Check out the full programme below.
Registration for the conference “Choral Life in Switzerland, 19th-21st Century” is open until Sunday!
17-18 September 2021, Universität Bern, Aula Muesmatt (Gertrud-Wokerstrasse 5, 3012 Bern)
The choral works of Othmar Schoeck: from post-Romanticism to avant-garde and beyond
Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) is first and foremost known as the “master of the Lied”, and more recently his operas have attracted attention. His choral work, however, has often been considered to be dictated by the straitened circumstances of the young composer and his need to earn a living. However, the publication of the volume containing the choral works (published in 2002) as part of the Complete Works has brought to light a varied and sometimes surprising body of work in the form of some 350 pages of scores. In addition to these compositions, written especially for a chorus (male or mixed), there are choruses inserted in the operas.
On his return from Leipzig in 1908, where he had studied with Max Reger, Schoeck took over the direction of several men’s choirs in Zurich, first the “Harmonie” choir and then those of the Aussersihl and the school teachers (Lehrergesangverein). He left these positions in 1918 after receiving an annual grant from the patron Werner Reinhart and after his election as conductor of the St. Gall Symphony Orchestra. It was during this period that Schoeck wrote some of his most important choral compositions: Postillon, op. 18 (Nikolaus Lenau), Dithyramben, op. 22 (Goethe), Wegelied, op. 24 (Gottfried Keller), and Trommelschläge, op. 26 (Walt Whitman).
Confronted with the avant-garde of the Vienna School at the Salzburg Festival in 1923, Schoeck completely changed his writing. The opera in one act Penthesilea(written between 1923-1925) testifies to this radical new approach; it includes bold passages for mixed chorus. But the reluctant reception he received from the public brought him back to reality. Once again the composer modified his writing, moving closer to neoclassical and neo-romantic styles. Two choral works from the beginning of the 1930s reflect this transformation: Die Drei, s. op. n°39 (Lenau), and Kantate, op. 49 (Eichendorff). Finally, the composer’s late style, from the 1940s onwards, is expressed in a number of accomplished choral works which mark a return Schoeck’s early work in this field, notably Für ein Gesangfest im Frühling, op. 54 (Keller), Vision, op. 63 (Keller), and Maschinenschlacht, op. 67a (Hermann Hesse).
It is no longer possible to claim that these choral compositions are the work of the young, post-Romantic Schoeck, followed by some late, imitative works. If we take opera choruses into account, it is clear that Schoeck wrote for choruses throughout his whole life – from the simplest a capellaforms to the most monumental ensembles, from almost “folk” writing to the use of vocal techniques borrowed from the avant-garde.
People’s choir and popular theatre at the Théâtre du Jorat
The Théâtre du Jorat was opened in Mézières in 1908. Up until 1947, the works performed there were exclusively plays written by its founder, writer René Morax, who was trying to develop popular Swiss-French dramatic art. Music played an important role in his plays. For both aesthetic and financial reasons, this music was often performed by amateur choirs.
Between 1908 and 1947, thirteen plays by Morax were created. The music for these plays was written by four composers: Gustave Doret (Henriette, Aliénor, La Nuit des Quatre-Temps, Tell, Davel, La Terre et l’Eau, La Servante d’Evolène), Arthur Honegger (Le Roi David, Judith, La Belle de Moudon, Charles le Téméraire), Frank Martin (Roméo et Juliette) and André-François Marescotti (La Lampe d’argile).
With the exception of the Honegger oratorios and a few choruses by Doret, this music is not well known today. At most, we remember the divergent points of view between Doret and Honegger and the factions that developed as a consequence. However, the constraints imposed by writing for amateurs and the stage music genre imply more shared stylistic points than one might be led to believe from the controversies between Doret and Honegger, who moreover were both campaigning for an art that addressed everybody directly.
We wish to identify the long-term elements of the choruses written for the Théâtre du Jorat in terms of the types of subjects (regional, religious, historical, everyday), the functions of the choruses (intradiegetic or commentary to the audience) and the compositional strategies. Balanced against the dissimilarities, it will thus be possible to establish the ways in which the choirs sung at the Théâtre du Jorat contributed to spreading a certain image of French-speaking Switzerland and to shaping the notion of popular music in Romandy.
On the transition from the Liedertafel style to choral polyphony in the 19th and 20th centuries
On 6 June, 1903, Kaiser Wilhelm II gave a memorable speech on “The German Folk Song” following the second “Kaiserpreissingen” singing competition for the trophy he had donated for the contest between Germanmen’s choirs. He criticized what he believed to be the wrong choice of repertoire for amateur choirs and inadequate performance standards forsingers in virtuoso choral works. As a consequence, he announced that a collection of “all folk songs” that were “written, sung, and known in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland” would be compiled. A working committee and an advisory committee were immediately formed, with Friedrich Hegar (1841–1927) from Zurich also being appointed to the latter. The two large volumes of the “Folk song book for male choirs” (Volksliederbuch für Männerchor), which included 611 pieces and became known as the “Kaiser’s song book” (Kaiserliederbuch), were published as early as 1906, at the instigation of the German emperor. In 1915, the counterpart “Folk song book for mixed choirs” (Volksliederbuch für gemischten Chor) with 604 numbers was published, again with the contribution of Friedrich Hegar as a representative of Switzerland. The unique publishing project did not come to an end until 1930, with the multi-volume “Folk song book for young people” (Volksliederbuch für die Jugend), in which experts from Germany, Austria, Holland, and Switzerland were also involved.
But neither the “Kaiser’s song book” anthologies nor the forward-looking “Folk song book foryoung people” collection, now published by the State Commission, prevented a bitter debate breaking out in the 1920s. This debate was over a 19th-century style for male choirs, rightly or wrongly negatively described as the “Liedertafelstil”, and a new type of vocal polyphony, which was enthusiastically welcomed and accepted or disparagingly criticized as “polyphonitis”.
For some time, academic study had been intensifying onthe transition from the increasingly openly criticized, usually four-part homophonic “folk choir song” in the “Liedertafel” style by composers such as Franz Abt (1819–1885) and Ignaz Heim (1818–1880) to vocal works for “polyphonic male choirs” by Erwin Lendvai (1882–1949), who worked in Switzerland from 1935 to 1938 before emigrating. This work had already led to new discoveries and rediscoveries of unjustly forgotten choral music from an exciting period of upheaval in choral culture in the early 20th century.
The conference “Choral Life in Switzerland, 19th-21st Century” takes place on 17 and 18 September 2021 in the Aula Muesmatt of the University of Bern.
- Professor Friedhelm Brusniak (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany): Zum Wandel vom Liedertafelstil zur Chorpolyphonie im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert
- PD Dr Delphine Vincent (Université de Fribourg, Switzerland): Chœur du peuple et théâtre populaire au Théâtre du Jorat
- Professor Beat Föllmi (Université de Strasbourg, France): Das Chorwerk von Othmar Schoeck: von der Postromantik zur Avantgarde und darüberhinaus
- Composers: Leopold Dick and Jean-François Michel
- Moderation: Dr Irène Minder-Jeanneret, Dictionary of Music in Switzerland
Participation is free of charge. Register now, the number of places is limited!
The Bern City Archives has just published an article about CLEFNI!
Choral Life in Switzerland, 19th-21st Century
Institute of Musicology, University of Bern
17–18 September 2021
The Call for Papers is open!
Extended deadline for proposals: 31 January 2021
- Professor Friedhelm Brusniak, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany
- Professor Beat Föllmi, Université de Strasbourg, France
- PD Dr Delphine Vincent, Université de Fribourg, Switzerland
Dr Caiti Hauck, CLEFNI, University of Bern
Dr María Cáceres Piñuel, University of Bern
Professor Cristina Urchueguía, University of Bern
The men’s choir La Mutuelle was founded in 1884 by Théodore Corboud in the Neuveville district of Fribourg.
Linked to the Saint-Jean Parish at the time of its creation, the choir provided religious services there until 1900. At the same time, it also devoted itself to secular music and took part in several singing festivals, mainly in the canton of Fribourg.
In 1958, its name was changed to Union Chorale La Mutuelle.
The photo below shows the choir during a walk on the Black Lake in 1905.
Warning: these lectures have been cancelled due to the coronavirus. They will be organised in autumn/winter 2021 if the situation allows it.
From November 2020 to January 2021 the Historical Society of the Canton of Fribourg organises the public lectures Singing in the Canton of Fribourg (16th-20th century). Five meetings with a total of 12 speakers and one illustrative concert will present aspects and highlights of the singing tradition in the Fribourg region.
CLEFNI will contribute to this event with a lecture given by Dr Caiti Hauck on the theme Repertoire and choirs in the second half of the 19th century in the city of Fribourg.
Registration is open.
Read the article published in the newspaper “La Liberté” on the subject:
Preliminary results of CLEFNI will be presented at the 1. Study Day of the Swiss Musicological Society (SMG).
Dr Caiti Hauck will talk about the choral life in the city of Bern in the long 19th century, with a special focus on the activities and the repertoire of selected choirs.
The event takes place on 17 September 2020 at the Kuppelraum of the University of Bern.
This 1897 image of the Deutsche Männerchor Freiburg (German Male Choir Freiburg) leads one to believe that this choir was simply founded in 1889. Yet, its early years were more eventful than that.
The choir was actually founded in 1878 under the name Union des Ateliers du chemin de fer Fribourg (Union of Railway Workshops Fribourg).
In 1889 the choir revised its statutes, abandoned its link with the railway workshop, and changed its name to Deutscher Männerchor Freiburg.
Twelve years later, in 1901, the Deutsche Männerchor Freiburg and the Deutsche gemischte Chor Freiburg merged into one singing society with two sections — a men’s choirs and a mixed choir — under the common name Deutscher gemischter Chor und Männerchor Freiburg.
Finally, in 1927 the society was renamed Gemischter Chor und Männerchor Freiburg (Mixed Choir and Male Choir Freiburg).
The Société Cantonale des Chanteurs Fribourgeois (Cantonal Singing Society of Fribourg) was founded in Estavayer-le-Lac in October 1849. It held its second meeting in Fribourg on 18 May 1851. The choral societies of Fribourg, Estavayer, Chiètres/Kerzers, Fräschels, Morat/Murten and Lourtens/Lurtigen took part in this festival. The Berner Liedertafel was the special guest. On its performance, Louis Ruffieux wrote one hundred years later:
“The highlight of the festival in Fribourg on 18 May was the participation of the « Liedertafel » of Bern which, preceded by two bears, paraded through our city in elegant harnessed carriages, decorated with the colours of the federal city.”
Since 8 June, the archives have been open again in Switzerland. CLEFNI’s data collection can resume! The aim is now to research documents of the choral societies founded in the city of Fribourg in the long 19th century.
The Société de Chant de la Ville de Fribourg (Singing Society of the City of Fribourg), the oldest men’s choir in the city, was founded in 1841. The picture below is from 1878 and shows the society with its founding director Jacques Vogt (1810-1869). Unfortunately, the choir no longer exists.
This picture portrays a regular working day at the Burgerbibliothek Bern during the data collection for my EU-H2020 project “CLEFNI – The choral life in the cities of Bern and Fribourg in the long 19th century”. Collecting historical data in such a place as the Burgerbibliothek can be an impressive experience. Its countless documents comprise centuries of history. The reading room itself is a historical monument. Side by side with such immensity, one can feel minuscule. Nonetheless, these documents may spend years or even centuries in an archive shelf, unless someone engages in studying them and discloses their past to the present.
While collecting data for my EU-H2020 project “CLEFNI – The choral life in the cities of Bern and Fribourg in the long 19th century”, I look at Bern’s past and present. Old and new buildings, reflected in the glass wall of the Archive of the City of Bern, stand side by side with historical documents. In the background, today’s Bern discloses itself: the Berner Münster, autumn-coloured trees, and the backside of the Historical Museum of Bern. In the foreground, 19th-century documents of the Berner Liedertafel, the men’s choir founded in 1845 and dissolved in 2018, tell part of Bern’s history. Do archives reveal our past or our present?
Collecting historical data is detective work. Finding the traces of something that has happened centuries ago demands not only deduction skills and critical thinking but also a lot of patience. For when you find the traces, this is where the puzzle begins. Deciphering ancient handwriting can be challenging, but it is a thrilling puzzle. I took this picture while solving one of the Kurrentschrift-puzzles of my EU-H2020 project “CLEFNI – The choral life in the cities of Bern and Fribourg in the long 19th century”.
This photo shows an excerpt of the statutes of the men’s choir Berner Liedertafel (founded in 1845), which is written in Kurrentschrift, an old form of German handwriting. The document is held by the Archive of the City of Bern.
The 2019 annual report of the University of Bern has been published in digital format for the first time. It presents the University’s major accomplishments in a multimedia format.
In the Research section, CLEFNI is one of the highlights:
Bern as a destination for new talent from abroad
The University of Bern is also highly respected by ambitious postdocs from abroad, who have to apply for international grants in order to carry out a project at the University of Bern. Forty-two early career researchers applied for coveted EU fellowships in 2019 – an all-time high. Given that there are only enough funds to finance 12 to 14 percent of the applications received, these grants are extremely competitive. In a survey conducted by the Vice-Rectorate Research, postdocs indicated that the University of Bern is the perfect place for their research project. For example: Dr. Caiti Hauck from Brazil began in 2019 her fellowship project “CLEFNI: The choral life in the cities of Bern and Fribourg in the long nineteenth century” at the Institute of Musicology. She is looking into the question of how, at the emergence of the modern federal state in the 19th century, male choirs in Fribourg and in Bern promoted linguistic and religious integration.
Archives — such as the Burgerbibliothek Bern — are the main places for collecting data for my project “CLEFNI – The choral life in the cities of Bern and Fribourg in the long 19th century”. In these places, I look for the choral activities of the past. I look for musicking — the taking part in music performance, as explained by Small — in places where silence reigns. In empty reading rooms, I look for the vestiges of crowded singing festivals. Travel chronicles and reports of activities trace the history of a still living choral life. Silence opens the doors to music.
CLEFNI has participated in the Scientific Image Competition by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)!
This photo shows different types of documents of the Uebeschi-Chor Bern, a men’s choir founded in 1882. On the foreground, one sees the golden cover of the choir’s 25th jubilee volume. On the top middle are three of the six massive volumes that describe the choir’s history from 1882 to 2012. On the bottom right, one sees the inner part of one of these volumes. The upper left side shows part of a picture of 1884.