Der Komponist, Dirigent und Organist Hermann Suter wurde am 28. April 1870 in Kaiserstuhl (Aargau) als Sohn eines Lehrer und Organisten geboren. Seine Jugend verlebte er in Laufenburg, wo der Vater ihm ersten Musikunterricht erteilte. 1884 bezog Suter das humanistische Gymnasium in Basel und wurde von Hans Huber und Alfred Glaus unterwiesen. Ab 1888 vervollkommnete er seine Ausbildung an den Konservatorien in Stuttgart (Faisst) und Leipzig (Reinecke). 1892 liess sich Suter in Zürich nieder und leitete Chöre in Uster, Schaffhausen und Wiedikon, ehe er 1894 Organist in Zürich-Enge wurde und zwei Jahre später auch Lehrer am Zürcher Konservatorium. 1902 fand Suter seinen endgültigen Wirkungskreis in Basel, wo er gleichzeitig Dirigent der Allgemeinen Musikgesellschaft wie des Gesangvereins und der Liedertafel, sowie Lehrer am Konservatorium wurde. Dessen Direktor wurde er von 1918 bis 1921 als Nachfolger von Hans Huber. Eine schwere Erkrankung zwang ihn 1925 zum Rücktritt von sämtlichen Ämtern und führte zu seinem Tode am 22. Juni 1926 in Basel.

Suter zählte zu den einflussreichsten Schweizer Musikerpersönlichkeiten des frühen 20. Jahrhunderts und erwarb sich zahlreiche Verdienste als Vizepräsident des Schweizerischen Tonkünstlervereins wie als Förderer der zeitgenössischen Musik. Als Komponist ist Suter heute leider weitgehend vergessen. Zu Lebzeiten waren besonders seine Sinfonie d-moll, op.17, das Adolf Busch gewidmete Violinkonzert A-dur, op.23 sowie sein Oratorium Le Laudi di San Francesco d‘ Assisi, op.25 vielgespielt. Ferner verdienen seine Streichquartette, darunter vor allem das in G-dur, op.20 Amselrufe mehr Beachtung. Sein Stil stand anfänglich in der Nachfolge von Hans Huber, öffnete sich in seinen reifen Werken jedoch zunehmend impressionistischen Einflüssen und verrät eine durchaus eigenständige Handschrift.

Hermann Suter: Symphony in D minor, Op. 17



Hermann Suter was born in Kaiserstuhl, near Aarau (Switzerland) on 28th April 1870, the son of a school-teacher and passionate music-lover, amateur organist and chorus leader. After the family's move to the small town of Laufenburg, Hermann was sent to school and to piano lessons. His remarkable gifts made it clear that one day he was to become a professional musician. After initial studies under Gustav Weber, Suter was sent to Basel in order to complete his formal education. There he studied the piano and composition under Hans Huber, and theory and organ under Alfred Glaus. By 1888, the year in which he was admitted to the Stuttgart Conservatory, Suter had already composed a sonata and two sets of characteristic pieces for piano. In Stuttgart, Immanuel Faisst, Dionys Pruckner, Karl Doppler and Wilhelm Speidel were his teachers and it was Pruckner who recognized Suter's gifts not only as a choral composer but also also as a conductor. Two years later Suter was admitted to the Leipzig Conservatory, where he could study under Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn.

Meanwhile, his encounter with the music of Richard Wagner had proved a revelation, but with levelheaded self-criticism he admitted that he 'would still continue to express himself without mincing his words'. His String Quartet, Op. 1, reflects the stylistic struggles of Suter's student years in Germany, after which, in 1892, he returned to his native country and settled to Zürich as a private teacher of the piano, organ, theory and composition. Suter's chamber works were occasionally performed and he was engaged as a chorus-master and organist in various cities. His style as an orchestra conductor was refined after he was allowed to attend Friedrich Hegar's rehearsals with the freshly founded Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, which had given its first concert in 1895 (attended by Suter) under the baton of Johannes Brahms. In March 1898, Hegar handed over his baton to the still unknown Suter to conduct Richard Strauss's Don Quixote, a concert which was very positively received. From 1901 until 1902 Suter was director of the Gemischter Chor Zürich (Zürich Mixed Choir), which gave him the opportunity to conduct oratorios by Handel and Mendelssolm, and masses by Bach.

Suter's musical education can be considered as having been completed by 1902. Now 32 years old, he settled in Basel following his nomination as a director of the Schweizerisches Tonkünstlerfest (Swiss Composers' Festival) of 1903, and as a principal conductor of the orchestra of the Basler Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft (Basel General Music Society). In addition, he also took over the leadership of Basel's choral society, the Gesangverein, and later on of the Basler Liedertafel. During Suter's era (which lasted until 1925), the Basel orchestra was rapidly to become an excellent ensemble with an incredible repertoire of works from Bach to Schoenberg, including hitherto neglected composers such as Anton Bruckner, César Franck, Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius, Paul Dukas, and Russian composers (including Stravinsky) whose music Switzerland had never heard before. Contemporary works by many of Suter's compatriots were also premièred, making Basel an exciting and progressive European musical centre. The works Suter performed with the Gesangverein included Verdi's and Berlioz's Requiems (in 1903 and 1907) and the première of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's underestimated masterpiece La Vita Nuova (in 1903). The Tonkünstlerfest des Allgemeinen Deutschen Musikvereins (Composers' Festival of the General German Music Society) in 1903 consisted of six concerts, conducted by Suter and by other personalities such as Gustav Mahler, Emest Bloch, Hans Huber, Friedrich Hegar and Henri Marteau. Suter conducted works by Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Frederick Delius and by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, another Swiss composer whose rediscovery is overdue today.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Mozart's birth, Suter presented symphonies, overtures and the Requiem. In 1907 Hans Pfitzner, Frederick Delius, Julius Weismann and Walter Courvoisier were honoured. Suter's passionate readings of Haydn's Creation and The Seasons and the first unabridged performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion were praised in reviews all over Europe. But Suter's choral concert audiences were also treated too a more adventurous repertoire including Ferruccio Busoni's Piano Concerto, Franz Liszt's Christus, César Franck's Les Beatitudes, Max Reger's Requiem (dedicated to Sitter) and Frederick Delius's Zarathustra's Midnight Song.

In 1907 Suter was invited to conduct in Frankfurt (where at the same time his String Quartet in D major, Op. 1 was performed). Suter's (second) String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 10, was premièred at the Schweizerische Tonkünstlerfest in 1909 and his String Sextet in C major, Op. 18, on 20th March 1917, both performances involving the Basler Streichquartett (Basel String Quartet), which at that time was a first-rate chamber group. His (third) String Quartet in G major, Op. 20, with the original subtitle Amselrufe (Blackbird Calls), was composed in 1918 and performed the following year.

In 1913 Suter was nominated Doctor honoris causa at Basel University, the institution which was to become the dedicatee of his Symphony in D minor, Op. 17 (1914), a work first performed in Zürich on 15th March 1915 and one month later in Basel with considerable success. From 1918 until 1921 he was director of the Basel Conservatory. Another important date in Suter's career was 13th June 1923, the première of his magnificent oratorio Le Laudi di San Francesco d'Assisi, which remains today his most widely appreciated and frequently performed work. By 1929 it had already been performed 84 times in 77 different cities. At he very peak of his career and aged only 56, Suter died on 22nd June 1926 from a kidney disease. His demise was a great loss to a country which, even today, seems to have forgotten the importance of this great musician and composer.

Besides the orchestral and chamber works mentioned above, Suter wrote a very beautiful and demanding Violin Concerto in A major (1921), five sets of songs, arrangements of folk-songs and a considerable amount of choral music, both a cappella and with accompaniment.

Suter's Symphony in D minor for large symphony orchestra can be considered a milestone in Swiss symphonic music of the twentieth century, but at the same time an unjustly neglected one. The fact that it requires an excellent ensemble may be a reason for such a reserved attitude on the part of some conductors and instrumentalists. Pretentious conductors may also feel in need to criticize Suter's eclectic musical style, a thing which is even more unpardonable since they would never dare to apply such criticism to works by the so-called giants of the repertoire, whose many eclectic works make their relentless business tours through our concert halls.

Two typically Romantic Swiss composers of symphonies who remain known today are Joseph Joachim Raff and Franz Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee; Raff alone wrote eleven symphonies between 1861 and 1882, Wartensee only three. Hans Huber's eight symphonies (1881-1921), Robert Hermann's two (1895 and 1906), Fritz Brun's ten (1901-1953), Ernest Bloch's symphony of 1902, Robert Oboussier's symphony of 1936 and Walther Geiser's symphony of 1953 are all important works, characterizing the evolution of Switzerland's late Romanticism into modernity; they should reappear in concert-halls today, making audiences aware of the fact that the musical history of Europe contains quite an exciting chapter on Switzerland. But none of these works has ever been allowed to enjoy the immediate, widespread diffusion and international recognition of Arthur Honegger's five symphonies (1930-1950), written during a period in which concert audiences were increasingly accustomed to digesting more dissonant music. Incidentally Honegger, who lived in France and was there fore granted a more international status, was mostly considered a French rather than a Swiss composer.

After its successful Zürich and Basel premières in 1915, Suter's symphony was performed the following year at the Berlin Philharmonic, then in Hamburg in 1917 and in Leipzig in 1918, the last-named performance on the occasion of a festival of five concerts devoted exclusively to Swiss works, including world premières. The Berlin and Hamburg performances were conducted by Siegmund von Hausegger, a friend of Suter's, who had composed a splendid Natur-Sinfonie (Nature Symphony) in 1912. Ernest Ansermet performed Suter's symphony at the Lausanne Tonkünstlerfest in 1918. Almost with shame he asked: 'Why has French Switzerland ignored a masterpiece which has already been fully accepted elsewhere?' A Geneva reviewer found it 'a moving work by a master of deep, powerful and picturesque thoughts, which, along with Huber's symphonies, has fully realised the expectation of Swiss symphonisin'. After that, the work rapidly fell into oblivion. In 1964, on the occasion of the Swiss National Exhibition, a mono broadcast of the work was transferred to LP, in the context of a series dedicated to Swiss composers which also included a recording of Suter's Le Laudi. The success of this pioneering (and unique) cultural enterprise allowed music lovers from all over the world to become aware of the unknown treasures by Swiss composers in addition to the works by its warhorses Arthur Honegger, Frank Martin and Othmar Schoeck.

The four movements of Suter's straightforwardly dramatic Symphony in D minor give the impression of being separate tone poems on the same subject of inspiration, but the composer himself never revealed explicit programmatic texts. These different atmospheres can be guessed by the attentive listener who is acquainted with some of Switzerland's characteristics. The symphonic styles of Bruckner, Franck and Richard Strauss are, of course, the principal sources of Surer's own style, but this is expressed on a less absolute musical basis through the inclusion of Swiss folklore and because of the composer's intention to create a spiritual view of his native country from his own personal, even critical standpoint.

Switzerland's typically unpredictable climatic moods and its influences on landscapes and human feelings could be the subject of the first movement of Suter's masterpiece. Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony was, incidentally, first performed five months later (in October 1915), but, in spite of his great admiration for Strauss, Suter would have definitely disapproved of writing this extrovert work. The symphony's genuinely original scherzo, subtitled Capriccio militaresco, is a good-humoured send-up of the Swiss petty bourgeois mentality of that time, its military cult, its bureaucracy, pedantry and quarrelsomeness leading eventually to paroxysm. The finale brings the listener into the rnidst of what becomes a most uncontrollable folkloristic hustle and bustle, suggesting that, even in such a small region as the German speaking part of Switzerland, there are as many different and contrasting musical sources as there are spoken dialects, and that they can cohabitate, but often not without struggles. In its majestic, almost religious grandeur, the slow movement appears as a superb mountain landscape with tragic moments, for once transcending strictly personal opinions and continental borders.
As in César Frarick's famous Symphony in D minor of 1886-88, struggles between elementary forces (in Franck's case good and evil) are described in music, allowing the listener to experience a cyclic journey through contrasting and developing dramatic situations, leading to a positive and life-affirming outcome. In one of his letters, Suter called his symphony a 'vaterländische Gedankenreise' ('patriotic journey of thoughts'); in my opinion, this is a reference not only to those Swiss people who had to witness the outbreak of World War I, but also to following generations. The last page of the composer's autograph bears, alongside the date of 20th August 1914, the remark 'inter arma musae silent' (Amongst weapons, the Muses are silent), an affirmation which Suter did not in fact fully respect, since as early as August 1916 he had completed his grandiose Sextet in C major for strings.
The elements of folklore used in Suter's symphony have different origins: the secondary theme of the first movement and the main theme of the scherzo are not original melodies, but rhythmically spoken epigrams from the Canton of Bern transformed into music, as if to demonstrate that folk-song really originates from the rhythm of spoken language. The finale's main themes are an old mountaineer's round dance from the region of Emmenthal and a yodelling song from Appenzell, later followed by a chopping-board dance and two more songs from the same region. These themes are used in a rondo-like manner; they are varied and combined, and finally they are all blended and overlapped contrapuntally, leading to a triumphal D major affirmation of the Emmenthal tune. A curious circumstance is the use of Rameau's theme of La Poule as the scherzo's trio; Surer quoted this keyboard piece thirteen years before Respighi did so in his suite Gli uccelli (The Birds).

For this recording, the composer's autograph was used, as well as his personal set of (unprinted) instrumental parts with corrections and improvements in his own hand. In the last section of the finale, for example, the glockenspiel part has been amended and also augmented by a short cadenza-like scale, two details which I have been tempted to include.

Hans Jelmoli: Drei Stücke für Orchester (Three Pieces for Orchestra)


As a contrasting composer, but a contemporary of Hermann Surer, Hans Jelmoli's music is premièred on this disc in order not only to fill one more of those numerous gaps in Swiss musical history, but also to allow the listener to recover from Suter's passionate outbursts by means of some sweet and less pretentious (although still very valuable) musical miniatures. Jelmoli was familiar with musical theatre, something that Suter, the symphonist and choral composer, never experienced; but what they had in common is that they were inspired by Swiss folklore, they both wrote songs and chamber music and, finally, that they were great performers.
Biographical information about Hans Jelmoli is in shamefully short supply, and it is only thanks to the records at the Zürich's Zentralbibliothek (where his musical legacy has been deposited) that I could learn about this totally forgotten Swiss musician.


Jelmoli was born in Zürich, on 17th January 1877, into the renowned family of the Jelmolis, founders of Switzerland's most famous department store, a firm which is still in business today. His musical education took place under the guidance of Bernhard Scholz and Iwan Knorr, and later at the Frankfurter Hoch'sches Konservatorium (Frankfurt Conservatory) under Engelbert Humperdinck. Jelmoli studied the piano under Ernst Engesser; from 1898 until 1899 he was third conductor at the Stadttheater in Mainz and from 1899 until 1900 second Kapellmeister and chorus-master at the Stadttheater in Würzburg.

After these experiences in Germany he returned to Zürich to work as a pianist, composer, musical critic and later as a member of the board of examiners of the local Academy of Music. His excellent reputation as a concert soloist, chamber musician and vocal accompanist led to many concerts both in Switzerland and internationally. He was a highly cultivated man, and whose talents for foreign languages allowed him to translate libretti for his fellow composers, including for example Pierre Maurice's successful comic opera La nuit tous les chats sort gris (the overture to which can be heard on Sterling CDS-1053-2). Jelmoli died in Zurich on 6th May 1936.

Jelmoli wrote a considerable number of works for the stage. Scores of incidental music to Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, to Diderot's Est-il bon? Est-il méchant? and to Georg Büchner's Leonce und Lena rank alongside scores for patriotic plays such as Marignano and for the fairy-tale play Prinz Goldhaar und die Gänsehirtin. His vocal works for the stage include Aphrodite, a Hellenic festival play, the musical comedies Sein Vernmächtnis and Aufschwankem Pfad, and several patriotic musical plays based on legends or historical events from his native town. Jelmoli's instrumental works include suites and separate pieces from his stage works, extracted either for orchestra or for chamber ensembles. Original chamber works include piano pieces, one sonata each for piano, violin and cello, a piano trio and a string quintet. Jelmoli also composed numerous songs and vocal cycles with piano or organ (based on French, German and Swiss dialect texts, some inspired by folklore) and songs or cycles with orchestral or chamber accompaniment.
He set two poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and a series of Hungarian folk-songs for soloists, chorus and orchestra or piano. His works for chorus a cappella (mixed, male or female) are inspired either by folklore or by patriotism; he also set more poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, by Lessing and by contemporary Swiss poets. Jelmoli's choral pieces were at that time his most frequently performed compositions. Among his arrangements we find a transcription for small orchestra of Mozart's Adagio for pianoforte, KV 540, and a lefthand adaptation of the minuet from Schubert's Piano Sonata, D 894.
The large number of dramas and vaudevilles by the French writer Eugène Scribe (1791-1861) inspired numerous libretti by composers such as Adam, Auber, Boieldieu, Cherubim, Halévy, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Offenbach and Verdi, and it is rather curious that a Swiss composer in the twentieth century would return to an author who was so much a figure of his own time. Jelmoli's lyric comedy in one act Sein Vermächtnis (His Legacy) is based on Eugène Scribe's and André Honoré Joseph Mélesville's L'Amour Platonique, ou la femme de Monsieur Adolphe (1820). The composer himself translated and adapted its German libretto. The work was written in 1901 and first performed at the Zürich Stadttheater (today the Opernhaus) in 1904, with the then famous and versatile German baritone Wilhelm Bockholt in the cast.
The three charming and lightweight miniatures from Sein Vermächtnis recorded here were extracted by Jelmoli in February 1912 for concert performances, but never published. The Prelude in C sharp minor is a four-part suite-overture with short introduction and coda, featuring the comedy's principal tunes. First we hear a witty, march-like Allegretto grazioso, leading to a lyrical, chromatic string episode. There follows a waltz in E minor (Andantino, mesto) which is interrupted by a short desire to relapse into the lyrical theme of the introduction. Next comes an extended dance (Più largo e maestoso), a combination of a tambourine and galop (in G major), which also requires a lyrical expansion (in E major), but this is not fully realized, since the dance's vivid theme tries to impose itself twice before the general coda.
The Intermède lyrique is a beautiful and floating ballet Adagio in E major a la Tchaikovsky, suggesting a love scene in which the harp has a predominant rôle.
The third piece, Reigen (Round Dance, in G major) bears the subtitle Ballettmusik. It is undoubtedly of folk inspiration, with the formal scheme A-B-A: the introduction and conclusion contain pastoral calls for solo winds over sustained strings, framing a leisurely minuet in the style of a Ländler, first for strings, then for full orchestra. This theme reminds me strongly of an old song from the Canton of Obwalden. Mir Senne hei's lustig (We Dairymen have a Jolly Good Time). The trio is a tiny, almost mechanical musette, once again with definitely more Swiss than French colouring, played by the flutes, oboes and bassoons. The orchestra required for these lovely and delicately orchestrated pieces consists of double woodwind, two horns and two trumpets, timpani, triangle, harp and strings.

© Adriano 2003, edited by Andrew Bamett