Hermann Scherchen

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Hermann Scherchen

Hermann Carl Julius Scherchen (born June 21, 1891 in Berlin ; † June 12, 1966 in Florence ) was a German conductor and composer .


After early violin lessons in childhood, Scherchen studied at the Berlin Conservatory. In 1907 he began his musical career as a violist in the " Blüthner Orchestra ", the predecessor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra (today: Konzerthausorchester Berlin ), and as a temporary worker with the Berlin Philharmonic and in the Kroll Opera . He learned the craft for his later profession of conductor mainly as an autodidact .

Two formative events occurred in the 1910s. Decisive for his professional and artistic development was his encounter with Arnold Schönberg in 1911 , with whom he worked as a conductor for the premiere of his Pierrot lunaire (1912), which he also conducted on tour the following year. In 1914 he was employed in Jūrmala as the conductor of the Riga Symphony Orchestra. After he was interned by the Russians as an enemy foreigner in Latvia at the beginning of the First World War , where he gained further experience as a conductor, violist and teacher and also devoted himself to the composition of chamber music and songs, he lived as a civilian prisoner of war in a camp in Ural 1917 with the Russian October Revolution .

In 1918 he translated the workers' song Brothers, About the Sun, About Freedom from Russian into German. Impressed by the musical avant-garde in Russia, he returned to Berlin. He founded a string quartet ("Scherchen Quartet"), the music magazine for contemporary music Melos and the New Music Society Berlin. In addition, he began teaching at the Berlin University of Music and was director of two workers' choirs . In the following years he conducted the “Orchester des Konzertverein” in Leipzig (1920/1921) and in Frankfurt am Main (1922–1924) as the successor to Wilhelm Furtwängler . He was director of the museum concerts of the Frankfurter Museumsgesellschaft and worked in Winterthur (1922–1950), as general music director in Königsberg (1928–1931) and was also musical director of the local radio station until 1933. As a conductor in Winterthur, he made the Winterthur City Orchestra (now the Winterthur Music College ) known throughout Europe, which was sponsored by patron Werner Reinhart .

From 1923 Scherchen became involved in the International Society for New Music (IGNM). It was in this environment that he met Karl Amadeus Hartmann , and he became his mentor. In 1926 Scherchen conducted for the first time at the Donaueschinger Musiktage . Scherchen was not a member of the KPD, but was politically left-wing and a great friend of the Soviet Union. In 1933 he left Germany because of his rejection of National Socialism . In Brussels he founded the music publisher Ars viva , which, in addition to the publication of unknown older works, primarily served to distribute contemporary scores and textbooks, for example by Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Wladimir Vogel , as well as the magazine "Musica viva", but did not last long. In 1937 he moved to Switzerland.

After the Second World War, Scherchen was musical director of the Zurich Radio Orchestra from 1945 to 1950, which was renamed the Beromünster Radio Orchestra , and chief conductor of the studio orchestra at Swiss radio. From 1950 he was involved in the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music and helped many of the avant-garde composers of the time to world premieres. In the same year he re-founded the music publisher Ars viva in Zurich. In 1951 he directed the world premiere of Paul Dessau's The Condemnation of Lukullus at the Berlin State Opera . In 1954, Scherchen founded a studio for research in the field of electroacoustics (radio and recording technology) in his home town of Gravesano with the support of UNESCO , where composers such as Vladimir Ussachevski , Luc Ferrari , François-Bernard Mâche and above all Iannis Xenakis worked. Scherchen published the results of this research in the Gravesaner leaves .

From 1959 to 1960 he was also chief conductor of the Northwest German Philharmonic in Herford .

In his career, Scherchen stood up for new music like no other conductor . He has conducted many world premieres, including works by Arnold Schönberg , Alban Berg , Anton Webern , Paul Hindemith , Ernst Krenek , Richard Strauss , Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Edgar Varèse , Luigi Nono , Luigi Dallapiccola , Paul Dessau , Boris Blacher , Hans Werner Henze , Alois Hába , Albert Roussel , Claude Ballif , Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis. In addition, he founded ensembles dedicated to the performance of contemporary music and magazines that journalistically endeavored to disseminate it. In 1961 he was elected honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music ISCM ( International Society for New Music ).

Scherchen was known as a conductor for unconventional interpretations. There is a recording of Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony , in which Scherchen made considerable strokes in the score (possibly to enable a one-hour radio transmission). He was also one of the first to take Beethoven's metronome markings seriously, which can be heard on some of his recordings.

His students included Karl Amadeus Hartmann , Ernest Bour , Carlos Ehrensperger , Bruno Maderna , Luigi Nono , Francis Travis and Harry Goldschmidt .

During a concert in Florence in 1966 he suffered a heart attack and died a few days later. He was buried in Gravesano, on his tombstone are the initial notes of Bach's Art of Fugue .

Elias Canetti portrays in his book Das Augenspiel - Lebensgeschichte 1931–1937 (1985) Scherchen - who as a character was not unproblematic - in the chapter The Conductor extraordinarily sharp.


Hermann Scherchen was initially married to Auguste (Gustl) Maria Jansen; the marriage comes from the son Karl Hermann Wolfgang (Wulff) , born in 1920. 1927–1929 he was married to the actress Gerda Müller , was then back together with Gustl Jansen before he met the composer Xiao Shuxian (Hsiao Shu-hsien) in Beijing in 1936 got married. In 1937 their daughter Tona was born. She returned to China with her mother in 1949. She later made a name for herself as a composer, especially after moving to France in 1972 . Scherchen's last wife was the mathematics teacher Pia Andronescu, who lived in Zurich (married in 1954) and with whom he had five children.

Gustl Jansen's sister Helene (Lene) was married to Sándor Radó , who belonged to the European resistance movement Rote Kapelle and who hid the Scherchen in his apartment in Geneva for a while during his flight in 1944.



  • Conducting textbook , Leipzig 1929,
  • Conducting textbook. Schott, Mainz, reprint 2006, ISBN 978-3-7957-2780-2
  • On the essence of music , Winterthur 1946
  • Music for everyone , Winterthur 1950
  • Making everything audible: letters from a conductor 1920–1939 , Berlin 1976
  • From my life , Berlin 1984
  • Recordings of several hundred works from the baroque to the modern (few still available in stores)


  • Christoph Ballmer: Hermann Scherchen. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . October 17, 2012 , accessed April 29, 2020 .
  • Ingrid Bigler-Marschall: Hermann Scherchen . In: Andreas Kotte (Ed.): Theater Lexikon der Schweiz . Volume 3, Chronos, Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-0340-0715-9 , p. 1599 f.
  • Marion Brück:  Scherchen, Hermann. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 22, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-428-11203-2 , p. 686 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Dennis Hutchison: Performance, Technology, and Politics: Hermann Scherchen's Aesthetics of Modern Music. Ph. D. diss. Florida State University , 2003.
  • Joachim Lucchesi (Ed.): Hermann Scherchen. Works and letters in 8 volumes. Writings 1. With an introductory essay and commentary. Peter Lang: European publishing house of the sciences, Schöneiche b. Berlin, 1991 (edition canceled due to the publisher's closure in 1992).
  • Hansjörg Pauli (Ed.): Hermann Scherchen, musician. A reader . Edition Hentrich, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-926175-01-X .
  • Hansjörg Pauli: Hermann Scherchen. Opponents of the Nazis and exponent of modernity , in: Hanns-Werner Heister / Claudia Maurer Zenck / Peter Petersen (eds.): Music in Exile. Consequences of National Socialism for International Music Culture . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1993 (Fischer-Taschenbücher, Vol. 10907), pp. 52-71.
  • Hansjörg Pauli: Hermann Scherchen 1891–1966 . Kommissionsverlag Hug & Co., Zurich 1993 (New Year's Gazette of the Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft Zürich, vol. 177).
  • Bruno Spoerri: Hermann Scherchen and the Experimental Studio Gravesano (1954–1966). In: Music from nowhere. Edited by Bruno Spoerri. Chronos-Verlag, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-0340-1038-2 .

Web links

Commons : Hermann Scherchen  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Luigi Dallapiccola : Music in the Laboratory - A visit to Hermann Scherchen in Gravesano. In: The time . No. 16, 1958, accessed January 15, 2018.
  2. A Ticino village in the center of the world: multimedia work in Hermann Scherchen's electroacoustic experimental studio in Gravesano. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . February 3, 2007.