Elmer Schönberger was born in Utrecht on January 1, 1950.
“Writer, composer, musicologist” is the most concise biographical summary Elmer Schönberger is inclined to assign himself, although the order has the habit of changing.
Schönberger studied piano at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, with Jan de Man and Gérard van Blerk and musicology at the University in Utrecht. He graduated with theses on Stravinsky and on interdisciplinary aspects of musicology.
He continued studying composition privately with Escher and after his death sat on the Escher Committee, devoted to the promotion of his music. In 1985, he co-published an edition of Escher’s Debussy lectures (Debussy. Actueel verleden).
From 1982, he wrote the column “Het Gebroken Oor” for Vrij Nederland. In that period he also contributed to a wide range of books and journals, including Key Notes – Musical Life in the Netherlands, where he served as editor and, later, editor-in-chief from 1975-1987.
In “Histoire d’Oor” (1993) – an essay in book form about his career as professional listener – he portrays the Utrecht Institute for Musicology in the period 1968-1974 as a world mired in the middle ages.
His longstanding love affair with the music of Stravinsky resulted in “Het apollinisch uurwerk. Over Stravinsky” (1983, together with Louis Andriessen), which Richard Taruskin described as “the one book about Stravinsky Stravinsky would have liked.” The English translation appeared in 1989 and the Russian version in 2003.
Until the mid-1990s the focus of Schönberger’s work lay primarily in musicography, alternately combined with activities such as conservatory lecturer, programmer at the Holland Festival (he introduced the Russian composers Gubaidulina and Ustvolskaya to Dutch audiences) and – until the present day – advisor to the Schoenberg Ensemble. For this ensemble he made an adaptation of Darius Milhaud “Saudades do Brazil” (1921/1990).
Schönberger made his literary debut in 2003 with the novel “Vic, met name”. “Vuursteens vleugels” (2009), his second novel, is, like his composition ‘Dovemansoren’, a spinoff on his play ‘Dovemansoren’.
On recommendation of Herman Strategier, his theory teacher, he composed his first “official” composition ‘Chasse à l’enfant’ (1971), for the International Choir Festival.
As a composer Schönberger has manifested himself primarily in the theatre (the music theatre work ‘Verhuisbericht’ in 1983, incidental stage music), until he returned to the concert hall in 1997 with ‘En nergens Bach’. A lifelong love of the theatre and for just the right word inspired him to write a number of plays, including ‘Kwartetten’ (1999), about a string quartet and played by four actors and a string quartet.
His most recent works include:
- ‘Caliban Sings‘ (Three Songs from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest) for mezzo-soprano and ensemble;
- ‘Tempo impetuoso d’estate sull’ esempio di Vivaldi‘: for ensemble;
- ‘Solemn and Strange Music‘: for ensemble;
- ‘Nobodyes Gigge‘: for ensemble.
In 1990 he was awarded the Pierre Bayle Prize for music criticism.