Schwanensang - Franz Schreker
the Bob Cole Conservatory Orchestra
West Coast Premiere
Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts
Saturday, May 7th, 2011 at 8pm
Johannes Müller-Stosch, Conductor
This performance of Schwanensang offers an insight into the genius of Austrian born composer Franz Schreker. Schreker was a dominant figure of early 20th century music as a conductor, teacher, administrator and composer. He lived much of his early life in Vienna and later attended the Vienna Conservatory where he studied violin and composition. Upon completion of his studies, Schreker began his professional career as a conductor and composer. During this early period, he wrote for a wide range of musical mediums from Lieder (of which 48 are preserved), and orchestral pieces to opera and choral works. Choral music played a particularly important role in Schreker’s career. As conductor and founder of the Vienna Philharmonic chorus, he gave many first performances of works by Gustav Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg. His love of choral music also played a significant role in his operas.
It was during this early period that Schreker began collaborating with friend and poet, Dora Pollack, also known as Dora Leen. Their collaboration would include four songs, Schreker’s first opera Flammen as well as today’s featured piece Schwanensang. This major orchestral and choral piece, first published in 1902, was given its premiere on April 7th, 1903 under Schreker’s direction. Schwanensang, along with other early choral works, was dedicated to exploring the world of sound, utilizing expressive harmonic inflection and the full spectrum of human emotion to illuminate text. Schwanensang is a synthesis of musical styles; Romantic expressionism, Impressionism as well as elements of atonality and polytonality.
The text Schwanensang depicts the transcendant beauty of the swan as it passes from life to death. This is a common theme in Leen’s poetry and foreshadows what was to become of both Schreker and Leen. With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Schreker was relieved of his position at the Berlin Hochschüle für Musik. He was denounced, his music was banned and he died in relative obscurity the following year. Dora Leen continued to live under Nazi rule. In 1942, She was among those transported to Auschwitz where she met her demise in the gas chambers.
We are pleased that 108 years after its first performance, Schwanensang received its west coast premiere as part of the Rediscovered Beauty Series!