concerto No.2 (1968-1969)

Requiem (1971-1972)

Violin Concerto (1950-1951)



B. Martin Frank Martin ou la réalité du rêve, 1973 (in French)



born 1st September 1886 at Brunnen

died 8th March 1957 at Zurich


Very gradually the outstanding works of a neglected minor master of the 20th century, Othmar Schoeck, are being appreciated outside Germany (he was German-speaking) and his native Switzerland. There would seem to be three reasons for this neglect. First, his antecedents are in the final flush of Romanticism, that expressive introversion brought to fruition byMahler, the earlier works ofSchoenberg, and such composers as Zemlinsky, at a time when musical attention was directed to reactions against Romanticism. Second, his art (unlike that of the composers just mentioned) has its foundations in that of the miniaturist, never a popular area. Lastly, his melodic invention, while perfectly suited to his idiom, is not of the type that is instantly memorable. Broadly, his music divides into two periods, that before the First World War, when his idiom was lyrically Romantic, its emotions essentially sunny though tinged with a bitter-sweet melancholy, and that after, when the harmonic idiom became increasingly chromatic and occasionally almost Expressionist, the central emotional concerns the insubstantiality of life combined with a wonder at the natural world.

Although he composed a number of non-vocal works his primary achievement is in music for the voice, expressed in over 400 songs. His fusion of music and the underlying sense of words is uncommonly close, a last flowering of the German Romantic tradition of Lied (hence the lack of necessity for memorable melodies: the music rarely relies merely on surface colour). The art of Lieder writing requires the skills of the miniaturist - the completeness of form within a short time-frame, and the necessity of accuracy of detail - and in this Schoeck excels. But he also wished to express human concerns on a grander scale, and larger emotions than could be contained in individual songs or a small collection. He therefore evolved lengthy song-cycles, expanding the accompaniment to include a string quartet, chamber orchestra, and full orchestra. Vocal lines do not have obvious melodic beauty, but rather follow the inflections and rhythms of the text, lengthened at heightened moments. Underneath this, accompaniments regularly have a distinct independence, the support to the meaning of the text usually achieved through harmonic interchange. Time and time again in his songs a slight harmonic change subtly points up the text or shifts the tone. The chromaticism is usually expressed through the melodic lines rather than in dissonant clashes, and is inherent to Schoeck's idiom, rather than being used for colour effects. The combination of all these elements creates a distinctive lyrical beauty.

The most inspired of these song-cycles set the Swiss poet Gottfried Keller (1819-1890), whose work remained an abiding influence on the composer while inspiring Schoeck's contemporaries Delius (A Village Romeo and Juliet) and Zemlinsky ( Kleider machen Leute). In doing so, Schoeck developed the one aspect of late-Romanticism that has continued to fascinate the 20th century, the relationship between the individual psychology and the transcendental, and its concomitant, the fear of death. The first Keller cycle, Gaselen (Ghazels - love poems, 1923) is coloured by the accompaniment (flute, bass clarinet, trumpet, percussion and piano) in a combination of satire and the ecstasy of love. His masterpiece is Lebendig Begraben (Buried Alive, 1926) for baritone and orchestra, an extensive cycle of the poetry of despair, of being buried alive, of winter, and of the extended metaphor of the trapped mind. Setting fourteen of Keller's poems, the cycle describes the imaginings and the memories of the buried man, who hears the clock strike and the sexton arguing. After the explosive opening, with an emotional power to match that of Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony, the tone is of gradual acceptance. The orchestral writing (which includes organ and piano) is constantly shifting its colours and forces, often in chamber-sized combinations. The poetry itself is unusual and memorable; with Schoeck's passionate and sensitive setting it is unforgettable. Unter Sternen (Under Stars, 1941-1949) for lower voice and piano sets twenty-five Keller songs divided into two parts, the first describing the experience of the night, the second contemplating ideas of death, into which the metaphor of light and dark is interwoven. The nineteenth song, In der Trauer, has a Schubertian delicacy and simplicity. In Das Stille Leuchten op.60 (1946) for lower voice and piano Schoeck turned to the poetry of another Swiss poet of solitude, Ferdinand Meyer. The twenty-eight songs are divided into two groups, the first titled `Mystery and Parable', the second `Mountain and Sea', thus moving from abstract to concrete images, a movement that clearly attracted Schoeck in his choice of poetry. Much of the cycle is soft and delicate, with simple accompaniments to the very fluid and solo writing, occasionally swelling up to moments of passion. Of his other cycles, the marvellous Notturno op.47 (1931-1934) for baritone and string quartet is divided into five movements on a symphonic scale. All the poems are by Lenau, except the last, by Keller. The first part sets four Lenau songs pivoting between yearning and thwarted desire in nature and in human life, the pivot being a long interlude for the string quartet, ended by a magical entry of the voice with the words "The dark clouds hang down." The second part is a nightmare, the string quartet brilliantly describing the restlessness of the dreamer before he awakes and retells the dream, with Expressionist extremes of vocal writing. Life as illusion forms the theme of the third part, expressed through nature and through fears; the fourth is dank and slow, contemplating faded love and death, with a haunting Mahlerian change of harmony on the last word. The final part considers solitude, with bitter-sweet textures from the string quartet introducing an epilogue of a Keller poem contemplating the Big Dipper in the night sky. The structure of this song-cycle is masterful, both in the overall layout and in the complex internal connections of the poetry chosen. The string quartet writing is rich and plastic, clearly drawn from the sounds of the stream that forms an important image in Part I; the vocal writing encompasses the whole range of Schoeck's expressive idiom.

Schoeck was also an important composer of stage works, whose achievement in this field is starting to receive a wider appreciation. The central theme in his operas and stage works (three operas, a singspiel, a pantomime scene, a stage cantata, and a dramatic ballad) is that of an exploration of the feminine aspect of humanity, both in the relationship between the sexes, but also of the feminine within the masculine (what Jungians would term the `anima'), and his various stage works explore different aspects of this theme. His operatic masterpiece is the `music drama' Penthesilea (1924-1925), to a libretto by the composer after Kleist, a tight psychological drama where the masculine and feminine principles are combined with the motivations of love and hate when the Amazon warrior queen Penthesilea meets Achilles. The setting is through-composed to create a music drama; the music mines the psychological layers in rich orchestral textures, sometimes Impressionistic, almost always sensuousness, with dramatic outbursts and very free flowing vocal lines. Massimilla Doni (1935), based on a Balzac story set in Venice in the 1830s, is marred by its libretto by Armin Rüeger; Venus (1920), based on Mérimée, is reportedly more effective.

Of his orchestral works, the lovely, rich Concerto quasi una fantasia op.21 (1911-1912, usually referred to as the Violin Concerto) for violin and orchestra represents Schoeck's pre-First World War Romanticism, with a beguiling violin idea in the passionate first movement, yearning tumult with a touch of the funereal in the central movement, and a weighty finale that turns into a lively headlong tumble with a ruminative interlude. This is such an attractive and energetic concerto, with considerable opportunities for the soloist, that it should be removed from obscurity. He did not turn again to the concerto form until 35 years later. The Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra op.61 (1947) is too long and varied in quality, but has some beautiful moments reminiscent of the late works of Strauss. More effective is the autumnal Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra op.65 (1951), the flowing horn lines like a lieder voice, Falstaffian at times. The beautiful and equally mellow `pastoral intermezzo' So mmernacht op.58 (1945) for string orchestra is in again in a late-Romantic idiom, its programmatic description of harvesting at night inspired by a Keller poem; this would make an interesting companion piece to Strauss's Metamorphosen. The three of the four movements of the Cello Sonata (1957) that were left complete on Schoeck's death are not of the same quality.

Schoeck's achievements will never garner a wide public. But for those who enjoy the combination of poetry of high quality and the added depth of musical setting of great power and understanding, it may well come as a revelation. His general late-Romantic idiom, like that of Bax, is one that is now being appreciated once again, and it is time that Schoeck took his place as one of the specialized masters of the 20th century.


works include:

- concerto for cello and string orch.; concerto for horn and string orch.; violin concerto (quasi una fantasia)

- Praeludium for orch.; Sommernacht and Suite in A major for string orch.

- bass clarinet sonata; 2 violin sonatas; 2 string quartets; piano music

- nearly 400 songs including song cycles Der Postillon (with chorus and orch.), Eichendorff-Lieder, Elegie (with chamber orch.), Gaselen (with 6 instruments), Hafis-Lieder,Das holde Bescheiden, Lebendig Begraben, Liederzyklus,Notturno (with string quartet), Der Sänger,Spielmannsweisen, Das stille Leuchten, Unter Sternen and Das Wandsbecker Liederbuch

- dramatic cantata Vom Fischer und syner Fru ( Of the Fisherman and his Wife); Dithyrambe for double chorus and orch.; Für ein Gesangfest for male voices and orch.; Trommelschage (Drum Taps) for chorus and orch.

- operetta Erwin und Elmire; operasDon Ranudo de Colibrados, Das Schloss Dürande, Massimilla Doni, Penthesilea, and Venus


recommended works:

song cycle Lebendig Begraben op.40 (1926) for baritone and orchestra

opera Penthesilea op.39 (1924-1925)

song cycle Notturno op.47 (1933)

Sommernacht op.58 (1945) for string orchestra

song cycle Unter Sternen op.55 (1941-1943)


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