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Karl Schiske: Vom Tode

  • for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, mixed choir, organ and orchestra
  • Duration: 90’
  • Instrumentation details:
    3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1 - timp, perc, xyl, hp, pno, str
  • Choir: SATB
  • Composer: Karl Schiske
  • Text author: Rainer Maria RilkeDetlev von LiliencronJosef WeinheberJoseph von EichendorffIna SeidelEduard MörikeFriedrich HölderlinFriedrich von SchillerFriedrich HebbelFriedrich Gottlieb KlopstockThomas à KempisConrad Ferdinand MeyerJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Dedication: Dem Andenken meines geliebten Bruders Hubert Josée Nedbal v. Österreich in Dankbarkeit

Work introduction

Without a doubt, the oratorio Vom Tode is Karl Schiske’s most important work. Written during the postwar era, it is operatic and dynamic and dedicated to his brother “Dr. med. Hubert Schiske, fallen on 29 September 1944.”

Schiske selected death-related texts by great German poets, arranging them into a prologue, four movements corresponding to the seasons and an epilogue. Written for soloists, mixed chorus, large orchestra and organ, Schiske says it constructs a “spirit-filled architecture” ranging within the scope of free tonality and using new sonic opportunities; his personal style of “no thirds” melody and his passion for perfect fourths and fifths are particularly evident in this work. In its Klangfarbe, the tonal language is romantic, although the voice-leading, orchestration and contrapuntal tendencies are thoroughly avant-garde.

The great, eternal, unsolvable questions of human existence stand at the work’s epicentre. As Schiske notes: “Thus Death appears in many guises behind the varied manifestations of the world, reaching into life, or only a dark shadow falling over Nature, a great power, the puzzle and the meaning of life, the dark night to which life is bound …”.

Perhaps Vom Tode is Schiske’s personal requiem, striving for rational rigour and clarity, whereas the image of Nature during the seasons under the impression of war and death melt away into a vista of souls steeped in pain.

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