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Schoenberg is shrunk to size

December 17, 2016 by norman lebrecht

35 comments.


Pina Napolitano is touring a reduced version of Arnold Schoenberg’s piano concerto for 14 players.

It’s well within the tradition of Schoenberg shrinking other composers’ works for private performance.


Comments (35)

  1. John Borstlap says:

    Schoenberg, who often lived in quarters too small for himself and his family, used only part of the dodecaphonic series in his work if he had not enough space.

    1. Daniel F. says:

      Satire is apparently not JB’s strength.

      1. Sue says:

        I actually think it’s funny!!

        1. John Borstlap says:

          Mr F did not get the pun.

          1. VA says:

            Overall I second Mr. F’s perspective, though the remark about gestures reveals a certain understanding, the rest is rather embarassing.

          2. John Borstlap says:

            Often, Schoenberg fans take their prophet much too seriously. I am a great, but selective fan, and I think Schoenberg would have appreciated irony and jokes, a side of him that has been brushed under the carpet by his followers. When Poulenc and Milhaud visited Schoenberg in the twenties, during a hot summer day, they were invited for dinner. During the meal, the Schoenberg children who were playing outside, threw a ball through the open window which landed in the soup terreen, thereby splashing its contents over hosts and guests, after which Schoenberg said – through the vermicelli hanging over his bald scull: “That’s what I want to do with musical life”. He succeeded.

  2. Dan P. says:

    Ever since I first heard this piece as a kid (Glenn Gould’s recording), I’ve thought it was intensely beautiful. I even spent several months annoying my piano teacher with parts of it when I brought them to my lessons. She didn’t share my enthusiasm, waiting for me to return to the assigned Chopin. (Prokofiev was about as far as she was willing to go with me).

    This transcription follows not only in the Schoenberg tradition (but thank God the arranger didn’t include the Schoenbergian harmonium) but also another long line of orchestra reductions starting with Mozart (who told his father certain of his concerti being adaptable) and Chopin. (I recently heard a live performance on You Tube of the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto minus trumpets for some reason, but I think that falls into a different category.)

    Here, although, I think a slightly larger string group would have been nice, but it’s hard to tell given that we can only hear the music accompanying Ms. Napolitano’s comments (I got impatient and didn’t listen all the way to the end of the clip). Also, I can’t say that I’m crazy about Ms. Napolitano’s performance, which is so heavy and stress-laden that the music feels weighted down and unphrased at the beginning. But, at least she’s playing the piece. Decades ago one writer suggested that this concerto was a musical heir to the Brahms Second. It’s pretty clear to me, at least, that it certainly is – and it should be played that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schoenberg had it in the back of his mind when he wrote it. But back to this version – I just wonder how all of the big climaxes sound with only a handful of instruments.

    1. Gerhard says:

      You tell Mozart wrote to his father about some of his concerti to be ‘adaptable’. I remember one of his letters in which he wrote about being in a rush to write a harmony (=wind ensemble) arrangement of an opera fearing somebody else might bring one out first and get the profit (no copyright laws back then). But I have never seen a remark of his about arranging a concerto in the letters I know. Could you please specify where you found this? Thank you!

      1. Dan P. says:

        I’m going from memory here (and I may be wrong – I read it in a biography years ago, I don’t have the letters at the moment) – but it concerned Concertos 11, 12, 13 – the first he wrote in Vienna. The point was that these could be played without the winds and just as a quintet. But these weren’t arranged separately. But perhaps I’m mis-remembering and confusing what the biographer said with what was quoted from a letter. I read this decades ago. I’ll have to look it up again.

        As for a wind arrangement of opera excerpts, did Mozart ever get around to doing them? I know the ones arranged by Triebensee (Don Giovanni) and Heidenrich (Magic Flute), which are quite fun.

        1. Gerhard says:

          Thanks for your reply. As far as I know we have no opera harmony arrangement which can be attributed to the composer himself. But this is no proof that he didn’t write one.

    2. John Borstlap says:

      The Schoenberg concerto is heir to Brahms nr 2 in the sense that Schoenberg used all the notes that Brahms carefully left out.

      That piano teacher must have been a very musical player.

      Schoenberg used classical structuring in that concerto without the entire musical dimension that was part of such structuring. For instance, cancelling the dissonance/consonance relationship by ’emancipating’ the dissonance, results in grey, misfitting sounds, mimicking music. You could rewrite the work in terms of gestures but with entirely different notes and make it listenable.

      1. Dan P. says:

        I think you’re substituting a description of a subjective reaction (which we all have) for that of a universal experience. As it turns out, I (and lots of others) don’t share your perception of this repertoire at all (and I’m sure we otherwise love and admire many composers in common). But I don’t see how loving the music of Schoenberg makes me “unmusical,” which I think was your implication in the remark about my piano teacher (which is why I responded, since I think it’s perfectly fine to have differing opinions). After all, lots of very musical people have demonstrated their love for both – Schnabel, Brendel, Pollini, just to name three pianists who come to mind right now.

        It’s just that some of us can appreciate types of musical relationships and modes of expression that you don’t. And that is not meant to be a put down. We all have experienced music that we don’t “get” but lots of others do. I just think one goes down the wrong road in making assumptions based on differing points of view. I also think it’s misguided to judge one kind of art by the norms of a different kind of art. After all, if one thinks that all of painting is summed up by, say, Caravaggio or Rembrandt, then Picasso or Kandinsky will surely disappoint. But that misses the point.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          It is not necessarily the case that rejection means lack of understanding. It is always psosible that rejecting a form of art is based upon a thorough understanding. I understand homicide, alcoholism and drug addiction very well, and therefore I reject it on principle. It is not a matter of liking and not liking, of entirely subjective perception, but of what is there in the reality of the work of art and what was intended by its maker. Schoenberg created an entirely new art form using the gestures of music, but it is not music, and his mistake was to think it was merely a furhter historical stage in the development of the musical art form – all Hegelianism and romantic posturing.

          I have noticed that musicians (who are otherwise excellent performers) who love the later, serial Schoenberg, recognize themselves in the profound neurotic and twisted nature of this body of work, full of unresolvable conflict and contradictions, tortured, static, pretentious, etc. etc. and of course they love performing it, expressing their own inner conflicts and emotional frustrations. So, they understand it very well, but that does not mean it is THEREFORE music. Also performers can completely misunderstand the meaning of their own understanding, not being intellectuals and merely reacting emotionally to scores. A really musical performer will immediately recognize the neurotic and forced nature of Schoenberg’s later works, and the in-built unmusicality of them: applying a tortured system the nature of which has nothing to do with music as an art form.

          In short: performers loving those works, merely experience them as reflections of their own neurosis. It may be called ‘understanding’ but it is, in my view, not a musical understanding.

          1. Dan P. says:

            I understand that you judge music and musicality based on your own conceptions – and perceptions – of music. But I think you err in assuming that yours is the only possible one. Any serious thinking person does and as much as we’d like think otherwise, our perceptions are not universal, despite how valid they may be for us and our cohorts.

            Isn’t what many people find interesting in music are musical ideas and their relationships and transformations over time? That’s what pulls me in emotionally, at least. Diatonic tonality created a great context for this, but they occur in post-tonal music as well. In fact, that was one of the things that concerned Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg.

            I’m not sure how you identify neurosis in music. We all have our own inner associations, but it seems iffy to me to generalize from them. They come from our individual experiences. The Overture to the Barber of Seville perfectly sets the tone of the opera to come – or so it seems. It was actually previously appended to two different operas, one of them being “Elizabeth, Queen of England.” And if you had asked any American kid in the 40s or 50s what the final tutti of the Overture to William Tell represented to them, they would all say, of course, the Lone Ranger and Tonto galloping on horseback through the old American west hunting bad guys. Not much to generalize from. And arguments from intention always fall flat on their face. As interesting as what Schoenberg might or might not have said his intentions were, even if true, they don’t necessarily prove anything.

            What I do find troublesome, though, is the assumption that performers (and listeners) who love and admire Schoenberg merely see reflections of their own neuroses. I take exception to that on behalf of myself and friends who play this music. I’m not sure how you would come to this conclusion. And while I recognized the put down about being “fans” (it actually made me smile – it was a nice, sly, rhetorical touch!) we are talking here of very cultured scholars who actually know a lot about and have thought a lot about this repertoire.

            You know, I read your comments and think you’re a very cultured person who has thought greatly about these things and who has come to his own conclusions. That’s perfectly fine. I can respect that, even if we disagree. But I would hope that we could give a modicum of respect to those who come to music from a different perspective. I’ve lived through and have been a part of many internecine wars (Schenkerians v. Non-Schenkerians, Historically Informed Performers v. Anti-HIP, Boulezists v.Anti-Boulezists, etc.,etc.). I’ve even slept with people from both sides of each argument. But casting aspersions on the other side tends to divert attention away from what is of real interest, reducing the whole thing to giving someone the finger, which, as good as it may feel, sheds little light.

          2. Dan P. says:

            Apologies: The last sentence of the first paragraph should have read:

            Any serious thinking person has their own conceptions of music but as much as we’d like think otherwise, our perceptions are not universal, despite how valid they may be for us and our cohorts. I typed too fast.

          3. John Borstlap says:

            To Dan:

            I meant something on another level than the subjective interpretations or intentions of music. Where an interrelated network of tones creates the experience of space, with perspective like in a painting, musical energies ‘move’ within that space and become expressive and communicative. Music has a technical ‘depth’ that works made of pure sound – atonal / sonic works – have not. In music, the tones are more than sound, they are metaphorical orientation points, or articulation points, forming a context which is different from sound. If you listen to a recording of a Bach piece and you hear a car claxon sound from the street outside, if you are a musical person, you will be aware than that sound from outside inhabits another context that the music you are listening to. But with atonal music, that difference is not there, since all that is heard, operates on the same acoustical level. That is why in the works of Boulez or Xenakis much effort has been invested in avoiding connections between the tones. So, we are not talking about subjective opinion at all, but about a fundamental distinction between tone and sound. That is why for instance in Schoenberg’s Serenade, where he uses the gestures of music and little melodic fragments, there is a force working against the emerging of an inner space because the unrelenting dissonances destroy the connections which otherwise may have come about. (It also sounds just silly and ugly, like a sarcastic mocking.)

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCVLznDTvpc

            Compare that with, for instance, late chamber music by Debussy, which is as ‘abstract’ as the Schoenberg piece – pure line and colour – but creating an interrelated space:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI-wlmMNU6c

            The Debussy piece is superb music, and also full of dissonances, but also with much consonance. The Schoenberg is, in comparison, a forced farce and a work between two contexts: as music, it is crazy, and as sonic art it wants to appear as music but fails to do so.

          4. Dan P. says:

            To John I apologize if this is long but what we’re talking about goes to the heart of what separates us.

            First we agree: The late Debussy sonatas are superb. I first played the violin sonata while at Juilliard and the cello sonata later. Also, for what it’s worth, I also know the Mitropoulos recording of the Serenade quite well – and I still remember the little record shop (long since gone) on Madison Ave. where I bought the recording on a very small out-of-the-way label – must have been around 1973.

            Now to your other comments:

            To your first idea, if I can put what you said into my terms, triads participate in directed motion leading from the tonic and back to the tonic through other scale degrees creating patterns that become meaningful by their context (e.g., gestures that lead a listener to anticipate a completion of a motion, which the composer can satisfy or postpone). I agree in terms of traditional tonal vocabulary and even music that isn’t, strictly speaking, tonal in the Mozart/Beethoven sense (I’d put Debussy in this group – but it all depends upon how you define diatonic tonality).

            As for your idea about Tones v. Sounds, I would put it this way: what makes notes meaningful in diatonic tonality is their function within the harmonic and linear structure as well as their role in motives and their development. And all of this is predicated on the hierarchy of the harmony it belongs to (within the key) and the function of its scale degree. (I don’t know how to say this in just a sentence since it’s a big topic.) In tonal music we can hear a single note change its function it is harmonized by different chords or is re-interpreted from, say, a minor seventh (in a dominant seventh chord) to an augment 6th (in a German augmented 6th chord). But non-tonal music is not bereft of notes having discernible meanings or function although those meanings can only be extrapolated by its context, since to be non-tonal means to be dependent on the context of a particular piece. I think one can say that for the diatonic music of Debussy, diatonic/octatonic music of Stravinsky, or music that deals in note collections like late Scriabin as well as Schoenberg and his friends. If one can’t accept that, then, ok. I can understand your position.

            But our conceptions of consonance and dissonance fundamentally differ. For you it’s an esthetic quality that distinguishes them. For me, in diatonic tonality I would say that consonances derive from the triad while dissonances derive from linear motions and their function is to provide motion to a consonance (this derives from Schenker and is hardly original). This is certainly different than how 2nds and 7ths function in Debussy, where, say, in the “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” the sonority E,G#,B,C# would have one meaning as a seventh chord inversion – and therefore be dissonant – while in the Prelude it functions as a tonic sonority whether it is on E or D or Db. Of course, that doesn’t cover jazz and popular music – which I’ll stay away from for the time being. In any case, B/C# is dissonant in tonality but not in the Debussy Prelude. And I don’t think anyone hears it that way.

            In any case, I’m sorry you don’t like the Schoenberg Serenade. I find it charming and lighthearted and the Lied ohne Worte movement is really beautiful. Still, I’m still convinced that you’re working backwards from the music you like or don’t like to the reasons for justifying that assessment. But so be it. If we all looked at the world and drew our conclusions about it in the same way and agreed on everything, life wouldn’t be very interesting. And we’d probably all still be living in caves.

  3. Pina Napolitano says:

    Thanks for sharing Norman! The UK performances will be at the Oxford Sheldonian on 17 February, at 20.00; London Cadogan Hall on 22 February, at 19.30; and Cambridge West Road on 26 February at 20.00. The rest of the program features Schoenberg’s Kammersymphonie Op. 9 (whose distinctive instrumentation is reutilized in our arrangement for the concerto), Berg’s 7 Early Songs in Reinbert de Leeuw’s arrangment, and Schoenberg’s Song of the Wood Dove, from Gurre-Lieder. All welcome!

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Happy to see Sch’s opus 9 performed…. that masterpiece is performed far not enough. It is his single attempt, and a very successful one, at Beethovenian symphonic writing. (And, by the way, it is entirely tonal, and thoroughly musical.)

  4. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    Thanks for posting! I like all of this – really good to hear the piece with excellent repertoire value, and a reminder how good Schoenberg’s compisitions were. From Pina’s website: she has an interesting CV, seems to be “s**t hot” on Slavic languages and literature, with impressive academic credentials, and has carved out a nice niche with 20th century composers. Perfect English too. I would love to see the expressions on the faces of “international piano competition” organizers if they were to look at her repertoire, which neatly bypasses the competition circuit and would likely go down in that environment like a f**t in church.

    1. Paul Davis says:

      How marvellously apt to find “s**t hot” and “a f**t in church” in the context of this composer’s “compistitions!” As it turd out, you neglected to spell “Schoenburp” correctly; i hope you are flushing with embarrassment.

      1. Paul Davis says:

        …flushing myself now….. * “compisitions”

      2. John Borstlap says:

        Addy Schoenburp (1878-1961) was Arnold Schoenberg’s younger brother Adolf, who changed his name whan naturalized in the USA in 1943 because he did not want to be associated with serialism.

        1. Paul Davis says:

          Ye gods, i didn’t know that…….can’t even have a humorous dig without an unexpuct fact ruining the joke! I suppose Arnold became a US citizen but was already de-naturalized beyond all repair.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            But he recaptured some of music’s nature by writing again tonally / traditionally, and finishing his 2nd Chamber Symphony which he had left unfinished before 1914. He still had enough tradition in his soul to see that John Cage, who came to him in the forties for advice, was a real decomposer: he told him he had no talent for music whatsoever, and Cage took this advice seriously and set-out to demonstrate what that would mean if one would create works nonetheless. If Schoenberg had denaturalized himself, Cage was the first decomposer.

  5. John Borstlap says:

    To Dan:

    Thank you for your exposition. But I am not talking about the theoretical context of tone combinations, but about how they work in reality. Tonality is not a theoretical system but the total of relationships that connect tones forming an ‘inner space’. Schoenberg tried to find another way of connecting, a way different from tonality. He said it himself…. and never heard that it did not work because his musicality was locked-up behind the bars of his formidable intellect.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      PS: There is also a philosophical side to the claim that critique of Schoenberg is merely a personal opinion based upon traditional thinking: the green I see is ‘merely’ my own opinion of colour and not a property of the grass. It is a way of diverting observations back to the subject, like saying that 2 + 2 = 4 is not ‘true’ but a subjective opinion. In the same way postwar modernist composers attacked critique of atonal ‘music’ as being based upon a narrow-minded, reactionary mindset, so that their own misunderstanding of the matter could parade as ‘progressiveness’. The greatness of Debussy is, that he thought IN music and not ABOUT music, while Schoenberg with his Germanic academism continually thought ABOUT music and its future. Ironically, it was Debussy who had had a thorough traditional academic training, while Schoenberg was an autodidact – who wanted to prove himself to be an academic by writing his monumental ‘Harmonielehre’, which nobody reads and which never helped any composer to develop.

      1. Dan P. says:

        Debussy may have gone to the academy, but I don’t think he ever took what they were selling terribly seriously. His public opinion of “theory” as he understood the term, at least, was pretty low. In some of his published writing he talks about never accepting a “rule” just because it was passed on down to him. But he did become enormously cultured in the music and the other arts of his time, as you know. The thing is, he had an extraordinary inner ear and a powerful imagination.

        But I think Schoenberg did too. I know you think well of his early music (you mention the Kammersymphonie Op. 9) and that had to have been written with someone able to handle problems of form and enormously elaborate counterpoint in a very complex and chromatically inflected tonal environment. And, historically speaking, disregarding for a moment what he said about his discovery of the 12-tone series, we DO know that his path away from tonality was a gradual one as his music became more and more chromatic until it completely moved away from any tonal references. A piece like the Second String Quartet is pretty much where it all happened. (What are your thoughts on that piece?) And his progress toward conceptualizing the 12-tone series was also very gradual as he sought a way to control harmony in a big forms. And what about Alban Berg?

        As for the philosophy of music and talking abstractly about it as you do, I have to confess I have a hard time with visualizing some of your concepts. My brain is just not very good when it comes to that, although I have friends and colleagues who can negotiate them without any problem and I admire them for that. I really have to admit my limitations. My apologies. Same with math.

        So let me ask you this – what 20th century composers do you think most highly of?

        1. John Borstlap says:

          We know that Debussy had a way of exaggerating the role played by instinct and intuition, and underplaying the role of his own thorough training at the conservatoire. He had a very good contact with his teacher Ernest Guiraud, who was not a ‘great’ composer but was a well-trained craftsman in his own way, because that was the tradition at that institution. Debussy took all the craft offered to him on board, as his winning exam cantata ‘LEnfant Prodrigue’ amply demonstrates – it is not the Debussy as we know him, but it is a brilliant and meaty piece with lots of invention. He also carefully studied Wagner scores and adapted lots of their inventions; he played the piano at Parisian salon concerts of Wagner operas when young. He rejected all theory and academia when it hindered his fantasy, but accepted their results if they were musically interesting to him.

          Sch’s 2nd string quartet is entirely tonal: the notes relate to each other and create an ‘inner space’, it is very expressive music, albeit very desolate. Tonality is not the oldfashioned major-minor system, but the resonance between tones as made possible by the natural overtone series: octave, fifth, third etc. and their variations. (Even the deviations therefrom can be related to a tonal centre in the right context.) In the German speaking lands at the time, ‘tonality’ was seen as the major-minor system, while in France this system had already been extended / enriched by modality and uncommon combinations like the whole tone modus. Strauss and Mahler extended the boundaries of dissonance, increasing the possibilities of tension, but it is all still interrelated.

          Poor Berg, being intimidated by Sch, tried to combine a free tonality which spilled over the borders, with the 12 tone system, and he struggled to get it done. But it was entirely pointless: Wozzeck, which is tonal (and not 12-tonal) because all the tones form an inner space and are expressive – albeit in a most disturbing way and at the edge of tonality – is effective because the music is continuously at the verge of breaking-down in chaos, thereby expressing the plot. It is as far as tonality can go without becoming pure sound. The whole idea of 12-tone system is crazy and academic and unmusical. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern discovered that in very excited, chromatic music the melodic lines deviated continuously from the last note, and indeed then you seem to cover a 12-tone field, albeit un-organized: when changing direction in a melodic line all the time, you ‘eat-up’ all the available notes and there are only 12 of them. Sch wanted to systemize that process and there it went wrong.

          I think all 20C composers who used the natural properties of tonal relationships, of whatever kind, could write really strong music: Ravel, Bartok, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Szymanowsky, Britten, Martin. Nowadays great music is being written by Nicolas Bacri and Karol Beffa, both French, and David Matthews (UK), and a whole list of younger composers, too many to enlist here, and they all use the properties of tonality, in their personal way. Any current composer writing in any form of serialism is merely conventional and misinformed and probably lacking in musical talent….. because if you feel the dynamics of music deep in yourself, you would not want to add more frustrated sonic lava to the bulk that already exists. The best proof of why this is so, is the comparison between Debussy’s trio sonata and Schoenberg’s Serenade.

          By the way, I did not want to refer to abstract philosophy buit to the actual reality of what musically happens in the Debussy and Schoenberg pieces, and the difference between the two.

          1. Daniel F. says:

            And Stravinsky? Copland? The early compositions of Roger Sessions? Or Bernstein, for that matter? Do any of them “make the cut” in your tournament? Can Americans be admitted to the clubhouse?

          2. John Borstlap says:

            Of course, I did not think of the Americans, being focussed on the European scene, – I did not intend to provide a complete list of ‘approved of’ composers….! Stravinsky belongs to the tonally-working composers of course, at least up till his sinking into serialism when he felt written-out of his neoclassicism, and Bernstein, Barber, Copland, maybe Piston? I don’t know enough of his music, and later ones like Pierre Jalbert, Corigliani (although I don’t like his music but he writes well and in a tonal idiom), Jennifer Higdon, Jake Heggie, Daniel Asia (who sounds very middle-/eastern-European), Richard Danielpour, especially Paul Moravec (whose ‘Morph’ I greatly admire), the excentric Alan Hovhanes, Ned Rorem. I hope this compensates for my absent-mindedness?

            In the USA there has always been a more pluralistic music life, I think partly because of being free from state subsidies (which tend to politicize the field), and partly because of a more practical attitude towards new things: does it work or not? While in Europe, programmers, critics and audiences know already beforehand what should work and what not, independent from reality. That is why I try to explain that we should always try to listen carefully and not let ourselves be seduced by theory and ideology. Why should an art form like music be restricted by something, like theory, which is irrelevant to it? A tradition is not theory but a living practice with accumulated experience of what works, and what does not work, and that is always in some flux.

          3. Dan P. says:

            Just a quick response this time before we overload the server (we can always take this off-line, so to speak. I’m feeling guilty about taking up so much public space for what is essentially a private conversation).

            As for Debussy – it IS hard to know what he actually thought since his public utterances were made as part of concert reviews in general interest magazines and were, if nothing, polemical in nature. Still, there are the notes from the conversation between Debussy and Guiraud (taken by a third party) where he describes his thoughts on what music could be to a puzzled Guiraud. I like L’Enfant Prodigue, but I find Printemps even fresher, even if it doesn’t come down to us in its original form. (By the way, do you know his early unfinished opera Rodrigue et Chemene? He dropped it once he crossed paths with Pelleas, but it’s pretty interesting, even if the plot is dated and the libretto was even second hand by the time he got it.

            From what you write it appears that your conception of tonality is actually close, in some aspects at least, to that of Schoenberg’s and French theory – at least with respect to consonance and dissonance. I guess that’s where we differ. Although I’m a francophile by inclination, my theoretical basis is Schenkerian, although I don’t share his opinions on non-theory topics. (I just think that a lot of late 19th century and early 20th century music may be better described in other theoretical concepts – but that’s another discussion.)

            The question I have – and pardon me for appearing thick – is where does one draw the line between tonal and atonal then? In simple theoretical terms – especially as you consider the Second Quartet (at least the last two movements) and Wozzeck to be tonal. I’m still not sure I understand what you mean by “inner space.” I get that you have a very clear idea for yourself, but I don’t get more than in impression. I guess I’m more into defining a working vocabulary and grammar, to borrow from language.

            If I understand you at all, then I’d say that the first movement of the Lyric Suite would be what you consider tonal, but it is, at the same time, 12-tone. Am I wrong? Then, what about the second movement, which is not 12-tone? What makes a harmony or series of harmonies (using the term loosely) tonal or not tonal? I’m sure by now you know what I’d say so I won’t belabor the point. Berg did find a way for 12-tone structure to intersect with vocabulary from the Late Romantic period, but that stemmed from his artistic personality, not by being bullied by Schoenberg. After all, Berg defied Schoenberg in a number of basic ways. Schoenberg was very much against Wozzeck as a subject for an opera but he went ahead anyway, Schoenberg let Berg “have it” after Altenberg Lieder and the clarinet pieces, and was not at all supportive of his writing his chamber concerto with a wind group as the orchestra. Berg did express himself in a rather subservient manner (at least in letters) but he idolized the man as well. Still, he went off in his own direction despite what Schoenberg though when his own creative instincts led him there. And, after Schoenberg moved to Berlin their paths were separate.

            As for 20C composers Ravel, Bartok and early Prokofiev are at the top of my list, although Stravinsky would rank much higher since he was more original, and without Stravinsky, Bartok and Prokofiev would be quite different – especially Prokofiev. I don’t think particularly highly of Shostakovich – the range of his expression is limited, as is his tonal palate and the music is often simplistic in the extreme, but I do like the 10th Symphony and have a soft spot for the Preludes and Fugues and First Violin Concerto (because they were all childhood favorites), but the second movement of the concerto gets rather silly. I like early Britten (Serenade, Peter Grimes) but the late music loses me. Szyanowski is interesting – I know a handful of his works but not enough. Of the others I only know David Matthews’ name but not his music and not the French guys. Thanks for pointing me in their direction I’ll have to look them up. To yours I would also add Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Boulez (yikes!), Milton Babbitt (even more yikes!), Berio and a lot of lesser lights who wrote at least a handful (small or otherwise) of memorable works, like Samuel Barber, Poulenc, Milhaud, and others.

            Still, in general I think it’s mistake to make blanket statements or make assumptions about any composer using any means as a mode of expression until one experienced the work itself – although I know we all have our cutting off point – especially composers – and I respect that. I would not listen to a piece for 12 radios – although now, John Cage would only find 12 right-wing talk shows spouting conspiracy theories rather than music being broadcast. At least in the U. S. But, before I denigrate John Cage, I have to add, though, that he was an extraordinarily kind human being, and in my book that counts for an awful lot.

  6. John Borstlap says:

    My PA insists I should help her with filing 37 letters instead of discussing Addy’s older brother.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      She also showed me a Schoenbergian unused 12 tone series that she inherited from her aunt who bought it at Christie’s in the fifties for 865,000.– pounds. It seems that Sch discarded the series for some reason, but it is impossible to find-out what the reason could have been, since it sounds more or less the same like any other series Sch used. It is still usable though, in spite of crumbling a bit at the edges and rather yellowed, for any composer still in thrall of the silly idea. Sally offered it to Christie’s but this time they refused it, saying that nobody who was right in his mind would ever consider buying such nonsensical and worthless thing.

      1. Daniel F. says:

        JB, Sometimes less is more. I understand your musical-aesthetic position and have some sympathy with it. Yet considering AS’s established historical position–controversial perhaps but secure, your never passing up an opportunity to throw the equivalent of spit-balls just lacks dignity and taste. Perhaps the coming holidays will bring you some needed tranquility.


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