The actor who studied with Schoenberg

From the NY Times obit of Star Trek actor William Schallert:

He attended the University of California, Los Angeles, with the intention of becoming a composer, studying at one point under Arnold Schoenberg. But, he said, he came to the conclusion that he could not “work fast enough to make a living” in music, and his interest turned to acting.

Who knew?

arnold-schoenberg smoking

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  • It should be understood that twelve-tone-composition, as invented by Schoenberg, is indeed a very slow composition method. Alban Berg complained already about this slowness and the immense efforts to get the notes pushed into the tone row, and Webern composed his miniature pieces on a hughe card board, his sketch on a small piece of music paper in the middle, surrounded by other pieces with all the permutations of the row from which he had to make his choices. Most composers who stuck their head into the 12-tone method, never got out of it, or in case they could liberate themselves, never recovered from the damage.

    Writing in the 12-tone method is a way of acting like a composer without being one, so it is unsurprising that this man went-on to the next step.

    • 12 tone composition is indeed an art that requires skill, good taste, and a fine ear. All of these qualities Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg had. Those who think otherwise are still stuck in the 12th century.

      It would have been curious, however, to see what would have happened if he had followed a similar method proposed by Josef Matthias Hauer who developed his 12 tone system well before Schoenberg…..

      • But Hauer, if I am well informed, used the idea in a very different way. Schoenberg did his best to persuade the world and posterity that HE was the REAL inventor, had a patent on it, so to speak, like the invention of the electric bulb or the steam engine, or (in this case more appropriately) the first electric dentist drill.

        One does not need to be stuck in the 12th century to be able to deny that Schoenberg, Berg and Webern lacked tase. Skill and a fine ear they had, and brilliant talents on top of that, but taste? Webern: yes, in spite of his nazi enthusiasm; Schoenberg: in general, yes, before 1923; Berg: questionable, if you heard his first orchestral attempt:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw7GagZ46kc

    • This is all not at all relevant. First of all Schallert did not study dodecaphony with Schoenberg. And secondly it is known, there are many examples (Schoenberg wrote his string trio op.45 under difficult circumstances, partly in the hospital. 20 minutes of music in a few weeks) and many testimonials about how fast Schoenberg was able to compose with 12 tone rows. Also, third reason why this is irrelevant: when composing in tonal systems one can easily see composers who worked slow or fast, and some worked slow on one piece and fast on another. Also a lot of people think they are a composer when writing in C major. In my opinion using tonal of serial or dodecaphonic ‘systems’ will give no guarantee for the artistic outcome. As I think has been said enough and has been documented enough. And finally: is it really important to compose fast?

      • Agreed, it’s all irrelevant, like the 12-tone system itself.

        But the system is a practical instrument to be sure a priori that no music will come out of it, unless handled by a gifted composer who does not need it (but cultivates a masochistic character trait, like Berg).

        • Well, since you repeat yourself, I will do that too: what you write about twelve tone composing is also true about composing in a tonal system. Mo music comes out of a C major scale…You seem to have a problem with Schoenberg, which is a pity as it means you miss a lot of great music ( in my opinion) but that is not what was discussedd here, I believe.

          • In terms of quantity, the C major is indeed a great production factory with loads of waste, agreed. The problem with Schoenberg is not his work, but his claims, which have been cemented into a 20C music narrative which is false, and which has done immense damage, and which does not deserve any respect. Up till opus 23 S wrote – most of the time – masterly music, but then got stuck.

            If people would take the trouble to view such ideological narratives more critically, they would discover lots of music which had been condemned by that narrative, like so much music of the twenties and thirties written by composers of Jewish descent.

            It is surprising how quickly a critique upon conventional wisdom, even when uttered in passing, is taken as personal resentment….. Makes one think of how critique upon the Soviet society was reacted upon by the regime as coming from ‘bourgeois’ or ‘formalistic’ or ‘deviant’ people.

  • “Star Trek actor”? He was in one episode of the original series. There a hundreds of other accomplishments that could have been quoted to identify him. He was in considerably more episodes of The Patty Duke Show.

    And I agree 100% with Mr. Borstlap. Serialism is for those who know something of mathematics but nothing of music.

    • As “The Trouble with Tribbles” is one of the most popular and iconic Star Trek episodes, many people would recognise William Schallert in his role as the stupid administrator.

    • There is so much confusion about Arnold Schoenberg in America. Especially an inventor of silence pieces and mushroom expert claimed that he studied with Schoenberg. Actually he attended some courses in analysis and counterpoint but Schoenberg never would have accepted him as a student of composition. Anyway, Schoenberg never had a composition class at the UCLA and also not at the USC. He wasn’t happy with the level of the students in America. Nothing to compare with Berg and Webern in Vienna. What he taught at the UCLA was counterpoint and analysis. Period.

  • I’ve been reliably informed by several people who were actually taught by Schoenberg, or who have had a close connection with those who were taught by him, that Schoenberg’s teaching was usually quite traditional and that he did NOT actively encourage many of his pupils to take up serialism.

    • Actually, that is true. Possibly S feared that the system in their hands could get entirely off the rails (as indeed happened later-on), or he had come to the conclusion that 12-tone composing was, in the end, only one of the many possibilities available to contemporary composers. Aging, and his hopes to become a popular composer like Tchaikovsky gradually evaporating, and the futility of avantgarde theorizing in the perspective of world history with its upheavels, may have contributed to his caution when teaching. Interestingly, no ‘great composer’ emerged because of having studied with Schoenberg, but most of his students testify they have learned ‘thinking right’ in his lessons, which merely rises suspicions. What has ‘thinking right’ to do with writing music? And what is ‘right’ anyway in a musical context?

      S always hankered back to the period of tonality, and in the thirties he finished a 2nd chamber symphony he had begun before WW I. But that one is not so good as the first.

      It seems that the only really talented pupils he had, were Berg and Webern. Berg did not need any artificial system, since he had enough organisational skills himself to do without such thing (witness: Wozzeck). Seen from a purely musical perspective, the 12-tone idea had a devastating effect on Webern, who could compose well enough before he began to apply it. But well, he became a fervent nazi enthusiast, and was quite surprised that the regime did not embrace his music as the best possible cultural symbol of totalitarianism.

      ‘The music of Berg always reminds me of a very old lady of whom one thinks how beautiful she must have been when young’ (Stravinsky).

  • 12-tone… a fleetingly interesting experiment, elevated by academics to a status way beyond any importance it could ever merit.

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