Music critic Jens F. Laurson plays and discusses the music of Othmar Schoeck

Othmar Schoeck was an important Swiss composer during the first half of the twentieth century. In contrast to the more dissonant style pursued by contemporaries, Schoeck is known for his essentially tonal music and his attention to melodic values, rather than dissonant effects. As to his many works, Schoeck made major contributions to lieder with his numerous settings of song texts. 

Schoeck studied formally at the Zurich Conservatory and during the period 1907-08 worked privately with Max Reger in Leipzig. When he returned to Zurich in 1908, he established a career that involved composition and conducting. Among his earliest works is a Serenade for Orchestra (1908) which was part of a composition festival in Baden. He quickly became recognized as a composer for orchestra and song; he held various teaching positions and performed on piano to accompany his wife, and several other singers. Schoeck remained in Switzerland throughout his career, where he was regarded as the country’s foremost musician. In addition to lieder and orchestral works, Schoeck composed several operas, the most important of which is Penthesilea (1927), an impressive setting of Kleist’s drama. Of his other works, it is notable that he composed various settings for male chorus, a medium associated with song of the choral societies of the nineteenth century. 

Stylistically Schoeck’s clearly tonal works involve some careful and effective use of dissonance. His music is reminiscent of Hindemith from the 1930s and 1940s. As with Hindemith, Schoeck’s strong anchoring in traditional harmony and conventional forms made his music more accessible to the general public. (From

Jens F. Laurson

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