Heinrich Schenker

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6 Lieder, Op.3
Heinrich Schenker (19 June 1868, in Wiśniowczyk (present-day Vyshnivchyk, Ukraine) – 14 January 1935, in Vienna) was a music theorist, music critic, teacher, pianist, and composer. He is best known for his approach to musical analysis, now usually called Schenkerian analysis.
Little biographical information is available from external sources. Fortunately, he kept many of his personal papers (including thousands of letters), and maintained a nearly 4000-page diary that includes many recollections from his early years. Most of the biographical information we have about Schenker stems from this work. Hellmut Federhofer's book Heinrich Schenker (1985) is the only general biography. Much of the information in this article stems from that work.
Schenker was born in Wiśniowczyk, Austrian Galicia in 1868 to Johann Schenker and his wife, Julia (born Mosler), both Jews. Schenker's father was a doctor who had been allowed to settle in Wiśniowczyk, a village of only 1,759 inhabitants, according to the 1869 census. There is very little information about Schenker's parents; Moriz Violin, Schenker's life-long friend recalled Schenker describing "the seriousness of the father and the hot temper of the mother".
Schenker was the fifth of six children: Markus (allegedly died 1880 in Lemberg); Rebeka (allegedly died 1889 in Gradiska); Wilhelm, a doctor; Schifre; and Moriz (Moses), born August 31, 1874. There is little documentation concerning Schenker's childhood years. Schenker himself said nothing about his secondary-school education. His musical instincts must have been discovered at an early age, for he went to Lemberg (present-day Lviv, Ukraine) and studied with Carl Mikuli and then continued his studies in Berezhany.
Schenker received a scholarship to move to Vienna, where his family followed. Documents at the University of Vienna show him on the roster at the beginning of the 1884/85 season, where he pursued a law degree. In addition to his studies at the University of Vienna, he was enrolled at the Konservatorium of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (today, the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna) from 1887 through 1890. His entrance examination results indicate that he initially studied composition with Franz Krenn and piano with Ernst Ludwig. Schenker and his father asked that he be exempted from the first year's fees. Other documents indicate that in his first year, Schenker majored in harmony under Anton Bruckner. Schenker's father died in 1887, leaving the family destitute.
Carl Flesch, also in attendance at the Konservatorium, left a description of Schenker as a student "who seemed half-starved, and who towered far above the rest of us ... It was Heinrich Schenker, who later came to enjoy high esteem for his original musical theories and his all-embracing practical and theoretical musicality."
Schenker's negative feelings toward Bruckner are revealed in a quote in his Harmony (1906, written nearly twenty years after instruction), in which he stated that "If the teacher is unable to explain his own propositions ..., the student ... may be content not to understand the proffered doctrine ... The teacher closes his classes in harmony; he closes his classes in counterpoint, finishes them off in his own way; but not even the first step toward art has been taken." A footnote adds "My teacher, a composer of high renown [Bruckner, obviously], used to say on such occasions: Segn's, mein' Herrn, dass ist die Regl, i schreib' natirli not a so. In Counterpoint, vol. I, Schenker quotes examples from Bruckner's works as examples of badly constructed lines. Schenker had better memories of Ernst Ludwig. Ludwig accepted Schenker on the basis of his initial scholarship. Upon seeing some of Schenker's musical compositions, Ludwig recommended them to the pianist Julius Epstein. Ludwig sent students to study with Schenker, who remembered him fondly and thought he would have appreciated his Harmonielehre and Kontrapunkt.
In the 1888–89 season, Schenker studied counterpoint under Bruckner and continued piano study under Ludwig, always receiving the highest grades. The following season, Schenker joined the composition class of Johann Nepomuk Fuchs. He graduated in November 20, 1889 and was charged only half the fee for the school year (the fee paid by Ludwig Bösendorfer).
After graduating the University of Vienna with a law degree, Schenker devoted himself entirely to music. His first major opportunity came with Maximilian Harden, editor of Die Zukunft [The Future] who published his earliest writings. Publications in other periodicals followed. Surviving letters in Schenker's archive suggest that during his schooling Schenker had no income and survived purely by gifts from supporters. He continued this practice after graduating. Schenker dedicated his Inventions op. 5 to Irene Graedener (maiden name Mayerhofer). On her death (August 9, 1923), he recalled in his diary that it was at her house that he was able to find himself and realize his future calling. At this point in his career, Schenker saw himself primarily as a composer and tried to ingratiate himself as a means of promoting his compositions. Several letters attest to his meetings with Eduard Hanslick.
By 1900, Schenker was actively trying to promote his musical compositions as evidenced by correspondence with Ignaz Brüll, Karl Goldmark, Eugen d'Albert and Ferruccio Busoni. The dedications of his published compositions are another clue to the identities of those who were sympathetic and possibly gave money to enable Schenker's works to be published, although there were probably more compositions than those conserved in the Oswald Jonas Memorial Collection at the University of California at Riverside. His Op. 1 carries a dedication to Julius Epstein, Op. 2 is dedicated to Ferruccio Busoni, Op. 4 is dedicated to Eugen d'Albert. D'Albert had promised to play some of Schenker's works, and Busoni was particularly enthusiastic about the Fantasy, Op. 2. With letters from d'Albert, Brüll, Busoni, and Detlev von Liliencron, Schenker felt confident in promoting his compositions. Correspondence indicates that Schenker was in contact with Max Kalbeck, as the latter was trying to make introductions for him. Similar patronage is evidenced by the dedication on the Syrian Dances (without opus number), dedicated to Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. At Busoni's insistence, the dances were orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg and played on June 5, 1903, the ensemble led by Busoni.
The publication of Schenker's Vorüber Op. 7, no. 3, in a collection sponsored by the Wiener Singakademie attests to a friendship between composer and the organization's conductor, Carl Lafite.
In the final decade of the 19th century, Schenker was also active on the concert stage. He did not give solo recitals but participated as an accompanist or participant in chamber music, occasionally programming his own works. Programs exist showing that Schenker accompanied French horn virtuoso Louis Savart in Schenker's Serenade für Waldhorn on November 5, 1893 (at the Salle der Börse) and March 5, 1894 (at the Bösendorfersaal). Schenker also was the accompanist for Lieder singer Johan Messchaert on a tour organized by the Ludwig Grünfeld Bureau whose stops included Klagenfurt (January 8), Graz (January 11), Trieste (January 13), Brünn (January 15), Lemberg (January 17), Vienna (January 19), Budapest (January 21), Linz (January 24), Vienna again (January 26), Ústí nad Labem (January 30) and again Budapest (February 3). This tour enabled Schenker to play his own pieces, namely the Fantasia op. 2 and the Allegretto grazioso from Op. 4, no. 2. Existing correspondence shows that Messchaert was highly appreciative. Schenker also accompanied the bass singer Eduard Gärtner on occasion, and Gärtner programmed Schenker's song "Meeresstille" Op. 6, no. 3 and Blumengruß on a concert at the Bösendorfersaal on January 19, 1895. On a Gärtner recital January 26, 1900, Schenker and Moriz Violin gave the premiere of the Syrian Dances. On December 1, 1900, Gärtner, accompanied by Alexander von Zemlinsky, sang Schenker's Wiegenlied, Op. 3 no. 2 and on March 13, 1902 Gärtner sang Ausklang, Op. 3, no. 4, and on January 26, 1905 at the Bösendorfersaal), Gärtner sang Op. 6, nos. 1 and 2.
In 1897, Schenker went on a tour to file performance reports from various places. He was disappointed in much of the new music he heard and documented it in the reviews he wrote.
Having failed to gain recognition as a composer, conductor, and accompanist, by 1900 he shifted his focus increasingly on problems of musical editing and music theory, though years later he still felt proud of his compositions. According to Federhofer, compositional activity for Schenker was not a means to an end in itself but a pedagogical one, a path to understanding the desires of a composer. Over time, Schenker saw how traditional understanding of music was disappearing and felt it necessary to revise music and theory lessons and remove later editorial additions from musical texts. Already in his 1895 article "Der Geist der musikalischen Technik" he spoke of the adulteration of contemporary music editions of classical composers and advocated the use of Urtext editions.
Already with his first publication, "A Contribution to the Study of Ornamentation", Schenker understood his theoretical work to be a long-range pursuit. When he tried to get his Harmony (the first part of his New Musical Theory and Fantasies) published by Breitkopf & Härtel, it was rejected, the publisher citing Hugo Riemann's work to have covered all that was necessary. Max Kalbeck reported on his unsuccessful attempt to get the work published by N. Simrock. Though impressed by certain passages, the eventual publisher, Cotta, initially rejected Schenker's manuscript but changed its mind after intervention from D'Albert. Cotta finally published Harmony anonymously with money from Alphonse de Rothschild to whom Schenker had given lessons.
The publisher Universal Edition's proximity (they were in Vienna, where Schenker was living, while Cotta was in Stuttgart) made Schenker break with Cotta. Universal Edition was to remain Schenker's main publisher. Schenker hoped his monograph on Beethoven's 9th Symphony (published in 1912) would have a revelatory effect, but believed that the book's reception would be clouded by musicians' faulty understanding, due to poor theoretical instruction. As he kept working on his New Musical Theory and Fantasies, the work kept growing.
Between 1913 and 1921, Schenker brought out an explanatory edition of four of the last five Beethoven sonatas. While examining the autograph to Beethoven's Sonata, op. 109 (at that time belonging to the Wittgenstein family), Schenker mentioned in a letter to his friend Theodor von Frimmel how his Urtext work was inspired by Ernst Rudorff and Joseph Joachim. In 1912, Schenker wrote excitedly to Emil Hertzka, the head of Universal Edition, of the "sensational new changes" he would incorporate into his new edition of Beethoven's Op. 109, having examined the autograph, a revised copy by Beethoven, the original edition and other later editions. Federhofer credits Schenker with initiating the modern Urtext movement of examining multiple authentic sources to arrive at a reading.
Even though Der Tonwille originally came out under the imprint "Tonwille-Flutterverlag" (actually published jointly by Albert J. Gutmann of Vienna and Friedrich Hofmeister of Leipzig), Universal Edition soon purchased Gutmann but still issued Der Tonwille under its original imprint. Schenker's works presented a political challenge to Universal Edition: although they were developing their reputation as a promoter of contemporary music, it could be politically embarrassing for one of their authors (Schenker) to rally against their primary clientele.
Beginning with the publication of Der Tonwille in 1921, a Latin motto appears on all of Schenker published works: Semper idem sed non eodem modo ("always the same, but not always in the same way"). William Pastille proposed that this is based on a line in Augustine of Hippo's Confessions, Book 8, chapter 3: nam tu semper idem, quia ea quae non-semper nec eodem modo sunt eodem modo semper nosti omnia ("For you [are] always the same thing, because you know in the same way all those things that are not the same nor in the same way"). Based on conversation with an unnamed Latin scholar, William Helmcke added that it could also be based on a passage from Irenaeus's Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies): sine initio et sine fine, vere et semper idem et eodem modo se habens solus est Deus ("Without beginning and without end, only God continues truly and always the same and in the same way").
Emil Hertzka, the head of Universal Edition from 1907 until his death in 1932, had a fraught relationship with Schenker. When Schenker was planning a diatribe against Paul Bekker whose monograph on Beethoven was very popular at the time, Hertzka refused to consider publishing it, noting that Bekker and he were close friends. Various passages in issues of Der Tonwille had to be removed because Hertzka felt they were too politically and socially sensitive. Schenker recalled a standoff with Hertzka, where Hertzka, took a "pacifist attitude towards international relations, cosmopolitan, democratic beliefs, working toward compromises". Over time, Schenker's attitude toward Hertzka and Universal Edition increased from disagreement to hostility, charging the firm with not doing enough to promote his work and accused them of not paying him the proper amount.
He had already admired his student Hans Weisse for leaving Vienna for Munich and also noted positively on his other students' desire to move to Germany. Wilhelm Furtwängler called upon Karl Straube to see whether Schenker might be able to teach in Munich. But Schenker never left Vienna and was unable to obtain a position elsewhere, in part due to the nature of his uncompromising views.
Schenker's personal life was taken up with his marriage to Jeanette Kornfeld (born Schiff). He knew her from at least 1907 but could only marry after her first husband agreed to divorce. Schenker married Jeanette on November 10, 1919. He dedicated Free Composition, his last work, to her. They had no children.
Schenker could also count on the patronage of a group of supporters. Alphonse de Rothschild was mentioned above. In addition, there were Sophie Deutsch, Angi Elias, Wilhelm Furtwängler, an industrialist named Khuner, and Anthony van Hoboken. Deutsch, Elias and Hoboken were in his immediate circle of students. Deutsch, who died in a sanatarium in 1917, left an inheritance that enabled Schenker to publish the second volume of his counterpoint book (1922) and named him to a society of destitute artists. Other funding came from Robert Brünauer, one of Schenker's students and the owner of a chocolate manufacturing firm (Brünauer had introduced the artist Victor Hammer to Schenker). Not only was Hoboken instrumental in setting up the Photogrammarchivs von Meisterhandschriften in the Austrian National Library, but he was responsible for paying for the publication of volume 2 of Das Meisterwerk and Free Composition.
Furtwängler consulted with Schenker as if a student. In a letter to Alphone de Rothschild, Schenker wrote that Furtwängler's interest was first aroused by Schenker's monograph on Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and that since then
In all the years he has never failed to visit me, spend hours with me and all sorts of to learn from me. He describes himself as one of my students, and that fills me with no little pride.
In 1908, Schenker had hoped for an appointment at the Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst (today the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna). However, the conflict between his beliefs and the need to compromise to work within an academic system ultimately thwarted the opportunity. Even as late as 1932–33, Furtwängler tried to intercede with Ludwig Karpath to obtain a position for Schenker, without success. Despite the lack of success, Schenker was gratified by Furtwängler's words.
Schenker never taught in a school but most often taught in his house at the piano. His fees were not inexpensive, but he demonstrated a fierce loyalty to his students. Though he could be unsparing in his criticism, the goal of his teaching was on the acquisition of a comprehensive musical education intertwined with the art of performance, as they were dependent on each other. Understanding the artwork was the object and purpose of his teaching, where theory and practice were an inseparable unity.
In his later years Schenker complained of fatigue. He and Jeanette would spend summers usually in the Tyrolean mountains, most often in the town Galtür. In his correspondence with Victor Hammer, Schenker revealed that he was very near-sighted which hindered him from obtaining a better understanding of painting. Additionally he suffered from goiter and obesity, reasons for which he was granted a permanent exemption from military service. Already in 1914, he had been diagnosed with diabetes which necessitated frequent visits to the doctor and an enforced diet (which Schenker did not always keep).
Even towards the end of life, Schenker worked steadily. He corrected proofs for Free Composition from December 16 to 23, 1934. He commented negatively on a radio broadcast of December 30, 1934, but then heard Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus in a live broadcast from the Vienna State Opera and declared it a "most brilliant performance". On a medical examination of January 4, 1935, he received an unfavorable report, noting symptoms including the swelling of his feet and extreme thirst. He was taken to a sanatorium for an insulin therapy.
Jeanette recorded Schenker's final moments in his diary:
From within a slight stupor I heard him say "... From..." "From what?" I say, "we'll still be with one another" – and I make a sudden gesture, because I did not understand. He continued: "from... from the St. Matthew Passion something occurred to me..." These were the last words of my beloved.
Schenker died on January 14, 1935, age 66 at 2 AM, the cause of death listed as diabetes and arteriosclerosis. He was buried on January 17 at the Wiener Zentralfriedhof, Gate 4, Group 3, Series 4, number 8. The inscription on his grave reads: "Hier ruht, der die Seele der Musik vernommen, ihre Gesetze im Sinne der Großen verkündet wie Keiner vor ihm" (Here lies he who examined and revealed the laws concerning the soul of music like none other before him).
Jeanette Schenker stayed in Vienna after the Anschluss. She was rescued twice from the Nazis before being arrested and transported on June 29, 1942. She died in Theresienstadt on January 8, 1945.
Based on Miller.
More than 500 pages of manuscript compositions are preserved in the Oswald Jonas Collection and some unpublished choral works in the National Library in Vienna.