Franz Schrecker was born in Monaco, the eldest son of the Bohemian Jewish court photographer Ignaz Schrecker, and his wife, Eleonore von Clossmann, who was a member of the Catholic aristocracy of Styria. After the death of her husband in 1888, she settled permanently in Vienna, and in 1892 the young Schreker entered the Vienna Conservatory. Starting with violin studies, with Sigismund Bachrich and Arnold Rosé, he moved into the composition class of Robert Fuchs, graduating as a composer in 1900.
In 1901 one of Schreker’s early compositions, the Intermezzo for Strings, won a composition competition in Vienna. From 1907 to 1920 Schreker led the Philharmonic Choir, which he founded, and which took part in a number of important premieres – most notably the first performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder, of which he himself was conductor. The premiere of his opera The Distant Sound in 1912 marked the beginning of the composer’s fame. From 1912 he headed the composition class at the Vienna Academy of Music. Then from 1920 to 1921 he was director of the Berlin Higher School of Music, where he also taught a composition class. Among his students was the famous conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.
In the late 1920s, Schreker was a constant target of attack by the National Socialist press, although the subjects of his musical works gave no cause for it. In 1932, threatened by the Nazis, the composer was forced to cancel the planned Freiburg premiere of his opera Christophorus. That same year, an anti-Semitic campaign launched by violin professor Gustav Havemann forced Schreker to resign as director of the Higher School of Music. In 1932-33 he directed a master’s class at the Prussian Academy of Arts. After being dismissed by the Nazis from all positions he held, and after suffering from a stroke, he died of heart attack on 24 March 1934.
In the 1920s Schreker’ was considered one of the greatest German opera composers after Richard Wagner. His operas are even staged more often than the works of Richard Strauss. The composer followed the romantic musical style combined with expressionistic elements. His characteristic features are constant deviations from the general harmonic development of the melody and the introduction of abrupt, perceptually confusing chords. Schreker wrote the librettos of all but two of his major operas. In the portrayal of the characters of his musical works, one can feel the influence of Sigmund Freud , of whom the composer was a passionate admirer.
After the National Socialists came to power in Germany, Schreker’s compositions were classified as manifestations of so-called “degenerate music”. A revival of his work began in the late 1970s. Schreker’s operas were staged in Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, Kiel, Chemnitz, etc.