Hermann Scherchen

(21 June 1891 - 12 June 1966)

German-born Herman Scherchen (21 June 1891 – 12 June 1966) was one of the leading conductors of the twentieth century, celebrated for his performances of the contemporary music of his time as well as his numerous recordings of the mainstays of the classical repertoire.

As a musician, he was mainly self-taught. Scherchen initially became a violist in the Blüthner Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic when he was 16.

He conducted the premiere and tour of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, after which he became the conductor of the Riga Symphony Orchestra. Soon after, he was interned by the Russians during World War I. After his release, Scherchen returned to Germany to found the Neue Musikgesellschaft (New Music Society) and his Scherchen Quartet. Scherchen also became active in writing and established a militant magazine in 1919.

Scherchen succeeded the renowned Wilhelm Furtwängler as director of the Frankfurt Museum Concerts, after which he began a long association with the Winterthur Musikkollegium in Switzerland. Furthermore, Scherchen became the Generalmusikdirektor in Königsberg, Russian Federation. He often performed at contemporary music festivals, most notably with the International Society for Contemporary Music.

...one of the leading conductors of the twentieth century.

In 1933 Hermann Scherchen left Germany in protest of the Nazi regime and went to Switzerland, where he became music director of the Zurich Radio Orchestra. He also taught courses in conducting. He founded the Ars Viva Orchestra the same year. Scherchen recommenced his nationwide activities after the war ended and opened a studio for electroacoustic research with the support of UNESCO in Gravesano, Switzerland. He took up writing about new music in the Gravesano Blätter. Unlike other conductors of his generation his vision was set on continuing the evolution of new music. He established his intercontinental career in the United States when he started conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Furthermore, he was the author of prominent publications on conducting and many articles supporting modern music.

Scherchen collaborated with avant-garde composers, introducing their works to the public via recordings and live performances. One of the most memorable premieres was that of Edgard Varese’s Déserts, an early example of electro-acoustic music which combined orchestra and pre-recorded tape. It was premiered on 2 December 1954, under the baton of Scherchen. This experimental music proved difficult for listeners to relate to and inevitably caused riots, echoing the scandal of the Rite of Spring premiere at the same venue in 1913!

Scherchen’s recorded repertoire comprises many performances with great orchestras in Vienna, London and Paris and gives particular attention to the works of baroque masters and of Beethoven. He has interpreted works of great composers, including Offenbach, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Bach and many more.

Herman Scherchen had a pioneering role in modern music.

Otto Klemperer

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