Schoenberg’s Disney debut is called off

Schoenberg’s Disney debut is called off


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2014

It has been 40 years since the Los Angeles Philharmonic last performed Arnold Schoenberg’s violin concerto and Hollywood was all a-quiver to hear its challenging 12-note rows (well, all of my Angeleno friends, at least). The work was down to be played this weekend, its first hearing in Disney Hall.

Only waddayaknow? First the soloist, Christian Tetzlaff, calls in sick. Then the conductor Christoph Eschenbach sends a doctor’s note.

The new soloist is Augustin Hadelich. New conductor is Edo de Waart. Only change: no Schoenberg.

They’re playing the Beethoven concerto, saddos.

schoenberg concerto


  • Mark Stratford says:

    OMG – it’s like these recent Boulez cancellations when Berg is being replaced by Mendelssohn !

    It’s funny that Schoenberg Violin Concerto was commissioned by Heifetz. He must have known something of AS’ compositional style when he asked for it. So refusing to play it was pretty bad. What was he hoping for – another Walton Concerto ?

  • Michael says:

    Triste, triste.

  • Schoenberg’s violin concerto consists of the notes carefully avoided in the concerti by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and why.

  • Evan Pritchard says:

    Eschenbach is, from what I hear coming from the New York and German rumour mill, on extremely shaky ground these days, not at all in good shape, recently appearing totally haggard and unable to concentrate and articulate at rehearsals, hence his recent major disasters in Salzburg, Vienna and Washington. With all of his recent major failures, as well as one recently with his own orchestra in Washington, many NSO members have totally soured on him and are hoping to get him out when his contract expires with the NSO and the Kennedy Center in 2015. Let’s see how this plays out, but this guy is, sadly, over the hill and it probably can’t get much better from here. It will probably only get worse. I did once appreciate him earlier as a fine pianist, but never as a conductor, something that I discovered i share with so many on this blog.

    • John Borstlap says:

      And yet, he must have had episodes of great musical achievement: I attended a concert with Esch and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, with – among other pieces – Schumann IV, and it was fabulous, lifting the music above its somewhat biedermeier character into a powerful Brahmsian experience. Musicians are not machines.

      • Donald Whiskins says:

        The concert you are referring to, with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, sadly was not appreciated by the orchestra and that is why you haven’t and will never see Eschenbach invited back to conduct the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam again in the immediate future. They really didn’t like him, as my sister is married to one of the principal players in the orchestra and I remember him speaking about that just after that concert, which is already quite many years ago, maybe four or five. I didn’t attend, so I can’t comment, but I do know that my sister’s husband wouldn’t talk down a conductor, unless it was warranted.

        • John Borstlap says:

          That is really sad…. It seems crucial to me that conductors relate positively with the players, how could one otherwise achieve musical excellence? This sounds as if Esch got, for once, his way in spite of bad relating. And yes, it was some 5 years ago.

      • Nederland muziek says:

        You are entitled to keep your opinion, glad to know you enjoyed that concert. I play in the orchestra and performed those concerts with the Star Trek looking man, it was hideous, his music making wants to be seen as larger than life, hence the result of stodgy interpretation. The musicians and audience experienced a conductor driving a gigantic truck with 2 tons of sand behind……….never again this man comes to us. Joel Ethan Fried has told Eschenbach that was the last time the orchestra wanted to work with him.

        • John Borstlap says:

          That is really a sad story. Esch does not seem to understand how to work with the talents of the players…. how to create the chemistry where the musical energies of the players form a living, breathing whole.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            John – keep in mind that there is no musician in that orchestra named “Nederland muziek”. If someone does not stand behind his opinion enough to put his name above it, I think it is pretty much completely worthless. He might just be some anonymous internet troll.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Thanks… I did not think of that.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Also, while I am far from being an Eschenbach fan myself, I don’t think that describing him as “the Star Trek looking man” is the kind of criticism one should take seriously, no matter who it comes from.

        • Yuan says:

          His Bruckner in Chicago last month was indeed fabulous!

      • Steve says:

        And orchestral musicians aren’t always the most reliable judges of conductors. The fascinating autobiography of Richard Adney “Flute” is a reminder that they frequently have a rather skewed perspective. To be fair to Adney, he does admit this!

    • Brian says:

      Another no confidence vote here.

  • Wow I always feel in the minority as an audience member whenever reading that the orchestras just seem to DETEST working with Eschenbach. Goodness–!–I have only once disliked what he conducted. Every other time was a cause for joy and an intense musical experience. I feel bad that others can’t stand him. Perhaps he has changed since I heard him conduct Mahler 7 in Carnegie with the Philadelphia Orchestra. A wonderful roller-coaster ride, brilliantly unpredictable and worked out so the climactic points were perfectly achieved.

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      But please remember that the people actually playing the music and producing the sounds that you hear are the 60+ orchestral musicians. What they need from a conductor above all is a clear beat to follow during the performance. Matters of ‘Interpretation’ should have been addressed at rehearsal.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Good rehearsing is indeed essential preparation, but a really good orchestra doesn’t just robotically execute a previously laid out interpretation. A really good orchestra can also react to spontaneous impulses from the conductor.

        His excursions into the realm of unpredictability seem to be part of why Eschenbach gets so much negative feedback: when it comes to that style of music making, I think he is maybe a little too good for American orchestras but not quite good enough for the best European orchestras.

  • And that Maher 7 was is November of 2010,.nog long ago.

    • NYMike says:

      As a retired musician and Philly/Carnegie subscriber, I attended all the Eschenbach/Philly/NY concerts during his short tenure. I was often dumbfounded at his erratic tempi while commiserating with my friends in the band who had to follow him. Needless to say, they all couldn’t wait to be rid of him.

  • eli77025 says:

    L.A. is fortunate as far as the violin concerto goes. If music was like medicine Schoenberg would be discredited as a quack.

    I think back to Eschenbach’s tenure in Houston when new music was introduced (at least to Houston) and I also think back to the wasteland that existed for the 12 years after he left. Maybe Eschenbach needs to take a year’s sabbatical.

  • Constructive Criticism says:

    I hope that this blog doesn’t go the way all of the other Eschenbach entries have gone in the past here, becoming an endless litany of scorn for this extremely disliked and clearly despised conductor, who seems to be in real trouble nowadays. I would prefer not to get into this, but I must say that I agree that Eschenbach is nowadays definitely a below second rate conductor. Still, all of our complaints about him here won’t change anything nor help him or music in general. I think he would be wise to slowly fade into the sunset, instead of putting himself in front of major orchestras and events, i.e. the Vienna Philharmonic, the Salzburg Festival, the Concertgebouw, the NSO at the Kennedy Center and many others, being booed, attacked in the press, attacked here and certainly allowing his own career, whatever is left of it, to take a hit. I’m sure that if he returned to being a pianist or accompanist, opinions would be much different, as he excelled in both earlier in his career and still does today. He simply should never have picked up the baton. People should listen to his early piano recordings from the late 60’s and 70’s. Some were excellent and he was also a great and sensitive accompanist and I’m sure that he still is. I heard him accompanying Mathias Goerne in London some time ago and it was excellent. Somebody who knows him and who he trusts should encourage him to put the baton down, accept that he will never be a great first ranked conductor and go back to excelling as a great pianist. Otherwise he will destroy his entire music career the way he is now going. That’s the last I will say on this matter on this blog!

  • Ignacio says:

    The Schoenberg Vn Concerto is a hard nut to crack, regardless who conducts or plays. I have always had a soft spot for Eschenbach since his early days as a pianist and his first LP, Bartok, on Telefunken. I really liked his SLOW Hammerklavier. And, as a conductor, I’ve never heard a bad performance from him. I have been spared his much touted idiosincracies in selecting soloists, e.g., Barto. Perhaps I’m influenced by his life story which was difficult and sad in its early years. But such difficulties did not deter his development into the artist he eventually became. People talk of him as if he were a fraud, and I feel that is inaccurate and, overall, unfair. Whatever seems to be happening now sounds more like a matter for concern than for censure. At times it seems like Eschenbach has become the bête du jour, everybody sharpening knives to attack him. I feel sorry for him and remain grateful for the artistry he revealed so much of the time over many years. It was as genuine as it was dear.

  • Inside in the LAPO says:

    The musicians of my orchestra have discovered the real truth about this cancellation, apparently Eschenbach was unable to prepare the score of the Schönberg Violin Concerto, he felt not ready to conduct us with this monstrous piece. Some of us believe with his very limited conducting skills he got scared of the possibility ruining the performances. Tetzlaff cancelled because he expected to play the Schönberg, the orchestra couldn’t find a household name conductor in such a short time who is prepared to do the piece. Poor Eschenbach, the recent failure in Salzburg Festival and in Vienna State Opera were too much for him, he is currently in great depression worrying about his own fate, including the very possibility that Deborah Rutter refuses to renew his contract with the NSO beyond 2015!!!!!

    • Steve says:

      “Some of us believe with his very limited conducting skills he got scared of the possibility ruining the performances”

      clearly they’re mistaken as he acquitted himself perfectly well in Messiaen’s much more demanding (in terms of rhythm) ‘Des Canyons Aux Etoiles’ a few months ago.

      His Missa Solemnis with the same orchestra got a good mention on Radio3s Building a Library when all available versions were compared.

      • Chris Mitchell says:

        I’m sure that anyone can occasionally find some wonderful moments in Eschenbach’s conducting. The problem appears to be that those glorious moments are becoming few and far between and the risk of a major disappointment or, as Anne Midgette at the Washington Post refers to it, “a slipshod night” occurring seems to be becoming more and more a likelihood, rather than a surprise with Eschenbach.

    • Also inside the LAPO says:

      I hear the real truth was actually that Tetzlaff canceled because he wanted to improvise his own cadenzas, but Esch wanted him to play Joachim’s.

      • It is really impressive to discover that Joachim wrote cadenza’s far into the future of music (there’s even a rumor that some of Berio’s Cadenzas for flute solo are in fact by Joachim).

        • m2n2k says:

          This was obviously a harmless joke, JB, though not a particularly original one; but by explaining its absurdity you have really murdered it unnecessarily.

  • Paul Sullivan says:

    As an audience member, (after reading all the negative comments) it will be interesting to see him here at the BSO. He is slated to to conduct the orchestra Jan 16th, performing Mozart’s piano concerto no. 12 and leading the orchestra in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Ah yes, almost forgot about that. I will probably go to one of the concerts if I am in Beantown next week.

  • Harold Lewis says:

    I find it sad that no one has yet written to challenge the shallow, contemptuous denigration of the Schoenberg violin concerto as a ‘monstrosity’. I love the work. Its depth of feeling and rich melodic flow make it for me one of the most rewarding, inspiring and exhilarating concertos of the 20th century.

    • John Borstlap says:

      In my opinion, Schoenberg’s late dodecaphonic classicism tried to combine intention, texture, gesture and form of the classical tradition (Beethoven, Brahms) with a distribution of tones which stands in blatant contradiction to this tradition. It sounds like Brahms with wrong notes… in spite of the occasional touches of tonal coherence, the order of notes make no musical sense as they made in the classical tradition, even allowing for a much more dissonant idiom (like in Shostakovich). They could easily be exchanged for other, equally nonsensical notes, without changing the result. It is like a very earnest declamation of a ‘text’ which consists of small parts of words randomly put together. The surface gives the impression of a normal, classical work of music, but underneath lies the stultified pain of chaos and impotence. Sometimes when I tried to listen to Schoenberg’s ‘Variations’, in an overgenerous attempt to see whether I could aurally relate to it as music, this style makes me feel as if locked-up in a cellar which slowly fills with water…. it is ‘prison music’.

      • Harold Lewis says:

        @John Borstlap

        Nevertheless, to echo Galileo, the music moves, and the Schoenberg violin concerto enhances my experience of music in a way that few other works achieve. I am sorry you are so deaf to its qualities.

        • Harold, If you wish, see my parallel comment to yours below. Best wishes.

          • Harold Lewis says:

            Thank you, Andrew. Incidentally, one of the most perceptive, articulate and appreciative commentaries that I have seen on the Schoenberg concerto is a programme note that Hugh Wood wrote for a performance given by Zvi Zeitlin and the BBCSO under Boulez at the RFH some time in the 1970s. Worth tracking down: I’ll see if I still have my copy of the programme.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I happen to observe Hugh Wood during my Cambridge days. He was an intolerant fanatic who would physically attack anyone who DARED to be skeptical about Schoenberg’s achievements. At the music faculty it was dogma that Sch was a Great Composer and any deviation by students from this orthodoxy was immediately punished by excommunication. It was simply not allowed to question Sch’s work, an attitude installed by the faculty’s professor, Alexander Goehr, a thorough Schoenbergian. My impression of Wood was of a very unbalanced personality, although a quite musical one. I guess his problems stemmed from the obvious conflict between his natural musical talent and the Schoenbergian climate around him.

            I think such dogmatic policies, which sound very defensive, reveal a profound insecurity about the matter. And rightly so.

            Critical comments about Schoenberg are not ‘vitriol’ but observation of something that seems to escape other people. The real vitriol can be found in Schoenberg’s ‘Fünf Orchesterstücke’ or ‘Pierrot Lunaire’, by the way: pieces I greatly admire.

          • Physically? He beat them up??

        • John Borstlap says:

          To Harold Lewis; one could as easily say: I’m sorry that you are so deaf to its flaws.

          • Harold Lewis says:

            John Borstlap accuses Hugh Wood of intolerance, dogmatism, insecurity and an unbalanced personality. My God, listen to the pot calling the kettle black!

          • John Borstlap says:

            Pot? Which pot? I’m looking around on this blig in vain, only finding some kettles, like this one.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            John Borstlap says:

            January 8, 2014 at 10:14 pm

            “To Harold Lewis; one could as easily say: I’m sorry that you are so deaf to its flaws.”

            Sorry, John – but that’s a really childish reply. Mr Lewis explained why he finds meaning in the music, if you don’t, it really is your loss. And frankly, if you don’t understand why and how Schönberg’s music is deeply rooted in the Viennese tradition, if it just sounds like “Brahms with wrong notes” to you, then you only have a very superficial understanding of the Viennese tradition itself.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I’m not going to defend my understanding of the Viennese tradition here…. but merely want to say that that tradition was about more than musical technique. When one really understands that tradition, and delves deep into what Schoenberg did, one inevitably finds the differences quite clearly. The audience protests at Schoenberg’s premieres at the time were not entirely due to simple ‘conservatism’, they also included an understandable indignation about an attack upon the spiritual foundations of their tradition (Sch’s early ‘atonal’ music told them they were going to loose that tradition, no wonder they did not like that). Also today, the place Schoenberg’s music occupies in Viennese musical life is a rather artificial one, with the Schoenberg Institute and the occasional performance here & there. It is all accepted willy-nilly, and pressured by musicology and modernist historicism. There is implied, in the Viennese musical tradition, a humanistic ‘Menschbild’ / image of man, of which the building of the Musikverein is the physical symbol and expression. Schoenberg’s pre-dodecaphonic music expressed the disintegration of that image – still being music – which was appropriate at the time (early 20C). His later 12-tone system fossilized this into a forced ‘classicism’ which says more about himself and predicted future fossilization, than about something like a Viennese tradition: Schoenberg’s understanding of that tradition had always been a distorted and mainly technical one, which was also shown in his book ‘Harmonielehre’. What Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms did, was related to what historical circumstances offered in terms of a tonal musical tradition, which in turn was influenced by the Enlightenment. (You are a bit unlucky to have bumped into an expert on Viennese classicism, sorry about that!)

            If nowadays someone feels deeply moved by Schoenberg’s forced exercises in quasi-traditionalist 12-tone music, my guess is that this is because this stilted, forced attempt to combine mutually exclusive things touches a similar string in the listener. No doubt Schoenberg predicted something about the emotional and spiritual problems of modern man.

  • MG says:

    Let’s look at the bright side folks…a performance of the Beethoven Concerto by Augustin Hadelich is a SPECIAL TREAT. If you haven’t heard him perform this live, go hear it for yourselves…it is truly spectacular.

  • What Harold Lewis said. What stupid twaddle written here about this piece. So some people didn’t and don’t like Schoenberg? Who cares? Some people don’t like Britten. Or Brahms. Or Verdi. Or opera. Or orchestral music. The world moves. Their loss. Most of the people commenting here on the violin concerto don’t even known the piece and have probably not heard it live. Let me share some shocking news: Christian Tetzlaff, Nikolaj Znaider, and Hilary Hahn are not pawns in some musico-ideological war over the Second Viennese School. They are marvelous young artists who champion this piece, which no one forced upon them, play the hell out of it, and bring the audience and orchestras along with them. When young Michael Barenboim — wholly unknown as a concerto soloist and with audiences of no particular connection or loyalty to his controversial poppa — débuted with the piece in Chicago ten months ago (March 2013) with a too-little-known conductor, Asher Fisch, making a late substitution for Pierre Boulez, he was called back to the stage four times (very, very rare in Chicago) *each* night *by the audience and players* not the critics (we in the latter group are of course paid-off members of the Musico-Ideological Conspiracy, so our positive reactions were preordained). For those who care to read it, my review of that Chicago SO concert is here:ébut-schoenberg-violin-concerto-mahler-and-w.html

    • Jonas says:

      By the way, almost two years ago I saw Michael Barenboim playing this concerto with his father and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein. It was truly great.

    • John Borstlap says:

      We take this comment up with pincers, as an ‘objet trouvé’ by archeologists, as a typical example of music critic writing (in this case a critic who, by the way, talks about the ‘closing prelude of Parsifal’ in the mentioned review). If there were no music critics, with their occasional contempt, happy ignorance, and sure grasp of hitting next to the nail’s head, music life would be very, very dull indeed. Kudos to them!

      Of course, not all music critics read what is written down, or listen to what is really played and we should not complain about that: anybody can become a music critic, as history amply shows. My comments about Schoenberg’s violin concerto were not a matter of taste, but of musical fundamentals, and they were seriously argued. To consider this piece, like the other late Schoenberg works in 12-tone-system, as a natural continuation of the musical tradition of which Brahms was the ‘last master’, is a painful revelation of a fundamental lack of understanding what that music tradition really was. This is not a matter of ‘progress’ as there is no such thing in art, but of what constitutes the inner space of the tonal tradition where the notes are related to each other in a way which makes their coherence clear to the listener. A tone row to follow, vertically and horizontally, for writing music, was a silly idea and it still is. To come-up with quasi-conspiracy theories etc. is far besides the point and disqualifies the author for serious discussion.

      That there are a couple of well-known musicians who pick-up Schoenberg’s violin concerto, does not mean that they consider it simply as a work following in the footsteps of Brahms. They may like this painful wrestling and suffocating torture – life can be that way at times, and must be so often for violin soloists. In case they play the piece because they think it is just a tonal, traditional work, only ‘more advanced’, then this merely exposes their lack of understanding of the tonal tradition. One can be a great musician and yet be deaf to things that are quite obvious to other, comparable great, musicians. I am sure there are violinists around, musicians of stature, who wholeheartedly detest the piece and would never touch it because of its unmusicality. And of course there are some around who have no idea where these things are about. For instance, Daniel Barenboim – under the influence of the modernist postwar misreading of music history – insists in his ‘A Life for Music’ (2003) on the ‘historic inevitability of atonality’ (no arguments given), compares Schoenberg to Beethoven, as two comparable heros (!) who created ‘irrevocable consequences for the future of composition’, which is all nonsensical, totalitarian myth making. It can easily be argued that many people are simply deluded by decennia of modernist historicism, and cultivate the idea that they are advocating ‘groundbreaking’ music against the stubborn forces of conservatism, who do not want to adapt their ears to music which erodes its own fundamentals. But I believe that this will fizzle out in due course… because it is an untenable position.

      • Do drop a line when you learn to read, Your Eminence. The Prelude *closed the CSO concert*, hence I wrote: “The rest of the concert contained Boulez favorites that are also close to Fisch’s heart. *Wagner’s opening Siegfried Idyll* received a transparent and beautifully lulling chamber presentation *and the closing Prelude from the composer’s Parsifal* was an opera-sized, full-throated performance that also respected Wagner’s pianissimos and silences.” Thank, as ever, for sharing The Truth with all of us here.

        • John Borstlap says:

          One of the happy tasks of music critics is to write unambiguously…. so that music lovers, gifted with so much less talents than the critic, are properly informed about the concert. Better than *and the closing Prelude from the composer’s Parsifal* would have been: ‘and the closing item of the programme: the Prelude from’ etc.

          I think we should erect a monument to music criticism somewhere, a mementum to its powers of discernment and stilish writing, something that towers high above us, modest and ordinary mortals. (It would be the first ever – why should that be?)

          • I wonder what a “mementum” is? As the author of these little essays in self-aggrandizement knows everything about everything, never errs, and is always thoughtful and great-souled, I am sure he will explain. As for me, I prefer to work with editors who can read, write, and spell, whether in English or Latin.

          • Andrew, I did think of publishing Slipped Disc only in Latin, but I got such heat from the Greeks…

          • By the way, are these press notices written by sport writers or business columnists? The Great Man would surely not wish to tarnish his Compositions with the words of mere music critics or “music critic writing.”

          • John Borstlap says:

            A good point. And yes, the review quotes on my site have been filtered out of a mass of reactions by confused, ignorant, deaf, angry, or deeply offended music critics (as Debussy once said: the attempt to create beauty is, by some people, taken as a personal insult). Indeed I wonder whether composers should use review quotes at all, but it seems to encourage programmers to take notice, since many of them (the programmers) need some encouragement when they peruse the offers of new music they get, and I cannot blame them, given the amount on nonsense being produced nowadays.

            I don’t want to condemn the entire music critical profession though, although I have allowed myself to be provoked by some sneering and completely unfounded and unargued blurbs on this blog….. I am impressed by the general standards of German music criticism for instance, while the Anglo-Saxon world gives less and less space in the media for music criticism, which is really disastrous for classical music’s image in the wider culture. These German standards were not always so good however; in the 19th century Wagner was accused (in the press) of ‘hating music criticism’, upon which the irritated composer sent a letter to the editor which was thereafter duly published, in which he corrected this accusation by stating that he did not HATE music criticism but merely had a deep CONTEMPT for it. Which, of course, inspired to more press attacks.

            There is also a book (anthology) about venomous music reviews from the 19th and 20th century that seems to be very amusing; I forgot the title.

          • Actually, my clear point was that I *agree* with David H.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Herewith I rest my case concerning music critic writing.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            John Borstlap says:

            January 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

            “A good point. And yes, the review quotes on my site have been filtered out of a mass of reactions by confused, ignorant, deaf, angry, or deeply offended music critics”

            Does that mean that you are only prepared to accept criticism of your music if it is uncritical and praising?

            BTW I don’t see anything wrong with Patner’s review. It contains an assessment of Schönberg’s concerto which is not uncritically adulating but which explains what it sees as the qualities of the music worth paying attention to.

            It is also very clear from the text that the Parsifal prelude was the *closing piece of the concert* not a “closing prelude”. There is no such thing. If you look up what “prelude” actually means, you will see why.

            My only other commentary here would be that I am once again amused by the fixation on the brass they have in Chicago. The first trumpet is singled out as an “essential actor” in the Parsifal prelude – which it really isn’t, not anymore than other wind instruments. The big “solo” at the beginning isn’t actually a solo. In fact it is just a little additional color to the real “essential actors” here, the three oboes which play the theme in p while the trumpet is marked pp and Wagner even writes an additional “sehr zart” (“very soft”) next to the part. The review suggests though that that’s not what happened in the concert. As so often with this orchestra, what happened was probably the trumpet blasting out that theme as if it were from “Star Wars”.

          • John Borstlap says:

            “Does that mean that you are only prepared to accept criticism of your music if it is uncritical and praising?” Of course not. But as information tools on an information website, negative reviews don’t work very well, do they? As for criticism: one should be one’s best critic, and on that point you can be reassured.

            As for the Parsifal prelude: that brass attempt at solo is an embarrassing misunderstanding of the music. It is the conductor’s task to balance-out such basic things……

    • Paul Sullivan says:


      You are quite right! WHO CARES! To denigrate another for liking or disliking a piece or a Composer is quite pointless. I have heard the Schoenberg in concert many times before including the violin concerto. Not my cup of tea but other audience members were enthralled and loved it. Good for them I say!

      So much vitriol is spewed here at Slipped disc against anyone who do not agree with their opinions; against composers that are fluff ; against musicians that are trying to make a living beyond “classical”; against anything that doesn’t fit their views . With attitudes like these, what hope is there to gaining new concert goers? I think none.

      I rarely comment here, as perhaps many lurkers do, to avoid the bloated opinions and put downs of those that seemed (or think) to have “climbed the Helicon” (yes I like G&S, operetta, AND opera :), and know all there is to know, period. Good for you. Keep on telling us what we have to like and why. Put a few more nails in the coffin.

      • John Borstlap says:

        If we want to preserve classical music as an artistic genre in these times, where it is threatened by economic and cultural forces, we have to seriously consider what it really is and what its values are within the broader context of contemporary life.

        • David H. says:

          What it really is?

          Man’s aspiration to aim higher maybe? Culturally, aesthetically, artistically, mentally, spiritually, humanly…

          • John Borstlap says:


          • Thank you, David H. Lions, lambs, and emus can all lie down together with this very thoughtful definition.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Again a wonderful reaction from the music critical camp. It is exactly this attitude of mocking contempt and cynical scorn which reveals the bottomless abyss of ignorance about what classical music, as a genre, signifies, and let us not be surprised that it comes from a music critic’s pen.

            Classical music has been – and in some areas still is – the island of civilization where one can drink from the well of human aspiration, that which in former, less nihilistic times was called ‘the soul’. It is supposed to stimulate what is the best in man – something already apparant in Gregorian chant. So, David H. touched right upon the kernal of the art form. Nowadays, it is the vox populi of people who should not dwell in this territory that threatens classical music’s survival. Let us be grateful to mr Patner for his clear demonstration of one of these dangers.

            Where people show no understanding of the difference between music and sonic art, as initially developed by Schoenberg and later-on taken-up after WW II by the then young generations of so-called ‘progressive composers’ who developed the totalitarian ideology of modernism, one can be sure that the great works of the classical tradition in art music merely find deaf ears and empty souls. Classical music is not for everyone, and that is OK, but where the musically-challenged intrude into musical territory and spread their ignorance, musicians and music lovers would do well to close their scores, their ears and if possible, their doors. Classical music should be accessible to everyone, but that does not mean that everybody should understand, let alone like it or write about it.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            John Borstlap says:

            January 9, 2014 at 12:03 pm

            “If we want to preserve classical music as an artistic genre in these times, where it is threatened by economic and cultural forces, we have to seriously consider what it really is and what its values are within the broader context of contemporary life.”

            The classical canon is very well preserved and in no real danger of any kind. It’s just that you aren’t part of it. But Schönberg is.

            Sorry, dude. I feel your pain.

          • John Borstlap says:

            “The classical canon is very well preserved and in no real danger of any kind. It’s just that you aren’t part of it. But Schönberg is.

            Sorry, dude. I feel your pain.”

            It is THIS kind of superficial scorn which contributes to serious music’s erosion… and my ‘pain’ is merely caused by such ignorance. Schoenberg will never be part of the classical tradition, just like his tone rows will never be wistled on the streets as he hoped, or that his music would be loved as much as Tchaikovsky’s, as he once expressed – all very embarrassing utterances and exposing the problem all to well.

            His early music is, rightly, slowly entering the repertoire, and hopefully also the First Chamber Symphony which is very difficult to perform but which is, in my opinion, Schoenberg’s strongest claim to be part of the tradition.

            My prediction is that ‘classical music’ as a genre will shrink further in the West, but will be taken-on by the Asians (where the Chinese are currently taking the initiative). In the West, classical music will be an irrelevant minority’s taste at the fringes of culture, kept alive by an elite of culturally developed people and a couple of rich industrialists, untill the European Union will eventually get at its feet as a United States in need of a cultural identity, when classical music becomes interesting again for a wider audience. Untill then, it will be Germany and Austria keeping the art form alive, because of the identity-forming qualities of the genre and its history.

          • David H. says:

            “The classical canon is very well preserved”

            Sounds like the description of a dead body.

            I think dodecaphony is nonsense and in principle an antimusical idea.

            But I love “Verklärte Nacht”.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Agreed…. it is a master piece, when Sch still was ‘innocent’ and immersed in the Viennese tradition. Although in the middle the music goes a bit melodramatic. Also his 1st chamber symphony is a beautiful piece, where dissonance really works. And the first three of the Five ORchestral Pieces are master strokes of inventive imagination and expression. With Pierrot Lunaire – where both voice and instruments are on the edge of insane disintegration, he bumped into the limitations of music, and he should have turned-back, like Strauss in Rosenkavalier.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            David H. says:

            January 10, 2014 at 9:03 am

            “The classical canon is very well preserved”

            Sounds like the description of a dead body.

            Music is only dead when it is not performed. The “classical canon” is still very widely performed, and in ways which are far from just preserving something pickled in a jar. Musicians approach and review the classics from many stylistic angles, perhaps more so today than in previous eras, from traditional approaches to period performance practices, a lot of neglected repertoire is rediscovered and reevaluated, music which fell victim to the upheavals of the past century is performed and recorded again.

            So I think overall, the musical heritage is very well preserved in that sense, not packed up and shelved and about to be forgotten, as some here seem to suggest.

  • Harold Lewis says:

    For the ‘musically-challenged’ in search of a terminal chapel of rest I recommend the ‘audio’ section of Mr Borstlap’s immodest web site.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s a chapel for music critics where they can rest in piece after a long and heroic life of noble contributions to musical culture. (When they got through listening to the Borstlap repertoire, they are rewarded with Schoenberg’s violin concerto over the speakers.)

    • John Borstlap says:

      On that site it says:

      “It will be exciting to hear him perform Schönberg’s Violin Concerto, a piece noted for the incredible technical and interpretive demands it makes on the soloist.”

      To be ‘difficult’ is one of the modernist marketing devices to intimidate the audience: ‘If you don’t like it, it is because you don’t understand it, but you are excused because it is a difficult piece.’ No better way to erode the art form than by patronizing audiences as if they were not part of the cultural framework, as if they were chimpanzees that should be strapped with seat belts and with a wad in their mouth.

  • @David H., above – Sounds a bit like Monty Python’s Dead Bishop sketch:

    ‘Bath and Wells’.

    ‘How do you know?’

    ‘Tattooed on the back of the neck’.

    Verklärte Nacht is fabulous.

  • Tim Murray says:

    I love the fact that you are all getting so worked up about a piece written in 1936! I studied with Hugh Wood and he has immense love and knowledge of 2nd Viennese repertoire (incidentally the idea that he would attack someone physically is utterly ridiculous). He didn’t like talking about serial technique much, but looked at the music in terms of form, historical context, and above all as part of a tradition going back through Mahler, Brahms etc. The violin concerto is a rather classical piece with much beautiful, lyrical music. I hope it establishes a stronger place in the repertoire in the way the Berg concerto has.

    The Schoenberg Violin Concerto is not a tonal work so it is silly to try and judge it from that context – it is atonal music which draws heavily on Viennese traditions of form and structure. I think it’s very beautiful, and I like all kinds of different music. Oh, and by the way it’s also OLD music now.

    What Hugh got annoyed about (and still does I’m sure!) is people going straight for the technical detail (Oh my god! Serial technique!!! How peculiar!), rather than getting to know the sound of the music, hopefully enjoying it, and then looking more closely at how it’s written. In the same way that we first get to know the sound Mozart, Haydn, or Bach.before we start analsying it.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There was a pre-concert talk (as far as I remember) where Hugh Wood, dressed in a T-shirt with the imprint in black/white of Mahler’s head on it (as I very clearly remember) and making a rather inebriate impression, sang the praises of Schoenberg, adding that he knew that there were poeple who would not agree with him on that point, and whom he at the spot invited to come outside and ‘fight it out physically’, a threat delivered with an undeniable aggressive intonation, comparable with certain passages in Berg’s ‘Drei Orchesterstücke’. This was so inappropriate and unnecessary in the context, that the occasion is burned in memory.

      It is heartwarming that there are people around who derive musical pleasure from Schoneberg’s violin concerto and even hope that it would, eventually, acquire a place in the repertoire aside Berg’s concerto, thinking of Sch’s frustration about the lack of sympathy he got from music life. No doubt a step into the direction of popularity Schoenberg always hoped for (the wistling butcher’s boys). I could not possibly more wholeheartedly disagree with this idea, but would applaud any attempt to create opportunities to test conceptions of music against reality.

      Following structural and intentional examples from Viennese classicism (Haydn, Mozart, Beet, Brahms) does not necessarily result in a new development of that tradition, it is also something of the spirit that has to be acknowledged. I stick with my idea that what Sch did after 1923, in relation to Viennese classicism, was merely aping gestures. That we get worked-up about this piece is because it is not only about the piece but about what it represents. And this was exactly the reason why Viennese audiences protested so much at Schoenberg concerts at the time. For them, it was as if someone was tearing-down the baroque and classical palaces which generously adorn the city and wanted to replace them by square Bauhaus-boxes, something that Le Corbusier wanted to do with the city centre of Paris in the fifties: just destroying this most poetical of old European cities and make a clean break with a ‘decadent past’ and build a couple of high concrete tower blocks within a nice, empty field: the New Brave World doing away with a humane culture. THAT is what Schoenberg set on the rails in serious music… and what Webern followed through more drastically, nazi sympathizer that he was (and always very enthusiastic about Germany’s war efforts), and what postwar demagoges like Boulez and Stockhausen tried to emulate and turn into a totalitarian ideology – leading to directives like ‘Every composer who has not felt the necessity of serialism is useless’, ‘All art of the past has to be destroyed’ etc. etc. So, Sch’ violin concerto is NOT an innocent work of art… it was one of his steps towards something quite evil.

    • Thank you again, Tim Murray, Harold Lewis, and Michael for returning the conversation to the topic and sharing such thoughtful and interesting perspectives. If someone wants to campaign for his own individual view of history, music theory, physics, or religion, that’s of course his prerogative but there are certainly plenty of other places for such campaigning.

  • Harold Lewis says:

    Excellent, Tim! The sound of the music is what I find so compelling about the Violin Concerto and what its detractors so sadly miss. I knew Hugh Wood briefly when we were both studying at Oxford: I recall we shared an enthusiasm for Rawsthorne’s Symphonic Studies and Stravinsky’s Danses Concertantes. His commentaries on music are models of perception and lucidity, conveyed through a remarkably powerful and focused use of language.

  • Michael says:

    I am very sorry the LA Phil cancelled the Schönberg. – Just a few reactions to some comments here:

    1. I am surprised that there is much talk of “the Viennese tradition” without any mention of Schubert. (And since Mahler has been mentioned, what about Bruckner?)

    2. “Verklärte Nacht” is not “immersed in the Viennese tradition.” Rather, it is a work in the “tradition” of Tristan (and not just harmonically; it is based on Dehmel’s poetry.) Unless, that is, you want to include Wagner as part of the Wiener Schule; he did do some composing there…

    3. I agree with Tim, as far as audiences are concerned; it is the sound that most listeners react to, not the structure. (At the same time I do feel it is a pity that so few concert goers in our time can recognize, appreciate and enjoy the structural aspects of sonata form, let alone serial works.)

    4. There is no such compound as “Menschbild.” Perhaps “Menschenbild” was intended.

    5. The Musikverein was designed by a Danish architekt (Hansen), who created it as a work in the neo-classical style (not classical Vienna; classical Greece) – following the “imperial” trend of period architecture on the Ring (e.g. parliament). While the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde had championed Mozart and Beethoven – not to mention Haydn, another neglected name – since its founding (1812), by the time the Goldener Saal was built (finished 1870), musical taste in Wien was starting to turn toward Wagner, and then Bruckner, Mahler and R.Strauss…

    Sorry, did not mean to ramble. But railing against Schönberg is not only absurd, it’s very, very old. If you don’t like his music, don’t listen. Plenty of musicians and music lovers, however, do consider it worth while…

    • John Borstlap says:

      The reference to Viennese classical tradition was meant in a general way, Vienna as a symbol and the heart of the European classical tradition, including Wagner, Mahler, Schubert (yes) etc. etc. and thus Verklärte Nacht fits the picture. Also the Musikverein was taken as symbolizing this tradition.

      Criticizing Schoenberg is not merely a matter of taste, but is related to the great break of contemporary music from the central performance culture in the postwar period and all the ideological wars that followed, which had disastrous effects on music life. Schoenberg wanted to ‘explode’ the performance culture, as he saw it in his time, because he thought it was merely conservative if it rejected his music. This mentality betrays a serious lack of understanding what this performance culture actually was / is, and this opened the doors to crowds of people with similar resentments. So, when Sch’s violin concerto is popping-up again, performed by people who seem not to understand what it actually is and is supposed to mean, this very same problem pops up as well. It has not gone away since the beginning of the last century.

      It may be amusing and informative to relate here the story of the visit of Poulenc to the Schoenberg household somewhere in a summer of the twenties, when they were having dinner inside while the children were playing in the garden. Suddenly a ball was thrown through the open window right into the soup terrine, distributing its contents over the heads of the company. In the perplexed silence that followed, Schoenberg said from behind the vermicelli hanging over his bald scull: ‘That’s exactly what I want to do with musical culture!’ In the end, it seems he quite succeeded.

  • Tim Murray says:

    I think disliking a piece of abstract music for what it supposedly represents, rather than what it sounds like, is very dangerous territory. And also to complain about a composer because of what certain followers of his then did, after he was dead, seems hard on Schoenberg!

    In any case 20th-century artists have very, very often wanted to tear down the decadent past, it’s one of the main motivations of modernism. If you discount that as an idea, then much of 20th-century art will be a closed book to you, but of course that’s your choice. With the passing of time these radicals (and their later works) very often mellow and become part of the ‘establishment’ (as Boulez now is).

    Listening back from our position 100 years later, there is a clear progression from late Mahler, Liszt etc (tonality pushed to its absolute limit) and Schoenberg (tonality pushed to its limit then gradually dispensed with, and replaced with other techniques).

    Anyway the great thing about NOW is that the musical world is eclectic, we can listen to, and programme, what we want to! It would be nice if we could listen to Schoenberg’s music without resorting to this ancient tribalism!

    P.S I know that T-shirt of Hugh’s! I wasn’t there, but I suspect you may have misinterpreted that remark, which I’m pretty sure must have been a joke. For example when students said “I don’t like Schubert” Hugh would say mock-aggresively “No. Schubert doesn’t like you”. That’s his style…

    • John Borstlap says:

      These ‘tribal wars’ were fought over a very important subject: how to continue and / or preserve the tradition of serious art music. When the current eclecticism and pluralism means that anything goes, and orchestras, opera companies, concert halls have to close down because of lack of support from a society which deems it merely another sort of entertainment in competition with more populist forms, than something precious has been lost. The bad destroys the good if the good is not defended.

      “Listening back from our position 100 years later, there is a clear progression from late Mahler, Liszt etc (tonality pushed to its absolute limit) and Schoenberg (tonality pushed to its limit then gradually dispensed with, and replaced with other techniques).” There does not exist something like ‘progress’ in art. It can be demonstrated that this conventional historic narrative is not true, it is music history as rewritten by modernism after WW II, projecting its defense backwards into the past. Instead of being content with the formation of an entirely new art form, modernist composers wanted to have a piece of the cake which was not theirs.

  • Steve says:

    The concerto which substituted the Schoenberg took awhile to settle in the repertoire.

    According to Anthony Hopkins in his typically engaging book Talking About Concertos

    ” Beethoven had the greatest difficulty in even getting the work published: several printing houses turned it down, and no full score was actually engraved until 1894, 88 years after it had been written. As for performances, various violinists attempted to popularize it, but all were met with indifference until Joachim, as a 12 year old prodgidy, performed it with Mendelssohn conducting.”