On the threshold of the twentieth century, many artists were guided in their work by the desire – and the search – for a perfect world. It had to do with the spirit of the times, among other things, and it influenced many painters, writers, poets and composers in their work. But with no other artist it was as prominent as with Franz Schreker (1878-1934). The search for ‘the’ sound dominated his entire life, he was fascinated and obsessed with it. A sound that would die of its own accord, but not really, because it had to continue to be heard – if only in your thoughts. It had to be a pure sound, but one with orgasmic desire and interwoven with visions. Intoxicating. Narcotic. In his music I really hear the perfect sound that he so desired which makes me intensely happy.
For Schreker you can wake me up in the middle of the night. The fusion of shameless emotions with undisguised eroticism and intense beauty turns me into an ‘Alice in wonderland’. I want more and more of it. Call me a junkie. I consider his operas to be the most beautiful in existence, alongside those of Puccini and Korngold.
The idea came from Zemlinsky. He wanted to compose an opera about an ugly man – his obsession – and commissioned the libretto from Schreker. After finishing his work, it was hard for Schreker to give up his text. Fortunately, Zemlinsky abandoned the opera so Schreker started to compose himself.
Like Der Ferne Klang, perhaps his best-known work, Die Gezeichneten also deals with the search for unattainable ideals. Alviano, a deformed rich nobleman from Genoa, dreams of beauty and perfection. On an island he has ‘Elysium’ built, a place where he hopes to realize his ideals. What he doesn’t know is that the noblemen abuse his island: they are engaged in orgies, rapes and even murders.
The title of the opera is ambiguous. Not only are the main characters ‘marked’ (Alviano by his monstrous appearance and Carlotta by a deadly illness), Carlotta also makes a drawing of Alviano, in which she tries to capture his soul.
This beautiful opera, with its thousands of colours and sensual sounds (just listen to the overture, goosebumps!), is being staged more and more nowadays. In 1990 it was performed at the Saturday Matinee, with an ugly singing but very involved and therefore very vulnerable William Cochran as Alviano and a phenomenal Marilyn Schmiege as Carlotta (Marco Polo 8.223328-330).
When the Nazis came to power, Schreker was labelled an ‘entartet’. His works were banned and no longer performed. In 1933 he was dismissed from all his engagements and suspended. Schreker was devastated. In December of that year he suffered a heart attack which became fatal to him. But even after the war Schreker was hardly ever performed. The same fate awaited him as (among others) Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Waxman …. An unprecedented number of names of composers. They were once labeled ‘Entartet’ by the Nazis and banned, reviled, expelled and murdered. Forgotten. And that was not just the fault of the Nazis.
After the war, the young generation of composers did not want to know about emotions anymore. Music had to be devoid of any sentiment and subject to strict rules. Music had to become universal: serialism was born. The past was dealt with, including composers from the 1930s. It is only in the last twenty years that the once forbidden composers have regained their voices. The Saturday Matinee has played a major role in this and I thank them on my bare knees for that.
Vorspiel zu einem Drama’, a Prelude created by the composer himself for ‘Die Gezeichneten’:
Evelyn Lear (Carlotta) and Helmut Krebs (Alviano), scene from the second act:
On Spotify you can find several performances of the complete opera.
If you want to have images as well: below you will find the recording from Salzburg 2005.
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator