'Writer, composer, musicologist' is the most concise biographical summary Elmer Schönberger is inclined to assign himself, although the order has the habit of changing. The musicology student who published his first reviews in the Utrechts Nieuwsblad and wrote his first 'official' composition for the International Choir Festival, would over the years emerge as a man of divided loyalties: critic amongst musicologists, musicologist amongst composers, composer amongst writers.
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, and where Schubert, Mahler and Debussy were relegated to the furthest reaches of the syllabus: 'Outside the building, the world was revolutionary and socially relevant; within, it was above all traditional-Catholic.' Schönberger calls the composer Rudolf Escher, whose mission as senior lecturer in musicology was to teach 'Aspects of contemporary music', his most significant intellectual source of inspiration during his studies: a man who allowed the fervent-fastidious detachment of the rivalling fellow composer to prevail over the sober-scientific objectivity of the professional musicologist.
Schönberger 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 ).
He had already developed into a 'professional listener' while still a student of musicology in Utrecht and of piano at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague: the Utrechts Nieuwsblad was followed by De Volkskrant and, beginning in 1976, Vrij Nederland , for which he wrote the column 'Het Gebroken Oor' from 1982--2004. In that period he also contributed to a wide range of books and journals, including Key Notes - Musical Life in the Netherlands , where from 1975--1987 he served as editor and, later, editor-in-chief. In 1990 he was awarded the Pierre Bayle Prize for music criticism.
His affinity - then and now - lies with music of his own time, which he defines as the time that begins 'at the earliest memory of the oldest person I can remember': in his case shortly after 1875, the year in which his grandfather and Ravel were born. 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.'
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. 'Writing about' was gradually superseded by simply 'writing'.
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. Schönberger made his literary debut in 2003 with the novel Vic, met name. Vuursteens vleugels, his second novel, is, like his composition Dovemansoren, a spinoff on his play Dovemansoren.