SCHWARZ-SCHILLING: Introduction and Fugue (1948). Symphony in C (1963). Sinfonia diatonica (1957).
Staatskapelle Weimar/José Serebrier.
Naxos 8.570435 (F) (DDD) TT: 65:40.

Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904-1985) studied with Heinrich Kaminski, a pupil of Bruckner. During the Third Reich, he went into a kind of internal exile, rather than co-operate with the Nazis, all the while worrying about his wife, of Jewish family. After World War II, he received an appointment as a professor of composition to the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, where he remained until his death.

The liner notes make a big deal of the Bruckner Tradition as transmitted through Kaminski and of Schwarz-Schilling's swimming against the postwar aesthetic tide -- never joining either the dodecaphonists or the Darmstadt avant-garde -- as if a conservative musical language guaranteed musical worth or a radical one automatically invalidated a score. I've never quite understood what sort of music those who hold tightly to this position really want -- Bruckner's Tenth, perhaps? To me, the whole tonal-vs.-atonal flap has been nothing but a red herring, and all participants have spoken nonsense. Furthermore, like the Brahms-Wagner fight during the Nineteenth Century, it became irrelevant. Music moved another way. Aesthetic criteria opened up. Dodecaphony became one more composing technique rather than an ideology. A magpie composer like Leonard Bernstein turned out to be a prophet rather than a mere epigone. The individual score grew more important than the style of that score. We ask how good the piece as opposed to what language it speaks.

By that standard, Schwarz-Schilling -- although as a human being on the side of the angels -- simply doesn't command much interest as a composer. The Introduction and Fugue, his arrangement for string orchestra of a quartet movement, merely goes by. You think of other string works of the period -- Barber's Adagio for Strings, Honegger's Second Symphony, Schuman's Fifth, Stravinsky's Concerto in D -- and it becomes awfully small potatoes in comparison. Like the scenery in southern Ohio viewed from a car on the interstate, it just goes by. Once its opening measures establish themselves, nothing out of the ordinary comes along to pique your interest, and you ride in a daze to the end.

The liner notes praise the Sinfonia diatonica as "refreshing in the context of the post-war symphony." However, that damns with faint praise. After the war, German music suffered, since the Nazis had driven away or killed almost all of their great composers. The only two truly major figures in Germany after the war were Orff in Bavaria and, yes, Stockhausen in Darmstadt, plus a handful of mainly choral composers like David and Pepping. Henze's insipid dodecaphony bores just as much as Schwarz-Schilling's smooth, but extremely bland ride. The orchestration, like Henze's, is handsome, but the musical argument is, as the French say, mort -- like the description of sonata form rather than the experience of a Beethoven sonata. Things improve a little in the Symphony in C, but you have only to compare it with Stravinsky's to feel its genteel good manners and lack of real inspiration.

Serebrier does what he can but fails to turn Troy Donahue into Cary Grant.

S.G.S. (October 2008)