Schoenberg in Hollywood: First review

It’s Tod Machover’s latest opera, Schoenberg in Hollywood, given its world premiere by Boston Lyric Opera at the Emerson Paramount Center Wednesday night.

Despite its title, Schoenberg in Hollywood tells of the composer’s life before he drove a Rolls Royce, played tennis with George Gershwin, and attended garden parties with Harpo Marx in the Los Angeles suburbs. Part biopic and part psychological study, Simon Robson’s libretto portrays a solitary figure who lives constantly in his head. Schoenberg, driven by talent and ego, longs to transform the world through music. Yet he is also afraid of moving forward.

Read on here in Boston Classical Review.


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  • ==Schoenberg, upon discovering that Mathilde is having an affair with the artist Richard Gerstl, belted out the line, “at least I treat all tones equally,” before forgiving both of them.==

    That’s quite funny

  • Oscar Levant wrote some anecdotes about Schoenberg in Hollywood, and his interactions with the big name Hollywood composers of the 1930s, that are funny and sad at the same time. One that I recall is the composer who came to Schoenberg for help, lamenting that he needed to write music to accompany film showing the flight of an airplane and didn’t know where to start. Schoenberg asked “you’d know what to compose for the flight of a bee, wouldn’t you? Well write big bee music.”

    The silly disagreement between Schoenberg and Jascha Heifetz over who was to pay for a pianist to learn the piano reduction of the Violin Concerto and then assist Heifetz at his rehearsals (Schoenberg had agreed to pay, but then refused on the grounds that Heifetz was so much richer than he was [true of course], but Heifetz was nearly a fanatic about agreements and contracts) cost us a Heifetz performance (and recording?) of the Schoenberg Concerto, which might have advanced its general acclaim by a couple of decades.

    • I don’t know whether that piece does advance any acclaim of any violinist:

      It sounds like an attempt at being classical with the notes which had been carefully left-out before. Brilliant from an intellectual point of view, we can hear all the 12 notes being painfully spread-out over the field, but alas, music is not an intellectual thing, it is an art.

        • The idea that ‘all art forms are intellectual exercises’ is an idea of postwar modernism, and it is nonsens. The arts cover a much wider territory than ‘intellectual exercises’ and that has nothing to do with someone’s taste. Art is the selective interpretation of real life experience by the artist, according to his/her value judgments, it is combining objective and subjective elements. The intellect is merely an instrument to realize the artistic vision into something that is directly experienced by the senses, without interference by purely intellectual exercises. When these latter things are necessary to begin to understand the work, it is not really art.

          In music, postwar modernism wanted to ‘liberate’ the art form from the ‘romanticism’ of the prewar world, and thus tried to delete the entire dimension of interpretation, expression, emotion, etc. so that only ‘objective’ sound patterns remained and yes, that was music reduced to intellectual exercise. But it was not music, but another art form, the art of pure sound.

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