I listened to nothing but Schoenberg one week

I listened to nothing but Schoenberg one week


norman lebrecht

April 21, 2018

Things happen.

I needed to reference the Serenade opus 24 and found myself listening to it over and over again, bewitched by its otherworldly beauty.

The Serenade is the work in which Schoenberg introduced his twelve-note system. It is therefore the work most hated by anti-modernists.

So it was not a good moment for someone to send me Roger Scruton’s latest essay on why Schoenberg was completely wrong. almost criminally so. Scruton dismisses Schoenbergian post-tonality as ‘an arbitrary intrusion of abstract thought into a realm of empirical knowledge…’ and so on. The flaw in Scruton’s argument is that he cannot hear the beauties I hear.

There’s nothing really to discuss.

I am sad for him but not so angry as he is with the likes of me.

Read his essay here.



  • Scott MacClelleand says:

    Schoenberg knew his art would become a dead end, notwithstanding his 12-tone trick. What a tragic but visionary take on Wagner’s Tristan! Yet a genius whose influence shaped much of the music of the middle 20th century. There remains nothing sadder than all those second-rate Schoenberg ‘disciples’ who did little more than march in lockstep to the master’s formula.

  • David R Osborne says:

    This argument, again, really? Modernists versus anti-modernists, seems we’re permanently stuck in the 1930s, right down to the fact that Scruton is citing poor old Pfitzner and his dry, weighty, academic and epically dull tome, ‘Palestrina’.

    Can we please not miss the crucial point, the main driver of the decline which is this:

    “The avant-garde are important, but it has to be recognised that their work has and always will by it’s very nature, have an extremely marginal appeal. So the established policy that their music is the only new work anyone ever gets to hear, a policy in which other ideas are being censored at the avant-garde’s behest, this policy must end now.”

    • James says:

      Kiril Petrenko did Pfitzner’s Palestrina in Frankfurt and went on record IN PRINT that
      the opera was the greatest he had ever led. Well said.
      Otto Klemperer proclaimed the libretto to Palestrina, also from Pfitzner’s pen, as worthy of
      Goethe. Also well said.

      • John Borstlap says:

        So sad that Pfitzner was an ardent nazi enthusiast, like Webern, in the same way Boulez was a Leninist (“I am a 300% Leninist!” PB). I find P’s music very dull, by the way, and not a good support of his traditionalist ideas. It is like defending virtue by staying in bed all day to avoid mishaps.

        • David R Osborne says:

          In P’s defence, he was one who refused to submit work when the nazi’s were seeking replacement incidental music for Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Same could not be said for some others, for example Carl Orff.

          • Pianofortissimo says:

            During the nazi occupation PB was too young to be taken seriously as a composer or as anything else.

          • Pianofortissimo says:

            Sorry. Bad day. But still, during the nazi time B was too old to be taken seriously-

      • David R Osborne says:

        Palestrina (Pfitzner’s opera, not the composer) is dull as ditch water. Conductors are not necessarily above saying things that help opera companies put bums on seats.

        I tried, believe me, even bought a dvd of it- gave it a good few listens. I came away from that experience with a real appreciation for why the 2nd Viennese School were at the time, a much needed shot in the arm for a stale declining art-form. Doesn’t justify what happened next though.

        • John Borstlap says:

          What was happening in France at the time would have been a considerably more healthy arm shot: Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Satie and everything following on that in the twenties. The idea of musical expressionism – following painting – and of a ‘music without tonality’ and made-up of unusual chords, was debated in Vienna in a theoretical, hypothetical way. Mahler experimented with chords made up of fourths instead of thirds (7th symph) and Schoenberg (discussing harmony with Mahler) developed that further in his Chamber Symphony nr 1. Hauer was fumbling around with his tropes, Schreker used impressionistic devises which opened-up classical tonality, Freud was digging into rich ladies´ subconscious, the first ´Wiener Kreis´ got together in the coffee houses to discuss scientific theory and philosophy, there was the Sezession with their urge to get away from classicism, etc. etc. – so, a speculative theoretical climate, while in Paris artists were more practical and sensual.

          Schoenberg, lacking any academic training, wrote a big tome explaining how classical music works; Debussy, being filled to the brim with the thorough training at the Paris conservatoire and winner of the Prix de Rome, threw all academic learning overboard and opened his imagination to nature, symbolist poetry, and the paintings of the impressionists, and discovered an entirely new world of musical experience without destroying the dynamics of the art form which are still active under the sophisticated surface. Two geniusses, two opposite mentalities, and one of them getting stuck in his brain. If Schoenberg had been deported to Paris and forced to live there for a decennium or so (with enough money to enjoy the French cuisine), he would have written very different music and stopped worrying that he was not ´academically trustworthy´ enough.


            I consider Pfitzner’s Palestrina to be a very great opera and one that I have listened to repeatedly over the years with ever greater satisfaction. In that sense, Pfitzner is every bit as controversial as Schoenberg, for there will never be universal acclamation for the music of either of them.

  • clarrieu says:

    I can sense a deep feeling of consternation at Borstlap’s home this morning, as they read this NL post while having breakfast…

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s very sad here not only because my PA dwells in the Aubergine and it is weekend, but because I had to aurally check the Serenade again before I wrote my comment (to be found somewhere down on this thread). I force myself to listen it out in case some miniature musical thought pops-up amidst this thoroughly frustrated nonsense which would force me to adjust my opinion. Just now the baritone has begun his crazy wailing. (I’m worrying about Norman, really.)

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed close to the end, a slow episode of deep despair, like a sigh of ultimate incapacity, waves this nonsensical piece farewell, before the neurotic scratching ends the exercise. So, the musical longing is still there but cannot get out. This man suffered serious mental and emotional problems.

        I’ll have to wash my ears with some Bach.

  • Michael Endres says:

    I could not agree more.
    When the Kolisch Quartet’s outstanding Schoenberg recordings came out in the 1980ies I started to realise that this was some of the most expressive music ever been written.
    ( The same goes for Anton Webern, e.g. the piano Variations Opus 27 mostly suffer from anaemic and sterile performances, in stark contradiction to the free and sensual approach Webern wanted, which can be traced when studying the annotated score of Peter Stadlen. )
    I would like to add a fabulous performance of Schoenberg’s late String Trio Opus 45, performed by an excellent student ensemble from the New England Conservatory, the Trio Battuto.

    Now over to John Borstlap.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That performance has the tragic pathos of a little bird being locked-up within a too small cage.

      I think that existential despair with the inavoidable confusion – the Thing of early 20C expressionism – has been thoroughly exhausted by Pierrot Lunaire, which is an extreme point of the art form and therefore unsuited to form the basis of a genre:


      Pierrot seems to me much better than all ‘atonal pieces’ following in its wake, because the musical tradition is very close to the surface here (without the constraining of a system), which gives the piece its meaning. It is deeply tragic because of feeling a great loss. Obvious what that is:


    • Jack says:

      I doubt that we’ll ever be debating the art of John Borstlap on this or any blog in the next hundred years.

  • John Borstlap says:

    For people who want to check their own hearing:


    It’s not about what critics don’t hear, but what enthusiasts don’t hear: the deep structure beneath the ingenious, colourful surface. The gestures and textures are derived from music, but underneath is the sterile and confused world of disconnection and chaos where tones rub with each other all the time without finding a combined internal movement.

    ‘Otherworldly’ indeed: a music disconnected from humanity and nature (nature: in the most literal sense, since tonality is defined by the harmonic series which is a physical property of sound).

    There is nothing against such ‘music’, but everything against the claims surrouding it, and the immense damage it did to the developments of music in the last century. That is where Scruton’s ‘anger’ comes from.

    • Michael Endres says:

      …” a music disconnected from humanity and nature…”.
      No offence, but is it a little bit “Entartete Musik” perhaps ?

      Regarding “..what enthusiasts don’t hear..”

      The enthusiasts corner ( Kolisch, La Salle Quartet, Gould, Pollini, Rattle, Uchida, Aimard, Abbado, etcetc ) is looking quite good to me.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Hitler was a vegetarian, did not drink or smoke, and was fond of dogs – what about that?

        As for the professional enthusiasts: they merely reveal either occasional bad hearing, or a personal recognition of their own life experience, or opportunistically falling for academic narratives of progress – or a combination of these.

        Also the best performers are human, all too human:


        • Michael Endres says:

          I was not talking about Vegetable Lasagne eating Hitler but the rather exacting vocabulary and arguments you used to describe Schoenberg’s music. To declare somebody’s art being “disconnected from humanity and nature” reminded me of nearly identical arguments, used to discredit any non conforming art in those dark days.

          Your tendency to belittle everybody who plays Schoenberg ( or any other music you don’t approve of ) is regrettable. Wouldn’t it be more worthwile to discuss their level of artistry when performing such repertoire ?

          • John Borstlap says:

            When the subject is the music, not the performance, it’s a different matter. It’s very impressive to see/hear players investing all their artistry in thoroughly neurotic and self-defeating works, but why would they waste their efforts on something which is meant to deny their musical talents and musical culture? The soft gloves with which so much nonsense is treated in music life, keeps it ‘alive’ – as far as the word goes – and, by giving credence to ideas about ‘progress’ and ‘historical development’, in the end legitimizes charlatanerie like this:


            Concerning Hitler: it seems to be the basis of intellectual honesty, if claims are to be judged, to try to separate an argument from its author. Is the truth of 2 + 2 = 4 dependent upon who is claiming it? Is it only 4 when enough virtuous people support the claim? Should we try to find other formulations of ‘humanity’ and ‘nature’ because psychopaths have used these words too?

            There have been enough studies to show that human perception is related to the reality outside, the perceptive system is hardwired in the brain so that we can hear immediately when the amplitudes of different tones combine or not, according to their mathematical proportions (octave = 1 : 1, etc.). In the same way we can see ‘into’ a painting that offers perspective and suggests depth where there is ‘only’ a flat surface. Culture is the construction of meaningful imaginary spaces on the basis of biology (= nature). That nazis got that whole subject wrong and annexed it for their idiocy, should not be a reason to think that anything they hated, must therefore be valuable. It seems clear to me that we should leave them out from any cultural discussion whatsoever.

            Another essay on the FSI website throws light upon human perception in an interesting and clear way:


        • Jack says:

          Just like Donald Trump.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Nice bit of argumentum ad verecundiam there Michael. Neither here nor there really, all the artists you mention are products of a system that puts great pressure on it’s artists to support this music. Not that I’m saying they shouldn’t.

        I will however add that Rattle really must lack the philosophical insight to comprehend the true nature of creativity, if the nonsensical opening to this is anything to go by: https://m.youtube.com/watch?t=320s&v=Br7aY311Xr8

          • David R Osborne says:

            Really Bruce? “Argumentum ad Wikipedia-am”? Someone tacked a sentence on there, clearly an advocate of one of the soft sciences. And in particular when it comes to something as subjective as music, never trust anybody who speaks with such certainty (as Rattle does in his opening words) on a subject that is so open to debate.

        • Michael Endres says:

          John Borstlap’s statement about “what enthusiasts don’t hear” is suggesting those advocating Schoenberg are unaware of the music’s defects, which he has clearly identified for himself.

          That seemed to me a questionable statement when looking at musicians of the calibre of Claudio Abbado, Pierre Laurent Aimard, Maurizio Pollini, and Simon Rattle, who performed this repertoire at the highest level for decades.

          So yes, I admit being guilty of putting their “authority” on the matter above the speculative and belittling remarks of John Borstlap. Call that what you want, I am fine with it.

          I very much doubt your claim that eg Pollini,Gould,Abbado or Aimard succumbed “to great pressure …to support this music”.That seems to me the other way around…

          Interestingly enough an artist from a different generation, Claudio Arrau ( another ‘authority’ I am afraid ), was quoted in his 80th year as such:
          “Mr. Arrau says he plans to record…..also Schoenberg’s Concerto and solo literature, …..”I love the Ives Sonata, and I am always looking at Stockhausen and Cage. I would love to play the Boulez Second Sonata, but I would not have time to memorize it, given my other commitments.”
          ( source: https://www.nytimes.com/1983/02/20/arts/claudio-arrau-at-80-the-years-have-deepened-his-art.html )

        • John Borstlap says:

          Rattle merely follows ´received wisdom´ as academics have decided to assess old Vienna. But the music in the background – Wagner´s Tristan, of all things! – entirely contradicts what he is saying. Viennese conservatism has always been considered just being conservative, the attempt to freeze culture and to stop any development. But hardly anybody seems or seemed to realize that what the Viennese wanted to preserve was a precious tradition that still remains as fresh and lively as ever. Nobody goes to Vienna to indulge in Webern, Schoenberg or Olga Neuwirth. It is rather hypocritical of performers to look down on the ´Viennese conservative climate´ while everybody is burning with passionate longing to perform there.

          • David R Osborne says:

            John, you appear to have missed it, just as the orchestra swings into that glorious melody that the so called Tristan chord is a mere introduction to, a mere piece of ‘atmosphere setting’, Rattle announces that at the end of the 20th century composers (en mass apparently) abandoned tonality the sane way that artists abandoned perspective. And somehow, this minor part (when taken out of context) of Wagner’s music, lit the fuse.

            We’ve all heard this theory that for so long was presented as fact, rarely has it been couched in such definite language by someone so oblivious to the nonsense they’re talking.

    • Sam says:

      The briefest survey of music ethnography will disavow you of the misconception that non-tonal music is divorced from Nature.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Non-tonal ‘music’ is not separated from nature, but uses only the physical properties of music: its sound. It is purely materialistic, and whatever beauty or interest can be found in it, is the beauty or interest offered by purely physical things. Therefore, it is another art form, as the Germans (who always think about things) have discovered and have labelled it ‘Klangkunst’, the art of pure sound. Nothing wrong with it. But it is the claims of Klangkunst where things go very wrong: on one hand, past cultural achievement is belittled and rejected, and its (lively) tradition defined as being ‘outdated’ and ‘no longer relevant’ (as if Klangkunst would represent modernity), and on the other Klangkunst is claimed to be a ‘further development’ of the art of music. It is like rejecting painting in terms of canvas, oils and brushes, together with the accumulated technical and artistic means, and exhibiting a decomposing shark in a tank with formaldehyde as visual art as a further development of the art form while it should be obvious that it is something else.

        In comparison to music, sound art is quite poor: music creates an imaginary tonal space that offers psychological/emotional experiences that sound art does not offer, and does not want to offer since it is only sound. Hence the static nature of sonic art and the absense of narrative where articulation points could define movement through an inner space, as we can enjoy in ‘old’ music. There are, for instance, no ‘beginnings’, or conclusions’, or differentiations in tension in Klangkunst: everything happens as itself, unrelated to the structure. Therefore, all structure in Klangkunst is OK because it means only itself. And therefore, there are no ‘bad performances’ of Klangkunst, or ‘interpretations’, because there are no musical quality parameters. It is either played precisely or less so. If played with enough sonic intensity, it can be quite appealing. But in comparison to music, it is primitive.

        Here is a good example, infused with ‘up-to-date’ feminist rage:


  • william osborne says:

    If only the academic serialists understood that Webern is infused with Mahler. In 1977, during an interview for admission to Julliard, I innocently said this to a panel of resident composers, including Milton Babbit. Needless to say, I didn’t get in. In the written interview comments provided to the students after their interviews, Elliot Carter’s observation was that I should go to a school where they agree more with my views.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, this story is another of the many, many proofs that the whole movement was based upon ideology not upon art and free discussion. It was about power – because it could not find a place in the central performance culture which was supposed to be a mere expression of bourgeois, sentimental nostalgia and commerce.

      Webern took Mahler’s extreme expressionism to an absolute end, for instance by adding instructions like ‘with the utmost expression’, ‘sighing’, ‘passionately’ etc. to one single portato eight note, together with crescendo and diminuendo hairpins. Which is going over the fence, really.

      • william osborne says:

        Perhaps. But music history has been very happy to go over the fence with him. The academic serialists have been largely discounted, but not Webern — nor Berg or Schoenberg. But this is not something I’m interested in discussing. I hold to the belief that there is room for many approaches to musical expression. It’s not so much the system as the artist that counts. But you are right about chauvinistic beliefs. Classical music suffers from so much ideologically induced deafness…

    • Sixtus says:

      “Webern is infused with Mahler.” Indeed. The opening of the first a. movement of Webern’s Symphony Op21 is a highly dessicated version of the opening of Mahler’s 9th, right down to the orchestration and the order in which the instruments enter. Surely you mentioned this at Juilliard.

  • Rob says:

    The music sounds like BBC 2 in the 70s or early 80s.

  • Gustav Mahler says:

    Actually, Schönberg’s first dodecaphonic work was the Waltz opus 23/5.

  • Rob says:

    There was nowhere else for music to go. Hence the pop minimalism trash of today where so called songs are made up mostly of two lines repeated over and over and the singer paid millions.
    Can you imagine Mahler appearing in a music video to In diesen Wetter?

  • REGERFAN says:

    While understanding the damage done by the dogmatic promotion of serialism as the representation of musical “progress”, I find myself able to appreciate the expressivity of the music of Arnold Schoenberg.

    Taking the 4th quartet as an example


    I have no trouble remembering the opening theme (march-like) in bars 1-6 and its development through par 14, the theme at bar 27 (playful), the romantic-style theme in bar 66 (taken up by violin in bar 73), the spooky bars 89-94, the expressive bars 117-127. So many themes and that’s about one-quarter of the first movement.

    The slow movement (at 17:00 in the video) is also one of my favorites. The unison theme is very expressive and the section from bar 630 is wonderful.

    Once I pickup on these “snippets” repeated listening led to enjoyment of the connective tissue and then the whole.

    Of course if you come to this music as a composer who had to endure the effects of serialist dogma on academic institutions and the commissioning process, I don’t think you can come to this music without a pre-conceived dislike. It’s also necessary for some to reject Schoenberg because they need to condemn all the developments of the classical music genre that are not grasped easily by the casual listener. But if you want to come to love this music, try immersing yourself though listening and stop reading essays about it.

    Or get comfortable with Berg first 🙂

    • John Borstlap says:

      It was Schoenberg who impressed me most when young, and I have delved into his music for a very long time, – for about 15 years. My profound admiration only grew for the early works, as the disappointment for the later works wore thin and finally led to understanding its problems. It’s sad that any dislike of the later works is so often related to ‘not understanding’ instead of ‘understanding’, as if getting to know things inevitably lead to their appreciation. The extraordinary imagination, invention and expression to be found in the early works – including Pierrot Lunaire – demonstates the man’s talent of genius…. I think his best work is the 1st Chamber Symphony which covers so many different musical territories but finds a way of achieving a synthesis. And at 11:12 he resolves all conflicts into a major triad, which is what he could have done later in life with his oeuvre, instead of pursuing ‘progressiveness’:


      Shortly after this work his wife eloped with his friend Gerstl, upon which his music sank into expressionism. Women have much more influence in culture than is generally suspected.

      • Werner von Lipsky says:

        Indeed, when you look into the works of various modernists, you begin to see a pattern. Schoenberg was a convert to Protestantism (put aside the degenerate brand of Christianity he embraced for now). Christianity, of course, recognizes Christ as the Logos (John 1:1) and thus the incarnate rational order of the universe, the “Word”, to use the profoundly inadequate English translation. When Schoenberg’s wife ran off with Gerstl, he sank into a resentment toward the Christianity he converted to and thus toward Christ/God and subsequently fell into atheism in an act of petulant and frankly revealing rebellion. Of course, to rebel against the Logos is to rebel against the order of the universe and thus the basis of morality. Understood this way, Schoenberg’s shift was intentionally subversive, an intentional attack on the divine order and thus evil by definition. That would explain his music’s ugliness. To love what is ugly is therefore a symptom of one’s own rebelliousness. It may be a form of catharsis for those who are in a state of interior rebellion against Logos, much like metal. So it’s not a question of being abstract, because the abstract, while less accessible, can reflect that order, while what is at fault is disorder and it matters not whether it is abstract or not.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Yes, well said Regerfan. I freely admit it is difficult for me to approach Schönberg’s music with an open mind because of the baggage that comes with it, which is for the most part the fault of the next, post WWII generation.

      • REGERFAN says:

        Well try Reger then 🙂

        Actually your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to listen to Reger’s “An die Hoffnung” and tell me why is isn’t superb.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    Schoenberg is never going to be an ‘easy’ composer to listen to, but I for one have learned to appreciate the passion, above all, in many of his works. The early pieces up to the op 22 Songs are mainly distinguished by their sheer sensual beauty, memorable ideas, absolute mastery of form, counterpoint and harmony: this is, at any rate, what I hear. The 12-note works, especially the more mature ones, come from a composer who 100% knows what he’s doing: the 3rd and 4th Quartets, the Violin and Piano Concertos, the op 33 piano pieces, the Orchestral Variations, and especially the marvellous String Trio.

    Roger Scruton is a very clever man, and he’s entitled to dislike Schoenberg, on philosophical and acoustical grounds (as did Ernest Ansermet) just as I am entitled to enjoy it. A wonderful, short, concentrated piece many won’t know – the ‘Genesis’ Prelude he wrote as part of a collaborative composition in 1944 (along with Stravinsky’s ‘Babel’ and a host of lesser names).

  • Rob McAlear says:

    I’ve been listening to a fascinating recording of the second of Schoenberg’s Piano Pieces, Opus 11 all week. Recorded in 1978 by Erwin Nyiregyhazi and released on a new Marston CD “Landmarks of Recorded Pianism”. Schoenberg himself wrote rapturously about Nyiregyhazi‘s performance of his music. I’m not fond of Schoenberg’s music, but this recording is extraordinary, and it’s easy to understand Schoenberg’s sentiments about this interpreter.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The opus 11 pieces are wonderful, that is how it feels when something is slowly dying and resists decomposing (no irony meant). Deeply tragic and spooky.

  • Sharon says:

    Wasn’t Serenade the music for a famous ballet with aspects of modern dance by Balanchine? I believe that it was the only one of his whee the dancers were barefoot.

    • Hilary says:

      I think that’s the Tchaikovsky Serenade so rather different.
      The Schoenberg Serenade would make a very attractive dance piece. A delightful piece. The recording by the London Sinfonietta from the 70s is particularly good.

      Pierrot Lunaire was choreographed by Glen Tetley and it works unexpectedly well.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    I generally side with Scruton on most things. His lectures on the con game that is modern art and architecture should be required. But he misses the mark here. And picking on Schoenberg shows that he knows little about the development of his system of 12 tone music. Moreover, he ignores similar systems formulated by others slightly before and just after Schoenberg. The thrust of Western music was heading in this direction. It had been noted that had Brahms lived a few more years, he too would be composing with such a method. Stockhausen only extended this technique to it’s logical conclusions, and beyond. A careful listing of Stockhausen’s early and middle period works display an astonishing array of melodic and narrative structure that is very easy to hear. It’s fine if this isn’t his style of music, but he really needs to get a grip and get with the program. Modern music is still very much accessible and very much needed in today’s world.

    To be fair, his assessment of other music is well on point, and is well worth considering.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “The thrust of Western music was heading in this direction.” No, there was no thrust. There were many very different composers who reacted differently to different stimuli and the ‘thrust’ of ‘musical developments’ is an academic projection fed by postwar modernist ideology. In terms of artistic vision and quality, composers like Debussy and Ravel are FAR superior to someone like Schoenberg, and that is why their works have entered the regular repertoire. Schoenberg was NOT ‘a defining moment in music history’, but a product of a certain place at a certain time and of misguided ideas about progress and science. Music life was different from what postwar modernism wanted people to believe and much more pluralistic. It can easily be verified: the Schoenberg idea was, before WW II, only a tiny one, next to Schreker, Hindemith, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Szymanowski, Bartok, and the English composers, not to mention Casella, Poulenc, the still innocent Messiaen, etc. etc. Only after WW II all that variety was suddenly belittled as ‘not relevant’ by a self-appointed ‘avantgarde’ and a ‘line of development’ was projected from Wagner’s Tristan via Mahler and early Strauss, and Schoenberg and Webern towards Boulez and Stockhausen. This was a narrative to promote something that was obviously substandard to the repetoire…. it has certainly nothing to do with reality.

      Scruton is a specialist on the invention and development of dodecacaphony as is clear from his ‘Aesthetics of Music’. Schoenberg gave the musical world a model of infestation by non-talent (from a musical point of view) and that is why critique on the nonsense has to return to him to understand what really happened, without the political power games blocking the sight.

  • Rob says:

    I’ve just listened to Maazel’s VPO Mahler 8. Overwhelming. It’s enough to bring tears to the eyes, and it does!!

  • Leo says:

    I do think the discussion slowly opens up recently, and a critical reevaluation of the past 100 years in music (and art in general) is making itself more and more apparent.
    For example, Jerome Ducros’ lecture on atonal music, delivering some very interesting arguments against it:


    Regarding popular verdict, an interesting view is presented in Wagner’s Meistersinger by Hans Sachs (act I):

    “Doch einmal im Jahre fänd’ ich’s weise,
    daß man die Regeln selbst probier’,
    ob in der Gewohnheit trägem Gleise
    ihr’ Kraft und Leben nicht sich verlier’:
    und ob Ihr der Natur noch seid auf rechter Spur,
    das sagt Euch nur,
    wer nichts weiß von der Tabulatur.”

  • William Safford says:

    I was under the impression that the Wind Quintet was the first 12-tone work by Schoenberg. No?

    Two of my favorite works by Schoenberg are the Chamber Symphony #1, and, especially, Gurrelieder. Yes, they are not representative of his later works.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Just one last comment regarding John Borstlap’s cast iron certainties, particularly when it comes to “nature” and its connection to art, referring here to Anton von Webern’s Symphony Opus 21.

    “Webern’s Symphony manages something even more remarkable: the whole academic discourse of score-based musical analysis is (or was) based on proving how “organic” and “logical” symphonic structures can be, supposedly endowing Beethoven’s music, say, with the objective power and glory of natural phenomena. But Webern’s little symphony is probably the most genuinely “organic” symphony ever composed, in the sense of creating networks of connections between its smallest scales and its largest dimensions, so that there’s a symbiotic relationship between the way every fragment of motive and melody sounds and the shape of the whole symphony. That all-pervasive connectivity, this “striving for unity”, as Webern put it, was inspired by his love of nature (Webern was a keen alpinist); as he said, referring to Goethe’s idea of the “Urpflanze” – the ur-plant: “the root is really nothing other than the stalk, the stalk nothing other than the leaf, the leaf again nothing other than the blossom: variations of the same idea.”
    ( source: https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2013/dec/17/symphony-guide-webern-op-21 ).


    • John Borstlap says:

      It now happens that Tom Service is not the most trustworthy source of musical analysis, he is merely copying convention.

      But Webern’s Symphony is indeed an excellent example to show what was wrong with, or – to avoid papal infallabillity overtones for certain long toes – what can be considered highly questionable with the way, the Viennese three looked at Nature (with a Capital N). Namely, they looked at it entirely rationalistically, thinking that when the organicism of nature is carefully copied, they also capture its life, its spirit, its inner movement towards blossoming. It is like answering the question; ‘Who was Goethe?’ by carefully dissecting his corpse. This misunderstanding goes back to the rationalistic and materialist attitude which drove science. But art is not science, and nature is a bit more than its physical structure.

      By carefully copying classical structuring as detected by careful analysis, you don’t automatically get ‘classical works’, as Schoenberg thought. To infuse music with real, breathing life, while using organic structures, an altogether different quality is needed, namely the fantasy and imagination that gave form to these structures in the first place. This is amply demonstrated by the music of Debussy who approached Nature in an opposite way, by instinctively / emotionally identifying with the life energies which give the formations in nature their outward structure. Webern looked at nature from the outside and tried to copy it rationally; Debussy looked at it from the inside, discovering in himself the creative energies that indeed result in ‘organic’ formation. Webern was much too conscious, and his preference of the highest sphere of mountaineering where only rock and snow and ice reign, and no grass blade is to be seen, says it all.

      Plants, as Goethe no doubt will have observed, don’t grow precisely following preordained patterns but follow patterns freely, with variations along the way. So with Debussy: for instance, La Mer is highly organic qua structure, but also entirely free, floating on the energies of a natural life force, instead of the static wrong note fantasies of Webern’s Symphony. Just compare them in terms of musical experience:



  • REGERFAN says:

    Some of you seem to need an affidavit from a philosopher or musicologist to listen to music 🙂

    Webern brings out the mathematician in me. My experience with Webern is similar to my enjoyment of an elegant mathematical proof.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That also comes close to my own kind of experience of Webern. Although I prefer the Five Pieces opus 10 which are not dodecacaphonic. In one of the movements there is a single repeated tone of a harmonium with a particularly spooky, weird sound, which is a witty but effective invention.

  • This is a quote from Roger Scruton posted on his website:
    IN GURRELIEDER, VERKLÄRTE NACHT, AND PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDESchoenberg showed total mastery of tonality and of late romantic harmony, and these great works entered the repertoire. But by the time of the Piano Pieces op.11 Schoenberg was writing music which to many people no longer made sense, with melodic lines that began and ended nowhere, and harmonies that seemed to bear no relation to the principal voice. At the same time it was clear that Schoenberg’s atonal pieces were meticulously composed, according to schemes that involved the intricate relation of phrases and thematic ideas, and this was another reason for taking them seriously.