How well do you know Schoenberg? First learn to spell his name…

How well do you know Schoenberg? First learn to spell his name…


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2017

The Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna is setting a quiz, with prizes, for those who think they really know all about the great man.

Only two things wrong with it.

First, it’s multiple choice, so designed for dummies.

Second, it insists on calling him Schönberg when the old man made it abundantly clear after emigration that he never wanted to see another umlaut on his name. He’s Schoenberg, if what the composer wants matters to anyone.

If you still want to try the quiz, it’s here.


  • Ungeheuer says:

    In this audio-only vid, best of both worlds


    Tove – Cheryl Studer
    Waldemar – Siegfried Jerusalem
    Waldtaube – Marjana Lipovšek
    Klaus-Narr – Philip Langridge
    Bauer – Hartmut Welker
    Sprecherin – Barbara Sukowa

    Rundfunkchor Berlin
    Berlin Philharmonischer Chor
    Uwe Gronostay (Choral Director)

    26 April 1992, Berlin, Philharmonie, Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado

  • John Borstlap says:

    The questions are a bit embarrassing indeed…. and the photo with young Schoenberg at the cello in an entirely idiotic posture with left hand gripping the neck of the instrument in a devastatingly unprofessional way, will only confirm negative opinion about the tendencies of his later work.

    It reads as a touching but misconceived attempt to bring Schoenberg’s work ‘closer to music audiences’. But it was never meant for audiences which are addressed in the way of this enquête, which was already clear when the immense, overwhelming success of the première of the early, romantic Gurrelieder in Vienna only stirred resentment in the composer who refused to ackowledged the audience cheers and stubbornly stuck to his corner in the hall with an angry face. He wanted to explode music life, i.e. demolish its foundations, as he confirmed in the twenties at a dinner party when visited by a couple of French collegues (among which, of all people, Poulenc): a ball thrown by his children who were playing in the garden, landed in the soup terreen, spreading its contents over the guests. Schoenberg: ‘That is what I want to do with music life!’

    If you want to get to know Schoenberg well, and read the biographical material, and explore his works, you will be directed to the heart of the problem of the music of the last century.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      There is a “problem”?

        • Pianofortissimo says:

          I’m sure Arnold Schönberg would feel as much outraged as you or any sincere Classical Music lover if he could see that video (and yes, I know that thins about a football…).

          • John Borstlap says:

            Yes, of course he would have been enraged, but such craziness would never have been possible if there had not developed an art form based upon pure sound, and Schoenberg had set the first steps towards such art in the 19twenties with his 12-tone idea which disconnected the tones from a tonal, hierarchical ordering.

    • Pluto says:

      Schoenberg suffered from triskaidekaphobia or the fear of the number 13. As he turned 76, an astrologer warned him that the year may be dangerous for him as seven and six makes thirteen.

      When he got to the USA he Americanised his name to blend in! Just like Bruno Walter aka Schlesinger.

      • John Borstlap says:

        When Stravinksy applied for USA citizenship, he was asked whether he wanted to change his name, which baffled the composer. “Why would I want to change my name?” “Well, most of them do, you know.”

        Applying for USa citizedship seems to have been a bit strange. An English writer – forgot who – puzzled at the item in the questionaire: “Are you planning to overthrow the US government?” After some time, he filled-in: “No, because I don’t have my wife with me.”

      • John Borstlap says:

        In fact, it was Oscar Adler who killed-off Schoenberg with his nr 13 notice, fuelling Schoenberg’s crazy self-destructive neurosis.

        According to C.G. Jung, if people get much too rationalistic, the suppressed subconsciousness takes revenge through entirely irrational emotional drives. Schoenberg’s music is full of such drives.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    The questions were fairly easy. Anyone who likes real music, or at least took music 101 at university should be able to ace this test.

    • Scotty says:

      I like music, took Music 201, and have been a professional musician on-and-off (on for the past 25 years) for almost five decades, but I didn’t know how many siblings Schoenberg/Schönberg had. Fortunately, in the age of Google anyone can ace this test, multiple choice or not.

      Google, however, didn’t help me with questions about John Borstlap’s family or alternate spellings of his name.

      • John Borstlap says:

        His real name is Rasho Pnojal and his family comes from Nitra (Slowaky), but he thought that JB would be easier to remember. We don’t agree however.


  • Petros Linardos says:

    Question 46: Who reportedly predicted that his melodies would later be whistled by the postman? (Webern, per secondary report.)

    I keep daydreaming of helping my local mailman practice a 12-tone melody, then making a video and post it on youtube. It should go viral.

    • John Borstlap says:

      In the village here, we actually HAD a postman who was whistling a tone row (from Webern’s Variations), but he posted all the letters the other way around and when caught, explained it as trying-out a retrograde form, together with the tone row, to bring work and entertainment together in one experience. Soon after he was fired and hospitalized.


  • Elisabeth Matesky says:

    As the daughter of Arnold Schoenberg’s alternate ‘savant’ pianist, Betty, for his most advanced classes at UCLA, during her 2 year studies in Advanced Theory; Form & Analysis; & Orchestral Structure & Composition ~ all of which required exceptionally gifted pianists demonstrating/accompanying huge portions of Prof
    Schoenberg’s scores, impromptu, while teaching pupils (including Leon Kirshner & Earl Kim) specific compositional techniques he employed to portray the gamut of human emotions within his complex atonal style, ‘Momma’ was summoned to
    demonstrate & perform vast sections at the piano, (some of which had No piano reduction parts) & due to her uncanny abilities for harmony & a ‘savant’ ear, did so nearly flawlessly on the spot without so much as a hiccup! Schoenberg noting
    her gifts, placed my Mother as Alternate Pianist to Leonard Stein, and did serve additionally as Schoenberg’s Assistant grading composition papers et al during
    her mentoring by Arnold Schoenberg ~

    Un-naturally modest, always preferring the role of accompanist in lieu of soloist, she had rare qualities of wishing all she accompanied to shine! Her exceptional accompanying musical skills were not lost on Schoenberg nor his Family who often invited ‘Momma’ to their West LA, Rockingham Drive, home for parties and musical salon’s of Schoenberg’s friends & admiring colleagues. In my Mother’s later Life, she shared some wondrous memories of Arnold Schoenberg, his wife & Schoenberg’s ‘children’ ~ All I will mention is that my Mother felt Schoenberg to be very kind, good willed & an engaging colleague/ personality who was joyful living & teaching in America, his adored adopted country … ‘Momma’ s shared lovely stories & reminiscences in her Twilight Chapter’s w/ the Schoenberg’s are now kept preciously close to my heart …

    Thanking you, Norman Lebrecht, for Schoenberg – Speak on Slipped Disc,

    I remain ~

    Yours musically and gratefully from America,

    Elisabeth Matesky (proud to be Daughter of the recently late Betty)

  • Elisabeth Matesky says:

    *P.S. I shall listen & view Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder on Sunday, October 1st, to
    honour the day my Mother gave birth ~ whom I so miss more than words could
    ever possibly convey ~ I Love You Forever, Momma … ‘Lizzie’

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    So, Mr. Lebrecht, how do you spell it — Rachmaninoff or Rachmaninov? Rachmaninoff was the only way *he* wanted it spelled after his emigration, and it’s how it’s spelled on his tombstone.

    So why do British journalists insist on knowing better?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Good point. The question is, did SR determine the spelling on his tombstone?

    • Furtwängler says:

      The Germans spell it Rachmaninow, and in fact the ending -ow and the British -ov are nearer to the soft Russian ending -ов. That Rachmaninov chose to spell it with a hard -ff was probably due to his imperfect knowledge of English. In any case, as far as I know it’s only in the US that it’s spelled Rachmaninoff.

      • norman lebrecht says:


      • Jerome Hoberman says:

        So, let me get this straight: Rachmaninoff had an imperfect knowledge of harmony, so we are entitled to rewrite his music to conform to our superior knowledge? The guy chose to spell his name with two f’s at the end. Who are you, or we, to dispute his preference?

      • Christopher Culver says:

        “The Germans spell it Rachmaninow, and in fact the ending -ow and the British -ov are nearer to the soft Russian ending -ов. That Rachmaninov chose to spell it with a hard -ff was probably due to his imperfect knowledge of English. ”

        This is quite wrong. Voiced Russian consonants are devoiced in word-final position. The word may be written -ов on paper, suggesting [v] to those who do not speak Russian, but phonetically the ending is realized as [f]. (Only in the oblique cases, where the /v/ is no longer word-final, is it realized as [v].)

        This is the reason why -off was a common spelling of these Russian surnames in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

        • Halldor says:

          Rachmaninoff spent large parts of his life in the west and he spelled it Rachmaninoff there – and long before he settled in the USA. Orthography is irrelevant (some academics tried to popularise the version ‘Rakhmaninov” a couple of decades back): all that matters in this case is his personal preference, which was freely expressed and is widely documented. The “v” ending does linger in some UK circles but the better-informed orchestras, promoters and writers have already dropped it.

          Would be good to see the umlaut on Handel dropped, too: he dropped it himself after he chose to become a British subject. Use of the umlaut-ed form when referring to works from his British period (such as Messiah) is basically a form of cultural appropriation. At the very least, it denies the composer his own chosen identity.

        • Furzwängler says:

          Not to prolong this discussion ad nauseam (as it has been held here at least twice in the last couple of years or so), but as you, also, obviously know Russian you will be aware of the difference between the soft unstressed ending -ов and the ending -ёв, which is always stressed.

          So Горбачёв – Gorbatchév – would arguably be better transliterated as Gorbatchoff.

          Anyway, достаточно! Let’s just enjoy Rachmaninoff’s or Rachmaninov’s (or even Rakhmaninov’s) wonderful music, however we spell his name.

          • Christopher Culver says:

            Your posts continue to be nonsensical with regard to the Russian language. The word-final consonant in -в is unvoiced [f] regardless of whether the final syllable is stressed or not, and that is exactly why -ff was long a common spelling in Western Europe for both -ov and -ëv names.

            Also, you keep using the word “soft”, but your usage is not any kind of recognized one in linguistics generally or Russian linguistics specifically (the term “soft” with regard to Russian generally refers to palatalization of consonants, not relevant here).

      • John Borstlap says:

        R spelled his name with ff because he played much louder in the USA where he found that audiences were somewhat less attentive.

  • Therese Muxeneder says:

    Sehr geehrter Herr Lebrecht,
    füllen Sie doch einfach die Antworten aus, wenn Sie Lust haben. Vielleicht zählen Sie am Ende zu den Gewinnern und freuen Sich als Schö(oe)nberg-Experte über einen Preis? Oder trauen Sie sich insgeheim nicht wirklich zu, Schö(oe)nberg-Farbe zu bekennen und überspielen Ihre Wissenslücken durch Polemik? Ich kenne leider den englischen Begriff nicht für “humorbefreit”.
    Wie auch immer: ich – als Autorin – freue mich über jegliche Teilnahme an dem Quiz.
    Liebe Grüße von Therese Muxeneder

  • Anonymous says:

    So let’s write now Wilhelm Börd, Johann Bull, Johann Dauländ, Friedrich Delius, Heinrich Purzell…

  • Elisabeth Matesky says:

    To All ~ Many erudite people have written in regarding specifics of spelling/s of the great Rachmaninoff ‘s name with most valid knowledge … As a performing
    violinist who studied privately with Nathan Milstein at his Chester Square home
    in London for 3 and 1/2 years, the most important memory Mr. Milstein shared
    with me when reviewing and speaking about his beloved friend, Rachmaninoff,,
    was his last meeting with S.R. in his Philadelphia drawing room which was most
    impromptu ~ Milstein and Gregor Piatigorsky had gone ’round to see how their
    great pianist/composer friend was feeling & visited w/Rachmaninoff-coming from
    his bedroom to the drawing room to greet his cherished friends. Spontaneously,
    NM & GP took out their respective Violin & Violoncello from their cases & began to play the Vocalise together in such a heartfelt way that Rachmaninoff burst into
    tears of numerous emotions … After hugging each other, NM & GP reluctantly turned to leave (teary eyed) as they sensed this would be the Last Visit ~

    Sadly, within a short time of their reunion, the great Rachmaninoff passed away at his home in America ~

    (My great mentor/ friend, Nathan Milstein, in telling me of this intimately poignant
    meeting, teared up as a baby after which we both dried reddened eyes … )

    Perhaps this true occurrence may soften hearts of Rachmaninoff lovers despite other spellings for the heart of this gangling Giant was as Grand as his height ~ then and forever embracing The World in which his Piano Concerti & Preludes continue to reign Supreme ~

    Thank you to Norman Lebrecht & his grand musical personages for such spirited and very knowledgeable discourse …

    Yours musically and respectfully from America ~

    Elisabeth Matesky

    • John Borstlap says:

      Beautiful story.

      I am not a fan of R’s music but have always been surprised how this music of great quality has been attacked and condemned by critics and academia. He did not fit into a narrow-minded historical narrative and his success with audiences had to be slandered, since this formed a threat to the nice concept of music history of the 20th century. But finally, he is here to stay and deservedly so.

      • Elisabeth Matesky says:

        Thank Heavens S.R. Is deservedly here to stay, and Thank You, John Borstlap,
        for your kind words! I can only add that Mr. Milstein felt Rachmaninoff was “the
        finest Twentieth Century Composer.” (A direct NM quote to me & from one with such an overview ~ )

        Please accept very best musical wishes from America …

        Elisabeth Matesky

  • Alex Davies says:

    What is the evidence that Schoenberg “made it abundantly clear after emigration that he never wanted to see another umlaut on his name”? Was it not simply the case that when he settled permanently in an English-speaking country he adopted an alternative spelling of his name that used only those letters found in the English alphabet? It seems perfectly reasonable for native German-speakers to continue to use the German spelling. The comparison with correct spelling of Rachmaninoff has already been made. It should surprise nobody to learn that the correct spelling of Rachmaninoff in Russian is Рахма́нинов, irrespective of how he chose to spell his name in English. It therefore does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the correct spelling of Schoenberg in German is Schönberg.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The sister of my grandfather’s neighbour in NY who knew Rachnaninoff told me when I was young, that R had emigrated to America because he could no longer bear living in a country where they still could not write the letters right.

  • Erwin says:

    Has anybody heard of a 19th century composer named Dvorak?

    • Elisabeth Matesky says:

      Dear Erwin ~

      I’m almost sure I’ve heard of a composer named Dvorak!!!! And What a Giant
      in the World of Composition!!! He even came to my country of birth & was so
      influenced by ‘Americana’, as you know, wrote his New World Symphony!! We,
      in America, take great pride knowing the Midwest inspired the great Dvorak to
      compose this glorious Masterwork, which I’ve been blessed to perform a host
      of times ~ always coming away deeply moved, again and again …

      As the Brits say ~ ‘Jolly good show!’

      Best Wishes, kind Sir ~

      Elisabeth Matesky / Chicago