One realizes that there should really be more instruments. I don't mean with the categories we have , but new ones. I often hear sounds that can scarcely be realized with existing means.
-Franz Schreker (letter to Paul Bekker, 8/22/1918).
People not acquainted with this composer (I became a convert after looking through Alban Berg's hilariously complicated vocal score for Die Ferne Klang
; the skeptical should see Alex Ross's important piece on the composer here
.) are sorely missing out some of the most hyper-chimerical*tm, complex and rich music written in the 20th century. His operas, ballets and Chamber Symphony, with their miraculously orchestrated scores should not be studied or enjoyed while operating heavy machinery.
Schreker's art is surprisingly hard to analyze. The operas, in all of their druggy, tinsel-strewn fairyland meshwork of sound, combine with a talent for absolutely batshit insane librettos of Freudian degradation and absurdity, almost always work to create a disturbing asymmetry that probably have made many wonder if there has been some horrible opera company mix-up with librettos and the wrong words have been set to the wrong music. Ross points this dialectic out in his article.
The humble moron you read presently maintains the view however that the evolving masses of often euphoric and exotically gorgeous sound and unrelenting (and breathtaking) musical virtuosity of Schreker's technique is used not to soften the blow of his immoral hunchback underground cave orgies, impenetrable late-Romantic symbolism and psycho-analytical caricatures,
or celebrate them in any way.
Schreker's stable personality and high intelligence supports the view that his "unimaginable" and wonderful sounds often serve to subvert, criticize and annihilate them. Perhaps this is overrating Schreker's talent or misreading him as some sort of political and moralistic ironist, but I don't care and feel like going with it.
Schreker himself was no decadent misanthrope, and in pictures and letters is a highly rational, business-like, figure. Of course the Nazis banned his works not only because of his Jewishness, but his love of setting any "sexual aberration to music" (as a propaganda poster denouncing Schreker claimed). Those delightful Nazis were of course never ones for subtlety, and even the many intelligent critics from Schreker's day (including the always delightful Theodor Adorno) till our own seem not to grasp the great depth and ambiguity of his work.
Schreker may not be one of the greatest composers of the century, but he is still a highly original and brilliant one. His renewed popularity in recent years should not be due to his novelty, nor for some ironic love of perpetually fin de sicle
kitsch, but for his genius for sound and in some ways frightfully contemporary criticism of a culture and post-modern intellectual climate that has, like Schreker's characters, embraced selfishness, immediate gratification along with a cynical and playful nilhilism.
The real tragedy of the story besides Schreker's death as so abominably neglected and marginalized an artist, is that our intellectual deaths at the hands of the cultural relavatists and post-deconstructionists have had none of Schreker's beautiful and humane music to accompany them.
*I have trademarked this brilliant compounded adjective and will
sue anyone who uses it from here on.