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  • Hermann Hesse und Othmar Schoeck: Der Briefwechsel ed. by Chris Walton and Martin Germann
  • Woodrow Steinken
Hermann Hesse und Othmar Schoeck: Der Briefwechsel. Edited by Chris Walton and Martin Germann. (Schwyzer Hefte, Band 105.) Schwyz, Switzerland: Kulturkommission Kanton Schwyz, 2016. [135 p. ISBN 978-3-909102-67-9. CHF 25]

Hermann Hesse und Othmar Schoeck: Der Briefwechsel collects, for the first time ever, the correspondence between German-born writer Hermann Hesse and Swiss composer–conductor Othmar Schoeck. Schoeck was an artist who valued personal interaction over letter writing and in many cases did not keep the letters written to him from other contemporary artists (Hesse in fact laments Schoeck's "letter-writing-laziness" quite often in his letters). That such a collection of letters exists between him and Hesse is truly a special resource for interested scholars. Schoeck, despite recently receiving more attention in concert halls in North America and [End Page 343] Europe, is still a minor composer in the canon. This book belongs to the Schwyzer Hefte series, which focuses on the Swiss canton of Schwyz and stems from a national desire to shine light on Swiss cultural contributions: this volume is a product of this imperative and specifically highlights contributions in music, art, poetry, and literature in the early-twentieth century. In the book's preface, Swiss politician Michael Stähli provides a short biography of Schoeck, describing his birth and childhood in Brunnen, his musical career in Zürich, and his relationship with Hesse. In the Introduction, the editors Chris Walton and Martin Germann explain Schoeck's importance to the music world, specifically his impact on contemporary artists such as Alban Berg, Richard Strauss, James Joyce, and Thomas Mann. Schoeck and Hesse had a particularly close relationship, though, where both artists admired the other's work and inspired each other's tastes.

The letters between the two are arranged chronologically (as closely as the editors could determine for undated letters), so readers can witness the development of their relationship. One of the book's more remarkable features is the inclusion of over thirty reproduced photographs, pictures, illustrations, and the like—making this accessible to a wider, non-music specialist readership. The book's Introduction is followed by a collection of over one hundred letters between the two artists. These are divided into three chapters based on the time periods of 1911–1917, 1919–1944, and 1946–1957.

Schoeck and Hesse likely met in 1911, when Hesse wanted to write an opera libretto for the composer. Although this dramatic work never came to be, Schoeck set numerous texts by Hesse to music. Hesse was the only poet whose work Schoeck set regularly, and the poet felt his verses were set best by the Swiss composer; this is especially made apparent in an article on Schoeck that Hesse wrote in 1931, which is reprinted in the book's appendix. The early part of their correspondence (1911–1917) is presented as one-sided in the book: all twenty-nine available letters from this period were written from Schoeck to Hesse. Although we lack the other half of this exchange, we still get the sense that their friendship grew quickly over these early years. Schoeck is always in a pleasant mood in his letters to Hesse, even when World War I is on the horizon and the composer recognises the dark times ahead of them. Based on Schoeck's letters, we can also infer that the two artists shared work with each other during this time. For example, it is common for Schoeck to mention the state of his compositions or thank Hesse for sending him poems, which in turn inspired his musical compositions. Included with these letters is an advertisement for a night of Schoeck lieder (which included some Hesse poem settings) in Bern, which Hesse attended in March of 1915. These lieder were sung by the alto Ilona Durigo and the composer accompanied her on piano.

Beginning with the year 1919, Hesse's letters also become available to the reader. The period from 1919 to 1944, "the active years", includes more than thirty letters from Schoeck and twenty from Hesse. This period also contains the bulk...


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pp. 343-345
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