Personalities | Franz Schreker | Modern Era | Opera

1878–1934, German

Schreker’s work was once placed alongside that of Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg, as all three were considered to be important avant-garde figures in the early years of the twentieth century. Influenced by the French musical style as characterized by Debussy, Schreker’s music is notable for its harmony and sensual quality.

Schreker, who lived most of his life in Vienna, enjoyed his first real success with the ballet Geburtstag der Infantin (‘The Birthday of the Infanta’, 1908). Thereafter, Schreker became a leading proponent of the new music scene, conducting and introducing the works of his contemporaries. But although Der ferne Klang (‘The Distant Sound’, 1910) was a resounding success, pointing the way to Berg’s masterwork, Lulu, it nevertheless amounted to Romanticism couched in modernism.

Immediately following the First World War, two of Schreker’s most popular operas were Die Gezeichneten (‘The Stigmatized’, 1918) and Der Schatzgräber (‘The Treasure-Seeker’, 1920). However, his themes of isolation, ugliness, despair and sexual desire would soon become an easy target for the Nazis, who denounced the composer not only for his music, but also for the fact that he was Jewish. The 1931 premiere of his opera Christophorus had to be cancelled, while Der Schmied von Gent (‘The Blacksmith of Ghent’, 1932) was heckled by anti-Semites. Schreker died of heart failure two days before his 56th birthday.

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