Paul Rosenfeld (essay date 1928)
SOURCE: "Schoenberg and Varèse," in Musical Impressions: Selections from Paul Rosenfeld's Criticism, edited by Herbert A. Leibowitz, Hill and Wang, 1969, pp. 77-81.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1928, Rosenfeld discusses the connection between Schoenberg and Edgard Varèse.]
… [They] played Europe and the New World off against each other at the International Guild. Schoenberg's Serenade began the program; Varèse's Intégrales ended it, and the interval was broad as the sea. It was delicate lacework sound against brute shrilling jagged music. It was the latest ghostly flowering of the romantic tradition against a polyphony not of lines, but of metallic cubical volumes. It was, essentially, the thinking introverted solitary against mass movement in which the individual goes lost; for the reason either piece did its author uncommon justice. Few works of Schoenberg traverse less writing for the eye than this new one, and breathe more thoroughly. The march which leads on the Serenade and then leads it off again may ultimately belong to the company of Schoenberg's paper pieces. But the rest of the little movements, the minuet, the variations, and the setting of Petrarch's sonnet Number 217, the "Dance Scene" and the "Song without Words," flow lightly; and bring within their small compass and in the familiar character of the Serenade a very personal quality of sound. The mood is serener than it was in Pierrot Lunaire, and the movement less languorous and less explosive. Nonetheless, the piece's quality is similarly half painful, half dreamy; characteristically Schoenbergian; the tone eerie and sotto voce; the structure submitted to intense concentration. The nervous, excited strumming of the mandoline and guitar called for by the score has correspondences throughout the form. And like so much of Schoenberg the Serenade is fundamentally Brahmsian in feeling. The conservatism of the structure, the frequency of rhythmic repetitions, the symmetrical formation of motifs, themes, and entire sections, has been marked by the German aestheticians. Perfectly apparent to the layman is the brooding romanticism of the melos, particularly in the "Song without Words," and the spookromanticism of the loose-jointed periods of the minuet and "Dance Scene." The characteristic undulant movement, the lyrical upheavals of the line, true, have been compressed by this ultramodern into minute spaces; stand immeasurably tightened, curtailed, and broken up. But they exist in Schoenberg as essentially as in Schumann, Wagner, and Brahms. That is the German, apparently, and the European in touch with a past. Schoenberg is the carrier-on, the continuator of his predecessors' line of advance. Despite the architectural preoccupation distinguishing him from the great mass of his artistic ancestors, from Brahms, even, Schoenberg is the romanticist of today; as Stravinsky justly if unkindly denominated him. He is the singer par excellence of the individual, the proud, solitary, brooding soul; the lover par excellence of the singular, the raffiné, the precious in musical expression; of the strange and unwonted in harmony and mood. The sudden entirely unheralded high F, pianpianissimo, which squeaks in the singer's voice toward the close of the song Herzgewächse: what is it but a very extreme example of Schoenberg's characteristic processes? To a degree the Serenade approaches the humanistic ideal a little more...
(The entire section is 1472 words.)