Othmar Schoeck

Othmar Schoeck

Life and Works

Chris Walton


University of Rochester Press



Places the Swiss composer Schoeck, master of a late-Romantic style both sensuous and stringent, in context and gives insight into his increasingly popular musical works.
The work of the late-Romantic Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) has in recent years enjoyed a surge of interest. His 300 songs with piano accompaniment are now all on CD, as are his orchestral song cycles and five of his eight stage works. Yet despite an impressive discography featuring names such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Lucia Popp and Ian Bostridge, no biographical study of Schoeck has ever been available in English.
Chris Walton, author of Richard Wagner in Zurich: The Muse of Place, charts the turbulent course of Schoeck's life and career with care and candor, from a rampant youth to midlife monogamy and an old age ravaged by fears of neglect. He traces Schoeck's relationships to musicians such as Max Reger, Ferruccio Busoni, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Paul Hindemith, and Igor Stravinsky, and to writers Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, and James Joyce. New light is also shed on Schoeck's uneasy relationship with Nazi Germany and its culmination, for him, in public humiliation and private catastrophe.
As an accompanist, Schoeck was an arch-Romantic master of rubato; as a conductor, he was a fervent champion of the new; and in his compositions, he moved from late-Romanticism through a modernist vortex to emerge in full mastery of an individual musical language both sensuous and stringent.
In this thorough new biography, Walton places Schoeck the man and the artist squarely in the context of his time.

Chris Walton is Extraordinary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and Managing Director of the Orchestre Symphonique Bienne in Switzerland. He is the recipient of the 2010 Max Geilinger Prize honoring exemplary contributions to the literary and cultural relationship between Switzerland and the English-speaking world.


September 2009
19 black and white, 37 line illustrations
457 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580463003
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS006000, BIO004000, MUS020000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Schoeck and the Swiss
Childhood and Youth
Wolf amidst the Sheep
Leipzig, Munich, and an Awful Little Moustache
Back in the Fold
Hermann Hesse, via the Dentist
Look Back in Melancholy
Chamber Music
The Art of Counterpoint
The Picture on the Wall
Touch of Venus
Silent Bronze
Sucking Sweet Folly
Self Portrait, with Sandwich
Goodbye to Geneva
The Bee in the Rose
Raging Queen
Storms in the Pigeon Loft
Into the Vortex
Wrong-Note Rag
Variations and Fugue on an Age-Old Theme
Put to the Wheel
Lost in the Stars
Whores and Madonnas
". . . he can write music all right . . ."
Tea with (Ms.) Hitler
Aryanizing Music
Arms and the Man
Castles in the Air
Goering's Bullshit
The People at Home
The Reckoning
Transfigured Summer Nights
Silent Lights
Fair Measure
Rather Nice Horn
Sleepless in Wollishofen
Echoes and Elegies
Running on Empty
Othmar Schoeck: Concise Work Catalogue and Discography


Walton replaces (Schoeck's) bland self-portrait with a veritable fresco in bright, contrasting colors. The visual images he has chosen to reproduce are equally revelatory. DISSONANCE: SWISS MUSIC JOURNAL FOR RESEARCH AND CREATION (Georges Starobinski)

Chris Walton's . . . most readable monograph . . . combines profound scholarship with humour and entertainment, (and) succeeds brilliantly in bringing to life every area of its wide-ranging subject matter: the complex psychology of the composer, his fine musical oeuvre, the stimulating cultural context, the menace of Nazism during the 1930s and 40s, and above all the underrated country of Switzerland itself. MUSICAL TIMES (Andrew Thomson)

Schoeck achieved in his best works an astonishing synthesis of Romantic and modernist styles. . . . Walton narrates Schoeck's tale in highly readable, occasionally witty prose...(R)eads as easily as a novel. . . . He has incorporated materials only recently released from private archives and had exclusive access to family members' personal recollections. . . . An unvarnished portrait of the man, yet one that still champions Schoeck the artist. OPERA NEWS (Arlo McKinnon)

(An) unjustly neglected 20th-century master. Walton unearths vital links between Schoeck's wayward personal life and his creativity and -- best of all -- makes you want to hear the music. FINANCIAL TIMES

Chris Walton narrates the tale of this important Swiss composer with a light touch, yet also with ample authority, backed by complete command of all the documentary sources. The result is a major contribution to our understanding of the contexts and forces-including modernism and resistance to it, and the complex cultural politics of the Nazi era-that affected art music during the first half of the twentieth century. -- Arnold Whittall, author of Exploring Twentieth-Century Music: Tradition and Innovation and the Cambridge Introduction to Serialism

Walton writes superbly; his is a compelling narrative convincingly told. It will be of interest . . . to anyone engaged with the music and literature of the first half of the 20th century. . . . Highly recommended for any music collections serving the post-secondary level or above. The volume has been carefully edited, and the text is generously supplemented with copious illustrations and carefully chosen musical examples. FONTES ARTIS MUSICAE (John Schuster-Craig)

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