"...ein Jäger, Wanderer, Sammler, vor allem ein Maler..." (Meinrad Inglin)
His grandfather became a musician (cantor of St Elisabeth's Church in Basle), in spite of his parents' plans who wanted him to succeed his uncle, personal physician of Princesse de Lamballe at the court in pre-revolutionary Paris. His father married the daughter of a well-established family and made his own money in the silk trade; of his six children, only Alfred reached adulthood. While his father planned a commercial career for his sole heir, Alfred finally got him to agree to his becoming a painter; so he studied first in Basle under Horner, then in Geneva under Diday.
Back in Basle, the young painter wrote to the German zoologist Alfred Brehm, to ask which corners of the earth would reward best a man who loved both to paint and to hunt, and, following Brehm's advice, he went to Norway (1866) and the Dobrudja (1868); there he developed his own style of painting showing his life-long preferences for water, stone and sky. In1873, a big land-owner who, two years before, had ordered the monumental picture of the Rhone near Geneva, invited Alfred Schoeck to paint his possessions in Nova Scotia and the Canadian wilderness. On those expeditions, Schoeck hired a photographer and brought back not only his sketches but a number of glass plates (some of them showing the painter at work).
After his marriage to Agathe Fassbind he settled down in Brunnen, his wife's birth-place. In his studio in the "Villa Ruhheim" he painted a series of big pictures after his sketches; but he also continued to work outdoors, painting not only the famous motifs of Urirotstock, Urnersee and Mythen but also less spectacular parts of the countryside. Even in his seventies, journeys to Italy and North Africa brought him new colours and new impulses once more, and he was granted the privilege of creativity until the last days of his long life. We'll quote here Hermann Hesse's portrait of his friend's father without translation:
Vor allem aber waren da in unerschöpflicher Fülle Früchte eines stillen Fleisses und einer grosszügigen Wanderleidenschaft und Weltneugierde, die Naturstudien von des Alten Hand, meisterhafte Studien aus vielen Ländern und Breitengraden, namentlich aber aus Süditalien und aus dem hohen Norden: Felsenküsten und farbige Hafensiedlungen auf den Lofoten, norwegische Fjorde, violett blühende nordische Heide. Inmitten dieser Sachen empfing uns zuweilen der alte Herr, die Mütze über dem weissen Haar, die hellen klugen Augen freundlich blickend, von uns und der Aussenwelt nicht mehr erregbar, aber keineswegs weltfremd. Oft habe ich ihn an der Staffelei gesehen, sorgfältigst mit seiner Palette beschäftigt; manchmal blickte er über den blaugrünen See zum Urirotstock hinüber, dann mischte er wieder prüfend seine abgetönten Blau und Grau, das Hotel unter ihm und die Welt unter ihm mochten ihren Gang gehen, er ging den seinen.
"...die Mutter Schoeck mit dem Falkenprofil und den leidenschaftlichen Augen..." (Hermann Hesse)
Agathe Fassbind's parents kept the "Hotel Rössli" in Brunnen (where Ludwig II of Bavaria stayed once and apparently liked the home-made plum-pie so much that he sent his valet back from Altdorf in the middle of the night to get more of it). The rather modest hotel between the other houses of the "Schiltenüüni" (early drawing by Paul Schoeck) was too small for Brunnen's rising popularity amongst the tourists. Therefore the Fassbind family (namely Agathe's mother Nanette, called in jest "Marschall Vorwärts", like Blücher) built the village's grandest and most fashionable hotel on the border of the lake, the Waldstätterhof (below: drawing by young Othmar Schoeck).
The three daughters and the only son took part in the keeping of the new hotel; there, Agathe Fassbind met Alfred Schoeck, artist from Basle, who, like many of his colleagues, had come to the lake of Lucerne to paint the celebrated scenery.
In their home und later in the " Eden Hotel", Agathe Schoeck-Fassbind was something like the centre of their own world; many of the hotel guests came back as friends, and their friends as well as the friends of all sons enjoyed the hospitality of the "Eden". A big correspondence, both private and business, lay in her hands, and it's a pity that most of her spontaneous letters are lost.
After his studies in Zürich (ETH) the young architect returned to Brunnen where he realized his first two buildings, the fee allowing him to spend some months in Florence and Rome where he discovered that the thing he really wanted to do was to write.
He came back without his intended project for a national monument in Schwyz (in fact, the competition which he had planned to take part in never produced any results), but instead had written his first drama, "Maria von Magdala". Although a second stay in Florence produced a project for the new museum of Art in Basle (another architectural competition), writing remained more important, and Paul Schoeck decided to apply for an architectural job in Munich where he hoped to find publishers for his play. World War I's mobilization suddenly brought him back from a project in St. Petersburg to Switzerland. So, "Maria von Magdala" remained unpublished - as did his later play "Das Inselmärchen"; another drama, "Niklaus von der Flüe", was never finished.
The only drama both published and performed successfully was his "Tell" in Swiss dialect, not contradicting Schiller's master-piece, but using it as a natural background relying on the audience's knowing the older play almost by heart. The big success of the first performance in Zürich 1920 was to be surpassed only by the 1939 production at the Swiss National Exhibition, when the shadows of World War II supplied the play with an unintentional actuality.
Besides being a sought-after architect in Brunnen where he lived from 1914 onwards (first with his parents, later with his wife, a French pianist, in the "Alte Post", his very first building), he also was a talented piano player and , above all, a distinguished painter of water-colours.
Mechanical engineer, Professor at the Technikum in Winterthur. After his studies in Zürich (ETH) he designed an aircraft engine never to be patented because a similar project had been developed some months earlier, invented the elliptical compasses and even planned a military officer's career. Passionate mountaineer (his brother Othmar dedicated his song cycle "Wanderung im Gebirge" to him) and environmentalist avant la lettre. We'll quote Meinrad Inglin's portrait of his friend from the prose fragment "Nachts bei den Brüdern Schoeck"
Ralph, der zweitälteste, war nicht da, er war Professor am Technikum in Winterthur und kam nur in den Ferien für längere Zeit heim. Seine geachtete Stellung und gesicherte Existenz verschafften ihm ein Ansehen, das die labileren Brüder freute, aber er hatte seinen Anteil an der väterlichen Erbschaft, durchwanderte mit Vorliebe das wildeste Bergland und schien den Tieren oft mehr zugetan als den Menschen. Als junger Offizier war er von einem ungeschickten Vorgesetzten falsch behandelt worden, aber als ich ihn näher kennenlernte, war er der denkbar zuverlässigste Bataillonsadjutant. Er war grossgewachsen, hager, zäh, ein grundgütiger, gerader, lauterer Mann. der alle seine Brüder überleben sollte, bis ins hohe Alter starke schwarze Toscanelli rauchte und den Vögeln vor dem Fenster täglich den Futtertisch deckte.Before the Eden Hotel was sold in 1952, he bought the "Villa Ruhheim" and thus saved the family home.
"Walter, unser Cellist, der das Hotel führte, aber mit seinen Talenten kein Hotelier war..." (Meinrad Inglin)
Since the two older brothers showed no interest in taking over the family hotel, it was natural that the parents tried to persuade their third son to do so. The main argument was the shortness of the summer season leaving time enough for the future hotelier's musical and literary interests. So Walter, with his diploma from the commercial school in Zürich, went back to Brunnen to run the Eden and spent the following winters in big hotels in Florence, London and Assuan enlarging his experience.
Tourism flourished in those first years, the Eden hotel was short of beds, and Walter had to ask his brother Paul to build an extension to meet their needs. This was in 1913, before World War I left the hotels empty. The twenties brought a short period of prosperity again allowing Walter Schoeck to be a successful host within Eden's unique combination of hotel, private home and artist's studio. The memories of Hermann Hesse go back to this time, and Meinrad Inglin (himself an amateur violinist who had begun to play chamber music with his cellist friend) regrets his discreet part in the lively household:
Er begnügte sich, wie schon oft, mit der Rolle des Gastgebers, obwohl er aus seiner Welterfahrung und musikalischen Bildung heraus an solchen Sitzungen jeweilen sein eigenes Wort zu sagen gehabt hätte.Even in the busiest periods, Walter Schoeck pursued his musical interests, playing cello in different orchestras and, as mentioned above, chamber music groups in the region; but only in the economically most difficult years he had time to write. While his plays ("Grazien", "Das Irrenhaus", "Bürger Albrecht" and "Dämonen") are unpublished, two small volumes of musical essays, "Der Musikbeflissene" und "Am Notenpult" with cover drawings by Walter's growing-up son Georg, brought a remarkable success (and a second edition of the first).
Besides, it was entirely to his credit that the "Eden" remained home and base for all the brothers during their lifetime - a home where their numerous friends were also welcome. Of the many well-known names we mention here only Heinrich Danioth who was given the remainders of Alfred Schoeck's oil colours and brushes when war times made such things scarce; he painted Walter Schoeck's portrait three times (here the coal drawing).
Although Othmar's musicality had shown itself in early days, he was sent to the same science-based school in Zürich as his brothers. Not until he had failed completely in mathematics did his parents allow him to attend first an art school, then soon after the conservatory (1904).
Before this time he had composed a few songs later to be published, but now he became more prolific; when he met Max Reger in January 1907 he was able to show him quite a number of manuscripts which resulted in the composer's "urgent" invitation to join his masterclass in Leipzig.
Returning from Leipzig in 1908, Schoeck found his first job as deputy director of the men's chorus "Harmonie" in Zürich; directorships of other choruses followed (because somehow Schoeck had to earn his living), but his main occupation was composing: first of all lieder, but also instrumental concertos and chamber music, and, after 1916, eight operas (of which "Don Ranudo" 1919 was most frequently performed in Schoeck's lifetime, while today "Venus" 1922 und "Penthesilea" 1927 are more successful). The pre-war years also brought Schoeck's friendship with Hermann Hesse and their journeys to Italy in 1911 and 1913.
The appointment as conductor of the St Gall Symphony orchestra (with special permission to remain resident in Zürich) combined with the annuity his patron Werner Reinhart gave him from 1916 onwards allowed Schoeck to give up his jobs as chorus director and to compose more or less undisturbed.
Samples of his conducting and of his sensitive piano accompaniment have outlived in historical recordings which now are available on CD. New recordings of Schoeck's works are on the market too: three complete operas ("Venus", "Penthesilea" and "Massimilla Doni"), chamber music and the violin concerto, and above all the complete edition of the lieder (12 CDs) produced by Jecklin; by the way, the composer's own paintings on the covers prove he didn't neglect his second talent.In 1926 he married Hilde Bartscher, a German singer from Frankfurt; some months before their daughter Gisela was born in 1932, the couple moved to a small house in Zürich-Wollishofen where they were to stay for the rest of their lives. An honorary doctorate awarded by the University of Zürich in 1928 was the beginning of a series of honours of which full particulars are given in the rather extensive biographical literature that is available.
In the parental home at the Lettenholzstrasse in Zürich, Gisela Schoeck is still administering her father's heritage; most of his musical manuscripts are deposited at the Zentralbibliothek Zürich. Dr Chris Walton, who is in charge of its music department, is the well-known author of a new Schoeck biography.