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Twentieth Century Swiss String Quartets
Hans SCHAEUBLE (1906–1988)

Music for String Quartet Op.19 (1936) [20:10]
Meinrad SCHÜTTER (1910–2006)

String Quartet (1990, rev. 1996) [15:25]
Erich SCHMID (1907–2000)

String Quartet Op.4 (1930/1) [20:31]
CasalQuartett Zurich
rec. Reformierte Kirche Bachs, Switzerland, 2004 and 2005
GUILD GMCD 7303 [56:38]

 

These Swiss composers were near-contemporaries, all born between 1906 and 1910; but their musical outlook is quite varied.

Hans Schaeuble, probably the only name that may be familiar, wrote in an accessible, if at times stringent Neo-classical idiom clearly to be heard in his Flute Concertino Op.47 - on Guild GMCD 7250 - and in his Musik für Streichquartett Op.19. This piece is more a suite in five movements than a closely argued string quartet. The opening movement actually functions as a short prelude. The second movement in moderate tempo, mostly gently flowing, is followed by a brisk Scherzo abruptly cut short. The fourth movement is the emotional core and a beautiful song without words. The final movement is an extended rondo with a slower central section, a reprise and is capped by a varied restatement of the prelude, ending on a quiet note.

Meinrad Schütter is a name new to me. He studied in Zurich and later spent a year in Rome where he got in touch with Dallapiccola and twelve-tone music. Later still and back in Switzerland, he studied with Hindemith. Although he was active as ballet répétiteur at the Zurich Opera, he managed to compose an extensive output in almost every genre most of which is little known. The String Quartet, completed in 1990 and revised in 1996, is his second and final work for the medium. The piece is in four movements: a strongly contrapuntal Andante made of short contrasting fragments set out in a kaleidoscopic manner. The ensuing Allegretto inhabits a tenser harmonic world, again full of abrupt contrasts. The short Mässig bewegt that follows, functions as a short, half-lit Scherzo, whereas the final movement is similar in design to the first movement. Actually, the main impression derived from listening to Schütter’s second string quartet is that the music never seems sure as to the direction it should take, and often confronts disparate elements without ever trying to reconcile them. Therefore, it is not always easy to make out its progress. For all its merits the music fails to satisfy; but I would like to hear more of it, were it only to confirm – or not – my first impressions.

In about 1925, Erich Schmid heard Hermann Suter conduct Schönberg’s choral work Friede auf Erden which made a strong impression on the young man and which eventually led him to study with Schönberg in Berlin. Schmid was later much active as a conductor. He left a limited output of some sixteen works. His String Quartet "in modo classico" Op.4 was composed during his studies with Schönberg. However, the subtitle is misleading, for the music is mostly chromatic, atonal in a way reminiscent of Schönberg and Berg. The central movement, a distorted Waltz, brings Berg’s Lyric Suite to mind. The music is clearly influenced by Schönberg and the so-called Second Viennese School, although obviously not by Webern’s brevity and austerity. I find it an impressive achievement and a piece of considerable substance; undoubtedly a much finer work than the Schütter quartet. I do not know any of Schmid’s other works; but I would certainly like to, if any is as fine as this string quartet.

Guild Music have already devoted several releases to 20th century Swiss music. These have shed light on some little-known byways of Swiss music. I sincerely hope that they will continue exploring the works of Swiss composers, who are still too little-known outside their native country. Conrad Beck, for example, badly deserves some recognition. This release is well worth exploring for the quality of the music and for excellent readings by players, who are new to me but who clearly believe in the music.

Hubert Culot
And a further perspective from Rob Barnett ….

Schaeuble is on this evidence a neo-classical lyricist; definitely a 'wet'. He was born in Arosa and grew up under the 'tuition' of the Ansermet-OSR concert series. Formal musical education came in Leipzig alongside fellow students Fortner and Distler. He spent many years in Berlin and they coincided with the rise of National Socialism. Even though he departed Berlin in 1942 and returned to Switzerland he remained an easy mark for criticism on the grounds of Nazi sympathies. His five movement quartet is properly titled Music for String Quartet Op. 19. While his later works, including the 1949 Piano Concerto, show the imprint of the 12-tone series this work has more in common with neo-classical Stravinsky and Hindemith. Apposite balance of instrumental parts, great clarity and a predilection for brief lyrical asides are mixed with superbly original eerie writing in the Schnell and baroque filigree in the final two movements. The olden times are dispelled in the last few minutes of the finale and we return to the earnest and almost regretful mood of the Breit first movement.

Meinrad Schütter was born in Chur. He studied at various times with Dallapiccola, Burkhard and Hindmith. The quartet is surprisingly recent. His music-making is dense and dissonant favouring juxtaposition of fragments and proceeding through contrast and intriguing timbre and tonality. It is quite a short work and if overall it is not ingratiating the final Andante allegretto shows, if fleetingly, a redemptive lyrical tendency.

Erich Schmid was perhaps better known as a conductor. His compositions extend to only sixteen pieces mostly written in the 1930s. He was very much a Schoenberg pupil having studied with the Master in Berlin in 1930 and 1931. He returned to Switzerland in front of the malign bow-wave of the Nazi ascent. He succeeded Volkmar Andreae at the Tonhalle in 1949. He was chief conductor at Beromunster (1957-1962) and his radio broadcast of the Frankel violin concerto with Max Rostal was issued on Rococo. He was active with the BBC house orchestras. I have a tape of him conducting the BBC Northern in Chausson's Poème de l’amour at de la Mer with Norma Burrows. Clearly he had an accommodatingly catholic range as I also have a tape of his conducting the Atterburg Violin Concerto. Nevertheless Katharina Bruns in her extensive notes points to his avant-garde advocacy in the radio studio and concert hall. His compositions are serial and extremely polished. His string quartet is polished but leaves little impression on the emotions.

Three quartets fascinating in their variety though the Schmid and Schutter are clearly the work of adherents of the true Schoenbergian temple. Schaeuble is the romantic in this company.

 

Rob Barnett

 



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