Schoecks gloriously obsessive old-fashioned love affair with the human
voice is becoming better known. There are eight stage works, a significant
handful of song cycles with orchestra and 11 (yes, ask the Swiss CD company
Jecklin-Disco; theyve recorded them all!) CDs worth of songs for voice
and piano. As for the instrumental works there is little doubt that they
are vocally inspired. Massimilla Doni is a German language opera in
six scenes allocated in four acts. It is based on a novel by Balzac to a
libretto by Schoecks literary collaborator, Armin Rueger. The plot
is quite involved and I am not going to try to summarise it here. The
sleeve-notes refer to the style of the opera as free-tonal. It
is Schoecks penultimate opera.
This set must be an early CD issue. In fact it dates from 1986, three years
after the launch of the CD. The project is one arrived at in co-operation
with Köln Radio. The sleeve writer is NOT Christopher Walton who is
now THE Schoeck scholar in much the same way that Lewis Foreman occupies
a similar place with the life and work of Arnold Bax, but Othmar Fries. His
useful notes are in German, English and French. Although there is a separate
libretto book it is only in German with no translation. There is however
an English language synopsis - a poor substitute.
Orchestral textures in the opera are often busy with detail - teeming with
interest and springing the singing. The voice is the senior partner and the
recording is balanced accordingly. This is not the slightly dreamy
melancholic-ecstatic Schoeck of Sommernacht. Here he is perhaps less
distinctive but still strongly engaging.
There is no overture as such. The only distinct orchestral 'bon-bon' is the
orchesterwischenspiel to scene 3. Scene 1 begins in calm and peace. There
is a jolly jogtrot to Caparaja's words Ihr fulte die liebe. A notable
highlight is Emilio's ringingly heroic aria Endlich - ihr Narren.
The act which is in a single scene plays out to Edith Mathis's Massimilla
Scene 2 begins with a deliciously curveting and playful flute and indeed
the flute is a leading player in the orchestral introductions to most of
the acts. The glumly intense singing of the male singers can make some of
this scene a bit of a trial.
Scene 3 offers a music box dance preceded by a grand romantic prelude in
the manner of Glazunov and no trace of fustiness. There is a brightness and
jollity here which I associate with Grainger. The string writing if very
bright and Britten-like. The solo piano dances and slides in a very
impressionistic episode sung over glorious Es lebe die tinti - which is
immediately followed by a repeat of the music box gavotte, There
is a charmingly Brahmsian duet between Tinti and the female chorus. Tinti
delivers a series of dramatic high notes in entrancing Queen of the Night
style. Schoeck can turn on the Grand Manner and towards the end of the scene
seems intent on recapturing Verdis Lament of the Jewish slaves from
Nabucco. The end of the scene is jolly. Highlights include the song Wie
widerwartig dies der Zufall fugt with sumptuous hyper-romantic hyper
singing both tender and powerful.
Baxian string textures underpin Es Gibt Ein Einmal. Would that young
tenors would attempt this wonderful music but too often they are locked in
Puccini and Verdi. A little variety when it is of this quality would not
The influence of Mahler and Wagner can be felt from time to time. The voices
receive excellent tactful orchestral support and only rarely does Schoeck
call for massive orchestral volume. Time and again I thought of Korngold
of Die tote Stadt and Violanta and of the Goldschmidt of
Beatrice Cenci and Die Gewaltige Hahnrei. I am sure that Schoeck
would have made another fine film music writer. The music often seems to
trace its lineage back to the romantic operas of Weber. That said he is more
progressive than in his musical Wolf-Ferrari.
The voices are not just beautiful voices. They are consistently engaging:
combining acting and singing.
Just listen to the glorious upsurging ending of scene 5 for an example of
the dynamic-heroic Schoeck. Scene 6 opens calmly. The aria Die Liebe Ist
Die Liebe is full of ecstatic wonder. The Delius of the concert song
Once I Passed through a Populous City came to mind. I wonder if Schoeck
and Delius knew each other? There are certainly parallels with the operatic
Delius. Massimilla ends as it began, sinking back into peace. The last two
acts are meltingly wonder-struck with creamy high-lying singing from Edith
Going by the German only libretto there are small cuts here and there e.g.
In Lass Mich in scene 4.
Although the sound quality is just fine or better this is an old set of CDs
dating from 1987. I had trouble playing each of the two discs on my 1990
Hitachi CD unit but they played without problems in my more recent Philips
player. It might be worth checking any set first although going by my experience
you are unlikely to have problems if your player is less than eight years
old. I mention this because I have very rarely had problems with playing
CDs. A failure on my old machine is very unusual.
It is interesting to note that the later operas have all been recorded and
should (sometimes with some effort) be accessible to all. The gorgeously
romantic Venus (1919-20) is on MGB, the charging and brassily metallic
Penthesilea (1924-5) is on Orfeo, the ballad-like Vom Fischer und
Syner Fru on Acanta, this Massimilla Doni (1934-5) and finally
the backward looking manic-Gothick Schloss Durande (1937-39) in
substantial historic excerpts on Jecklin.
The three early works await premiere recordings and (presumably) first
performances in modern times. They are Erwin and Elmire (1911-16),
Don Ranudo (1917-19) from which the Hispanic and castanet clicking
serenade on CPO was extracted and the so-called pantomimic scene
Anyone who has enjoyed the emerging operatic world of Korngold, Schreker,
Zemlinsky and Goldschmidt should explore - this golden opera.