The nature of the End

Christian Gerhaher about Othmar Schoeck's Notturno

by Christian Gerhaher
Photography by Robert Fischer

This work pushes up against the transience of the human condition. Between 1931 and 1933, Othmar Schoeck worked on the setting of eight poems by Nikolaus Lenau, unequally distributed over five movements, ending with a fragment by Gottfried Keller. Oscillating between song and chamber music - perhaps more accurately described as a string quartet with obbligato voice due to the bundling of poems into movements - the leading voice is contrapuntally integrated. It is not easy to learn as a result; while not atonal, it is by no means standard. Schoeck, who set Lenau to music as often as no other, condenses music and text into an almost obsessive despair of being. The nature of the End. The radical darkness in Lenau's lines is the determining factor - although resolved into a transfiguration by Keller's fragment at the end, this supposed turn of events also carries into mania - a highly nervous inability to come to terms with the fact that man is dying. The end of the first movement ("Die Seele sieht mit ihrem Leid sich selbst vorüberfließen") is musically as well as lyrically one of the music's most stunning moments, growing ever quieter and calmer, relaxing downward on a large g at the end of the phrase.


Othmar Schoeck
Notturno. Fünf Sätze für eine tiefe Stimme und Streichquartett op. 47

Arnold Schönberg
Verklärte Nacht. Streichsextett op. 4

Hector Berlioz
Les Nuits d'été op. 7
(Bearbeitung für Singstimme und Streichsextett von David Matthews)

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