When Gershwin recorded Schoenberg

Here’s the extraordinary 1937 home movie that George Gershwin shot at the Schoenbergs, in Beverley Hills. It shows Arnold with his wife Gertrud, Gertrud’s brother Rudi Kolisch (of the Kolisch string quartet) and Doris Vidor. Gershwin is seen behind the camera.

The music is the opening of Schoenberg’s 4th string quartet, written in 1936, in a 1937 recording that was paid for by George Gershwin, who died suddenly in July that year at the age of 38.

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  • How I adore George Gershwin!! He really did have a big musical intellect. As they say, you can tell a lot from the company you keep.

  • Fascinating….. The spooky music seems to suggest that something very different is going-on what we don’t see in the images.

    As Schoenberg wished to go down in history as a kind of modern Tchaikovsky, he apparently loved musical spontaneity in others, like certain types of intellectuals prefer to enjoy sin by proxy in others, so that they may remain clean and pure themselves.

    • The video was filmed at the Gershwin home in Beverly Hills.

      I suspect that you are not very attentive since the “spooky music” as indicated is from the Fourth String Quartet by Schoenberg, played by the Kolisch Quartet. Rudolf Kolisch was the 1st violinist and appears in the short film. George Gershwin was intimately involved in the recordings of this work which was made possible through Alfred Newman at United Artists music recording studio. It was absolutely appropriate to include excerpts from the Fourth String Quartet.

      How would you know that Schoenberg wished to go down in history as a kind of modern Tchaikovsky? Because you read an excerpt from a letter to the conductor Hans Rosbaud in 1947 where Schoenberg wrote …. “But there is nothing that I long for more intensely (if for anything) to be taken for a better type of Tchaikovsky – for heaven’s sake,: a bit better, but really that’s all.”

      How would you know that he apparently loved musical spontaneity in others? How ridiculous!

      Your comments are annoying, mindless, ignorant and superficial. I think that you should restrict yourself to commenting on things that you understand, not that you think you understand, even if that restricts your entries to none.

        • Borstlap’s comment is essentially a trivialization of the posting. It’s not “fine”. Anne Wirth was justifiably offended by it, but I think her comment goes a bit overboard in its final paragraph. It doesn’t take a combat unit to remove a mosquito.

          • Very amusing….. my comment was not ‘trivialising’ something of serious intent, if the video had been carefully watched and the accompanying music attentively listened to. The video is merely a charming home movie by friends, and the music adds a layer of sinister meaning to it, and this combination makes it interesting.

            Schoenberg has been taken much too seriously, and he deserves a bit of mockery, like his music. After his brilliant early pieces he got the crazy idea that he was the Martyr/Redeemer of serious music on the expense of everybody else who innocently thought they were composers too (Stravinsky, Sibelius, Ravel, Bartok, Szymanowski, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Shostakovich etc. etc.) with devastating results for classical music as a whole. So, come-on! Don’t give this man and his heritage the merit he claimed for himself, but use your own brain.

          • Even if your negative opinion of Schonberg’s 12-tone works were to be accepted, it seems somehow that “classical music as a whole”, far from being “devastated,” has (lo and behold!) SURVIVED: the works of all the composers you name are heard all the time, and even the aberrant works of those who inflicted the “devastation” are heard occasionally. I’m not sure, though, what you mean by “heritage”. Surely you don’t believe Schonberg was attempting to wage a religious war on western classical music?

    • Honestly! The stuff that comes out this guy Borstlap!

      We read:
      “… Schoenberg … apparently loved musical spontaneity in others, like certain types of intellectuals prefer to enjoy sin by proxy in others, so that they may remain clean and pure themselves.”

      So: the man whose fluent composition of the tonal ‘Die Eiserne Brigade’ apparently seemed to onlookers to be like someone ‘writing a letter’ was a creator *incapable of spontaneity*…?!?

      So: the man who composed the atonal ‘Erwartung’ in 17 days, and wrote most of the numbers of the atonal ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ in a day each, had *some kind of hang-up about ‘spontaneity’*…?!?

      So: the man who joyfully declared that his discovery of the 12-tone method allowed him “to compose as freely and fantastically as one otherwise does only in one’s youth” was someone *only capable of enjoying spontaneity in others*…?!?

      Honestly! The stuff that comes out this guy Borstlap! If you could take this stuff and *bottle it*, you’d have … bottles full of crap…

      • The problem with short, generalizing ironic comments is that they are taken much too seriously & deconstructed down to the smallest details, whereby the core is missed. Every serious student of S’s works and life knows that there is a big difference between the S before WW I and after: the war left most people innerly scattered and not least the artists who saw their cultural world view destroyed. The 12-tone method enabled S to compose at all again, and had he still had his former fluency, he had not needed it. Also the chaotic nature of his middle period was no longer satisfying, he wanted peace and order after so much turbulence both musically and in the world. 12-tone composition is a strongly rationalistic effort that can be internalized. We also know that S was prone to create his own image for the outside world, so his own pronouncements of facility in 12-tone composition should not be taken on face value. (For instance, he always claimed to compose without a piano, like the Great JS Bach, to convey the impression of Genius; but sometimes he was caught working at the piano which left him much embarrassed; you can see in the piano part of the score of Pierrot that it was written at the piano, and a bit clumsily. So, I simply don’t believe that he wrote Pierrot or Erwartung in only X days, it was part of his attempts to make people believe he was a genius.)

        And as for facility: it is, in a technical sense, not difficult to write music where the notes are all around the regular harmonies that form the centre of common practice. As soon as you have a general shape in your mind, you merely write it around the notes you otherwise would expect and then you have instrumental ‘Sprechgesang’. It is a sketchy method, which can produce some great effects, but not much satisfying in the longer run. S’s best ‘atonal’ pieces are in fact still tonal in an indirect way: Pierrot; the first 3 of the 5 orchestral pieces; etc. S could have gone the Stravinsky path (neoclassicism) in terms of tonality, but he was caught-up in his historicism. The 12-tone method is a systematic way of distributing the material which otherwise does not have any order at all, but the result is still quite random in a musical sense. And when tonal bits are included in the defining tone row, the whole idea of the method is undermined (Berg). So, it’s all a product of deep frustration and confusion about what music is. (Another world for it is: ‘flop’.)

        The First World War left many people in a frustrated condition and S was certainly one of them.

        • “For instance, he (Schoenberg) always claimed to compose without a piano, like the Great JS Bach, to convey the impression of Genius; but sometimes he was caught working at the piano which left him much embarrassed; you can see in the piano part of the score of Pierrot that it was written at the piano, and a bit clumsily. So, I simply don’t believe that he wrote Pierrot or Erwartung in only X days, it was part of his attempts to make people believe he was a genius.”

          We need to profusely thank you for correcting so many misconceptions about Schoenberg. You mention that he always claimed to compose without a piano – we did discover that you are absolutely correct and that often there was a piano in the very same room in which he composed. We also checked the Pierrot and Erwartung manuscripts and discovered that, according to the dates that he wrote on the manuscripts, they were not written in 10 days (I assume that you are using the Roman numeral X for the purposes of clarity). His correspondence will show, for example in his Second Chamber Symphony, how he was always trying to impress everyone that he could write quickly and that he was a genius – you will also notice the GEGBGE motif which he often used to further allow the world to discover he was a genius. And finally we did check out the manuscript for the Pierrot piano part and, again you are correct. We discovered, through both radiocarbon dating and DNA testing, that the manuscript paper was in contact with his IBACH piano which he owned so that he could impress Bach.

          I think that it is worth repeating from a previous post:

          “Your comments are annoying, mindless, ignorant and superficial. I think that you should restrict yourself to commenting on things that you understand, not that you think you understand, even if that restricts your entries to none.”

          Larry Schoenberg

      • It may be nice, but it’s not “by Schoenberg”. It’s a late-C16th German chorale. The composer of the melody isn’t known (although sometimes attributed to Melchior Vulpius). The lower parts as heard in this clip were arranged by the German composer/publisher Praetorius in 1609.

        Schoenberg has not changed Praetorius’s arrangement – he merely wrote it out again.

        • He liked to fall-back again, now & then, on a common musical language. To inflict 12-tone Xmas carols on young children went too far, even for Schoenberg.

        • I didn’t know that!! But I love the piece anyway and the memorabilia which accompanies it on the link. I adore Schoenberg’s orchestration of the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1, btw!!

          • Me too, Holly. It’s fascinating to hear how Schoenberg heard Brahms and the splashes of brass and percussion (especially the use of the xylophone) are just so eccentrically wonderful. Although it is always a huge hit with an audience, it is not often(enough) performed, and the reason is that it’s quite difficult and tends to expose any and all weaknesses in an orchestra.

          • That is a fascinating piece indeed, in its orchestral garb, but the scoring is not Brahms at all. It is also not Schoenberg, but a mix of both. I always suspected that Schoenberg had instinctively wanted to write like this (like Brahms) but his self-conscious profile did not let him to. After writing his 1st Chamber Symphony (the master piece in which brilliant structuring combines with the utmost expressive spontaneity) he went into a different direction…. but in the thirties he regretted this, saying in an interview that he had wanted to explore more into the direction of his 1st chamber symphony because he thought there were still many possibilities there to be discovered. He could have been a ‘modern Brahms’ but, well, what had to become of ‘progress’ then? I think that is why he liked Gershwin so much: he had preserved the spontaneous ability Schoenberg had sacrified on the altar of historic ‘relevance’, and Gershwin probably was, after all, from his perspective, not ‘relevant’ for the ‘development’ of ‘serious art music’. So, maybe that is what the Fourth Quartet is saying underneath the video?

  • Schoenberg is a fascinating figure however one may feel about his music, because of the strength of his cult and its lasting effect on the art. Has there been a biography of substance since HH Stuckenschmidt 1974? I don’t believe so. That is unconscionable given his importance and the existence of the extensive, almost histrionically maintained archives. I’m afraid it must be as Eliot suggested: the greater the art, the worse for the person. Certainly tho, we’re ready for a real Schoenberg biography by now, full as it will be of intellectual and political hot buttons. It would only serve to illuminate the still enigmatic music, as well as the music of today.

    • In the 1st half of the last century, the music of Schoenberg and his handful of followers was only a very small part of a very wide range of different styles operating in music life, and Schoenberg’s works were conspicuously absent from the performance culture. But his myth making, and his entirely wrong vision upon music history, in which he wanted to be a ‘big figure’, was mistaken for truth by post-1945 composers and academics who further built upon the myths of what can now be seen as modernism: music based upon a fundamental break with tradition. In all music history books about ‘music of the 20th century’ this myth making has found academic accolades, and music students were and mostly still are fed with nonsense, with the result that ‘official modern music’ as being supported by established organisations show a bias to a misunderstanding of history and of music. The generously performed and appreciated music of Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, R. Strauss, Ravel, Bartok, etc. etc. which now form part of the core repertoire, was considered mere late appendixes of outdated aesthetics and the almost never performed music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern put on the pedestal as the Most Important Trend of 20C new music. Ideology, not historiography. When nowadays at orchestral concerts some completely indigestible modernist monstruosity is occasionally sandwiched between normal music, it is out of obigation, because the management and the conductor are under the impression that this is the only way in which music has developed… and if they actually don’t like it, they suspect it is their own fault, because also Beethoven was not always understood in his own time. And this is to a great extent a heritage of Schoenberg who projected his idiosycratic wishful thinking upon a concert life which knew better.

      The well-known musicologist Richard Taruskin has already torpeded this myth making in his monumental ‘History of Western Music (Oxford University Press), and the Canadian musicologist Herbert Pauls has recently published an extensive study from which can be traced the willful formation of legend, which has led to the nonsense at contemporary music festivals where absurd products are treated as adult endeavors.

      http://www.musicweb-international.com/books/Pauls_two_centuries_in_one.pdf

      Nonetheless, Schoenberg had the talents of a great composer. But his 12-tone contortions were based upon serious misconceptions…. not so hard to see (or rather: to hear).

      • Many thanks John. A very useful dissertation. Very interesting. And, of course, I am agree with you. If not completely, near to 90%. For me there was german marketing advertisement campaing in musical ideology during all these years. I do not want to be in front of them but it always seems the great classical music was and only will be german.

        Fortunately, and thanks to this global house we can now see that in the most of ocassions the emperor wear his new clothes…

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor's_New_Clothes

        • The postwar marketing was quite drastic….. and so was, occasionally, a counter-reaction like this ‘Twelve tone commercial’ which was directed against the fanatic and totalitarian campaigns in the sixties and seventies rather than against Schoenberg – debates which have by now died-out, the modernist paradigm having become established convention.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LACCAF04wSs

          For many people this now goes too far and I agree. Still, it’s very funny.

  • I’m having a good day today, inspired by the video to listen to music of Schoenberg and Gershwin, and enjoying both.

    It’s also nice to have (I believe) Arnold Schoenberg’s daughter-in-law posting on the thread, even if it was a negative response to Mr. Bortslap’s post.

  • We sometimes respond to comments that we feel contain erroneous information regarding Arnold Schoenberg. It is an uphill battle. Anne, my wife, is the “owner” of the Facebook posts and, as such, they are attributed to her. I suspect that it might be better to simply ignore the vicious, vitriolic comments about Schoenberg and merely refer those who are interested in Schoenberg to delve into his life and music through the Schoenberg Center website at http://www.schoenberg.at There, if one so desires, one can discover what he actually said, what he actually wrote, what he actually taught, what he actually composed. The initial response to Mr. Borstlap may have seemed harsh but certainly not compared to what he has written about Schoenberg in his posts. No one seems willing to correct him or even to direct him to sources that might contradict his comments. Of course, he has every right to have his opinions, but he does need to get his facts correct. It is in that spirit that my wife and I have commented.

    Larry Schoenberg

    • The woodwork, from which Mr.Borstlap and his kind crawl out during the day, is not going away any time soon. Facts are the last thing people like them are interested in clearing up. Moreover we should be very wary of those who (like Mr. Borstlap) tell us “[not to] give this man [Schoenberg] and his HERITAGE the merit he claimed for himself [caps mine]”.

        • “We were not to be intimidated by what Hitler and his anti-Semitic followers had decreed. Schoenberg was Viennese and we expect Vienna to celebrate classical music long after other major cities have “progressed” to populist substitutions.”

          This was excerpted from the long comment below by Larry Schoenberg. It mirrors my feelings precisely in response to your use of the word, “heritage,” and to your saying that “Vienna” had “some good reason” to “protest” against Schoenberg.

          • To draw the Nazi card into a musical discussion has been a common postwar tactic to silence opposition against Schoenberg: if you objected to his work, you were supposed to join the ‘entartete Kunst’ mob condemnation, a thorougly dishonest argument. Do I have to eat three steaks a day, drink cognac and smoke cigars to prove that I am not a nazi (because Hitler was a vegetarian and did not smoke nor drink)? Do I have to like S’s 12-tone works to be allowed to pay tribute to the victims of the holocaust? It is disgusting to bring antisemitism into the field, suggesting that ethnicity inevitably plays a role in objecting to S’s music.

            I think that the Viennese protests against S’s music at the beginning of the 20th century were not antisemitic but cultural. If you have been in Vienna, tasted the atmosphere, seen its classical architecture, then you know that the classical tradition in all its forms was (and stil is) the core of the city’s cultural identity. It seems an obvious conclusion that S’s work was experienced as a serious attack upon that identity. To enclose S in its fold, Vienna atoned for those protests, OK, but that does not mean that they were entirely unfounded. Vienna has also allowed to have a modernist carbuncle built right opposite of the Stefan cathedral (the Haas Haus), but fortunately that does not damage the overall character of the inner city: by contrast, you become more aware of it. So be it with Schoenberg.

    • Thank you for your dignified reaction. As for facts, I would like to refer to the Herbert Pauls study (see above), who – well-documented – reveals the unfounded ideologies based upon Schoenberg’s misconceptions. I know Schoenberg’s work quite well, admire his works up till opus 23, underwent his influence, studied with Alexander Goehr in Cambridge who was (and probably still is) an ardent ‘Schoenbergian’ and whose father Walter Goehr was a friend of Schoenberg, I know quite some things about the cultural climate Schoenberg grew-up into (Vienna 1900), and I think I don’t get facts about the man ‘wrong’. I simply object to the incredible myth making of himself, his followers, and of academics and musicians lacking – IMHO – the musical understanding to see through Schoenberg’s misplaced arrogance and Hegelian historicist thinking, which has done much damage. If admirers / affiliates of Schoenberg would have a more realistic understanding of his work, its real value would all the more be appreciated (the early works). To be ‘shocked’ by a bit of common sense pricking through the mythology, is not enough.

      I find it most ironic that the Schoenberg Institute is now settled in the heart of the city, which protested against Schoenberg’s expressions of Untergang and despair with some good reasons. Schoenberg was, apart from a composer, also an intellectual (a rare combination), and his forging of an ideology of musical progress gave teeth to the philistines. Maybe this could help to explain objections to S’s opinions:

      http://johnborstlap.com/the-killer-myth-the-fallacy-of-progress-in-the-arts/#more-761

  • I have to agree with you about myth-making regarding Schoenberg.

    And here are some of them:

    His music is mathematical.

    He forced his students to compose using the Method of Composition with 12-tones related only to one another.

    He was authoritarian.

    He did not appreciate or promote other contemporary composers.

    His myth making is YOUR myth making. It would be worthwhile to read about what HE wanted. You might read or re-read his essays in his book: Style and Idea.

    Do you really believe that his “handful of followers” which must include Berg and Webern and Wellez and Eisler and Cage and Harrison and all of his many students in Vienna, Berlin and Los Angeles were of a single minded style? You should examine all of his students and the works that they produced. Perhaps it might also be worthwhile for you to read the comments by: Lachenmann, Boulez, Rihm, Nitsch, Webern , Jalowetz, Guetersloh, Kandinsky, Loos, Berg, Malipiero, Eisler, Casella, Slonimsky, Cowell, Gershwin, Zemlinsky, Stein, Werfel, Steuermann, Wellesz, Adorno, Eisler, Sessions, Harrison, and Libeskind on the schoenberg Center website http://schoenberg.at/index.php/en/schoenberg-2/werke/ueberschoenberg
    in order that that you can develop a hand large enough to include them all.

    Just as you have indicated two musicologists who are aligned to your thesis, I could present to you a list of musicologists who would entirely disagree with your theories and those of your musicologists.

    Perhaps the best thing is for one to listed to the compositions: to listen to the Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto, A Survivor from Warsaw, the Suite for Piano, Moses and Aron and the late String Quartets. Then one should come to a conclusion based on the music and not what is written about the music.

    Regarding these “12-tone works”, many composers, conductors and performers appreciate and perform those works. You seem to be implying that Brendel, Pollini, Uchida, Aimard, Serkin, M. Barenboim, Hahn, Schulte, Boulez, Rattle, Mehta, D. Barenboim, etc. have been fooled.

    As well as the string quartets that perform the 3rd and 4th quartet
    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=schoenberg+string+quartets

    and the opera companies that produce and perform Moses and Aron … https://www.facebook.com/arnoldschoenbergcenter/posts/978182055538272

    and the ensembles that perform A Survivor from Warsaw
    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=schoenberg+a+survivor+from+warsaw

    and the many young pianists that perform the Suite for Piano https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=schoenberg+op.+25

    You should not blame Schoenberg for problem that you perceive others have caused you.

    The transfer of the Schoenberg Legacy to Vienna was absolutely the right move. The City of Vienna and the Country of Austria have fully supported the Schoenberg Center. The family believed that this is where his legacy belongs. We were not to be intimidated by what Hitler and his anti-Semitic followers had decreed. Schoenberg was Viennese and we expect Vienna to celebrate classical music long after other major cities have “progressed” to populist substitutions.

    I think that this is a good time to stop this exchange.

    Larry Schoenberg

    • I never discussed the misunderstandings about S, but his own mythology.

      A myth is often carried along by many people, as history shows (‘If many people agree with me, I get the feeling that I must be wrong’, Oscar Wilde.) All those performers who were enthusiastic about the later S works, can be considered suffering from the same misconceptions that S himself suffered from. We know that many people from Jewish descent suffered terribly from misconcieved myths.

      S’s myth of progressiveness got really fashionable after WW II due to the cultural climate and psychological postwar hangover. The totalitarian nature of the Darmstadt and Donaueschingen circles was to a great extent the fruit of modernist ideology as pioneered by Schoenberg, in spite of his traditionalism. W.A. Schultz has written eloquently about the relationship between war trauma and modernism:

      http://www.wolfgangandreasschultz.de/schultz_avantgarde_en.pdf

      Much of the Viennese protests against S’s works (pre-1914) were driven by the anxiety about the possibility of the demise of the ‘classical tradition’, and history has shown that this anxiety was well-founded. I don’t believe for a moment that Viennese musical life genuinely loves Schoenberg’s (later) work: it’s the result of mythology and the fear to be seen ‘too conservative’ – part of the myth of progressiveness again.

      If anything, this seems sufficient information to show that objection to S is not merely a matter of taste and opinion.

      • “All those performers who were enthusiastic about the later S works, can be considered suffering from the same misconceptions that S himself suffered from.”

        Do you realize how close your comments often resemble Nazi ideology against ‘Entartete Musik / Kunst’? Anything that you don’t like or understand is misconceived, wrong, insane, sick etc. and anyone dealing with it is supposed to be the same.

        “We know that many people from Jewish descent suffered terribly from misconcieved myths.” – I rather not want to know what that is supposed to mean…

        • If there is any good example of a misconceived myth, than it is nazism. That is what I meant by the suffering of people of Jewish descent. But modernism had comparable totalitarian and mythical characteristics: such ideologies are built on streamlining and exclusion. Mind that I never deny the legitimate right of modernist music to exist or be performed or composed, but object to the claims that are made on its behalf, the same with Schoenberg.

          If you read the utterances of, for instance, Boulez, or – to name a performer – Daniel Barenboim on new music, then you taste the totalitarian mentality which went riot in the last century. Barenboim, a very authoritarian character, defends the idea of the inevitability of atonality, which is nonsensical. Schoenberg’s mythology offered such people the welcome vision of power over music and over the way other people treat it. And that is entirely against the nature of the art form. Imagine that Beethoven had thought: ‘I will make sure that German music will dominate music life for the next hundred years, that my work will become the standard against which all other music will be measured and will be the fundament of music education and musicology, and that future composers will only lurk in my shadow’. He never said that and it is extremely unlikely that such thoughts had ever crossed his mind. And yet, all that more or less happened – but that was not HIS fault. Schoenberg set out to play a similar role in music life and that turned out to be a flop.

  • “If there is any good example of a misconceived myth, than it is nazism. That is what I meant by the suffering of people of Jewish descent.”

    Do you read what you write? What could you possibly mean? Nazism is a myth that is misconceived? I think that I now better understand all of your comments and what truly motivates you.

    I see that you paraphrase a comment often attributed to Schoenberg ‘I will make sure that German music will dominate music life for the next hundred years’ …. I wonder if you are erudite enough to know from where this comes or if Schoenberg ever wrote or proclaimed this? You might investigate this and be surprised by the results. Hint: Rufer, some 50 years later recalls a private discussion with Schoenberg.

    As far as complaining about the “Nazi card” – I find this strange that you object since YOU were the one who brought this up and a reader responded to it.

    Larry Schoenberg

    • Well, there you are: implying nazism when someone objects to S’s music and ideas. Do I have to explain what nazism was? We all know what that was: insane mythology.

      I rest my case.

  • It’s very sad that music should be ideologised in the fatuous manner of Mr Borstlap – why must Schoenberg’s own rationale for composing or attitude to his own or others’ work concern him at all? It’s the music that counts. I fell in love with Pierrot Lunaire about 60 years ago when I was totally ignorant of musical or any other theory; moreover, I have gone on appreciating his music more and more, despite not being able to read a score. I think anybody without prejudice could listen to the string trio op.45 and be fascinated and moved, if s/he were receptive. Mr Borstlap seems to be anything but…Oh yes, Barenboim is a “authoritarian character”, a term which he slyly uses shortly after mentioning the “totalitarian mentality” of the last century. This borders on defamation, of course. Despicable.

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