Paul Rosenfeld (essay date 1928)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1472

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...

(The entire section contains 118806 words.)

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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 closely than Pierrot Lunaire and Herzgewächse, less descriptive and macabre and perverse as it is. But the divergence is insignificant. Jewelry and feeling of rarity remain; and with those aspects of romanticism, its more permanent attractive ones. Like his masters, Schoenberg is busied in a rigorous search for his own truth, for his own naturalness, and uncompromisingly bends the inherited means of music to parallel his way of feeling. The Serenade is the work of a truthseeker, not satisfied with conventions, and actively developing the suppleness, copiousness, and precision of his medium. To be sure, there is a novelty in Schoen-berg's approach. His touch is less warm, his emotional frontage narrower than the great romanticists'. He is the man of his hour, and that hour is a difficult and tortured one, less communicable than its forerunners, isolating its members in moody loneliness and semimystical adventure. Schoenberg's music sounds as exquisite, shadowy, and remote as Paul Klee's painting looks. Brahms shudders like a ghost. But the ghost has the old gravity and sentiment, and wears Wagnerian plumes, besides.

Passing from the Serenade to Intégrales is like passing from the I-ness to the it-ness of things; from a hypersensitive unworldly feeling to a sense of strident material power; and from a traditional expression to one which is independent, and rooted as largely in life as in Berlioz and Stravinsky. Varèse stems from the fat European soil quite as directly as Schoenberg does. The serious approach, the scientific curiosity, of what of the nineteenth century remained on the Continent, is active in him and his audacious art. Besides Varèse is somewhat of a romanticist. For all his extreme aural sensitivity to the ordinary phenomena and perception of the prodigious symphony of the city and port of New York, he has a tendency to seize upon life in terms of the monstrous and the elemental. Amériques, the first of his characteristic "machines," resembles Brontosaurus, the nasty hungry Fresser, waddling filthy, stinking, and trumpeting through a mesozoic swamp. Fafner was an elf in comparison. That is the Berlioz influence: it is significant that Varèse first appeared before the American public in the capacity of conductor of the Frenchman's prodigious Requiem. But his romantic aspects are balanced by more humanistic ones. Varèse has derived his idiom through direct perception, and used it in interests other than those of descriptivity. He has never imitated the sounds of the city in his works, as he is frequently supposed to have done. His music is much more in the nature of penetration. He will tell you how much the symphony of New York differs from that of Paris: Paris' being noisier, a succession of shrill, brittle hissing sounds, New York's on the contrary, quieter, for the mere reason that it is incessant, enveloping the New Yorker's existence as the rivers the island of Manhattan. He works with those sonorities merely because he has come into relation with American life, and found corresponding rhythms set free within himself. It is probable that at the moments in which Varèse is compelled to give form to his feelings about life, sensations received from the thick current of natural sound in which we dwell, push out from the storehouses of the brain as organic portions of an idea.

His feeling is equally preponderantly unromantic. It is much more a feeling of life massed. There are those who will say, of course, that Intégrales is merely cubical music. To a definite degree, Varèse's polyphony is different from the fundamentally linear polyphony of Stravinsky's art. His music is built more vertically, moves more to solid masses of sound, and is very rigorously held in them. Even the climaxes do not break the cubism of form. The most powerful pronouncements merely force sound into the air with sudden violence, like the masses of two impenetrable bodies in collision. The hardness of edge and impersonality of the material itself, the balance of brass, percussion and woodwind, the piercing golden screams, sudden stops and lacunae, extremely rapid crescendi and diminuendi, contribute to the squareness. The memorable evening of its baptism, Intégrales resembled nothing so much as shining cubes of freshest brass and steel set in abrupt pulsing motion. But for us, they were not merely metallic. They were the tremendous masses of American life, crowds, city piles, colossal organizations; suddenly set moving, swinging, throbbing by the poet's dream; and glowing with a clean, daring, audacious, and majestic life. Human power exulted anew in them. Majestic skyscraper chords, grandly resisting and moving volumes, ruddy sonorities, and mastered ferocious outbursts cried it forth. For the first time in modern music, more fully even than in the first section of Le Sacre, one heard an equivalent Wotan's spear music. But this time, it had something to do not with the hegemony of romantic Germany, but with the vast forms of the democratic, communistic new world.

Without the juxtaposition of the Serenade, Intégrales would have been a great experience adding to a growing prestige. But that evening the Atlantic rolled. The opposition of the two works precluded such concepts as "Schoenberg's music" and "music by Varèse." One saw two kinds of music, apart as two continents, and based a thousand leagues from each other. Far to the east one saw romanticism rooted in the individualism of western Europe, romanticism that indeed was the gentle old European life. And close, there lay the new humanism, the hard, general spirit, rooted in the massive communal countries: Russia and the United States, itself an integral portion of all one meant saying "the new world" and "America."

Paul Rosenfeld (essay date 1936)

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SOURCE: "Gurrelieder," in Musical Impressions: Selections from Paul Rosenfeld's Criticism, edited by Herbert A. Leibowitz, Hill and Wang, 1969, pp. 71-77.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1936, Rosenfeld discusses Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.]

An artist's expression infrequently is completely individualized by the time of his twenty-seventh year, and that of Schoenberg was not exceptional. When in 1900 he began to set the poetic cycle which the seraph of Danish literature, Jens Peter Jacobsen, had formed from the legend of King Waldemar I of Denmark and the fair Tove and called the songs of Gurre, the castle with which the legend associated their tragic love, the future heresiarch still was, regularly enough, under the domination of the expressions of his immediate predecessors. These were the Wagnerian, the Straussian, the Brahmsian, and the Mahleresque. His setting of Gurrelieder for giant orchestra, choruses, and solo voices thus is largely traditional; like the youthful work of other gifted composers, say, the Wagner of The Flying Dutchman, the Strauss of Don Juan, the Stravinsky of L'Oiseau de Feu. The giant cantata recalls the general romanticism of the late nineteenth century, in particular the rapture and the harmonic system of Wagner, the vasty means of Mahler's choral symphonies and something of his melodic architectural form, Strauss's beefy contrapuntal effects and dramatic emphasis, and Brahms's rich Lieder style. It actually is a sort of Wagnerian music drama cast with Strauss's and Mahler's symphonic means in the form of a song cycle, for soloists and chorus, preceded by a prelude and inclusive of two sizable orchestral transitions, and not without distinct Brahmsian characteristics.

One tenor represents Waldemar, another Klaus the fool. The soprano represents Tove; the mezzo the little wood dove; the bass the peasant; the four-part male chorus, Waldemar's ghostly henchmen. The work falls into three parts, lightly corresponding to the three parts of a symphony and the acts of an opera. The first includes the songs of Waldemar and Tove expressing their longing for each other, the songs vocal of their joy in reunion, their nocturnal dialogue and premonitions of death and of resurrection, and finally, after the first orchestral interlude, the song of the wood dove lamenting the death of Tove at the hands of the jealous queen. The second part contains Waldemar's denunciation and rejection of God. The third embodies the demonic nocturnal hunt to which Waldemar and his henchmen have been condemned, the choruses of the men interspersed by the song of the frightened peasant, the jittery soliloquy of the fool, the ghostly Waldemar's expression of his sense of the dead Tove in the voice of the woods, in the regard of the lake, in the laughing light of the stars: and finally the play of the summer wind and the resurrection of the lovers in the life of nature.

The composer of Dreimals Sieben Lieder des Pierrot Lunaire is nonetheless clearly heralded, nay actually present, in Gurrelieder; as definitely present there as the composer of Die Walküre in Der Fliegende Holländer, the composer of Don Quixote in Don Juan, the composer of Les Noces in L'Oiseau de Feu. The work, naturally enough, is unequal. The first four songs in the first part have far less quality than the later ones; and pages such as that of Waldemar's blasphemy, the macabre hunting chorus, and the final salutation of the sunrise, reveal more of ambition and striving than of power. The dreaminess and the sweetness of some of the music is occasionally cloying. And still, for all its weaknesses, its Wagnerian, Straussian, Brahmsian echoes, Gurrelieder is a creation, the sonorous, sumptuously colored embodiment of an original idea, full of glowing poetic music, and doubtless has a future. The conception, to begin with, is a formal one. Each of the nineteen songs composing the whole, a simple or double Lied form, is built up structurally from its own melodic germ and is organically related to the rest by the cyclic use of themes, by contrasts of tonality and character, and by orchestral transitions of various length. The work actually concludes with the chord in the tonality with which it began. And Schoenberg's form is already distinctive: and when we speak of his form as being already distinctive, we are referring to the form of the older, the main part of the Gurrelieder, written between 1900 and 1902, and not that of the close of the last section, including the Sprechstimme, the melodic use of the celesta, and the high, shrill, piercing sonorities; for that dates from 1910 and is therefore contemporaneous with the Three Pieces, Opus 11, and the work of the middle Schoenberg. Here, in the earliest parts of the score, we find him melodic and contrapuntal to a degree, even on the simplest and most Wagnerian pages. While his harmony is fairly Wagnerian, it is anything but slavishly so, displaying a considerable sensitivity. As for his melodic line, it frequently leaps over wide intervals, as in Tove's third song, and skips about nervously in the songs of the peasant and the fool. Instrumental sonorities are often used thematically, from Tove's second song onward. The instruments themselves frequently are employed soloistically, and examples of the oppositions of the sonorities of various orchestral families are anything but uncommon. And the individualized constituent forms and the grand one they build up communicate individual moods and an individual experience. If these moods and this experience are "romantic"; if Gurrelieder, like Tristan, constitutes with surging, rapturous, and dreamy page after page a "climate of love," it does so unhackneyedly. The erotic moods are tenderer, more penetrating and spiritualized than Wagner's relatively simple ones. Schoenberg's heroine, too, possibly in conformity with Jacobsen's idea, is much more feminine and shy than Wagner's heroic amorosa. The range of the moods also includes such fantastic and original variants as those of the bedeviled peasant, the dislocated and grotesque agonies of the fool, the Puckish humors of the "Summer Wind's Wild Chase." The very implicit experience, the vision of a vital progress by stages of personal love and personal loss to a selfless victorious absorption in the divine breath, the "life" of nature, while essentially romantic, is individual. And while the entire expression, like Wagner's, is rapturous and subjectively lyrical, it is rapturous to the verge of the ecstatic; and its psychographical and subjective lyricism borders on expressionism, on the ecstatically confessional. And it is a magical score, rich in the elusively mysterious, sensuous, melting, and bewitching sort of expressions which, drawn with a fineness no completely waking condition can achieve, flow from some enchantment in the subject itself and, abundant in the music of Schumann, of Wagner, of Debussy, are called poetical.

Need it be asseverated that these distinctive characteristics of Gurrelieder are the germs of those completely distinguishing and characterizing the later work, at least that part of it previous to the systematization of the twelve-tone technique? The plasticity of the Gurrelieder—what is it but the adumbration of the extraordinary plasticity of those later works, indicative of an intuition always connected with a form-feeling that works itself out with utter relentlessness, compression, and logicality, whether in the molds of the Lied form or in those of contrapuntal forms, the passacaglia, the canon, the inverted canon, or the motus cancrizans? The harmonic sensitivity, what is that but the indication of the sensitivity that was to produce the bewitching harmonic beauty of the characteristic atonal pieces, the third of the Five Pieces for Orchestra, "Der Wechselnder Akkord" in especial. The wide leaps and skips of the melodic line, are they indeed anything but the annunciation of the melodic line of the scherzo of the first Kammersymphonie and of Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten, the chamber operas, the song Herzgewächse, the Three Times Seven Songs of Pierrot Lunaire? For us, they are nothing if not prophetic; and for us, the thematic use of instrumental sonorities is equally so; also the soloistic use of instruments, triumphant first in the Kammersymphonie and then in all Schoenberg's instrumental pieces. And the oppositions of the sonorities of various instrumental families seem anticipatory of one of the traits of style most distinctly Schoenbergian. Equally so is the feeling communicated by Gurrelieder. The feelings expressed by the later music are those of exquisite, idealistic, not so largely neurotic as neurodynamic modern people—people who make tremendously prompt, deep, intense nervous responses. Tove herself is but an earlier version of the exquisite essence figuring in Pierrot as eine weisse Wäscherin. And the ideas which compose and relate these essences are those of the erotic experience. More consistently and continually than any other contemporary composer of worth, Schoenberg is the musician of the exquisite, the deep, and also the bitter and painful erotic adventure: a circumstance which connects his art with that of Beardsley, of Strindberg, of Rodin, and that of other great "decadents." Opus 15, the cycle of songs on poems derived from Das Buck der Hängenden Gärten by Stefan George, creates a "climate of love" even more subtly, more poignantly and inclusively than Gurrelieder. The monodrama Erwartung brings to biting, almost madly intense, expression the experience of the modern woman who, wandering beyond the walls of her little garden in search of her lover, finds him dead for the sake of another. And the other little music drama, Die Glückliche Hand—the hand of Venus—conveys the experience of an enamored artist who, physically disgusting to his partner, is crushed by her efforts to escape him. The Serenade, Opus 24, also expresses, with the help of the words of Petrarch, the experience of the rejected lover. Again, the moods of the later Schoenberg include many that, extensions of the tortured ones of the latter sections of Gurrelieder, approach the extreme of uneasiness, of torment and dolor; and the cantata's peasant, Klaus the fool, and the Puckish summer wind attain a kind of apotheosis in the extremely bizarre moods of the "youthful idealist," the moon-drunken dandy Pierrot Lunaire of the fantastic twenty-one songs. The later forms of expression are also extremely ecstatic, almost supremely so, and supremely confessional. Psychographical, subjectively lyrical music would seem to reach its most exalted pitch in these works: they make the composer seem one determined not to shrink from the most audacious articulations of inner movements, those of the unconscious itself, and the ultimate secrets of his own soul. And the whole of the later music, with its many passages of the purest lyrical expansion—for all its inclusion of pages of paper music—constitutes the most poetic, glamorous music produced by any living composer. That poetry is a fragile one, an exquisite one, a sort of expression of the gleaming, evanescent moment of feeling. Pierrot Lunaire, which contains this "Celtic magic" perhaps more abundantly than any other one of Schoenberg's works—it is perhaps its apex and one of those of modern music—may even seem, with its elusive lights, surges, ecstasies, aromas, a sort of Chinese jar filled with conserved flower petals, and thus something of an anomaly in the present world. But it is not certain that succeeding times will find it so and may not conceive it as the crystallization of the finest Viennese, the fin-de-siècle European sensibility, and find the place of the composer close to that of the other exquisite musical poets, Schumann, Wagner, Chopin, and Debussy.

Indeed so clear a prefigurement of the composer of all these magical pieces does Gurrelieder give that it is difficult to understand how musicians whose interest in their art is a serious one could have contrived to assist at the first American performance of the revelatory piece, under Stokowski's baton early in 1932, and continue, for all the grossness of the production, unconvinced of the integrity of Schoenberg's entire output up to the time of his systematization of the twelve-tone technique. That they should have come away as puzzled by the system-making Schoenberg as they were before they heard the cantata, is not a wonder. For Gurrelieder casts no light on him. But that it should have failed to make them conscious of the one man present from first to last in all of Schoenberg's pieces confessing the dominance of sensibility, and failed to make them recognize in the later atonal works, up to the Serenade and the Suite, Opus 25, the logical developments of the germs stirring in this first experiment with the larger means if not the larger forms, verges upon the miraculous. For us, Schoenberg's declaration at the time of the first performances of his songs on George's poems is unsurprising: "In these Lieder I have succeeded for the first time in approaching an ideal of expression and form that have hovered before me for years. Hitherto, I had merely not sufficient strength and sureness to realize that ideal. Now, however, I … have definitely started on my journey." For if we ourselves see anything in Schoenberg's career, it is nothing if not the development of a man according to the law of life which compels us, if we would live and grow, to become ever more fully and nakedly what we essentially are.

Roger Sessions (essay date 1952)

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SOURCE: "Some Notes on Schoenberg and the 'Method of Composing with Twelve Tone'," in Roger Sessions on Music: Collected Essays, edited by Edward T. Cone, Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 370-5.

[In the following essay, originally published in The Score in 1952, Sessions analyzes Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositional method.]

Arnold Schoenberg sometimes said, "A Chinese philosopher speaks, of course, Chinese; the question is, what does he say?" The application of this to Schoenberg's music is quite clear. The notoriety which has, for decades, surrounded what he persisted in calling his "method of composing with twelve tones," has not only obscured his real significance, but, by focusing attention on the means rather than on the music itself, has often seemed a barrier impeding a direct approach to the latter. To some extent it has even, rather curiously, distorted the view of Schoenberg's historical achievement, of which the discovery of the twelve-tone method is only one phase.

Schoenberg's priority in the discovery of the "method" is assured, and he set great store by the fact of priority itself. One can understand why. He had the rare but often painful honor of remaining a "controversial" figure even to the time of his death at the age of seventy-six; the still more painful experience of seeing even his disciples used as weapons against him—a situation from which both Berg and Webern would have been the first to recoil. It can easily have seemed to him that this priority, being tangible, was at least historically a precious asset.

The significant fact is that—paradoxically—were the question of priority really important, the event itself would have little value. Once, for instance, we were taught that Mozart introduced the clarinet into the orchestra. Later, one learned that other composers had used the clarinet before him; this fact, however, did not diminish in the least either Mozart's stature, or the historical importance of his immense contribution to the development of the clarinet. If the formulation of the twelve-tone method seems likely, in future estimates of Schoenberg, to assume a less central significance than it has done up till now, this is not because the system itself is insignificant, but because Schoenberg was a great composer, because his music, historically and otherwise, is greater than any system or technique.

For Schoenberg, far from being a mere "chef d'école," of whatever stature, embodied, more than any other musician of his time, one of the great critical moments of musical history. Dodecaphony—here used to mean simply the independence of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale—is the result of an impulse which has been inherent in Western music at least from the moment that musicians began to combine voices simultaneously. As students of music history we have become familiar both with the processes involved and the reasons generally adduced for them. At one period it is a matter of avoiding the tritone; at another, the strengthening of the cadence. Later, as forms become vaster and more complex, harmonies are thrown into relief by means of "secondary dominants"; the resources, both harmonic and linear, of the minor mode are made available within a predominantly major mode, and vice versa; and finally individual tones are raised or lowered, throwing the notes which follow into greater relief, and giving rise to sonorities previously unknown. Whatever their motivation, these processes are all in one way or another expressions of what may be called the chromatic impulse. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries their use increased constantly, and penetrated more and more into the heart of the musical vocabulary. What began, in each case, as a means of emphasizing large musical design, later developed into an expressive resource, bringing contrast into the modelling of musical detail. Thus the "chromatic harmony" of Wagner and Liszt was born; harmony based largely on "alterations" which modified the ordinary "root chords," which tended to challenge the compelling force of the relationships between these chords, frequently superseded such relationships, and finally undermined, or at least, qualified, the unity based on tonic, dominant, and subdominant.

The process is one through which every vital inflection, every nuance, gradually imposes itself and demands development. The ear of the composer, in other terms, lingers over arresting or expressive detail, and follows the train of thought or impulse incited by it.

This story has been told often enough; but it still has to be re-told and re-pondered, since it relates a development that leads to the very center of the contemporary musical problem. The processes of impulse just described in purely harmonic terms, constitute, of course, only one phase of an integral musical impulse which embraces all elements, melodic and rhythmic as well.

Perhaps we should recall here what is meant by a musical problem. This must not be envisaged in technical terms alone. It is an expressive crisis that arises and demands solution. The technical solution is ex post facto, so to speak; the concept of technique, in fact, has to do with solutions, not with crises or problems as such. Further-more, a genuine problem is the affair not so much of an individual composer as of music itself. It is a turning point in the development of the human spirit, and represents either the opening up of a new vein, or the exhaustion of an old one. Thus it does not lend itself to easy definition in words. How much easier, in fact, to take the technical ideas out of their context and define them, as it were, in the raw state—a process that actually reduces to absurdity any technical concept whatever.

The truly immense achievement of Schoenberg lies in the fact that his artistic career embodies and summarizes a fundamental musical crisis. More than any other composer he led the crisis to its culmination. He accomplished this by living it through to its furthest implications. But he also found technical means which could enable composers of his own and later generations to seek and find solutions. He opened up a new vein, towards which music had been tending; and the twelve-tone method is in essence the tool through which this vein can be exploited. Its discovery was a historical necessity; had it not been Schoenberg who formulated it, others would have done so, though possibly in a much slower and more laborious manner.

Nothing could be more wrong, in fact, or more unjust to Schoenberg and to his memory, than to regard the twelve-tone method as essentially limited to a single group or a single Weltanschauung. In too many quarters, friendly and hostile alike, a kind of orthodoxy has grown up—a convenience since orthodoxy offers both a safe refuge and an easy point of attack. But not only is dodecaphony constantly in process of development; precisely because it is a living process and not a dogma, it means something different, and shows a different aspect, in every individual personality. It has often been remarked that composers who, in the midst of their careers, adopt the twelve-tone method, do not essentially change their styles; they continue writing the music that is conspicuously their own—not less but, let us hope, more so for having been enriched by new elements.

What is the twelve-tone method, then? Obviously, within the limits of a short article one cannot give an adequate account of it and all that it implies, or can imply. Primarily it is a means through which the twelve notes of the chromatic scale—which, unlike the diatonic scale, is uniform and therefore neutral in harmonic implication—can be organized into a basic pattern capable of supplying the impulse toward extended musical development; and which, through the recurrence of the relationships implied in it, makes possible a unity, not unlike that yielded by the principle of tonality, which is implicit in the material premises on which a musical work is based.

The tone-series plays, in dodecaphonic music, somewhat the role played by the diatonic scale in music of the pretonal period. It is, naturally, not an identical role; the series differs from the scale in that it has an independent design, and thus a distinct character of its own—it represents a personal choice, that is, on the part of the composer. Instead of accepting it as a predetermined datum, the latter is guided by his own musical impulse in constructing it; it will, in other words, inevitably bear the stamp of his personality, and, as his command of the technique increases, it will more and more be penetrated by his musical thought. The composer's relationship to the series and to its treatment, in fact, is exactly the same as it is to any technique which he adopts. He will—as in any other technique—achieve spontaneity in proportion to the degree of mastery which he achieves; he will learn the resources of the technique through practice, and will formulate his own principles in accordance with his own needs. As with every other technique, he will heed, modify, or ignore the rules insofar as real musical necessities demand; there is no need to insist on this point. But he will be successful in this respect only in proportion to his mastery of, and insight into, the materials themselves.

It is necessary to emphasize these points because they have been so often misunderstood, and because this misunderstanding has interfered with the appreciation of Schoenberg's real achievement. He has, for instance, always opposed the use of the term "atonality," and this term, like the undue public emphasis given to the twelve-tone method in discussing his music, has for too long stood between the public and the music itself. The objection is that "atonality" is essentially a negative term, but also that it has led even sympathetic listeners to a forced effort to distrust all sensations which could be construed as "tonal"—and therefore to seek the real meaning of the music in some abstract concept which has little to do with what they hear. To be sure, dodecaphonic music cannot be analyzed in terms of tonality; and even areas in the music which one seems to hear in some sense "tonally," derive this quasi-tonal implication from relationships which, as can easily be seen, are inherent in music itself and are the product of no particular period or technique. A fifth remains a fifth, a third a third, in the twentieth as surely as in the fourteenth century. These relationships are felt, today as always, even though no way has yet been found by which the enlarged vocabulary of today can be systematized in a theoretical sense; and it is quite possible that no such systematization will be possible for some time to come.

What Schoenberg achieved, then, with the formulation of the twelve-tone method, was to show his followers a way toward the practical organization of materials. The true significance of the twelve-tone method, and of Schoenberg's immense achievement, cannot possibly be understood if more than this is demanded of it. No doubt, as music continues to develop, the "twelve-tone system" also will evolve—possibly though not necessarily into something quite different from its present form. The more it develops, however, the richer Schoenberg's achievement will have proven to be. For it is, precisely, not a new harmonic system: it does not seek to contradict or deny, but to make possible the exploitation of new resources. Its significance is the greater precisely for the fact of being something far more unpretentious, but at the same time far more vital, than a new harmonic theory or a new aesthetic principle could possibly be.

Walter and Alexander Goehr (essay date 1957)

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SOURCE: "Arnold Schönberg's Development towards the Twelve-Note System," The New York Review of Books, Vol. IV, No. 6, April 22, 1965, pp. 76-93.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1957, the Goehrs recount Schoenberg's development of his twelve-tone compositional method.]

Although the conditions and problems facing a creative artist vary in different times, an ethnic culture imposes a certain common tradition and leads to a fundamental similarity of outlook. An understanding of the roots and historical development of a culture is essential for an assessment of any individual artist. Assuming this fact, the opportunity is given of seeing the comparative value, the parallels and divergences of individual composers, seemingly unrelated, in a logical and responsible manner. For example, Brahms and Wagner were for decades believed to be antipodes, while we today, in comparative detachment, are able to see the affinities in the common national character of their work.

The German school of music at the threshold of the twentieth century based its teaching upon the study of German music from J. S. Bach to the romantic masters, virtually neglecting earlier music or that of other nationalities. The melodic and rhythmic idiosyncrasies, the harmonic subtleties and the freedom of expression attained by these composers were measured by comparison with arbitrary prototypes of so-called normality (or regularity) created by the theorists. Mastery over technical material was obtained by a study of traditional harmony and academic counterpoint, based upon Fux rather than upon Palestrina and his Italian and Flemish predecessors. Although the music of France, Russia and other nations was studied, a fundamental schism had developed between the outlook of German musicians and those of other national schools. Heinrich Schenker, in his illuminating article 'Rameau or Beethoven' (Das Meisterwerk in der Musik III, München, 1930), heads his article with a quotation from a letter of C. P. E. Bach: 'You may loudly proclaim that the fundamentals of the art of my father and myself are anti-Rameau.' This divergence of attitude continued and grew, and even when German composers were influenced by the works of other national schools, their attitude remained (and remains) sharply differentiated. The very nature of the German tradition and method is a dialectical one and its development is one whereby each successive composer builds upon the technical achievements of his precedessors. There was little place for eclecticism. French composers, eclectic by nature, were much more open to newly discovered technical possibilities and to influence from hitherto unknown types of music. The German remained comparatively little affected by the new experiences made possible by a rapidly improving system of communication and the consequent opportunities for cultural exchange with remote regions of the earth. The teachings of Vincent d'Indy and Paul Dukas illustrate the eclectic and experimental tendency. The influence upon Debussy of Eastern music at the Paris World Exhibition is well known. The differences in method between the two traditions is clearly seen at times when Debussy and Schönberg work with similar musical material, but with utterly different approaches and results. The German attitude of mind, one that can hardly be found in any other cultural sphere of the West, results in a cumulative style steadily and logically progressing to great subtlety and complexity.

One must remember that the German musical language was already in a state of advanced development at the time when Schönberg entered the field. Brahms and Wagner, the former with a subtle juxtaposition of new asymmetries of form and rhythm beneath a surface of the traditional, the latter with his liquidation of the old formal divisions and functions into a dramatically coherent whole, founded the style which composers like Wolf, Mahler, Reger and Strauss developed towards a flowering in the art of music completely original in its plasticity and powers of free and largely asymmetric construction. The developments of Wolf and Mahler in the elaboration of the melodic line (continuing what Wagner had begun) and the widespread adoption of Brahms' great developments in the variation of harmony, brought the musical language to a point at which Schönberg's principles of 'varied repetition' and 'musical prose' can be considered a realistic assessment of the musical style of the time. It is our purpose to demonstrate the processes by which Arnold Schönberg, in the period of his creative life until 1923, was to bring this musical language towards its logical conclusion and subsequent, seemingly revolutionary, development.

Development of artistic style stipulates a dual process: on the one hand, an accumulation of increasingly varied elements, an extension of the means of relating previously unrelated material and consequently, a persistent replacement of comparative regularity and symmetry by asymmetry and irregularity. On the other hand, it stipulates (and this must be particularly emphasised) restriction, reduction and simplification, seemingly retrogressive habits, and the deliberate neglect or sublimation of traditional elements arising from new æsthetic considerations. There results a positive process of addition and accumulation in the creative mind and imagination and a quasinegative restriction determined by choice and individual preference. When we consider the various facets of the progress of Schönberg's music, we see that the balance between these two contrasting elements of development more than anything else distinguish him from his contemporaries and mark him as a great composer. The farther his style progressed (seemingly away from the German past), the more he concerned himself with analysis and thought upon the fundamental problems inherent in classical and romantic German music. His particular path as an innovator was largely achieved by his more than usual powers of perception to understand and analyse the problems which had faced Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and many others. Although his musical language was from the beginning one of great originality, the technical means which he used were, to a great extent, derived from the processes of his predecessors in German music. Aware of the continuous striving towards a new musical language, Schönberg wrote in a letter at the time of the completion of Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, Op. 15: 'I have succeeded for the first time in approaching an ideal of expression and form that had hovered before me for some years.… I may confess to having broken off the bonds of a bygone æsthetic … '(quoted by Dika Newlin in Bruckner, Mahler, Schönberg, New York, 1947). Seemingly contradictory is the famous sentence in his article 'Brahms the Progressive' in Style and Idea (London, 1951): 'Analysts of my music will have to realise how much I personally owe to Mozart. People who looked unbelievingly at me, thinking that I made a poor joke, will now understand why I called myself a pupil of Mozart, must now understand my reasons.' These two quotations (and many similar ones can be found in Schönberg's writings and sayings) are characteristic of the duality of his purpose and his development.

In attempting to trace the continuity of musical thought employed in Schönberg's compositions from the Gurrelieder (1901) to the Serenade, Op. 24 (1923), we shall deal separately with the different aspects of construction: first, with his treatment and subsequent dissolution of the functions of tonal harmony; then with the significance of his return to the use of counterpoint; and finally, with the character of his rhythm and with other elements which contribute to his conception of form and the novelty of his expression.

Throughout his life, Schönberg occupied his mind with the problems of tonal harmonic structure (Harmonielehre, Vienna, 1911, Structural Functions of Harmony, pub. posthumously 1954). His system of describing structural harmonic processes may be said to be based on the progressive theories of Simon Sechter, who was Bruckner's teacher and the master with whom Franz Schubert had decided to study counterpoint a few weeks before Schubert's death. In his Die richtige Folge der Grundharmonien (Leipzig, 1853), Sechter greatly extended the harmonic vocabulary by acknowledging, describing and analysing chords and harmonic progressions which, although used for a long time by individual composers (even as early as J. S. Bach) for certain purposes of expression, had not previously been granted a theoretically clarified inclusion in the system of tonal harmony.

Schönberg (as others before him and with him) developed the theory of harmony, following Sechter's pattern of incorporating into the system of functional harmony increasingly complex harmonic phenomena which appeared in the works of contemporary composers, sometimes for reasons of freer part-writing and sometimes with the aim of achieving ever more subtle expression. At the beginning of the century, composers like Reger, Mahler and Strauss wrote in an idiom which went very far in the elaboration of harmony and, while adhering to the basically diatonic construction of tonal harmony, included in their vocabulary more and more chords of a chromatic character or chordal combinations of intervals not primarily connected with diatonic harmony (intervals of the whole-tone scale, chords built on fourths, combination of tritone with other intervals, etc.). Some of the harmonies used (especially passing chords in vast prolongations) are of a nature only loosely connected with the idea of diatonic harmony. Schönberg, feeling that here the limits of tonal harmonic analysis were reached, started calling certain types of chords 'roving harmonies'. He saw in these novel chordal phenomena, quite rightly, the source of astonishing new developments and, at the same time, the danger of over-development and of obscuring the basic cadential structure. Wagner had already seen this danger and after Tristan and Isolde largely withdrew from the advanced position he had established. Some of these new harmonic happenings in the works of Reger, Strauss (in Elektra and Salome) and Mahler (particularly in the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies) met with very severe censure from the more conservative contemporary critics and some novel management of chords which Schönberg used in his early works was strongly criticised, e.g. the inversion of the chord of the ninth in Verklärte Nacht and the use of the Quartenharmonien (chords built on fourths) in the first Chamber Symphony, Op. 9.

Schönberg's use of the whole-tone scale can be compared to good advantage with the practice of Debussy. We find in Debussy's works passages which are almost entirely built, harmonically and melodically, on elements of the whole-tone scale. His predominantly vertical approach to harmony, which takes the actual character of the sound as a basis for the unity of the harmonic structure, has led to very impressive innovations and has influenced many of Debussy's contemporaries (and even composers up to the present time). Schönberg uses the whole-tone scale in a completely different way. In the Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, written in 1906, the fundamental structure is considerably influenced throughout the work by the partially whole-tone character of the first subject, but nevertheless all appearances and developments of these whole-tone elements are strictly subordinated to the functional plan of harmony which binds together the whole work. Furthermore, Schönberg uses many other methods of harmonic form-building {Quartenharmonien, varied sequences etc.) which, although apparently complete innovations, are also fitted into the plan of the whole harmonic layout in the manner of the German tradition of composition, and his ability to connect seemingly heterogeneous elements into one logical whole shows him clearly as a follower of Brahms and particularly of the later Beethoven. No such over-all construction can be detected in composers of different traditions, as for example—Debussy.

The Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, is of the greatest significance when showing Schönberg's progress in the harmonic sphere. We cannot, within the scope of this article, describe in detail the complete freedom and mastery Schönberg achieved in this idiom, using all kinds of means in expanded tonality, creating a structure unparalleled by previous music in its variety and subtlety of harmonic form-building, but we want to mention his use of free and more varied relationship of consonance and dissonance. Through his use of the widely leaping and internally varied melodic lines which were his heritage from Wagner and Wolf, he created a new and striking independence between horizontal melody and vertical chord. The result appears to approach in certain places some form of polytonality. Schönberg in subsequent works made considerable use of this and even applied, instead of polyphony in single lines, a technique of passing chord anticipations and suspensions to whole complexes of chord movement. It may be defined, to use the term of Joseph Schillinger, as 'Strata Harmony'. If we compare movement to a succession of vertical straight lines, we see in the application of this technique that these lines become distended and, as it were, distorted. This led to a weakening in the effect of the functional harmonic structure. Thus the technique, grown from humble beginnings where composers ornamented and contrapuntally prolonged their cadences, now brought music to the point where these cadences had been decorated and disguised to such an extent that in many cases they completely disappeared from view, or rather from hearing. Schönberg's use of roving harmonies, his contrapuntal prolongations and the all-important obscuring of the cadences, led him imperceptibly to a position where he had to withdraw key signatures, which became obsolete and gave a false impression of the harmonic structure (starting with the last movement of the Second String Quartet). This was a step towards that 'mythical' atonality which was attributed to Schönberg, yet it was the logical dialectical development of his technique.

It is, of course, an error to see the so-called 'atonal' works as representing some entirely new concept which fell from heaven. Schönberg had stretched the harmonic structure to a point at which the fundamental harmonies and cadence points no longer had full functional significance either aurally or intellectually. For a time he was still prepared to use the technique of harmonic composition which became completely free, and relied more and more on his individual powers of imagination. It is indeed true to say that in works such as the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16, or Erwartung, Op. 17, although the overall harmonies might still be analysed according to the principles of tonal structure, the overlapping and frequent use of the neighbour-note technique, combined with the propensity of octave displacement, although completely coherent, make the works practically free of a felt tonality. Even as early as the Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11, we see, as it were in embryo, the kind of technique which he later brings to fruition. In the second half of the first piece, the subject is varied by a replacement of its smaller intervals, the ninth replaces the second, the eleventh the third, etc. In observing this octave displacement, one can understand better the characteristic sound of this music. Whereas in music from Bach to Brahms, the octave had played a most important part in the harmonic and melodic structure, the development of chromatic elaboration and the whole system of extended harmony show us these new intervallic progressions as well as many fourths and a great insistence on the old bogey, the tritone, taking a preponderance of emphasis in the melody and harmony. The traditional functions of a harmonic structure could no longer be said to apply to Schönberg's music. Sooner or later the composer had to face the problem of finding other form-giving elements to substitute for the lessened harmonic functions. From this time onwards, the analysis of his music in terms of fundamental harmony, which had generally been the satisfactory method up to this time, must of necessity be insufficient, artificial and contrived. One need only examine Hindemith's attempt to analyse the third piano piece from Op. 11 to see how little it helps towards an understanding of the musical structure.

It will now be necessary to occupy ourselves with the analysis of those elements which Schönberg found satisfactory to introduce into his work as substitutes for functional harmonic structure, and all subjects which will be discussed in the further part of our enquiry must be understood as such. The development of his counterpoint, his rhythmic practice and other new elements which he saw fit to introduce into his music, will be assessed primarily according to the purpose with which they were introduced, namely, the substitution of form-giving elements for the faded ones of tonal harmony. Schönberg's progress from Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 5 (1902-3), to the Serenade, Op. 24 (1923), the point at which he introduced the twelve-note technique, can now be seen as the gradual introduction of such new elements, in their elaboration breaking more and more into the domain of the functional harmonic structure. Certainly the most significant among these elements is Schönberg's reintroduction into his music, at the most fundamental level, of the principles of counterpoint.

During the nineteenth century the German composer's approach to counterpoint underwent a considerable change. Although Beethoven, especially towards the end of his life, and later, to a lesser degree, Reger and Mahler, made considerable use of counterpoint and concerned themselves with the problem of integrating it with their basically homophonic styles, the romantic followers of Beethoven (Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann and also Brahms) tended to give up the procedures of real counterpoint and to replace them with a harmonically inspired polyphony. With Wagner, who most clearly represented the spirit of the nineteenth century, the polyphonic texture developed still farther away from the original contrapuntal methods, even remembering that the point of departure was not a strict modal style of counterpoint but the well-developed harmonic style of the seventeenth-and eighteenth-century German contrapuntalists. Strict counterpoint was the product of a musical age which thought not in the major-minor tonic system but in a system of authentic and transposed modes, the fundamental difference being that the modal form had a wider degree of possibilities for cadencing. Schönberg realised that with the disappearance of a valid tonal centre, the possibilities for introducing a freer approach to the cadence again existed, in fact his adoption of the twelve-note technique placed him under the obligation of regarding all twelve chromatic notes as equally valid for cadencing, i.e. a dodecatonic system. But at the period in his work before the twelve-note system had crystallised, we see him introducing the elements of a strict contrapuntal practice into the gradually dissolving tonal framework.

In treating the development of music of this period, T. Wiesengrund-Adorno observes that in harmonies composed of an unusual combination of intervals, the single note becomes less integrated in the unity of the chord. In a series of such chords, these comparatively loose notes lend themselves more easily to polyphonic treatment than they would do in more simple diatonic progressions. Chord progressions of relatively constant and similar tensions (according to Schönberg's theory, dissonances are equal to heightened consonances) demand new means of counteracting the greyness and uniformity of harmonic texture. Schönberg felt the need to reintroduce elements of strict counterpoint into his music. There are many examples of this in such works as the Five Orchestral Pieces, the opera, Die glückliche Hand and Pierrot Lunaire. For example, in the first movement of the Five Orchestral Pieces at Fig. 10, the trumpet plays a cantus firmus-iike motif of ten bars in minims. This motif enters simultaneously in crotchets in the trombone part while at the same time the violins and violas play the motif as a canon at the octave in quavers. Eight bars later the strings bring a four-part canon of the motif at only a quaver's distance. Such adaptation of the principles of imitation to form the musical basis of the texture is one of the more simple examples of Schönberg's contrapuntal practices. He took the devices known to contrapuntalists farther than did even Bach in his most strict contrapuntal compositions. Besides making continous use of prolongation and contraction, canon, fugato, passacaglia and other contrapuntal forms, he introduced inversion, cancrizans and quite a number of even more obscure contrapuntal practices which had not been in use since works such as the Musikalisches Opfer and the Hammerklavier Sonata. In the times of Bach and Beethoven, the strict contrapuntal devices had been modified according to the principles of tonality. While this was essential for the expressiveness and perfection of the harmonic style, the musical form-giving significance of real counterpoint was weakened. For example, in Beethoven's Op. 135 Quartet, the interversions of the three-note motif are only of limited significance, the musical structure being achieved by other means. For Schönberg, such procedure had far more importance in that he treated the contrapuntal devices as form-giving elements in themselves. In doing this, he certainly made a major formal innovation within the principles of musical structure of his time, as such contrapuntal methods had hardly been used for three hundred years. Even now, only a few specialists know in any satisfactory detail the methods and procedures of the composers of early contrapuntal schools.

Schönberg went very far in the emphasis on counterpoint. His music was impelled more and more by purely contrapuntal means, rather than by a fusion of harmony with counterpoint, so that in certain passages he factually endangered the primarily harmonic validity apparent in the post-Wagnerian musical language. In this, he went farther than Mahler, who had also been working in this direction. Thus, comparing the Adagio of the Tenth Symphony, sketches of which were published after Mahler's death, with the first or last movements of his Ninth Symphony, which in its finished state it would no doubt have resembled, we see that Mahler still conceived his work in the first instance vertically and later dissolved it into polyphonic texture. But even in a work as early as Schönberg's Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, although it is still to a great extent conditioned by functional harmonic construction, many passages are no longer harmonically conceived, to such an extent are they primarily contrapuntal. The introduction of this rigid contrapuntal practice not only realised vertical combinations which were to become Schönberg's normal in later times, but also tended towards the even further liquidation and invalidity of other traditional formal principles. In the final works of this period the whole texture becomes so detailed, so attenuated and fragmentary, that harmonic development as it had been understood ever since the time of Bach virtually disappeared.

Among the younger generation, there is frequent criticism of Schönberg's seeming lack of method in rhythmic construction. This criticism, made especially by non-German musicians, is based on a completely erroneous comparison between the characteristics of Schönberg's German cultural tradition and those of other national schools. We do not wish to minimise the validity of Stravinsky's rhythmic methods or the other forms of rhythmic construction resulting from stricter attention to the combination of numerical values. On the contrary, one may sympathise and find a development of this long-neglected aspect of musical composition desirable. But it is valueless to criticise a composer from a viewpoint he did not share and consequently could not consider. The thinking which led Messiaen and his school to their adoption of rhythmic composition and eventually to serial forms of rhythmic construction, could only have been alien to Schönberg even if known to him. It is important to remember that German music had always been rather simple in its rhythms—Luther's hymns had been a typically Protestant simplification of the subtle style of Gregorian chant. One need only look at the simple metres of German poetry of the Middle Ages, which always had a far more limited range of rhythmical interests than did that of other nations. The essence of German music can be found in rhythms of more or less regular patterns within binary and ternary forms. It was these, and not the more varied rhythms of the South or of the Slavs, which were in use in Germany throughout most of its musical history. The Germans wholeheartedly accepted the simple peasant dances of their own and neighbouring countries, and the March and Ländler form the main source of rhythmical inspiration in German music. (The other characteristic ingredient of German music, the sentimental song, is to be found at a very early date in the Locheimer Liederbuch; its simple and primitive rhythm and its free layout became the main source of the characteristic singing melodies of the German slow movement.)

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the German composers developed a refined and subtle manner of using the few rhythmic elements which were known to them. The most astonishing examples are Haydn and above all Mozart, who brought to perfection a technique of composing with varied bar- and phrase-lengths. In doing this, they accorded with modern concepts concerning the nature of rhythm. Matila C. Ghyka, in his Essai sur le Rythme (Paris, 1938), quotes several remarkable definitions of rhythm, among them: 'Rhythm is in time what symmetry is in the Platonic sense, viz. the proportional arrangements of elements in space' (E. d'Eichtal). Again, Professor Sonnenschein (What is Rhythm? Oxford, 1925): 'Rhythm is that property of a sequence of events in time, which produces on the mind of the observer the impression of a proportion between the durations of the several events or groups of events of which the sequence is composed.' If we agree with these definitions or with the definition of James Joyce that rhythm is the relation of the parts to the whole, we find that in the music of the time of Mozart and Haydn, many elements contributed to the expression of the rhythmic structure. In a deceptively simple manner, Mozart manages to create a form which is built of asymmetric quantities. We find examples of the contractions and prolongations expressed not only in the juxtaposition of rhythmic elements, but also in the closely calculated interchanges of different types of musical texture (diatonic scales, chromatic scales, arpeggios, etc). Alban Berg in his article 'Why is the music of Schönberg so hard to understand?' draws attention to this characteristic of Mozart's music. He quotes the nineteenth-century German theorist, Büssler: 'The greatest masters of form cherish free and bold constructions and rebel against being squeezed into confines of even-numbered bar groups.' This method was further developed in the nineteenth century. The English writer C. F. Abdy Williams (The Rhythm of Modern Music, London, 1909) devotes a great deal of space to the analysis of the music of Brahms and others from this viewpoint. Wagner with the free declamatory style in his Musikdrama also contributed greatly to the freeing of the musical construction from the 'prison' of the regular bar groups.

Schönberg was particularly interested in these rhythmic methods and created forms in which the music became almost totally free of metre. In this way he composed Pierrot Lunaire, Erwartung, Four Orchestral Songs, Op. 22, and Die glückliche Hand, among other works. Later, with his adoption of twelve-note technique, it is a matter of great interest that he tended to abandon this style of 'musical prose' and in such works as the Piano Suite and the last two String Quartets, wrote phrases of varied lengths within a simple, almost static, rhythmical form. Here he is most closely allied to the eighteenth century. Whether this was a satisfactory development of the early twelve-note technique could be disputed, and it is certainly a proof of the clear-sightedness and the genius of Schönberg that during the last years of his life he returned to the richer rhythmical structure of the works which he had written just before the adoption of the twelve-note system.

These rhythmic developments went hand in hand with Schönberg's development of the free-moving melody. Schubert, Schumann and Wagner had contributed towards a melody of great subjective expression. Schönberg, after Wagner and Hugo Wolf, introduced the wide spans of series of compound intervals into his melodies. Although chromatic elements, variations of character and creation of interval-contrasts are already well developed by Wagner in the singing line of the parts of Brünnhilde and Isolde, Schönberg's freeing of the octave led to a melos in which intervals appear as a result of melodic, as opposed to harmonic, elaborations and octave displacements. The abundance of passing notes and rhythmic decoration, in relation to the structural movement of harmony, which was a well-known characteristic of post-Wagnerian style, led Schönberg to a form of melody which, for the sake of tension and variety, carefully avoids the notes sounding in the supporting harmony and gets more and more shy of repeating notes.

Schönberg continued the endeavours of composers of the nineteenth century to expand and extend the existing forms of music. He went farther than Mahler, who had considerably developed traditional forms. At the turn of the century, the discovery by Freud of the existence of free associations and the consequent feeling for less logically and more subjectively connected associations in art had the greatest significance for the development of Expressionism. They led Schönberg to a greater degree of formal detail, an increasing amount of variation and a tendency to compress the single ideas of a piece into shorter spaces of time. In the first Chamber Symphony, although he is still working within a traditional form derived from the one-movement symphonic structure probably invented by Liszt, he liquidates many elements of this form and resorts frequently to a method which can be considered an equivalent to free association (Schönberg liked to call these passages, which one can already find in Mahler, Inselbildung). Gradually, his habit of rarely repeating any subject, even in a varied form, led to the difficulty of understanding Schönberg's music. This is certainly the underlying reason why the works of Schönberg are, and probably will continue to be, more difficult for the ordinary listener to appreciate than the music of Webern, Berg and other contemporary composers. Schönberg himself seemed conscious of, and disturbed by, this fact, and he adopted many methods, some successful, some less so, in his efforts to overcome these difficulties. Many of the innovations he introduced, culminating in that of the twelve-note technique, were designed to clarify and illuminate the highly individual development of his musical thinking. He dispenses with colour for its own sake and in his instrumentation uses the orchestra to bring the important lines of his musical argument into greater relief. At the same time he invented a new type of the application of orchestral colour, the Klangfarbenmelodie or melody of 'timbres', first to be found in a systematic application in the third of his Five Orchestral Pieces, Farben. The musical argument of this piece is carried by changes of emphasis in instrumental groups, creating an entirely new kind of expression. In the fifth piece, Das obligate Rezitativ, the instrumentation is used to give the melody a constantly changing colour. (This technique is obviously an extension of the Wagnerian ewige Melodie.) The result of this experiment is that the natural connections and logical developments in his music can sometimes be more easily understood by the ear than by the eye.

As we have shown with the development of his harmony and counterpoint, when Schönberg's works were no longer effectively bound by traditional structural forms, he was faced with the problem of finding suitable new forms. In his Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19, he attempted to restrict himself to the exposition and variation of one single idea. The best example is the last piece, allegedly inspired by Mahler's funeral, in which the alternation of chords and fragments of motifs, probably derived from the memory of bells, constitute the piece. In these pieces, Schönberg attempts something fundamentally different from the short pieces of Berg and Webern. Whereas Berg in his Clarinet Pieces tended to contract what had been large forms and Webern in many of his short pieces used traditional formal principles, which found here the utmost concentration imaginable, Schönberg made his ideas suitable to the limitations of a completely integrated short form. Later, when he attempted larger forms again, we find a seemingly chaotic juxtaposition of such short forms, and it is in these works that the most daring and far-developed examples of Schönberg's personal, essentially expressionistic, art are to be found. Yet they remain valid as a perfect development of the characteristic integration of form and content.

In order to conclude this part of the discussion, we shall examine a work which may be regarded as typical of the most advanced and most individual Schönberg ever reached: the monodrama in one act Erwartung. Unfortunately it is not possible here to go into sufficient detail to clarify all our opinions, but it is hoped that it will be sufficient to justify our argument.

The first reaction upon hearing Erwartung is the very antithesis of the experience when listening to the perfection and apparent Apollonian symmetry of the eighteenth-century classicists. That particular effect upon the listener of classical music at its zenith was obtained by a skilful balance of asymmetries and variants which was so well realised that it resulted in the illusion of perfect symmetry. The style of Schönberg's music tended to cover the well-calculated proportions in its texture which has, as has that of Wagner, an appearance of almost continuous unbroken movement. In Erwartung we experience a sense of being overwhelmed and lost in a maze of variation and juxtaposition of elements which are hardly memorable and result in a seeming structural incoherence. But as we know the composition better, we find that all these variants and 'free associations' are well moulded into an overall shape and can be understood in a similar way to the works in the style of the preceding post-Wagnerian era. Though the chordal structure is complex and the individual parts are heavily doubled in augmented fourths, sevenths, etc. (which in this case tend to loosen the vertical coherence), an arc is circumscribed and the basic tonal principle of movement away from and towards a point or centre is retained. The technique of the work does not in itself seem to be a new departure. The basic idea for such immensely long and involved tonal structures had already been developed by Wagner, Mahler and Strauss. The novelty of the aural harmony results from the development described above. One feels that Schönberg here already starts 'composing with notes'; that is, that he tended to replace triads as the functional agents with the identity of individual tones.

The music of Erwartung falls into two parts. The overall 'top line' (Schenker might have called it Urlinie), whether expressed by the voice or by the instruments, is clearly delineated, although it cannot everywhere be found in the apparent main themes and motifs of the music. The first section commences with a progression from G sharp via B natural to C sharp at the beginning of the composition and closes at bar 270 at the words 'Nun küss ich mich an dir zum Tode'. The climax is reached at bar 194, at the cry 'Hilfe', an accent and leap down directly from the highest note of the voice part (B natural) to C sharp above middle C, a fall of well nigh two octaves. The second part proceeds from bar 270 to the end. The general division is a dramatic one; the first half consisting of the Search and Discovery of the lover's body and the subsequent dementia; the second part of a kind of Liebestod sung by the women in a fervid state of anguish and jealousy of the other 'She' (Death, who has taken her lover).

The orchestral introduction of four bars makes a clear movement from G sharp through B natural to C sharp (quasi-dominant/tonic). It is repeated in a contracted form, this time moving to the leading note C natural-B sharp); the soprano enters for the first time on C sharp. The first scene, as it were in closed form, is clearly founded on a structure in which the notes C sharp and G sharp are predominant. To add to the illusion of a closed form, many of the chords are retained literally and appear throughout the scene. Practically all important structural notes, the notes which begin and end all phrases, are C sharp and its neighbour notes. There is a movement towards an emphasis on the semitone below at bar 29 et seq., but a clear return to the quasitonic of C sharp in the codetta of the scene, bar 35 et seq. In the following scenes there is a gradual heightening of tension. Twice high B flats in bars 153 and 179 lead to the cry 'Hilfe' in bar 190 on the high B natural which falls back to C sharp. This is the overall climax and highest point of the melodic line. From here the melody falls, often in long leaps, back to the C sharp in bar 270. (It is interesting to observe the parallel of the falling minor sixth (A-C sharp) in bars 194 and 270, obviously characteristic as a cadential movement as well as a psychological weakening, a premonition of death.).

The second half commences from G sharp (the first note of bar 273 and 274) and moves up to the B flat of bar 313, cadencing back to G sharp at bar 317, just before the extraordinary bars where the voice sings the words 'Oh, der Mond schwankt.… ' From here, the music falls again with greatly augmenting note values, to the dramatic point in bar 350 'für mich ist kein Platz da.…' The final section, which seems to act as a kind of spiritual resolution, lowers the tension by the introduction of chords of whole tone triads, which move in regular manner and, turning, reach again a section in which a C sharp seems to take its important position, introduced as a pedal in bar 416 and remaining a key note of the voice part, especially at the cadencing on 'dir entgegen … ' in bars 422-3. The C sharp disappears completely in bar 424, allowing the bass to make a determined step towards B natural. The final solution comes in the contra bassoon's C sharp in the middle of bar 425, introduced most characteristically by the last melodic phrase of the opera. The voice, which had again taken the G sharp (quasidominant) at bar 424, continues in bar 425 to the last utterance and reaches by a tritonus step the G sharp, slightly later than the C sharp bass has been established by the bassoon. The oblique vertical resolution of the harmony is characteristic of Schönberg's methods. It is also not without importance that three trombones have the triad A, C sharp, F natural at the point where the contra bassoon reaches the C sharp in the higher octave.

It might seem that an analysis which is made in the ways briefly indicated above would have but limited validity in this type of music. Yet we feel that the replacing of a harmonically valid form by an overall melodic one, though it could not have the significance of the old forms, nevertheless enabled the composer to differentiate between sections which return to their starting-point and those which move away from it. This is of the greatest importance towards an understanding of the subsequent revolution in the manner of composing music. The position may be compared to that reached by Joyce in Finnegan's Wake. In this work, the author could hold the thread through the maze of images, diversions, etc., only by continuous and relatively unvaried repetition of the so-called story (the death and rebirth). The conclusion reached is that the method of free association could no longer in itself prove to be a satisfactory manner of creation. The artists concerned seem to have realised that to create wider and more variegated forms they needed some valid structural principle, which would enable them to give more finite form to the perpetual variants their expression demanded.

After the astonishing realisation of the last works described, it became apparent to Schönberg that to continue his musical creation he had now constantly and intellectually to develop the composition with twelve notes. He saw clearly that for a time he would have to apply this entirely new method to forms much less elaborate than those he had used before. He made concessions in using older and simpler forms which he had discarded for quite a time. Even the regular sonata form and the form of the classical variations were used again and again, but filled with the completely new content resulting from his now strict use of the twelve-note system. Although the last period of Schönberg's musical creation (which does not come within the scope of this article) must be considered quite as important as the earlier periods, and he achieved works which can in every way stand comparison with his earlier achievements, perhaps even in some cases surpassing them, the line of development in this last period is not as clearly definable as it had been earlier. While endeavouring to give older forms new content, Schönberg creates intermittently works which might at first sight appear to continue directly the style of the great expressionist compositions like Pierrot Lunaire, Die glückliche Hand and Erwartung—for example, Ode to Napoleon, A Survivor from Warsaw and especially parts of his opera, Moses and Aaron. But when observed and analysed in more detail, these works, although in effect and texture frequently reminiscent of works of an earlier period, speak in a completely new musical language and the use of the twelve-note system is here, quite naturally and logically, freer and less strict than in those works based on older forms (which, for want of a better word, may be described as 'neo-classicist'). Schönberg also, in some of the masterpieces of the last period (e.g. Orchestral Variations, Op. 31, and particularly Moses and Aaron), combines new forms, which he went on creating in direct continuation of his expressionist period, with more stylised classical sections. The introduction and the extraordinary finale of the Orchestral Variations, Op. 31, are much nearer to this free expression than the variations themselves, which are kept to a large extent within the classical frame. And in the opera, Moses and Aaron, for dramatic and other reasons—some of the material had been sketched many years earlier, during Schönberg's expressionist period—free forms, with all the manifold applications of Inselbildungen and purely linear-based formulations (as explained in our analysis of Erwartung) alternate with the more consolidated and simplified forms of the dance movements. Schönberg's treatment of harmony and counterpoint certainly went into a period of great simplification as soon as he had decided to compose in the strict twelve-note system. Harmonically, this system gave him security in its definite application, and in counterpoint he was no longer hampered by the unclear position in which the polyphonic style had been ever since the introduction of tonal and later functional harmony. In fact, only then did counterpoint regain the freedom and expression which it had had at the time of the early Flemish and Italian schools.

Schönberg's rhythm (except in those few compositions in which he kept very close to traditional dance or Lied forms) and basic adherence to musical prose was not developed much farther in his last period. Here and there a simplification may be observed, but seldom a further refinement. The tonal works of the last period need not be discussed here, as they were written partly for teaching purposes or as commissions for certain American institutions. And Schönberg has told us that several of these compositions, especially the very beautiful second Chamber Symphony, were based on material invented in his youth.

Schönberg was a master of German music. Even the fact that he spent the later part of his life in America in no way changed his determination to follow to the end logically and methodically what he felt was the right way (although living in America had considerably changed the style and attitude of many composers, e.g. Hindemith and Bartók). We should like to see in Schönberg's last achievement, the opera, Moses and Aaron, on which he worked practically all his life, the climax of his musical creation. Unfortunately he did not live to finish this work. The short experience we have of the opera (it has been performed only once so far, in 1954) gives us the impression that this is a work of supreme inspiration, perhaps Schönberg's greatest. Quite new experiences in sound, harmony and rhythm take us by surprise in the famous dances from the opera. The rhythm especially, as never before in Schönberg's works, moves in an orbit not far from Stravinsky's, and the whole expression is far more striking than in any of Schönberg's works after Erwartung.

We are not here concerned with the fact that Schönberg' s work will always be much more difficult for the listener and the student than the works of his pupils and other contemporary composers. We do not think that this fact has anything to do with the greatness of his inspiration and fulfilment. It will always be amazing to observe the particular intellectual quality of Schönberg's compositions, their fast-moving sequence of thought and invention, their most imaginative colours of orchestration and the sometimes harsh and insistent reiteration of strong sounds and expressions. Just as we must recognise that Wagner's work, although prepared by many major innovators, was the culmination of nineteenth-century German music, we must without doubt recognise that Schönberg's achievements—his compositions, his teachings, his writings—as well as his personal seriousness and belief in his mission, make him surely the greatest and most important musician of the first half of the twentieth-century.

Virgil Thomson (essay date 1965)

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SOURCE: "How Dead is Arnold Schoenberg?," in The New York Review of Books, April 22, 1965, pp. 6-8.

[In the following essay, Thomson reviews Arnold Schoenberg Letters, finding notable the book's portrayal of Schoenberg as an artist.]

In 1910 Arnold Schoenberg, then thirty-five, began to keep copies of all the letters he wrote. Many of these were about business—teaching jobs, the publication of his works, specifications for performance. He would seem around that time to have arrived at a decision to organize his career on a long-line view involving the dual prospect of his continuing evolution as a composer—for he was clearly not one to have shot his bolt by thirty—and of his counting on pedagogy, for which he had a true vocation, as his chief support.

His plan was to become a private teacher (privatdozent) at the Academy of Music and Fine Arts in Vienna, avoiding by the modesty of such a post both the anti-Semitic attacks and the anti-modernist attacks that he felt would make it impossible for him to be offered a staff appointment. Actually he was offered a staff appointment two years later; but by that time he had got what he could out of Vienna and removed to the more lively music and art center that was Berlin.

The Vienna plan of 1910 had been calculated to play down his own music and call attention to his qualities as a teacher by bringing to the notice of the academic authorities the work of two pupils, Alban Berg and Erwin Stein.

Perhaps after all the two men in whose hands the Conservatoire's destiny lies, can be brought to realize who I am, what a teacher the Conservatoire would deprive itself of, and how ungifted it would be to take on someone else when I am to be had for the asking. And alas I am to be had!!!

But no sooner was he had than he found a way, always his preoccupation, of leaving Vienna. For though he naturally loved his native city, he suffered from its perfidy toward music. And indeed Vienna is a bitch. Her treatment of Mozart and Schubert proved that. And even those who led her on a leash—Beethoven, say, and Brahms—got little profit out of their dominance, save in the latter case a certain satisfaction from administering through a henchman on the press local defeats to Wagner and to Bruckner.

Schoenberg at twenty-six, in 1901, had moved to Berlin, but two years later he was back home. The 1910 displacement lasted five years, till 1915, when he was obliged to return for mobilization. He was then forty. At fifty he left Vienna again, this time for good, to accept a teaching post in Berlin at the Prussian Academy of Arts. By then he was world-famous, but he was still poor. And he had come to insist in the hearing of all not only on his skill as a teacher but on his absolute authenticity as a composer. He left no slighting remark of foe or friend unprotested.

"I am much too important," he wrote in 1923 to Paul Stefan, "for others to need to compare themselves to me." Further, "I thoroughly detest criticism and have only contempt for anyone who finds the slightest fault with anything I publish." These are the words of one who has long since lost youth's bravado, who has been critically flayed and left with no skin at all to cover his nerve ends.

Except for his usual reaction to critical attacks, mostly foreign by this time, the years from 1926 to '33 seem to have been his least painful. He was an honored artist well paid; and he worked for only six months a year, these of his choosing. This freedom allowed him to spend winters South, eventually in Catalonia, where he found relief from a growing respiratory weakness.

The letters from this time are those of almost any successful musician. To conductors and impresarios he itemizes everything, exactly how his works are to be played and exactly what circumstances he will not tolerate. To enemies and to friends he draws an indictment for every rumored slight, then offers full forgiveness if they will admit him right. In fact, he is right; he has had to be. After all the persecutions and misunderstandings he has suffered, he cannot bother to blame himself for anything. He protests, though, against all who refuse him understanding and honor and against all anti-Semitism, especially the anti-Semitism of Jews who descend to that level in refusing his music. For in success he still must fight; fighting has become a conditioned reflex. And he cannot quite relax enough, even with time and money, for going on with the two great opera-oratorios, Moses and Aaron and Jacob's Ladder. Indeed, he did not ever finish them. For he was tired; his health was undermined; and soon he was to be a refugee.

From the summer of 1933, when he left Germany for good, till his death in 1951, he wrote a great deal of music and did untold amounts of teaching in the Los Angeles region, where he had gone for his health in the fall of '34 and where UCLA picked him up cheap at sixty, then at seventy threw him on the scrap heap with a pension of thirty-eight dollars a month for feeding a family of five. America, no less than Austria, be it said, behaved like a bitch. And though he found here through Germanic connections publishers for his work, money dispensers such as the Guggenheim Foundation could not see their way to helping him.

The sweetness and the bitterness of Schoenberg's American letters are ever so touching. The European correspondence rings like a knell, for he never ceases to sing out that save for himself and his pupils music is dead. In America he fancies for a moment that his teaching can bring it to life. Then come the disillusionments, first that the basic teaching is too poor for him to build on (he can thus teach only the simplest elements) and second that American music has detached itself from the Germanic stem. He despises equally the reactionary programs of Toscanini and the heretical modernisms of Koussevitsky, neither of whom plays his works. And in his mouth the word Russian has become an injury.

"Fundamentally," he writes in 1949 to his brother-in-law Rudolf Kolisch,

I agree with your analysis of musical life here. It really is a fact that the public lets its leaders drive it unresistingly into their commercial racket and doesn't do a thing to take the leadership out of their hands and force them to do their job on other principles. But over against this apathy there is a great activity on the part of American composers, la Boulanger's pupils, the imitators of Stravinsky, Hindemith, and now Bartók as well. These people regard musical life as a market they mean to conquer [in contrast to his own Germanic view of it as a religion] and they are all sure they will do it with ease in the colony that Europe amounts to for them. They have taken over American life lock, stock and barrel, at least in the schools of music. The only person who can get an appointment in a university music department is one who has taken his degree at one of them, and even the pupils are recruited and scholarships awarded to them in order to have the next generation in the bag. The tendency is to suppress European influences and encourage nationalistic methods of composition constructed on the pattern adopted in Russia and other such places.

He is quite right, of course; and the shoe pinches. The only advantage he can see is that

the public is at the moment more inclined to accept my music, and actually I did foresee that these people, so chaotically writing dissonances and that rough, illiterate stuff of theirs, would actually open the public's eyes, or rather ears, to the fact that there happen to be more organized ways of writing a piece, and that the public would come to feel that what is in my music is after all a different sort of thing.

The basis of Schoenberg's claim had not before been that he was doing "a different sort of thing," but rather that he was doing the same thing Bach and Brahms had done, and even Mozart, and that any novelty involved was merely a technical device for continuing classical music-writing into modern times. He did not consider himself different from the earlier German masters (for him the only ones one need take seriously) or from living ones either, but merely, as regards the latter, a better workman. But in America's wider musical horizon, which included (along with Germany) France, Italy, Russia, and the Orient, he felt obliged to assert his distinction as a difference in kind. His neighbor in Hollywood, Igor Stravinsky, was doing in fact just that, had been doing so ever since he had observed it being done in Paris by Pablo Picasso. In Picasso's assumption geniuses were a species, with only a few available, and with consequently the right to a very high price. Poor Schoenberg, who for all his artist's pride was humble before talent, even student talent, may not have been considered eligible for the big money simply because he naively believed that professional skill and an artist's integrity were enough. In any case, never in his published letters or other writing did he lay claim to special inspiration, to divine guidance, to a genius's birthright, or to any form of charismatic leadership.

But in America he felt impotent and outraged that music should be taking off without his consent, that pregnancy should not await the doctor. Indeed he tended to consider all such independences as irresponsible and as probably a plot against his music. Another plot, indeed, where there already had been so many! And so he came to view our movement as the work of men differing from him not only in degree but also in kind. And the integrity represented by himself and his pupils he ended by denying to almost everybody else.

Yet he remained a fine companion; there was no deception in him. And he went on writing letters to everyone in praise of the artists he had loved—in painting, Wassily Kandinsky and Oskar Kokoschka, in architecture Adolf Loos, in music Gustav Mahler, Anton von Webern, and Alban Berg. For himself he demanded honor and begged money. He despised the State of Israel for trying to create a music "that disavows my achievements"; then later he aspired to citizenship and offered to revise the whole of music education there.

The self-portrait that is distilled from these letters is that of a consecrated artist, cunning, companionable, loyal, indefatigable, generous, persistent, affectionate, comical, easily wounded, and demanding, but not the least bit greedy. That artist we know from his music to have been a Romantic one; but he was too sagacious for that, too realistic. And he was too preoccupied with the straight-forward in life ever to have become aware, even, of the great dream-doctor Sigmund Freud, though they were contemporaneous in Vienna, with neither of them exactly ignorant about contemporary thought.

We know him for a Germanic artist too, for whom every major decision was a square antithesis, an either-or, for whom a certain degree of introversion was esteemed man's highest expressive state (inwardness is the translation word for what must have been innigkeit), and for whom our century's outbreak of musical energies represented only a series of colonial revolutions to be suppressed, floods to be dammed, drained off, and channelized, naturally by himself acting alone. The dream is unbelievable, but in today's world not far from having come true, like Dr. Freud's sexual revolution.

Schoenberg's music and teaching are at present a world influence of incomparable magnitude. Nor have the vigor and charm of his personality ever been in doubt. Nevertheless his work is still not popular. Like the music of Bruckner and of Mahler and, until in recent decades only, that of Brahms, it has the savor rather of a cause than of plain nourishment. Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, in the past; Debussy and Stravinsky in our time, have been as clear to us as Santa Claus. Not so Arnold Schoenberg, at least not yet. But the man has long been precious to those who knew him; and now the letters, with their punctilious indignation and casual buffoonery, their passionate friendships and irascible complaints, their detailed accountings and their Olympian self-regard, their undying optimism under the most humiliating poverty and disregard, have given us a man that many will come to love and laugh at and get angry at and cherish, just as if he were still with us.

And perhaps he is. In Vienna, certainly, Mozart still walks beside one, Beethoven is at his window, and Schubert is drinking and writing songs in any tavern. The whole career of Arnold Schoenberg resists historical pinning down. Not in the Vienna of 1874, where he was born, nor in that of 1900, where he was virtually unnoticed, nor in Berlin of the early Teens and late Twenties, where he was a power, nor in the Hollywood of '34 to '51, where he was merely beloved, in none of these places did he sum up a time. He slipped into and out of them all, just being Arnold Schoenberg, and everywhere except in Berlin being roundly persecuted for that. Even today I would not be too sure he is not writing music over many a student's shoulder and putting in many a violation of his own famous method just to plague its more pompous practitioners.

Certainly he is being a plague to Igor Stravinsky, whose adoption of that method after the master's death has left him in a situation almost as skinless as that of Schoenberg in life. Certain known attacks on Stravinsky's music there, none of mem published here, have obliged him, as a confessed Schoenbergian, to take cognizance of these with what grace he can muster, which is considerable. Reviewing the Letters last October in the London Observer, he accepted their strictures with a gallant mea culpa and paid higher praise to their author than he has ever paid, I think, to any other musician.

"The lenses of Schoenberg's conscience," he said, "were the most powerful of the musicians of the era, and not only in music." Also, "the Letters are an autobiography … the most consistently honest in existence by a great composer." Actually Stravinsky's exit from a seeming impasse has been ever so skillful and handsome. And its warmth of phrase is such as to make one forget almost that the gesture was imposed. Imposed by what? Simply by the fact that a great and living master had been resoundingly slapped by a dead one.

As for how dead Arnold Schoenberg really is, let us not hazard a guess. The Viennese composers have never rested easy.

Richard Huggett (essay date 1967)

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SOURCE: "Orgy in Covent Garden," in Saturday Book, Vol. 27, 1967, pp. 146-61.

[In the following essay, Huggett recounts a performance of Moses and Aaron in Covent Garden.]

On the first day's rehearsal I asked the stage manager if there was a chance of getting free tickets for any of the six scheduled performances of Moses and Aaron. He nodded with weary resignation: 'For this old thing?' he replied. 'Don't worry; they'll be giving them away in hundreds. Nobody will come. You'll see.'

His words summed up the general atmosphere of gloom and despondency. Schoenberg, undoubtedly the most non-popular composer of the day, was the darling of a small clique of intellectual musicians, but the general public didn't know his music or want to know. He had invented twelve-tone serial music, that strange and inaccessible world of sound, and Moses and Aaron was regarded as the supreme achievement in that world. Schoenberg died in 1951, leaving Moses and Aaron unfinished. Berlin and Zürich had recently presented the two acts of the opera cautiously stylised in production, but these had seemed to confirm what Schoenberg had always said—that it was unstageable.

The prevailing feeling in the Covent Garden company was that here was one of those rather tiresome and boring acts of piety which state-endowed theatres occasionally feel they have to perform to justify their position. 'They've got to do stuff like this,' it was explained to me, 'otherwise they get their grant cut.' The expectation was that there would be a small amount of respectful attention from the intellectual Press, a fair-sized audience on the first night consisting of the critics, the regular first-nighters and those peculiar people who actually like Schoenberg, a chorus of reverent hallelujahs from the critics, and total indifference from the public, who would be merely waiting for Callas in Tosca. For the remaining performances there would be five empty houses. The company could then breathe a long sigh of relief, their painful duty done, and the whole production would be quietly dropped and forgotten.

Just how wrong can you be? Who could have known that Moses and Aaron would be the most spectacular smashhit of the season, that tickets would become the hottest black-market property in London, hotter than Olivier's Othello, hotter than Fonteyn/Nureyev, hotter even than Callas? Who could have forseen the orgy of newspaper vulgarity it would provoke? Who could have known that it would be the most joked-about, talked-of event of the season, that all-night queues would be fighting for the few standing tickets, that questions would be asked about it in Parliament? Nobody could have foreseen any of this, neither Sir David Webster, nor William Beresford, the press officer, nor Georg Solti, the conductor, nor Peter Hall, the producer, nor any of the three hundred singers, actors, dancers, guardsmen and animals involved.

It wasn't only that the company didn't think it would be a success. They didn't even like it, neither principals, chorus nor orchestra. The chorus really hated it, for the burden on their shoulders had been by far the heaviest. For nearly a year, working overtime under the loving but relentless discipline of their chorus-master, Douglas Robinson, they had sweated and groaned and cursed over those complex twelve-tone rhythms and those outlandish atonal harmonies, surely the most difficult choral music ever written. Now, at the end of a long and exhausting season, they were tired and irritable. In time many came to like it more, or at least to dislike it less, for increased mastery over the score revealed unsuspected beauties, and, by the end of the season, Schoenberg had made many converts.

The instigator and prime mover behind the venture was Georg Solti, who, since he had heard a recording in 1961, had conceived a passionate desire to stage Moses and Aaron at Covent Garden. By early 1964 the production was ready to be set up and several important decisions had been made. It would be cast entirely from the resident company; no need to import expensive foreign stars. It would be sung in English, and David Rudkin, author of Afore Night Come, was commissioned to prepare a translation of Schoenberg's libretto. And, since the theatrical problems were as complex as the musical, it seemed logical to engage a team of theatrical experts. Peter Hall was approached; the idea appealed to him, and he agreed, bringing a trio of Aldwych Theatre associates: Clifford Williams and Guy Wolfenden to assist in the direction, and John Bury to design the set and costumes. Peter Hall was no stranger to opera production. He had produced John Gardner's The Moon and Sixpence at Sadler's Wells some years before.

All were in agreement on one important point. The stylisation of the two continental productions would not work. The staging must be as realistic as was permitted by the resources of the Royal Opera House and the restrictions of the Lord Chamberlain. In view of the excessive demands made by the libretto this decision was not lightly taken; but Schoenberg had wanted realism and the instructions in the score had been specific.

After the procession the slaughtermen kill the beasts, throw hunks of meat to the crowd … wine streams forth everywhere, general drunkenness, heavy stone jars are hurled around … four naked virgins strip before the Calf, the Priests seize their throats, plunge the knife into their hearts … a naked youth darts forward, seizes girl, rips the clothes from her … naked people shrieking and screaming run past the altar.…

Nevertheless, Peter Hall was to insist repeatedly that this was not a sensational opera.

Rather than impose a further physical burden on the long-suffering chorus, it was resolved to engage a special team of actors and actresses to cope with the more strenuous aspects of the orgy scene. Over a period of many weeks hundreds of actors auditioned in the Amphitheatre Crush Bar at the Opera House. Divided into groups of six, they improvised energetically such diverse scenes as the building of the pyramids, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the ritual sacrifices round the Golden Calf. From these forty were chosen. They were a strangely assorted group, widely differing in age, colour, nationality and theatrical experience. Almost all of them, however, had one thing in common: they had not acted in an opera before.

Even for Covent Garden, which is accustomed to mounting its operas on a grand scale, Moses and Aaron was going to be exceptionally lavish, and the statistics cautiously released by the press office had a Cecil B. de Mille flavour … 150 chorus, 40 actors, 40 guardsmen, 20 children, 20 dancers, 12 animals; the total number involved including the principals would be just short of three hundred. It was a pity that no mention was made of the amount of timber in John Bury's set or the amount of towellene required for three hundred costumes.

On May 10, 1965, the rehearsals started in the London Opera Centre. This enormous building, formerly a cinema, lies halfway down the Commercial Road, sandwiched between building sites, docks and factories. It is not an attractive district. The Centre houses the Opera School, a recording studio, a huge workshop, paint-dock and scenery-store, and a vast rehearsal room the size of Covent Garden's stage. A steep metal ramp covered the entire floor of what had been the stalls—this was John Bury's set in embryo. Rows of tiered seats covered what had been the stage. The actors sat on the ramp and the chorus on the seats, gazing at each other in mutual curiosity. Peter Hall climbed on to a nearby stone altar.

He called everybody on to the ramp and grouped them round the various steps, rostra and altars. 'Now in this scene,' he explained, 'Moses and Aaron appear at the back of the stage and move across and then down centre. You must all turn and see them, and there is going to be a blinding sun which shines down on top of you. You're terrifically excited by it, and you're all in ecstasy. So let's start.'

Georg Solti, in purple shirt and sun-glasses, started to conduct. John Constable, the repetiteur, started to play on the Bechstein grand. Forbes Robinson and Richard Lewis, as Moses and Aaron respectively, appeared and moved down into the mob at a stately pace. Singers screamed out their welcoming chorus of joy, dancers twisted and gyrated, actors shuddered and reacted with ecstasy. It was all very impressive.

'Please remember,' said Peter Hall when we had finished, 'that I simply can't give you all individual directions for every moment of the play or we'll be here for two years not two months. You will all have to improvise, and I'd much rather you overdid it and forced me to cut you down, than underdid it and compelled me to call for some action. I shall have to rely on you all to use your imagination and initiative.'

We did it again and again, and at 1.30 we broke for lunch. The basement canteen was a large one but it wasn't used to dealing with crowds like this, which were to throng it thrice daily. During these long, hot, sunny lunch-hours the pubs and cafés within a mile radius were crowded with singers and actors, to the polite bewilderment of the locals.

In 'The Prospect of Whitby' a group of choristers, safe from the ears of authority, were complaining loud and long. It became speedily clear to anybody who happened to be listening that although a few English, Scots and foreign singers had infiltrated their sacred ranks, the great bulk of the Covent Garden chorus were Welsh. With all those Dais, Owens, Morgans, Griffiths, Blodwens and Gwyneths, the Rhondda valley reigned supreme. 'You can keep this bloody opera, man.… But it's not music, whatever they say; where's the bloody tune?… You can't sing it.… My voice is cracking, I can feel it.… Nobody will come, only a bunch of short-arsed phoneys.… Give me Faust any day, give me Carmen, now there's real music.… One good thing, man, we'll never have to do it again.… Oh, it's back to Cardiff for me, man, I'm telling you.… ' The voices floated musically over the beer tankards and hot sausage rolls.

That evening, with the opera company performing Otello at Covent Garden, the actors had the Opera Centre to themselves. Grouped comfortably round the Bechstein they listened to John Constable playing Act 2 while Peter Hall gave a running commentary on the action. 'This is where the Golden Calf is dragged on … this is where you get drunk … this is where the animals are slaughtered and you all eat the bloody meat … this is where the naked youth sacrifices the naked girl. Schoenberg says in the score that they must be as naked as the conventions of the stage permit. This is where the Golden Calf is destroyed and somebody runs on and says, "Cave, Moses is coming," and you all run off.

'Now I want you to hear the same music in full score because it sounds so different from the piano.' He put on the record. The music sounded unbelievably ugly, harsh and ear-tingling. 'It's terrific stuff this,' he smiled, 'it's the most gut-stirring music ever written and it starts where the Rite of Spring leaves off. But don't forget, this is not a sensational opera, and I don't want Fleet Street to get the idea that there's nothing to it but a long sexual orgy. So please don't talk about it.'

Over the next four hot dusty weeks the singers, actors, and a special contingent of Scots Guardsmen, looking uncomfortably out of place in their army blazers and winkle-pickers, sweated it out, and what slowly took shape was not only the production but the nature of the problems involved. The basic difficulty in opera production never changes. By its very nature opera is a highly artificial art-form. A realistic opera, strictly speaking, is a contradiction. But somewhere down the line there is a compromise where the conflicting demands of drama and music can in part be satisfied.

From the start Peter Hall decided that this was not to be one of those productions in which the singers contented themselves merely with singing and left all the acting to the actors. This was to be total theatre. Actors were to sing, or, at least, seem to. Singers were to act, or seem to act. 'I want you all to do everything with such conviction,' he said, 'that the audience must be incapable of deciding who are the actors and who are the singers.'

The actors were given copies of the libretto and instructed to learn the words of the choruses so that they could silently mouth them to give the illusion that they were singing—a process known in the profession as 'goldfishing'. But they really would join the spoken and shouted choruses, and long exhausting rehearsals were held so that their shouting synchronised with that of the chorus. As for the singers joining in the acting, this wasn't so easy. Many singers, especially the older ones in the chorus, are hidebound by the long-established formal conventions of opera, as any theatre producer has found to his cost, and most of them are happiest when standing centre-stage with their eyes firmly fixed on the conductor. It would be necessary to coax them with subtlety and cunning. So it can be seen that Peter Hall's major problem wasn't so much theatrical as diplomatic.

The invention of television has made things easier, for closed-circuit TV enables the conductor to be seen on any number of monitor sets placed in the wings. Singers can turn left, right and even upstage and still see him. Even so, there were difficulties. 'Ladies, I want you all to move down right and kneel behind the altar,' Peter Hall would say. A howl of dismay would rise. 'But, Mr Hall, we can't see the conductor. How can we sing if … '

'All right, don't worry, we'll sort it out.… Now, you gentlemen, would you move away down left?… Thanks.… Now, ladies, can you see Mr Solti?'

'Thank you, yes we can.'

'Good. Now, gentlemen, I want you to cross the stage.

'But, Mr Hall, if they do that we can't see anything.…'

'Please don't panic, ladies, we'll sort it out. Actors, I want you to rush down and mingle with the ladies here.…'

'But, Mr Hall, I don't want to be awkward but I really can't sing with all them actors rushing between us. Up-sets me, it does, and we can't see Mr Solti. Really, I've never had to go through anything like this before.'

'Don't worry, ladies, please don't panic. We'll get it all sorted out.'

The pledge of secrecy made on the first day didn't last long, but this surprised nobody. A secret shared by three hundred people has, one supposes, a limited term of life. For the first month the outside world knew little about what was happening in the Commercial Road, and nothing appeared in the papers apart from the formal announcement, with cast lists, that the opera was to be presented in June and July. But by early June whispers were heard in Fleet Street that something interesting was happening in the Opera Centre. The Evening Standard was the first in the field. A photographer was sent to investigate and take rehearsal pictures. Next day a picture of Yvonne Minton, Morag Noble, Elaine Blighton and Elizabeth Bainbridge was published with the caption ORGY IN COMMERCIAL ROAD. The story went on to say that these ladies were to sing the parts of the four naked virgins.

The secret was out. Every newspaper editor loves an orgy, and when a few days later the Press was formally invited to take pictures of the animals on hire from Chessington Zoo who were making their first appearance in rehearsals, an army of photographers and reporters turned up. An event which ordinarily would have caused only a ripple of interest in Fleet Street was now covered by every paper in the country. While six donkeys, goats, kids, three horses, a camel and a Highland Shetland bull were ceremoniously paraded across the stage, the cameras clicked and flashed excitedly. (The bull, it later transpired, was actually a cow, and had to withdraw from the 1966 revival owing to pregnancy.)

At the beginning of June the company moved into the Royal Opera House for the last weeks of rehearsals. Every morning an army of blue-denimed stage-hands erected John Bury's set and every afternoon they removed it. New props appeared daily: a huge unfinished statue of Moses, a section of a pyramid, hundreds of gold trinkets and jewels, the Golden Calf mounted on rollers, the animals' carcasses and the blood-stained meat. This had to be eaten; it looked disgustingly realistic and tasted—disgusting.

Finally the Sacred Phalluses appeared. The High Priests bring these on to the stage during the climax of the orgy scene and give them to the six dancing boys, who strap them on and perform a very sensual, phallic dance. Out of the depths of hiserotic imagination John Bury had produced what looked rather like carnival hats: they were long and pointed, they were painted with cheerful, multicoloured stripes, and they had little paper tassels attached to the point. The actors thought they were very funny and charming; but not the chorus.

The first distant rumblings of mutiny were heard. From canteen, pub and dressing-room outraged chapel-going voices could be heard complaining with high moral fervour. 'I know he's a clever young man and all that but … those phalluses aren't very nice, are they?… obscene, I'd say … disgusting, I call it … downright immoral … my wife's coming and my married daughter and they'll want to know what they are, well, it's going to be a bit embarrassing having to explain, isn't it?' Fortunately, the voices of Morality and Good Taste were overruled. John Bury's phalluses stayed and were greatly admired.

A source of more open mutiny was the blood. This had been cleverly faked by the ever-resourceful property department who, after several false starts, had produced a liquid which had the right colour and consistency and looked horribly realistic (the recipe was and still is a closely guarded secret). It was warm and smelly and the taste of it on the tongue and the feel of it on the skin was literally sickening. Buckets of it had to be thrown over the company, actors and chorus had to wallow in it, lick it, drink it, and smear it on their faces and near-naked bodies.

This sort of thing is one of the less attractive aspects of theatrical life; actors are frequently required to undergo unpleasant ordeals like this; they are used to it and can take it in their stride. But the chorus found it more difficult. 'Don't come near me with that, young man,' snarled one elderly female chorister, as she saw the blood bowl approaching. 'Mr Hall, I'm not having that stuff on my face and that's flat … it makes me sick … I won't be able to sing.' Protests rose from all sides.

There was physical danger, too. John Bury's steeply sloping metal ramp was very slippery, especially when covered with blood and wine. Bruises, grazes, cuts, strained tendons began to occur with alarming frequency, and one unlucky dancer almost wrenched his big toe off when he caught it in a narrow slit near the footlights. The ramp was then covered with a variety of substances including sand, and little lumps of hard cork. The final surface was not comfortable either for rape or dying, but at least there was no more slipping.

Meanwhile on the other side of Floral Street the wardrobe department was busily turning out three hundred biblical costumes which had to be ragged, torn and stained with blood and muck. 'You don't call those costumes, I hope,' said Wardrobe contemptuously. For people whose expert skill enables them to produce anything from Salvador Dali creations for Salome to gorgeous Regency gowns for Callas or the incredibly elaborate eighteenth-century dresses for Rosenkavalier, these loincloths, these strips of black towellene, were a frustrating anti-climax. Wardrobe looked a little happier when the four high priests came for their fitting: they were to be dressed in white-and-gold robes with gold turban and scarlet waistband which looked rather splendid. But these had to be dirtied in their turn till they looked as drab as the others.

The Press was now becoming deeply interested in the goings-on, and the most extraordinary rumours began to circulate. Is it true, asked Fleet Street indignantly, that the animals are to be killed and a fresh bunch led to the slaughter at every performance? Nonsense, said the Royal Opera House, firmly. In fact the only casualty during the whole venture was the camel who was led on to the stage during one particularly hectic rehearsal, surveyed the proceedings with unutterable contempt, deposited his candid opinion of Moses and Aaron on to the floor, slipped on it as he was led across, and crashed through the ramp on to the stage floor some fifteen feet beneath. Bleating piteously, his head and hump could be seen projecting through the hole. The risk of the same thing happening during a performance was too great: he was clearly not satisfied with his part, so he was released from his contract and returned to Chessington Zoo.

Is it true, asked Fleet Street excitedly, that four girls from a Soho strip-club are to be engaged to replace the four virgins? No comment, said Covent Garden primly. But now it can safely be revealed that the four ladies of the Opera company had not been happy about stripping off and singing their extremely difficult quartet with their backs to the conductor. Peter Hall invited four girls from the highly respectable Astor Club to watch a rehearsal and asked them if they would like to muck in? They would and they did. Thenceforth it was they who were stripped by the high priests, raped, and ritually sacrificed, while the four ladies sang their quartet from the safety of the wings. Peter Hall has always believed in special-isation where possible.

Is it true, asked Fleet Street apprehensively, that the Lord Chamberlain, perturbed by the rumours, was going to send a representative to the public dress-rehearsal and that even at this late stage the entire production might be forcibly abandoned if what he saw exceeded the legal definition of decency? Not true, retorted Covent Garden, for only that very morning Sir David Webster had received a letter in which the Lord Chamberlain had expressed his complete trust in the discretion and good taste of the Royal Opera House management.

Is it true, asked Fleet Street lasciviously, that people are going to run about in the orgy scene completely naked? You can come and see for yourselves on the first night, replied Covent Garden loftily. In the final week Fleet Street stepped up the pressure and proceeded to give Covent Garden the full gutter-press treatment. It was gripped by such a Moses and Aaron frenzy that it seemed nothing else was happening in the world; whenever you opened a paper there were pictures, stories, interviews, cartoons, gossip, rumours, each sillier than the last, ORGY NIGHT AT THE OPERA.… NAKED VIRGINS SHOCK CAST.… PUBLIC WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS ORGY.… REMARKABLE ORGY BUT DO WE WANT TO PAY FOR THIS? screamed the headlines. In a last-minute attempt to damp the fires of sensationalism Peter Hall announced: 'Don't get the wrong idea; my orgy is quite tame.' Reporters and photographers, rigidly excluded from rehearsals and frustrated by Sergeant Martin and his vigilant front-of-house staff from infiltrating the theatre, fell back on the timehonoured practice of haunting the stage-door and the Nag's Head opposite, taking pictures of the company as they went in and out, and furtively begging for inside information.

It was this which led to one outbreak of violence. A photographer from one of the national papers was attempting to take a picture of the four strip-club girls when his operation was interrupted by one of the singers who suddenly charged angrily at him. 'This is a serious work of art,' he cried angrily. 'You're just cheapening and vulgarising it.' The photographer stated that he was only doing his job; an argument rose; tempers were lost. The singer seized the camera and attempted to destroy it; the photographer clung to it like a limpet; they scuffled and grappled all the way down Floral Street, and were stopped only by the chance appearance of an astonished Sir David Webster who had just stepped out for lunch. The singer was calmed and the photographer was placated: apologies were exchanged and they parted calmly if not amicably. Happily for all, the editor of the newspaper was persuaded not to print this story.

But it wasn't all strippers and orgies. The Friends of Covent Garden assembled one Sunday evening at the Opera House to hear a symposium on the opera and extracts from the score. So many turned up that the amphitheatre and gallery had to be opened to accommodate them. Forbes Robinson and Richard Lewis sang extracts, and those who spoke on different aspects of the opera included Georg Solti, Peter Hall, John Bury and Egon Wellesz, a former pupil and friend of the composer. Solti ended by saying, 'This is difficult music, very difficult. But if you listen hard it becomes easy. Soon it becomes like Mozart opera.'

The public dress-rehearsal was held on Saturday morning, June 26, and was well received. Amongst the invited audience was Frau Gertrude Schoenberg, the composer's widow, who said, 'What a pity my Arnold is not alive to see this; he would have liked to see it done like this.' When Peter Hall was introduced to her he asked: 'I hope you don't feel that we have gone too far.' 'On the contrary, young man,' she replied firmly, 'in my opinion you have not gone far enough.' She thought that the orgy scene was tame but a move in the right direction.

This was not the opinion of some of the Friends of Covent Garden who had been present: they thought the production was 'sickening' … 'excessive' … 'horrible'.… 'They've gone too far,' said one to the Evening Standard. 'Everything was just thrown at you. There's no subtlety. It was revolting.' One anonymous correspondent seemed to agree with this. He wrote to Peter Hall saying he was disgusted at the things which were being done in his name and would call down the vengeance of heaven on the entire venture. It was signed 'God'.

The night of the première arrived, Monday, June 28, 1965. It was a perfect summer's evening, hot and dry. By six-thirty the streets round the Opera House were jammed with people and slow-moving traffic, not only singers and audience, but sight-seers, first-night celebrity-spotters, ticket-scalpers (one pair of stalls was sold for £100), and the general public who wanted to see what was going to happen and to be there when it did. Was it imagination or was there an unusually large contingent of policemen on duty, walking down Floral Street, grouped round the stage-door, and guarding the front entrance? Probably there was, for a rumour was circulating that a hostile demonstration was being planned and that the evening might end in a riot.

Who could be planning this? one wondered. The Friends of Glyndebourne, perhaps? One thought of all the famous riots of musical history: Tannhäuser, Electra, Salome, Rite of Spring. Was Moses and Aaron to be added to this distinguished list? Would women stand and scream that they had been insulted? Would they throw things on to the stage? There was an electric tension in the air, a terrifying sense of expectancy and foreboding, 'I've never known anything like it,' said the oldest stage-hand gloomily. For once one felt glad that Bow Street police station was so near.

The first-night audience included not only many international celebrities and all fashionable London but operatic administrators from all over the world, anxious to see if a realistic Moses and Aaron was a practical proposition. They did not have to wait long for an answer. Few people, least of all the singers, realised how short the opera is. Even with a long interval it scarcely lasts two hours, and by 9.25 history had been made. From every point of view the performance was superb: the musical and technical difficulties which had made the final week's rehearsals so stormy and frustrating all melted away as if by magic. Forbes Robinson and Richard Lewis and all the other principals gave magnificently assured performances, and the Lost Tribes of Egypt sang and acted with a passionate fervour which fully justified their reputation as one of the finest operatic choruses in the world. Welsh puritanism and middle-class inhibitions were flung aside; they threw themselves into the orgy scene, blood, phalluses and all, with an abandon which astonished and delighted everybody.

At the end the audience, which had been on the edge of its seats with excitement, cheered for twenty minutes. If anybody had come to make trouble they clearly stayed to applaud, for not a single hostile note marred this glorious sound. It was a very gratifying, very emotional experience for everybody concerned. This was the final accolade. Here was an unknown and difficult opera performed by the resident company without a single international star name, and their reward for a year's hard work was a standing ovation which even Callas might envy.

The evening finished with an orgy of another sort in the Crush Bar for the company and several hundreds of Covent Garden's most intimate personal friends. Large quantities of delicious cold food and vin rosé were consumed, and the feasting continued into the small hours, by which time early editions of the papers were available. Fleet Street had gone hysterical with joy; it was a paen of triumph … ORGY NIGHT AT THE OPERA.… THAT WAS QUITE AN ORGY FOR 31/6.… AN ORGY BUT NOT EROTIC.… HURRAH FOR THIS FIRST-CLASS ORGY. Later, the Sundays, weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies had their reservations, but by and large one thing emerged clearly: Georg Solti's dream had come true. He and Peter Hall had been proved triumphantly in the right. Never again would Moses and Aaron be regarded as unstageable.

Two days after the final performance the full company and orchestra conducted by Georg Solti gave a special concert performance at the Proms. From the back of the promenade I looked at their familiar and well-loved faces, now looking strangely different in their white ties, dinner-jackets and long evening gowns. The bloodstained desert seemed a hundred miles and a thousand years away. They sang better than ever, and the listeners, released from the distraction of stage spectacle, were able to concentrate on the music as never before. It was a profoundly moving experience. I remembered how ugly and meaningless the music had seemed when I had first heard it. But I had heard it every day for three months, and familiarity had bred understanding and love. Now my ear could accept Schoenberg's atonal harmonies so completely that I wondered how I could ever have found them difficult. I remembered that Solti had said, 'Soon it will be easy, like Mozart opera,' and he was quite right. But I felt I could almost go further. Now, large portions of it were easy—like Gilbert and Sullivan.

George Steiner (essay date 1967)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5012

SOURCE: "Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron," in Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman, Atheneum, 1967, pp. 127-39.

[In the following essay, Steiner analyzes the relationship between music and language in Schoenberg 's Moses and Aaron.]

It is difficult to conceive of a work in which music and language interact more closely than in Arnold Schoenberg's Moses and Aron. (The German title has an advantage of which Schoenberg, half in humor, half in superstition, was aware: its twelve letters are a symbolic counterpart to the twelve tones which form a basic set in serial composition.) It is, therefore, impertinent to write about the opera if one is unable to analyze its powerful, intensely original musical structure. This analysis has been undertaken by several musicologists and students of Schoenberg. One would wish that the intrinsic difficulty of the subject had not been aggravated by the "initiate" technicality of their approach. This is especially true of the account of the music written by Milton Babbit and issued with the only recording so far available of Moses and Aaron (Columbia K-31-241).

If I write this program note, it is because the great majority of those in the audience at Covent Garden will be in my position; they do not have the training or knowledge needed to grasp the technical unfolding of the score. The demands made are, in fact, severely beyond those required by a classical composition, or even by the orchestral density of Mahler. Together we shall have to take comfort in Schoenberg's frequent admonition:

I cannot often enough warn against the overrating of analysis since it invariably leads to what I have always fought against: the knowledge of how something is made; whereas I have always tried to promote the knowledge of what something is.

And one recalls Kierkegaard's observation at the outset of his discussion of Don Giovanni:

though I feel that music is an art which to the highest degree requires experience to justify one in having an opinion about it, still I comfort myself … with the paradox that, even in ignorance and mere intimations, there is also a kind of experience.

In the case of Moses and Aaron I would go further. It belongs to that very small group of operas which embody so radical and comprehensive an act of imagination, of dramatic and philosophic argument articulated by poetic and musical means, that there are aspects of it which go well beyond the normal analysis of an operatic score. It belongs not only to the history of modern music—in a critical way, as it exemplifies the application of Schoenberg's principles on a large, partly conventional scale—but to the history of the modern theater, of modern theology, of the relationship between Judaism and the European crisis. These aspects do not define or in any way exhaust the meaning of the work; that meaning is fundamentally musical. But an account of them may prove helpful to those who approach the work for the first time, and who would place it in its historical and emotional context. Like other very great and difficult works of art, Schoenberg's opera goes decisively outside the confines of its genre while giving to that genre a new and seemingly obvious fulfillment.

In a letter to Alban Berg of October 16, 1933, when he had just returned formally to Judaism in the face of Nazi anti-Semitism, Schoenberg wrote:

As you have doubtless realised, my return to the Jewish religion took place long ago and is indeed demonstrated in some of my published work {"Thou shalt not, thou must") as well as in Moses and Aaron, of which you have known since 1928, but which dates from at least five years earlier; but especially in my drama The Biblical Way which was also conceived in 1922 or '23 at the latest.

Der Biblische Weg remains unpublished; but what is known about it points clearly to the theme of the opera. It tells of a Zionist visionary, in whose name, Max Arun, there may be a foreshadowing of Moses and Aaron, who fails to achieve his goal through human imperfection.

Equally relevant is the other piece referred to by Schoenberg, the second of the Four Pieces for mixed chorus, op. 27. Written in 1925, it sets to music the prohibition of Mosaic law against the making of images. "An image asks for names.… Thou shalt believe in the Spirit; thou must, chosen one." This injunction, expressed in a cadenced prose which anticipates the "spoken song" of the opera, summarizes the central dramatic idea and conflict of Moses and Aaron. But Schoenberg's interest in the musical statement of religious thought and in the dramatic idiom of the Old Testament goes back even further: to Die Jakobsleiter, an oratorio left incomplete in 1917.

This concern persisted throughout Schoenberg's later work: in the Kol Nidre of 1938, in the brief, harrowing cantata A Survivor from Warsaw (1947), in the setting of Psalm 130 (1950), in Schoenberg's final opus, the unfinished Modern Psalms. The last words he set to music were: "And yet I pray as all that lives prays." Thus Moses and Aaron is thematically and psychologically related to an entire set of works in which Schoenberg sought to express his highly individual, though at the same time profoundly Judaic concept of identity, of the act of spiritual creation, and of the dialogue—so inherent in music—between the song of man and the silences of God. The opera is both Schoenberg's magnum opus (what T. W. Adorno calls his "Hauptwerk quand-même") and a composition rooted in the logic and development of his entire musical thought.

Schoenberg began writing Moses and Aaron in Berlin in May 1930; he completed Act II in Barcelona on March 10, 1932. Roberto Gerhard, in whose Barcelona flat Schoenberg often worked, tells an instructive anecdote. Schoenberg did not mind friends chatting in the room, even when he was engaged on the fantastically complex score; what he could not tolerate were sudden spells of quiet. The dates of composition are, of course, important. On the one hand they mark Schoenberg's hard-fought professional acceptance, as Ferruccio Busoni's successor at the Prussian Academy of Arts. But they also mark bouts of illness which led Schoenberg to seek refuge in a southern climate, and, above all, the rise of the Nazi menace. A year after he had completed Act II, Schoenberg was compelled to leave Berlin and start a life of exile.

He did not live to complete the opera or hear it performed. An extract was given in concert form at Darmstadt on July 2, 1951 (plans for a production at the Maggio Musicale in Florence fell through). Schoenberg died less than a fortnight later. The first complete concert program was given at the Musikhalle in Hamburg under the direction of Hans Rosbaud in March 1954. On June 16, 1957, Rosbaud directed the stage première of Moses and Aron at the Stadttheater in Zurich. This was followed by a Berlin production under Hermann Scherchen in October 1959. Since that time there have been few major opera houses in Europe or the United States which have not expressed the hope of producing the work, and retreated before its formidable demands.

Karl Wörner says that Moses and Aaron "is without precedent." This is not so: as opera, it is related to Wagner's Parsifal, and there are orchestral anticipations both in Mahler and in Schoenberg's own earlier compositions and in his short operas, Erwartung and Die Glückliche Hand. But it is technically more demanding than any other major opera, and the quality of the religious-philosophic conflict requires from the performers and producer an unusual range of insight and sympathy. Schoenberg has deliberately used a genre saturated with nineteenth-century values of unreality and modish display to express an ultimate seriousness. In so doing he reopened the entire question of opera.

The libretto is organized wholly in terms of musical form and development (if serial music anticipates electronic music it is in the totality of control which the composer aims at in every aspect of the musical experience). As Schoenberg remarked: "It is only while I'm composing that the text becomes definite, sometimes even after composition." Nevertheless, the book of Moses and Aaron is itself of great fascination. Schoenberg has a distinctive style which one sees in his paintings and theoretical writings no less than in his music. He worked in large strokes, and achieved an effect of clarity and abstract energy by leaving out syntactical qualifications or half-tones. Like much in Schoenberg's musical texts and literary tastes, the libretto shows traces of German expressionism, and of the sources of expressionism. Characteristically, Strindberg plays a part: Schoenberg knew Wrestling Jacob when he planned Die Jakobsleiter, and was aware of Strindberg's Moses when writing his own very different treatment of the theme.

The idiom used in Moses and Aaron is highly personal. It is kept apart from the rhythms and tonality of the Luther Bible. Schoenberg wrote to Berg on August 5, 1930: "I am of the opinion that the language of the Bible is medieval German, which, being obscure to us, should be used at most to give colour; and that is something I don't need." Above all, each German word, whether in Sprechgesang, in direct song or choral declaration, is uniquely and precisely fitted to the musical context. The words are no less durchkomponiert ("fully composed, musicalised") than are the notes. This is what makes any decision to produce Moses and Aaron in English so wrong-headed. To alter the words—their cadence, stress, tonalities—as must be done in translation, is tantamount to altering the key relations or orchestration in a piece of classical music. Moreover, there is no need to subvert Schoenberg in this way: the story of Exodus is known to everyone, and Schoenberg's presentation of the plot is utterly lucid. A brief outline would have given an English-speaking audience all the help it wants.

The relationship of language to music in Moses and Aaron is unlike that in any other opera. The problem of that relationship, of how to apportion the stress between word and musical tone, of whether the ideal libretto should not be weak precisely in order to mark the distance between music drama and the spoken play, underlies the whole history of opera. As Joseph Kerman has shown, it is the problematic achievement of Wagner, the late Verdi, and twentieth-century operatic composers to have given the libretto a new seriousness. Hence the marked affinity to modern literature and psychological argument in the operas of Janácek, Berg, and Stravinsky. Hence the ironic allegoric treatment of the debate between poet and composer in Richard Strauss's Capriccio.

But Moses and Aaron goes much deeper. It belongs to that group of works produced in the twentieth century, and crucial to our present aesthetics, which have their own possibility as essential theme. I mean that it asks of itself—as Kafka does of fiction, as Klee asks of visual form—whether the thing can be done at all, whether there are modes of communication adequate. Kierkegaard wrote of Mozart: "The happy characteristic that belongs to every classic, that which makes it classic and immortal, is the absolute harmony of the two forces, form and content." One would say of modern art that what makes it such and unmistakable to our sensibility is the frequent dissonance between moral, psychological content and traditional form. Being a drama of non-communication, of the primal resistance of intuitive or revealed insight to verbal and plastic incarnation (the refusal of the Word to be made flesh), Moses and Aaron is, on one vital plane, an opera about opera. It is a demonstration of the impossibility of finding an exhaustive accord between language and music, between sensual embodiment and the enormous urgency and purity of intended meaning. By making the dramatic conflict one between a man who speaks and a man who sings, Schoenberg has argued to the limit the paradoxical convention, the compromise with the unreal, inherent in all opera.

The paradox is resolved in defeat, in a great cry of necessary silence. This alone makes it difficult to think of a serious opera coming after or going beyond Moses and Aaron. But that was exactly Schoenberg's own problem as a post-Wagnerian, and as an heir to Mahler in artistic morality even more than in orchestral technique. Like Mahler, he was proposing to aggravate, in the literal sense, the easy coexistence, the libertinage between music and public which obtained in the opera house at the turn of the century and which Strauss, for all his musical integrity, never refuted. As Adorno notes, Moses and Aaron can be approached in the same spirit as a major cantata of Bach. But unlike Bach, it is a work which at every moment calls to account its own validity and expressive means.

The motif of a sharp conflict between Moses and Aaron is, of course, present in the Pentateuch. It may well be that later priestly editors, with their particular professional association with Aaron's priesthood, smoothed away some of the grimmer evidence, and obscured the full, murderous consequences of the clash. Schoenberg made of this archaic, hidden antagonism a conflict of ultimate moral and personal values, of irreconcilable formulations or metaphors of man's confrontation with God. Working on the principle—discernible at the roots of Greek tragic drama—that fundamental human conflict is internal, that dramatic dialogue is in the final analysis between self and self, Schoenberg gathered the entire force of collision into a single consciousness.

This is the drama of Moses. Aaron is one of the possibilities, the most seductive, the most humane, of Moses' self-betrayals. He is Moses' voice when that voice yields to imperfect truth and to the music of compromise. Schoenberg remarked in 1933: "My Moses more resembles—of course only in outward respect—Michelangelo's. He is not human at all." So far as the harsh, larger-than-life stature of the personage goes, this may be so. But the poignancy of the opera, its precise focus of emotion and suffering, comes above all from Moses' humanity, from that in him which is riven and inarticulate. It is not of the fiercely contained eloquence of Michelangelo's statue that one thinks when listening to Moses and Aaron, but of Alban Berg's Wozzeck (written just before Schoenberg started composing his own opera). Moses and Wozzeck are both brilliant studies in dramatic contradiction, operatic figures unable to articulate with their own voices the fullness of their needs and perceptions. In both cases the music takes over where the human voice is strangled or where it retreats into desperate silence.

Schoenberg admitted to Berg: "Everything I have written has a certain inner likeness to myself." This is obviously true of Moses, and it is here that Michelangelo's figure, which fascinated Freud in a similar way, may be relevant. To any Jew initiating a great movement of spirit or radical doctrine in a profoundly hostile environment, leading a small group of disciples, some of them perhaps recalcitrant or ungrateful, to the promised land of a new metaphysic or aesthetic medium, the archetype of Moses would have a natural significance. By introducing into music, whose classical development and modes seemed to embody the very genius of the Christian and Germanic tradition, a new syntax, an uncompromisingly rational and apparently dissonant ideal, Schoenberg was performing an act of great psychological boldness and complexity. Going far beyond Mahler, he was asserting a revolutionary—to its enemies an alien, Jewish—presence in the world of Bach and Wagner. Thus the twelve-tone system is related, in point of sensibility and psychological context, to the imaginative radicalism, to the "subversiveness" of Cantor's mathematics or Wittgenstein's epistemology.

Like Freud, Schoenberg saw himself as a pioneer and teacher, reviled by the vast majority of his contemporaries, driven into solitude by his own unbending genius, gathering a small band around him and going forward, in exile, to a new world of meaning and vital possibility. In Moses' bitter cry that his lessons are not being understood, that his vision is being distorted even by those nearest him, one hears Schoenberg's own inevitable moments of discouragement and angry loneliness. And there is almost too apt an analogy in the fact that he died on the threshold of acceptance, before his stature had been widely acknowledged, before he could complete Moses and Aaron or hear any of it performed.

Except for one moment (I, 2, bars 208-217)—and I have never understood just why it should be at this particular point in the opera—Moses does not sing. He speaks in a highly cadenced, formal discourse, his voice loud and bitter against the fluencies of the music and, in particular, against Aaron's soaring tenor. (The parodistic yet profoundly engaged treatment of Aaron's vocal score seems to be full of references to traditional operatic bel canto and the ideal of the Wagnerian Heldentenor.) The fact that the protagonist of a grand opera should not sing is a powerful theatrical stoke, even more "shocking" than the long silence of Aeschylus' Cassandra or the abrupt, single intervention of the mute Pylades in The Libation Bearers. But it is also much more than that.

Moses' incapacity to give expressive form (music) to his vision, to make revelation communicable and thus translate his individual communion with God into a community of belief in Israel, is the tragic subject of the opera. Aaron's contrasting eloquence, his instantaneous translation—hence traduction—of Moses' abstract, hidden meaning into sensuous form (the singing voice), dooms the two men to irreconcilable conflict. Moses cannot do without Aaron; Aaron is the tongue which God has placed into his own inarticulate mouth. But Aaron diminishes or betrays Moses' thought, that in him which is immediate revelation, in the very act of communicating it to other men. As in Wittgenstein's philosophy, there is in Moses and Aaron a radical consideration of silence, an inquiry into the ultimately tragic gap between what is apprehended and that which can be said. Words distort; eloquent words distort absolutely.

This is implicit in the first lines of the opera spoken by Moses against the background of the orchestral opening and the murmur of the six solo voices which portray the Burning Bush. The fact that Moses so often speaks simultaneously with Aaron's song, or that we hear his voice in conflict with the orchestra, points to Schoenberg's essential design. Moses' words are internal, they are his thought, clear and integral only before it moves outward into the betrayal of speech.

Moses addresses his God as "omnipresent, invisible, and inconceivable." Unvorstellbar, that which cannot be imagined, conceived, or represented (vorstellen means, precisely, to enact, to mime, to dramatize concretely), is the key word of the opera. God is because He is incommensurate to human imagining, because no symbolic representation available to man can realize even the minutest fraction of His inconceivable omnipresence. To know this, to serve a Deity so intangible to human mimesis, is the unique, magnificent destiny which Moses envisions for his people. It is also a fearful destiny. As the Voice out of the Burning Bush proclaims:

This people is chosen
before all others,

to be the people of the only God,
  that it should know Him
and be wholly His;
that it undergo all trials
conceivable to thought
over the millennia.

The last two lines are eloquently ambiguous: the words can also be read to mean: "all trials to which this thought—of a God invisible and inconceivable—may be exposed."

Aaron enters and the misunderstanding between the two brothers is immediate and fatal. Aaron rejoices in the proud uniqueness of Israel's mission, in the grandeur of a God so much more powerful and demanding than all other gods (these other gods continue to be real to Aaron). He exults in imagining such a God, in finding words and poetic symbols by which to make Him present to His people. Yet even as he sings, Moses cries out: "No image can give you an image of the unimaginable." And when Aaron elaborates, with a rich ease of perception mirrored in the music, the notion of a God who will punish and reward His people according to their deserts, Moses proclaims a Kierkegaardian God, infinitely, scandalously transcending any human sense of cause and effect:

Inconceivable because invisible;
because immeasurable;
because everlasting;
because eternal;
because omnipresent;
because omnipotent.

To which litany of abstraction, of inexpressible apprehension, Aaron responds with the joyous assurance that God shall bring wonders to pass on behalf of His enslaved people.

He does. Confronted with the rebellious bewilderment of the Jews, with their call for visible signs of the new revelation, Moses retreats into his own inarticulateness. It is Aaron who proclaims himself the word and the deed. It is he who casts Moses' rod to the ground where it turns into a serpent, and shows Moses' hand to be leprous and then miraculously restored. During the entire last part of the Act, Moses is silent. It is Aaron who proclaims the doom of Pharaoh and the covenant of the Promised Land. Fired by his eloquence, the people of Israel march forth and the music is exultant with Aaron's certitude. It is through him that God appears to be speaking.

In one sense, in one possible idiom, He is. Moses' understanding of God is much more authentic, much deeper; but it is essentially mute or accessible only to very few. Without Aaron, God's purpose cannot be accomplished; through Aaron it is perverted. That is the tragic paradox of the drama, the metaphysical scandal which springs from the fact that the categories of God are not parallel or commensurate to those of man.

Act II centers on the Golden Calf. With Moses' long absence on Sinai, the Elders and the people have grown rebellious and afraid. The invisibility of God has become an intolerable anguish. Aaron yields to the voices that cry out for an image, for something that eye and hand can grasp in the act of worship. On the darkening stage the Golden Calf shines forth.

What follows is one of the most astonishing pieces of music written in the twentieth century. As musical analysts point out, it is a symphony in five movements with solo voices and choruses. The orchestration is so intricate yet dramatic in its statements and suggestions that it seems incredible that Schoenberg should have heard it all inside him, that he should have known exactly (if he did) how these fantastic instrumental and rhythmic combinations would work without, in fact, ever hearing a note played. The pageant of the Golden Calf makes the utmost demands on orchestras, singers, and dancers. Rearing horses, treasure-laden camels, and Four Naked Virgins are requirements which even the most resourceful of opera houses find difficult to meet.

What Schoenberg had in mind is something very different from an ordinary operatic ballet. It is a total dramatic integration of voice, bodily motion, and orchestral development. Even the most frenzied moments of the idolatrous, sexual orgy are plotted in terms of a rigorous, immensely subtle musical structure. As Schoenberg wrote to Webern:

I wanted to leave as little as possible to those new despots of the theatrical art, the producers, and even to envisage the choreography as far as I'm able to.… You know I'm not at all keen on the dance.… Anyway so far I've succeeded in thinking out movements such as at least enter into a different territory of expression from the caperings of common-or-garden ballet.

But these "caperings" are not wholly irrelevant. In Schoenberg's treatment of the Golden Calf, as in so much of Moses and Aaron, there is a revaluation—either straightforward or parodistic—of the conventions of opera. Are these conventions applicable to the modern circumstance? How much seriousness can they sustain? Thus the Golden Calf is both the logical culmination of, and a covert satire on, that catalogue of orgiastic ballets and ritual dances which is one of the distinctive traits of grand opera from Massenet's Hérodiade to Tannhäuser, from Aïda and Samson et Dalila to Parsifal and Salome. Schoenberg is fully aware of the dual quality of the scene. It is at the same time supremely serious and ironic in its exhaustive use of the convention:

In the treatment of this scene, which actually represents the very core of my thought, I went pretty much to the limit, and this too is probably where my piece is most operatic; as indeed it must be.

With the return of Moses—his indistinct, terrifying figure looms suddenly on the horizon and is seen by one of the exhausted revelers—the drama moves swiftly to its climax. At a glance from Moses, the Golden Calf vanishes:

Begone, you that are the image of the fact that what is measureless cannot be bounded in an image.

The two brothers confront each other on the empty stage. And once more it is Aaron who has the better of the argument. He has given the people an image so that Israel may live and not fall into despair. He loves the people and knows that the demands of abstraction and inwardness which Moses makes upon the human spirit are beyond the power of ordinary men. Moses loves an idea, an absolute vision, relentless in its purity. He would make of Israel the hollow, tormented vessel of an inconceivable presence. No people can endure such a task. Even the Tables of the Law which Moses has brought from the mountain are only an image, a palpable symbol of hidden authority.

Baffled, incensed by Aaron's argument, Moses smashes the Tables. Aaron accuses him of faint-heartedness. The tribes of Israel shall continue their march to the Promised Land whether or not they have grasped the full meaning of God's revelation. As if to confirm his words, the Chorus resumes its march across the stage. It is led by a pillar of fire, and Aaron goes forth glorying in the visible wonder of God.

Moses is left alone. Is Aaron right? Must the inconceivable, unimaginable, unrepresentable reality of God diminish to mere symbol, to the tangible artifice of miracle? In that case all he has thought and said (the two are identical to Moses) has been madness. The very attempt to express his vision was a crime. The orchestra falls silent as the unison violins play a retrograde inversion of the basic twelve-tone set. Moses cries out, "O word, thou word that I lack!" and sinks to the ground, broken.

This is one of the most moving, dramatic moments in the history of opera and of the modern theater. With its implicit allusion to the Logos, to the Word that is yet to come but which lies beyond speech, it gathers into one action both the claims of music to be the most complete idiom, the carrier of transcendent energies, and all that is felt in twentieth-century art and philosophy about the gap between meaning and communication. But Moses' defeat also has a more specific, historical bearing, which may help us understand why Schoenberg did not complete the opera.

The letters of 1932 and 1933 show that he had every intention of doing so. As late as November 1948, Schoenberg could write: "I should really best like to finish Die Jakobsleiter and Moses and Aaron" What intervened?

There is evidence that Schoenberg found it difficult to give the third Act a coherent dramatic shape. He wrote to Walter Eidlitz on March 15, 1933, that he had recast Aaron's Death for the fourth time "because of some almost incomprehensible contradictions in the Bible." As it stands, the text of Act III is a curious torso, both repetitive and moving. Once more, Moses and Aaron, now in chains, state their opposite conceptions of idea and image. But Moses no longer addresses his brother directly. He is speaking to the Jewish people as it prepares to enter into the mire and compromise of history. He prophesies that Jews will prosper only so long as they dwell in the stern wilderness of the spirit, in the presence of the One and Inconceivable God. If they forget their great act of renunciation and seek an ordinary haven in the world, they will have failed and their suffering shall be the greater. Salvation lies in apartness. The Jew is himself when he is a stranger.

Freed of his chains, Aaron falls dead at Moses' feet. (Is there here, one wonders, a reminiscence of Hunding's death when Wotan glances at him in scorn?) As we have no music to accompany the words, it is difficult to judge their effect. But the third Act is essentially static. There is no dramatic justification for Moses' triumph over a prostrate Aaron. Much is missing.

But the real impediment probably lay deeper. As Adorno remarks, Moses and Aaron was "a preventive action against the looming of Nazism." But even as Schoenberg worked on the score, Nazism was moving rapidly to its triumph. The words Volk and Führer figure prominently in the opera; they designate its supreme historical values, Israel and Moses. Now they were wrested out of Schoenberg's grasp by the million voices bawling them at Nuremberg. How could he continue to set them to music? As he labored on the third Act in March 1933, Schoenberg must have known that the culture in which he had hammered out his vision of a new music, and for whose opera houses he had conceived Moses and Aaron, was heading for ruin or exile—as was his own personal life.

It is this which gives the end of Act II its tremendous authority and logic. The events that were now to come to pass in Europe were, quite literally, beyond words, too inhuman for that defining act of humane consciousness which is speech. Moses' despairing cry, his collapse into silence, is a recognition—such as we find also in Kafka, in Broch, in Adamov—that words have failed us, that art can neither stem barbarism nor convey experience when experience grows unspeakable. Thus Moses and Aaron, is, despite its formal incompletion, a work of marvelous finality. There was no more to be said.

Roger Sessions (essay date 1972)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4381

SOURCE: "Schoenberg in the United States," in Roger Sessions on Music: Collected Essays, edited by Edward T. Cone, Princeton University Press, 1972, pp. 353-69.

[In the following essay, Sessions surveys Schoenberg's music influenced by American music and culture.]

In any survey of Schoenberg's work one fact must be emphasized above all: that no younger composer writes quite the same music as he would have written had Schoenberg's music not existed. The influence of an artist is not, even during his lifetime, confined to his disciples or even to those who have felt the direct impact of his work. It is filtered through to the humblest participant, first in the work of other original artists who have absorbed and reinterpreted it for their own purposes; then through the work of hundreds of lesser individuals, who unconsciously reflect the new tendencies even when they are opposed to them. For genuinely new ideas determine the battlegrounds on which their opponents are forced to attack. In the very process of combat the latter undergo decisive experiences which help to carry the new ideas forward.

In Schoenberg's case this process is clear. The appearance, around 1911, of his first completely characteristic works, and of his Harmonielehre, marks the approximate beginning of the years that were decisive in the formation of contemporary music. True, these works—both music and book—only carried to more radical conclusions tendencies already present in the music of the time; these manifestations, then hailed as revolutionary, seem to us now more like footnotes and queries to established modes of thought than integral and challenging steps toward new ones. What was new in Debussy and Ravel and Scriabin seemed more fundamental and far-reaching than it does today.

But in the Three Piano Pieces, op. 11, and the Five Orchestral Pieces, op. 16, a much more thorough-going challenge became evident. What led in Wagner to an enlargement of musical resources, in Debussy and Scriabin to the cultivation of special and restricted corners, here openly insists that new resources, having multiplied to an overwhelming extent, demand a logic of their own, depriving the earlier principles of their validity even in music of a relatively conventional type. The Harmonielehre, which exerted its influence on some of the least likely persons, raised the same questions in the realm of theory, deducing them from the very logic of previous practice. The musical status quo has never completely recovered from the blow.

In 1933 Schoenberg came to the United States and ten years later became an American citizen. In the country to which he came, musical activity is intense on many levels, and despite many necessary reservations the development within the last generation has been phenomenal. Musical education has penetrated everywhere; both the general level and the quality of instruction available on the highest level of all have risen to a degree amazing to all who confronted the musical conditions of thirty-five years ago. American composers of serious intent have begun to appear in considerable numbers, and to achieve an influence and recognition undreamed by their predecessors; moreover, they have become aware of themselves, of their inner and outer problems, and better equipped to face these. Above all it has become evident that musical talent, the raw material from which musical culture grows, is strikingly abundant.

It is, however, clear that the institutional structure of music in the United States has not yet been established in definitive outlines. The relationship between the art and the business of music, and of both of these with the "public"; the role and direction of musical education; the influence of radio, gramophone, and amateur musical activities—these are questions which in the United States are still fundamentally unsettled. There is similar confusion as to what we may call the structure of musical effort: the respective roles in musical culture and production of the composer, performer, critic, and scholar.

These latter observations are true of course not only of the United States but of modern civilization in general. But conditions here differ from those elsewhere in the fact that whereas elsewhere the forces of opposition are those of an established cultural tradition, here there is a perceptible undertow in the growing musical consciousness of a culture still in the making. It is this which keeps the musical life of the country in a state of constant change and flux, and which makes the situation chaotic but far from hopeless.

It is not surprising therefore that Schoenberg should have found himself in a quite new relationship to his environment and that his impact should have taken on a new significance. I do not mean to minimize the importance of either the revolutionary or the specifically Viennese Schoenberg. The former has already affected the course of music in a profound sense, and though possibly the first full impact of a composer's work is the most immediately powerful one—think of the Eroica, of Tristan, in contrast to the last quartets or Parsifal—nevertheless with the constant ripening of his art, the latter imposes itself in another, more gradual and more definitely constructive, sense. But that is a task for the composer's successors, and is even independent of his purely historical importance.

As for Vienna, Schoenberg has outlived it as he has out-lived Alban Berg. Had he not done so his position might be today less evident than it is. There are other musicians from Central, also from Western and Eastern, Europe, whose impact has been purely provincial; they have conceived their mission as that of winning spheres of influence for their own native background; and have found—by an inexorable law of human polarization—the most sympathetic acclaim often in circles most tenacious in the pursuit of an American "national" style. Undeniably Schoenberg is a product of Vienna, and of a Viennese tradition with which he is as deeply imbued as anyone living. But it is characteristic of the man, the situation, and possibly of the Viennese tradition itself that his impact on the United States has been that of a third Schoenberg—one by no means unknown in Europe nor difficult to find for those who sought him, but one often obscured in the heat of controversy and the battle positions which his followers were led to assume in his behalf. For in coming to the United States, he left the scene of his most bitter struggles; he came with the prestige of a fighter of distant and only dimly understood battles, with the respect and admiration of a few to whom the battles were neither so distant nor so dimly understood.

Others recognized the achievement of the composer of Verklärte Nacht and other early works, and were ready to acclaim him as at least an asset to American musical life.

He taught and lectured in Boston and New York and finally was appointed Professor of Music, first at the University of Southern California, later at the University of California in Los Angeles. His music received sporadic performances; he found himself frequently quoted, frequently in demand as a writer and lecturer. His main influence, however, has been exerted through his teaching, the musicians with whom he has come in contact, and finally the series of works composed in the years since he has lived in the United States—works which in my opinion represent a separate phase and a new level in his music as a whole.

These works include a Suite for strings, written in 1934; the Fourth String Quartet written in 1936 and performed by the Kolisch Quartet in 1937; the Violin Concerto, performed in 1940 by Louis Krasner with the Philadelphia Orchestra; a second Chamber Symphony; a setting of the Kol Nidrei for chorus and orchestra; Variations on a Recitative for organ, first performed by Carl Weinrich for the United States section of the I.S.C.M. in March, 1944; the Concerto for Piano first performed by Edward Steuermann and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the spring of this year; finally two works shortly to be performed, the Ode to Napoleon, after Byron, for Sprechstimme, piano and strings, and a Theme and Variations, written originally for band and later arranged for orchestra.

Of these works, the Suite is consciously in an "old style," and the Second Chamber Symphony is the completion of a work left unfinished some forty years earlier. With the latter, the organ Variations have given rise to rumors of a "conservative" trend in Schoenberg's music—a "return" at least to "tonality" and to a more "consonant" style. No doubt, the new Variations and possibly the Ode, both shortly to receive their world premières, will add to these rumors which purport to herald a "capitulation" on Schoenberg's part. The organ Variations are extremely freely but none the less unmistakably in the key of D minor, though also influenced by serial thinking; the orchestral Variations are in G minor, signature and all, and definitely in a simpler style. The Ode to Napoleon, though still in the twelve-tone system, is superficially more "consonant" than many of Schoenberg's earlier works in that, to a very large extent, its style is characterized by the superimposition of triads and their derivatives. It is, however, doubtful if either the Ode or the organ Variations will prove comforting to those who pretend to see any reversal on Schoenberg's part. They are presumably quite as "forbidding" as any of his reputedly "atonal" works.

"Atonality," in fact, is a conception which Schoenberg has never accepted and which has certainly no relation-ship to the experience of a practiced listener to his music. If "tonality" means anything in other than academic terms it must certainly denote the sensation of relationships between tones, and of functional differences arising from these relationships. The tonic, the leading tone, and so on are sensations habitual in all listeners. In no sense are they mere theoretical abstractions; they are not inextricably bound up with any systematic formula yet established nor are they in the last analysis definable in terms of any such formula alone. The prevailing harmonic concepts or definitions of "tonality" are inadequate not only to the music of contemporary composers, but to many elusive problems in classic music. It should, however, be clear that these inadequacies are in no manner to be conjured away through the adoption of the essentially meaningless term "atonal," any more than the presence or absence of an occasional triad or sixth-chord is of more than incidental significance in determining the characteristics of a style such as Schoenberg's.

I believe that in these works written since 1936 Schoenberg has achieved a freedom and resourcefulness which carries them in this respect far beyond his earlier works, especially those in the twelve-tone technique. Regarding that technique itself much misleading nonsense has been written. I am in no sense a spokesman for it; I have never been attracted to it as a principle of composition. But one must distinguish carefully between technical principles in the abstract, and the works in which they become embodied; even a great work does not validate a dubious principle, nor does a valid principle produce in itself good or even technically convincing work. It would for example be easy, though basically irrelevant, to show that Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang in the Lydian mode, like most other modern "modal" works, is based on a technically specious conception of the nature and function of the modes. Similarly, assuming the fugue or sonata to have been valid as principles of musical structure, how many grievous sins have been committed in their names!

One can not too often insist that in music it is the composer's inner world of tone and rhythm which matters, and that whatever technical means he chooses in order to give it structure and coherence are subject to no a priori judgment whatever. The essential is that structure and coherence be present; and the demand which art makes, on its creator is simply that his technique be sufficiently mastered to become an obedient and flexible instrument in his hands. True, the twelve-tone technique became at one time a fighting slogan; this happened under the stress of combat, the inevitable result of bitter opposition met by Schoenberg and his disciples. Today, however, it is no longer invoked as a universal principle; it is recognized for what it is as a mode of technical procedure, a principle which evolves and becomes modified by practice. Once more—the significance of music springs solely from the composer's imagination and not from ideas about technique. The latter are merely tools which he forges for himself, for his own purposes. They gain what validity they possess from the results, in music, to which they make their imponderable contribution.

In regard to Schoenberg's work it may also be stressed that the twelve-tone technique is a part of the process rather than an essential element of the form. It is not essential or even possible for the listener to apprehend it in all its various transformations. He must listen to Schoenberg's music in exactly the same spirit as he listens to any music whatever, and bring to it the same kind of response. If he is fortunate he will from the first discover moments of profound and intense beauty which will tempt him further. He will always find that the music makes the utmost demands on his ear and his musical understanding, and he will probably find that with a little familiarity it begins to impose itself. In any case, esoteric notions or strained efforts will, as in the case of all music, serve as a barrier rather than as an aid to his understanding.

So if in some works of the 1920s one feels a certain tenseness and dogmatic insistence, one must regard that as a necessary phase in Schoenberg's development. At the time he was exploring and mastering the resources of the new technique. In the works of the last ten years one feels no such limitation. The technique is used with the ease of virtuosity, with complete resourcefulness, and with such freedom that it is sometimes difficult to discover. The Fourth Quartet, the Violin and the Piano Concertos are, as far as I can see, his finest achievements of these years, perhaps of his whole work. They are larger in scope, if not in gesture, than the Ode to Napoleon or the organ Variations; like these they are in no conceivable wise more "conservative" than the earlier works even though they differ from these in several essential respects.

They differ first of all in their longer and broader lines. This is not simply a question of "continuity"; Schoenberg has always been in this respect a master of form, and in no work known to me can he be accused of a lack of logic. But—with those qualifications and exceptions—the individual details are underlined to a degree that they, rather than the larger lines, seem to bear the main expressive burden. It is a question of emphasis; the "fragmentary" impression that disturbs many listeners results from the fact that every sensation is intensified to the utmost degree. All contrasts are of the sharpest kind, and it is not surprising that they strike the hearer most forcibly, even after familiarity with the work has brought their essential continuity more to the fore. In the later works, above all in the Piano Concerto, the expressive emphasis shifts strikingly to the line as a whole. A sustained melodic line becomes the rule rather than the exception. The melodic style itself has become more concentrated, less extravagant and diffuse in detail. I am tempted to cite examples: the graceful melody which opens the Piano Concerto; the declamatory opening phrase of the slow movement of the Quartet; or the haunting and tender Andante of the Violin Concerto.

The very adoption of the concerto form, with the predominance of one instrument, underlines this tendency. Though Schoenberg's uncompromising polyphony results in a large measure of obbligato treatment of the solo parts, especially in the Piano Concerto, this treatment is nevertheless on the broadest lines, the constant tone quality contributing unmistakably to the architectonics of the works. Equally consistent is the orchestral dress. Though certainly as vivid as in the earlier works, it contrasts strikingly with these in that it, too, is laid out on broader lines. The constant and kaleidoscopic change so characteristic of the Five Orchestral Pieces or the Bach transcriptions, has been superseded by a style in which tone colors, in all their characteristic boldness, remain constant over longer stretches, and are opposed to each other in sharply defined and large-scale contrasts. Needless to say, the instruments are employed with complete freedom from preconceived ideas and with full awareness of the relationship between ends and means. While it makes extreme demands, technical and otherwise, on the performers—the solo parts of both concertos are truly formidable—it does so always with full awareness; the demands lie in the musical ideas themselves and are in no way superimposed on them. They pose new problems for the performers—but they have this in common with much of the best music of every generation.

These works possess other and more elusive characteristics, at some of which I have already hinted in connection with the Ode to Napoleon. It is not easy concretely to demonstrate, in the two concertos and the Quartet, a still wider range of harmonic effect—one which includes all the simplest as well as the most complex relationships—or a much vaster harmonic line, at the least suggesting a new tonal principle, powerfully binding like the old but embracing all possible relationships within the chromatic scale. As far as I know, no adequate study has yet been made of Schoenberg's work in its harmonic and tonal aspects—aspects which lie deeper than the twelve-tone system or the individual sonority, and guide the ear of the listener in his real apprehension of the music. The above-mentioned qualities seem to me, however, strikingly present in all of this later music and a most important element in the effect of unity, sweeping movement, and concentration which the works produce. If I express myself cautiously in this regard it is because they raise questions of capital importance, for which nothing less than a painstaking effort of research, and a totally new theoretical formulation, would be necessary. Meanwhile the works are there, with a new challenge, different in kind but perhaps not in importance from that embodied in the Three Piano Pieces and the Five Orchestral Pieces thirty-odd years ago.

The above remarks are at best cursory and convey all too little idea of the works themselves. It goes without saying that performances have been very few, and their real impact limited. The scores are available, however, through the foresight of G. Schirmer, Inc. The enthusiasm of many of the most gifted among young musicians as well as the gradually deepening interest of their elders is one of the striking phenomena of a period in which the prevailing trend seems superficially to be all in the direction of a not entirely genuine "mass appeal," facile and standardized effect, and a kind of hasty shabbiness of conception and workmanship.

As a teacher Schoenberg has fought against these latter tendencies with undiminished energy. Here, too, his influence has been both direct and indirect. In New York and especially in California considerable numbers of Americans have passed under his instruction. At one time he even was in demand among the composers of film music in Hollywood; his demands, however, proved too high, and composers in search of easy formulas of effect withdrew in disappointment. The same thing has happened to those who have gone to Schoenberg in the hopes of learning to compose in the twelve-tone system or in the "modern idiom." Nothing is farther from Schoenberg's ideas than that sort of instruction. He does not, in fact, preoccupy himself with "style" at all, in the usual sense of the word. What concerns him is the musical development, in the most integral sense, of the pupil. He insists on the most rigorous training in harmony and counterpoint; those familiar with his Harmonielehre must needs appreciate the extent to which this is true. For one who has never been his pupil, the striking feature of his teaching is precisely that it is systematic without ever becoming a "system" in any closed sense; that it is almost fanatically rigorous in its ceaseless striving after mastery of resource; logical and clear in its presentation of materials, but as free as teaching can be from any essential dogmatic bias. It is based on constant experiment and observation; theoretical comment is offered always in the most pragmatic spirit—as an aid to the clarification of technical problems and not as abstract principle. They are literally, as with many such features in the Harmonielehre, the observations of a keen and experienced mind with reference to a specific matter in hand, to which they are completely subordinate.

Musical experience, and development through experience, is Schoenberg's watchword as a teacher. His pupils speak of his boundless love for music—the energy of his enthusiasm for a classic work as he analyzes it in his classes, or of the demands on which he insists in its performance by them. They speak of his tireless energy in asking of them—above all the gifted ones—that they bring into their work the last degree of resourcefulness of which they are capable. It is not surprising that under such instruction they learn to make the greatest demands on themselves, or that their love of music and sense of music is developed both in depth and intensity as a result. It is this which distinguishes Schoenberg's pupils above all—their training is not merely in "craftsmanship" but an integral training of their musicality, of ear and of response. The conceptions which they have gained are rounded and definite; they have not only gained tools of composition, but have developed also their own individual sense of the purposes for which these tools are to be used.

In complete agreement they testify to the fact that nothing has been taught them of the twelve-tone system or of "modern" composition as such. Schoenberg's attitude is that musicians must come to these things, too, through development and necessity or not come to them at all. Having given them a basis on which they can develop further, and a sense of the demands of art, he insists that they must find for themselves their path in the contemporary world. He is fond of telling them that there is still much good music to be written in C major, and offering them no encouragement to follow the paths he himself has chosen.

Perhaps it will be seen from this what I meant in speaking at the beginning of this paper of a "third Schoenberg." In his educational tenets he has not, of course, changed through living in the United States. But he has brought these tenets from the principal stronghold of a great and old tradition to a fresh land which is beginning slowly and even cautiously to feel its musical strength. He has given to many young musicians by direct influence, and to others through his disciples, a renewed sense of all that music is and has been, and it is hardly over-bold to foresee that this is going to play its role, perhaps a mighty one, in the musical development of the United States. A small testimony to what this new contact may produce may be seen in a very valuable little book—Models for Beginners in Composition—which Schoenberg prepared for students in a six-weeks' summer course in California. Certainly the eagerly awaited treatise on counterpoint, and the one also planned on the principles of composition, based on Beethoven's practice, will furnish deeper insights; they cannot fail to prove to be works of capital value. But the little book has for me a special significance as a moving testimony to Schoenberg's relationship to the American musical scene, and his brilliantly successful efforts to come to grips with certain of its problems.

In this essay I have purposely avoided dwelling on the more problematical aspects of Schoenberg and his work; I have made no attempt at an exact or careful estimate. No doubt, Schoenberg is still in many respects a problematical figure, as is every other contemporary master. But it seems more relevant to regard him as a source of energy and impulse; final estimates may well be left to posterity, and the habit of attempting them at every turn is one of the dangerously sterile features of our contemporary culture. It is a symptom of a rather nervous self-consciousness and above all of self-distrust.

What is essential now is to recognize the need our world has for the qualities that Schoenberg possesses, and how admirably he supplies our need. In a world-wide condition in which the rewards of facile mediocrity and of compromise are greater than ever, and in which one hears an ever-insistent demand that music and the other arts devote themselves to the task of furnishing bread and circuses to an economically or politically pliable multitude, the musical world yet celebrates in sincere homage the seventieth birthday of an artist who not only, in the face of the most bitter and persistent opposition, scorn and neglect, has always gone his own way in uncompromising integrity and independence, but who has been and is still the most dangerous enemy of the musical status quo. This takes place in spite of the fact that his work is all too seldom performed, that it is exacting in the extreme, and is virtually unknown except to a very few who have made the attempt really to penetrate its secrets. It is in the last analysis an act of gratitude to one who has, so much more than any other individual, been one of the masculine forces that have shaped the music of our time, even that music which seems farthest from his own. It is not only a tribute to a truly great musician, but a hopeful sign that art on the highest level may still survive the bewilderments and the terrors of a mighty world crisis, of which so much is still ahead of us, and which contains so many imponderables.

Alan Lessem (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: "Schönberg and the Crisis of Expressionism," in Music & Letters, Vol. 55, No. 4, October, 1974, pp. 429-36.

[In the following essay, Lessem associates Schoenberg 's creative crisis with the early-twentieth-century Expressionist movement.]

In Arnold Schönberg's published writings, as well as those of Webern and Berg, there is no lack of reference to the decisiveness of the year 1908, in which he took the first steps in what has subsequently been described as 'free atonal' composition. Since then, too, there has been much wrangling over the implications of 'atonality', abstractly considered, but less willingness to explore some of the broader issues of the crisis into which Schönberg and his pupils were plunged—a crisis which has its place in the social and intellectual history of our century.

In pre-War Vienna the perilous closeness of political and moral collapse (and an inevitable general hardening to the pursuit of new enterprise) brought with it a heightened awareness, on the part of thinking men, of the phenomenon of social stagnation and disintegration. Hugo von Hoffmansthal described this phenomenon as "das Gleitende" (the "slipping away" of the world); its most pervasive symptoms were an abnormal cultivation of the self, a pre-occupation with the expressions of psychic disturbance and a guilt-ridden sexuality. Superficially this aspect of the Zeitgeist is reflected in the texts of Schönberg's Erwartung and Die glückliche Hand, but it is necessary to distinguish those who, struggling with a sense of impotence, responded to their age with a melancholy or ironic scepticism (Hermann Bahr, Arthur Schnitzler, Robert Musil) from those who, on the other hand, sought to confront it with an ethical opposition, animated not by parochial reaction but by the traditional precepts of European humanism.

Among the most intransigent in the struggle against decadence was the satirist and polemicist Karl Kraus. In his own journal Die Fackel (founded 1899) he exposed and condemned abuses of language so evident in the inflated stylishness and superfluous phraseology of the Viennese feuilletonistes. An affinity of temperament between Kraus and Schönberg drew them, from time to time, together. In the dedication which the composer sent to Kraus with a copy of his Harmonielehre (1911) he wrote: "I have learnt more perhaps from you than one can learn if one is to remain independent". At the very outset of his book he had attacked the mental indolence that, in his time, canonized its prejudices in art under the name of Schonheitsgesetze (laws of beauty) and refused to recognize, for fear of disturbing a false equilibrium, the relativity of such 'laws' to history. Another name that appears in the Harmonielehre is that of the architect Adolph Loos, with whom Schönberg was personally associated for many years. Round the turn of the century Loos campaigned as a journalist against the pseudo-historicism prevalent in the architecture of Vienna, directing his attack primarily at the decorative art of Jugendstil which, since the Secession of 1897, was widely considered as setting the tone of fashionably modern taste. In his essay 'Ornament and Crime' (1908) he presented his views concisely: "As ornament is no longer a natural product of our civilization, it accordingly represents backwardness or degeneration … Lack of ornament is a sign of spiritual strength".

Loos was a pioneer in the new trend towards functionalism in architecture and handicrafts. Similarly, Schönberg made it clear to the readers of his Harmonielehre that his concern was not with 'aesthetics' but with skills comparable to those of a good cabinet maker:

Spareness of material! that is, in truth, artistic economy; to use only the means that are indispensably necessary to the production of a particular result. All else is purposeless and hence clumsy. Nothing can be beautiful if it is not organic.

To Schönberg and like-minded thinkers the general Viennese taste for Schmuck (ornament) was a form of intellectual dishonesty, in that a pretentious parade of effects was allowed to conceal a real poverty of substance. It was a means, merely, of affecting an equivocal pose and impeded what Schönberg took to be a proper communication of ideas. With regard to this problem he wrote: "Great art must proceed to precision and brevity … This is what musical prose should be—a direct and straightforward presentation of ideas, without mere padding and empty repetitions".

Paradoxically, however, the desire for a "direct presentation of ideas" would pose a very real threat to the forms which had conventionally mediated them. For in the philosophy and practice of art it had been commonly understood that immediately perceived reality is, as such, not an aesthetic phenomenon, and to become so must be mediated through some form of representation (Hegel's Schein). The challenge, for Schönberg and his contemporaries, was to discover how expression and form could be properly conciliated without resorting to the gratuitous solution provided by mere compromise. As Schönberg put it: "I believe it won't do: to toy with freedom while one is still bound to the unfree". For those who met only indifference to the urgency of this issue, it became necessary, for the sake of 'truthfulness', to contemplate the risk of going beyond entrenched norms of aesthetic mediation. Art had to become 'Expressionistic'.

The music of Schönberg's crucial period, which extended from 1908 to the composition of the first twelve-note works, was shaped, as he noted some years later, by powerful and pervasive subjective impulses: "In my first works of the new style I was guided, in the shaping of forms, by exceptionally strong forces of expression (Ausdrucksgewalten), both with regard to particulars and to the whole". Further, he allowed himself to believe that the intensity of the subjective demand would, of necessity, generate artistic forms that were appropriate to it. Intuition, fired by necessity and rarely disturbed by conscious reflection, could be trusted to do its own work. In close accord, the painter Wassily Kandinsky described "inner necessity" as a fundamental shaping force; indeed, the affirmation of its intuitive Tightness was as widespread in the early years of this century as it had been over a hundred years earlier. Then, the rebellious attitudes of J.-J. Rousseau, evident too in German Empfindsamkeit, came as a reaction to eighteenth-century intellectualism. Similarly, the rationalistic and mechanistic modes of thinking which, as methodological procedure, dominated the latter part of the nineteenth century, seemed to those who became heir to it to exclude a wholeness of spirit and to deny the significance of temporal flux and its necessarily non-conceptual expression. Joining in the protest, after Nietzsche, were proponents of a Lebensphilosophie—prominently Wilhelm Dilthey and Henri Bergson; further corroboration for irrational modes of cognition was given in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. "Vital experience" came to be interpreted, in Bergson's sense, as the unique and the irreversible. It was to be valued as a means of bridging the gap between the metaphysical and the physical, between universals and particulars.

In Germany a fresh burst of activity in the arts, literature and drama carried with it a new set of attitudes which, achieving some degree of coherence between about 1910 and 1925, has retrospectively been referred to as Expressionism. The Expressionists believed themselves to be caught in a malaise of degenerate cultural and intellectual life, and hence the importance attached by them to a new content, one that would signify a rebirth of moral and spiritual values. Expressionism was never a conscious grouping or movement that could be defined by any kind of common programme, but poets, dramatists and painters were drawn together in their rejection of the methods of Naturalism, and also set themselves apart from Impression and Symbolism by refusing the refuge offered by the temple of art. A commitment to intuition, they believed, would lead them back to an essential humanity which both materialism and aestheticism had by-passed. Refusing all compromise, they pledged themselves to a constantly self-renewing sensibility while acknowledging, too, that anxiety was the price to be paid for continuing exploration with unforeseeable results. There were differences among them, but all seemed to have agreed on Kandinsky's warning against an over-evaluation of formal convention made without reference to that which animates it: namely, inner content. Believing himself to be peculiarly sensitive to what he described as the "Abstract Spirit" of his time, Kandinsky hailed the approach of a new era in which the sensuous properties of art would find their proper place as an expression of spiritual values. There is, too, an echo of the theories of early Romanticism in the primary place Kandinsky gave to music as 'pure' expression; his desire was to achieve, for painting, the emancipation from ordinary signification already attained by music.

Schönberg and Kandinsky first met at a holiday resort—a meeting recollected by Kandinsky in a letter to the composer of 1 July 1936. No date is mentioned for the meeting, which probably took place round 1909 or 1910. The men may have met by chance, but Willi Reich, in his recent biography, suggests that they were brought together by Kandinsky's reading of an excerpt from the Harmonielehre, from which he then quoted in his Über das Geistige in der Kunst of 1912. The published correspondence between the two testifies to the close mutual interest in one another's work during 1911-12—an interest renewed by Schönberg in 1922 but suspended a year later as a result of Kandinsky's alleged anti-Semitism. Schönberg's essay 'Das Verhältnis zum Text' was published in Kandinsky's almanach Der Blaue Reiter (1912). In it he praised Kandinsky's book 'On the Spiritual in Art' and expressed enthusiasm over the promised emancipation of the "painting of the future" from the externals of ordinary subject-matter. In his own book Kandinsky equated Schönberg's renunciation of tonality with the aims of the new movement: namely, the liberation of art from conventional aids to perception and cognition: "His music leads us to where musical experience is a matter not of the ear, but of the soul—and from this point begins the music of the future". The goal of contemporary artists, Franz Marc insisted, was "to create symbols for their age, symbols for the altars of a new spiritual religion. The artist as technician will simply vanish behind such works". The parallel with Schönberg is important. For it is the voice of this new generation that speaks, in particular, in the third scene of Die glückliche Hand, where the efforts of worker-technicians (and even of the protagonist himself) to create a merely decorative art (Schmuck) are scorned and rejected.

An affinity between Schönberg's objectives and those of the Expressionists has been suggested in much of the critical literature. Certainly, the desire of the time for Ausdruckswahrheit was one that he shared. All that was not essential to it, including, and in particular, what Kandinsky described as "conventional beauty", had to be sacrificed. Art historians have, of course, recognized the roots of this desire for 'naked' expression in early Romanticism, and have queried the independence of Expressionism as a category of style. One need only cite, in support of this historical link, Arnold Hauser's description of the essence of Romanticism and compare it with an 'Expressionist' programme attached to Schönberg's music by a contemporaneous critic:

Romantic art is the first to consist in the 'human document', the screaming confession, the open wound laid bare.

Schönberg, indomitable, offers himself to the whole world with all his private daemons. Indeed, in a virtual frenzy of confession, he tears open his breast to show the stigmata … The blood of his wounds becomes sound.

Expressionism, to be sure, did tend towards Sturm und Drang histrionicism; how one prefers to respond to that aspect of it is a matter of taste (and it does seem that our contemporary taste has decreed against works like Die glückliche Hand). But it would not be fair to brand the Expressionists as self-indulgent, for it was precisely the self-indulgence of the etiolated aestheticism in which late Romanticism had foundered that they rejected. The stand that Schönberg took, with Kandinsky, against an 'empty' beauty (one devoid of content) was one that alienated him from even the once well-disposed among his critics. In 1911 Richard Spechi claimed that he had now only 'contempt' for the praiseworthy sophistication of melodic and harmonic resources achieved in works prior to 1908. Adolph Weissmann described his 'Expressionism' as a capitulation to immediate and local excitation, by-passing any corporeal frame of reference and sacrificing art to spirituality. Arnold Schering believed that such impulses would lead to a kind of Übermusik or even Anti-Musik. Paul Bekker, though more sympathetic than others, nevertheless drew similar conclusions:

The music of the nineteenth century, as it developed from the classical art, was shaped by the urge towards representation, a corporealization of the process of feeling.… But here lies the chasm. Schönberg's music does not illustrate, it does not represent. It lives in a strange, unknown dimension of feeling, in which the corporeal, the firm outline of the artistic object, no longer exists.

To suggest, as Bekker does, a 'chasm' separating Schönberg from the nineteenth century is, surely, to overstate the historical argument, for already in that century the problem of 'representation' within a classical frame of reference became a central one. The historical development would rather seem to be one in which the rebellion of Romantic transcendentalism against the aesthetic immanence of classicism culminated ultimately in, as it were, a total mobilization: art against art. The resulting crisis has been discussed by T. Wiesengrund-Adorno, who argues that feeling 'truly' expressed can no longer recognize the autonomy of art. In Expressionism art survives only in threatening to cancel itself out:

The essential, disrupting moment is for [Schönberg] the function of musical expression. Passions are no longer simulated; rather does his music record, untransposed, the impulses of the unconscious, its shocks and traumas. The seismographic registration of traumatic shocks becomes, at the same time, the law of the form of the music.

To identify form and expression absolutely, as Adorno seems to do, would be to postulate an extreme nominalism and also to suggest an absence of working procedure in the music. Recent attempts to seek out and define the characteristics of Expressionism in music have stumbled against this problem, and have not passed beyond merely descriptive determinations which rely heavily on reference by negation. Most problematic is the negation implicit in Karl Wörner's Momentform, signifying as it does the absence of any kind of repetition or systematically conceived relationship between formal parts. Wörner's term is, of course, self-contradictory, as form has to do with relationships. Furthermore, Schönberg, who always subjected any consideration of isolated particularities to the criterion expressed by the word Zusammenhang (formal connectedness), would surely have rejected the implications of Momentform as irrelevant to his concerns. While granting, with Bekker and Adorno, that it was characteristic of Expressionism to insist on the precedence of 'spirit' over 'art', one would nevertheless expect the absence of means of formal organization to be apparent rather than real. The source of these means derived, as Schönberg frequently asserted, from an almost somnambulistic intuition; thus the formal relationships created by them, rather than sounding on the surface of the music, will be found to exist buried in its deeper tissues. They are the subconscious controlling forces from which stems the logic of all dreams and visions.

Yet for much of the music of this century the metaphor of the dream and its wider implications needs to be thoroughly explored. Psychologists have attributed the extraordinary, hallucinatory vividness of dream images to the deeply buried 'syntax' that creates them. Schönberg stressed, often enough, the hidden, compulsive logic that underlay the operation of his musical fantasy. In common with some of his contemporaries, he believed that a return to the deeper recesses of the psyche would not only tap afresh the sources of artistic inspiration but would also lead away from the senses towards what he described, in a letter to Nicholas Slonimsky, as a "higher and better order". It may be suggested, then, that his surrender to an untrammelled fantasy during the 'free atonal' period represented an evolutionary retreat from what he saw as a blind alley of over-refinement, the re-treat being made in the hope of an advance in a new direction. Arthur Koestler has described such action as reculer pour mieux sauter—"a favourite gambit in the grand strategy of the evolutionary process". He believes that it has played as important a part in the history of human endeavour as it has in biology. While the parallel with biology must remain hypothetical, it may become a useful one in elucidating the phenomenon of so-called 'primitivism' in early twentieth-century music, art and drama. It seems no accident that, contemporaneously with Schönberg, composers such as Stravinsky, Bartók and Ives found inspiration in elements that precede or underlie the civilized superstructure of culture.

Musical fantasy was once described by Schönberg as "a dream of future fulfilment", promising a liberation from the limitations of ordinary sense-experience. The mono-drama Erwartung can be viewed as an allegory of such an 'expectation', perhaps by necessity nocturnal and experienced only in a state of hallucination. In Die Jakobsleiter, 'One Wrestling', having abandoned old laws, awaits the intuition of new laws, and the archangel Gabriel speaks of a necessary blindness. In Pierrot lunaire the blindness is that of a pathetic (and again nocturnal) clown who is the alter ego of the Romantic hero; here the artistic conventions of the past, rejected by Expressionism as being no longer authentic, are momentarily restored and vindicated through the spirit of irony. Through the War years, the crisis of form, to which was linked a crisis of personal belief, remained unresolved. The Rilke poems chosen by Schönberg for his orchestral songs of Op. 22 give voice to his own anxious expectations; the poem entitled 'Alle welche dich suenen', for example, ends with the plea, "Gib deinen Gesetzen recht, die von Geschlecht zu Geschlecht sichtbarer sind". In Die Jakobsleiter the Biblical ladder becomes a symbol of evolving life in its struggle to overcome mere existence. Gabriel makes the 'dissolution' of life and its illusions a condition for entry into the spiritual domain where the 'laws' are to be found; the music, with its high degree of textual integration, its clarity of line and thematic work, points to the imminence of such laws. Most significantly, an emerging principle of organization, described some years ago by Winfried Zillig, yields strict formal recurrences and pitch symmetries which should be associated, in the text, with the concept of a transcendent order. Schönberg's secrecy with regard to the development and consolidation of his twelve-note method was surely motivated, not by narrow pride, but by a natural reluctance to allow the method to be evaluated in abstracto, that is, without relation to the human and spiritual experience out of which it evolved.

Robert Craft (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "Towards Schoenberg," in Current Convictions: Views and Reviews, Alfred A. Knopf, 1975, pp. 195-210.

[In the following essay Craft evaluates and edition of Style and Idea, then reviews Charles Rosen's Arnold Schoenberg.]

The best of Arnold Schoenberg's occasional writings on music [Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg,] are as richly instructive as his theoretical and didactic ones. Like them, too, many of the essays depend on examples printed in music type, which sets Schoenberg apart from other composer-writers, such as Berlioz, whose many verbal talents the creator of Pierrot Lunaire lacks, or Schumann or Debussy, who are simply more enjoyable to read. But the substance of the musical journalism of these three is less profound than that of Style and Idea, and the rewards of Schoenberg's book warrant the greater effort it requires, especially in the chapters "Twelve-Tone Composition" and "Theory and Composition." Yet even these are not difficult for anyone conversant with the general principles of musical forms and of such basic devices of harmony and counterpoint as chord inversion and canon. Finally, Schoenberg's own chronological and autobiographical account of the evolution of atonality and twelve-tone composition is still the most accessible.

By contrast, the reader who will profit most from Charles Rosen's Arnold Schoenberg is one with prior knowledge of the composer, which may raise a question about the market for the Modern Masters series. Laymen have apparently not complained of obstacles of a specialist nature in the monographs on poets, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, political activists—with which the collection has thus far been overbalanced at the expense of those on artists and cinematographers (the latter now possessing the widest of all powers to influence). But who except musicians will be able to follow Mr. Rosen's exposition of Schoenberg's serial system, though this is admirably lucid as well as free from the diagrammatic and numerical sigla that limit to initiates the readership of most new publications on the subject?

The reasons why the Modern Masters volume is sometimes more difficult to digest than that of Schoenberg on Schoenberg are that the composer did not understand his work in the same way ("I see things that at the time of composing [were] still unknown to me"), that he did not write about his later and more complex developments, and that because of the recent exponential increase in the quantity and sophistication of Schoenberg studies, a musicologist of Mr. Rosen's caliber must contend with a multitude of new material. In short, the contemporary scholar is obliged to keep in perspective a greatly expanded view of his subject, as well as, in Mr. Rosen's case, to concentrate it into the abbreviated format prescribed for Modern Masters. Owing to this last circumstance, too, Mr. Rosen could not afford to spell out any step that might be taken for granted. Having said this, however, one must add that a characteristic of all of Charles Rosen's criticism is his directness in identifying and confronting central issues.

The editorial decisions in publishing an enlarged edition of Style and Idea involved questions of selection, of sequence, and of language—the last in problems of translation as well as in the possible correction of the author's grammar and vocabulary (for instance, by putting within brackets an obviously intended word after the one Schoenberg actually used). The book's solutions to all three problems are disappointing. Too many of the additions do not enhance the picture of Schoenberg, while some of them, such as the causeries on national music, which expose his chauvinism and egomania, are damaging:

Wagner's music was not only the best and most significant of its age … but it was also the music of 1870 Germany, who conquered the world of her friends and enemies through all her achievements.

[In the 1914-1918 war] the battle against German music … was primarily a battle against my own music.…

Not against that of Richard Strauss? Was Schoenberg already in 1914 regarded as a threat of European proportions? Of Italian national music in the 1920s, he remarks that it was

written on higher orders (whereas I, in my reactionary way, [stuck] to writing [my music] on orders from The Most High)…

which illustrates how his wit in his writing sometimes comes through as arrogance.

The new volume also makes available some of Schoenberg's criticism of his contemporaries, but none of it resounds to his credit. In particular, the article on an early opera by Krenek could have awaited a future "Complete Writings." Nor does a piece that accuses Webern of brainpicking, written two months before Schoenberg's death, increase the author's stature, though it does reveal that he withheld his discovery of the twelve-tone concept (early 1920s) from his pupil. Elsewhere in the book Schoenberg mentions that he confided in Webern about the use of a twelve-tone theme in Jacob's Ladder (1917), which is not the same thing, of course; but the editor should have referred the reader to the other article in both cases, and should have partially balanced Schoenberg's late view of Webern by including the 1947 preface to the latter's Concerto for Nine Instruments—a brief statement, yet one that emphasizes the solidarity between the two men.

On the other hand, the essays on Bach, Brahms, Liszt, and Mahler, containing Schoenberg's most valuable criticism, might have been more effectively placed nearer the beginning of the book. It was in the masters of the past that Schoenberg found his own principles, and his illustrations of transcendent musical laws in Bach and Brahms provide an excellent introduction to the continuation of them in his own art. Furthermore, his hubris is less obtrusive while he is observing, for example, that the first three movements of the Pastorale Symphony employ almost no minor chords, and that one of Beethoven's means of avoiding the minor was

by leaving many sections in unison unaccompanied, where the melody is understood without the harmony[;]

or when he is ferreting out the psychological weakness in Liszt that partly explains the failure of his music:

He, for whom the poet stood foremost, suppressed the poet in himself by letting other poets talk him into too much. He, who felt form as formalism, created a far worse formalism—one which is uninhabitable, because in his forms invented by the intellect no living being has ever dwelt… ;

or when he is absorbed in the notion that Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and not Johann Sebastian, must have devised the "Royal Theme" of the Musical Offering—as a joke to prevent the elder Bach from displaying his contrapuntal versatility:

In the Art of the Fugue a minor triad offered many contrapuntal openings, [but] the Royal Theme, also a minor triad, did not admit one single canonic imitation. All the miracles that the Musical Offering presents are achieved by counter-subjects, counter-melodies, and other external additions.

The editor of Style and Idea might in some cases have sacrificed literalism for exactness of meaning. Thus "pitch" could have been substituted for Schoenberg's ambiguous "tone," when the more clearly defining word is what he means. But in a construction such as "By avoiding the establishment of a key modulation is excluded," not to have inserted a bracketed comma after "key" is inexcusable. Finally, whatever Schoenberg's shortcomings as a writer, the only truly mystifying verbiage in the book is contributed by its editor, who nevertheless maligns the composer's English:

Despite the advice of some of his American pupils, the present writer included, [Schoenberg] doggedly pursued his own path.

The reader will appreciate this doggedness when he tries to penetrate the editor's statement that

Although the present volume contains most of Schoenberg's longer articles in both German and English, no more than a small portion of his other writings appear [sic] herein.

But the present volume does not contain any article in German. And what can possibly be meant by the claim:

Published articles … have been used as the basic material in Schoenberg's own English wherever possible, supplemented by manuscripts, in various stages of completion, which often serve to illuminate certain points which do not exist elsewhere.

If a point does not exist elsewhere, how can it be illuminated anywhere? And does "wherever possible" refer to the intelligibility of the composer's English or to the fact that some of the originals were in German? Passages such as these arouse the reader's suspicion that in the comment,

[Schoenberg] had little use for a grammatically correct, so-called polished style of writing that would not [sic] clearly present his ideas,

the editor is speaking not for Schoenberg but for himself.

The most personal of the pieces appearing in English for the first time is Schoenberg's circular letter to friends in Europe after nearly a year (the winter of 1933-34) as a refugee in the United States. His grumblings about the musical and other miseries of America are surprisingly good-humored—compared, that is, to most of his other references to the struggles of his life. Undoubtedly Schoenberg did provoke more relentless opposition than any other major composer, and his belief in and assertion of his genius not only are excusable but were indispensable. Yet to be constantly reminded of his heroic persistence and matchless achievements ("One of the greatest virtues of my music is that…") eventually dampens the sympathy of the reader, who begins to feel that Schoenberg should have found consolation in the certainty of having determined the course of music in his time, as well as realized that the hostility he aroused was commensurate to his importance. "It was as if he saw that the controversial nature of his work was central to its significance," Mr. Rosen remarks, but though the composer unquestionably did see this, he seems to have been unable to accept it.

In fact the resistance to Schoenberg's music is perfectly understandable, and his own wishful explanation—that bad performances were to blame and that, if heard as intended, the music would win acceptance—indicates only one of the causes. Good readings of at least some of his music are no longer uncommon, after all, yet its audience appeal has not grown proportionately. As Mr. Rosen says, "Better performances do not make difficult music popular"; and Schoenberg's creations are more complex, densely packed, faster moving for their contents than those of any of his contemporaries.

Some listeners would add that Schoenberg's expression is more intense and disturbing, and that his art lacks emotional diversity, its domain being that of the macabre and of the more ingrown manifestations of middle-European expressionism—to which those who are most familiar with the music might rejoin that it is also euphoric (the Orchestra Variations), sweet (the Serenade), and not without an "Apollonian" side (the composer's own adjective for his Septet). But in his first chapter, Mr. Rosen examines such attempts at affective attributing and justly concludes that they are based on incomprehension:

did [Schoenberg] go so far in the destruction of the tonal system that had ruled Western music for centuries in the interest of giving form to an anxiety that was part of his public as well as his private universe?

The misunderstanding inherent in these questions—the reason why they ought not to be answered—is that they suggest that a style is a simple vehicle for expressing a meaning or an emotion; they turn the style into a pure form and the emotion into a pure significance. But a form and its meaning cannot be divided so simply, above all in a work of music.

At last it seems generally to be accepted that Schoenberg's compositions of the years 1909-1913, together with some of his serial pieces of the 1920s and later, are the fulcrum of twentieth-century music. This is not an aesthetic judgment, of course, yet Mr. Rosen leaves no doubt that, of contemporary composers, Schoenberg alone satisfies the condition of true originality, which requires the exploration of a self-created universe coherent and rich enough to offer possibilities beyond the development of an individual manner.

As for the Schoenberg influence, Mr. Rosen is too conservative in estimating that it has now "surpassed that of Bartók and even perhaps of Stravinsky," since, soon after Schoenberg's death, his influence already included Stravinsky. But does Schoenberg (or Bartók, or Stravinsky) still exert any direct influence on most new music being composed today, except in the sense that this music could not have existed without his (and their) innovations? Not insofar as resemblances are concerned, at any rate, or the extension of traditions, the Schoenberg "school," except as a subject of academic study, now appearing to be defunct, bypassed by others arising from different directions.

Anyone who knows or has read Charles Rosen recognizes the awesomeness of his intellect. For those who may not be aware of his prodigal gifts, it should be said that Mr. Rosen is a polymath who could contribute to at least three other categories of the Modern Masters series—linguistics, painting, literature. Furthermore, he always treats the most highly developed aspects of his subjects, and in language of such precision and elegance as virtually to defy both paraphrasing (which explains why no summary of his Arnold Schoenberg is attempted here) and quotation (most of his arguments being too tightly embedded in contexts to be successfully extracted). When an aperçu can be detached, however, it promises to stand by itself for as long as any writing on the second Viennese school:

[The] miniatures of Webern, Berg, and Schoenberg do not diminish the emotions they express but enlarge them, as if fragments of feeling were blown up by a powerful microscope.

Mr. Rosen's Arnold Schoenberg is one of the most brilliant monographs ever to be published on any composer, let alone on the most difficult master of the present age. It is also the first essay on Schoenberg that is beyond partisanship, as well as the first to place him in the perspective of four centuries of European music. Being concerned primarily with the exposition of musical ideas and artistic logic, Mr. Rosen provides only incidental bits of biography. Nor is his book essentially a work of criticism, though it contains critical insights of a very high order—on style, above all, which will not surprise anyone who has read Mr. Rosen's The Classical Style.

Still less is Arnold Schoenberg a "survey" of the music. Mr. Rosen concentrates on a few works, mainly of the period immediately before World War I—more on these, in any case, than on the serial pieces of the two decades following it. This focus is now widely shared, yet some of the comments on the serial music could provoke controversy, such as the claim for the Third Quartet as a more "ambitious and in some ways [more] fully achieved" creation than the Orchestra Variations (which is given only two paragraphs). The other most controversial matter is not new but a seemingly permanent part of all discussion of Schoenberg: the assumptions that "harmony is conveyed" as powerfully along a musical line as it is by "a simultaneous chord," that "harmonic tension" can be "displaced" to "the melodic line," and that "harmonic dissonance [can] be reconstructed by shape and texture." These are now accepted ex hypothesi by perhaps a majority of listeners, though some continue to regard them as incapable of proof.

Having said this much, the reviewer can do little more than add a few footnotes of his own, and perhaps help in some trivial tidying up for future editions—since, as if in compensation for the elevation of the discourse, the text does contain a number of minor errors. Thus the chronology of the Paris and Vienna concerts mentioned on page 5 should be reversed. And surely Histoire du Soldat has been mistakenly included in a list of works exemplifying "the evocation of the elegant surface of the past." Also, it is not true that Erwartung requires "numerous rapid and expensive changes of scene." Actually there are four, staged on a single set, taking place in or around a forest at night, and requiring only a few props—moon, bench, pasteboard house, corpse (optional).

Mr. Rosen is somewhat careless, too, in defining octave transposition as "the shifting of one or more notes of a melody to a higher or lower register" (only of a melody?), and canon as "a form in which every voice sings the same line but enters at a different moment" (and never at different pitches?). And his description of the Sprechstimme part in Pierrot Lunaire as having "a certain improvised freedom of pitch" is insufficient, since it neglects to mention that Schoenberg insisted that the performer follow at least the direction of the notated interval.

Occasionally, too, Mr. Rosen overstates, not in his theses but in the illustration of them. This is hardly of any consequence when, apropos the deployment of the orchestra in Erwartung, he writes that

sixteen first violins and fourteen seconds are called for but used all at once only at a very few points.

(Actually all thirty of them play together in 127 out of 426 measures, or for nearly a third of the time.) Nor is the exaggeration serious when, in the demonstration of his argument that "pitch is … not by any means always the most important [element]," Mr. Rosen asserts that in the third piece of Pierrot Lunaire

the clarinet part could be transposed a half-step up or down while the other instruments remain at the correct pitch, and (although some effect would be lost) the music would still make sense; but if the dynamics are not respected, the music becomes totally absurd and makes no sense at all.

Not much sense, but certainly some, as old recordings with practically no range of highs and lows tend to prove. If a clarinet in B flat were substituted for the one in A, however, "some effect would be lost" only on a listener who had not heard the music before, since anyone even slightly acquainted with it would experience acute discomfort, at least in measures 6-9, where, debatably, the pitches are more important than the dynamics.

But a similar magnification of fact also occurs in connection with one of the book's principal subjects, the "saturation of [the chromatic] musical space" in Erwartung. "Tonality contained within itself the element of its own destruction," Mr. Rosen writes. One part of this element is modulation, the transition from one key to another, or

the setting up of a second triad as a sort of polarized force or antitonic against the tonic; the second triad functions as a subsidiary tonic in that part of the piece where it holds sway, and acts as a means of creating tension. Since dissonance is the essential expressive element of music, and modulation is dissonance on a large scale, it makes expression for the first time an element of the total structure. The concept of modulation was eventually to prove the powerful force that corrupted tonality.

Another part, or aspect, of the same thing is chromaticism, the use of the subdivisions, or semitone intervals, of the diatonic scale. Chromaticism, Mr. Rosen observes,

contains a kind of magnetic impulse to fill out the space.…

Most composers must have been aware of the tendency to fill out the chromatic space as a kind of gravitational force.…

The tendency to fill out the chromatic space becomes naturally more marked by the middle of the nineteenth century.…

It was Schoenberg's genius to have recognized almost unconsciously the dispossession of the principal means of musical expression by the new force of what had been a subordinate and contributing element.

This is true, but the illustration that follows overlooks a detail which spoils the perfection of the case. "The last page of Erwartung," Mr. Rosen says, consists of

massed chromatic movement at different speeds, both up and down.… [The] low woodwinds begin, triple pianissimo, a rising chromatic series of six-note chords. The other instruments enter with similar chords moving up or down the chromatic scale … with the dynamics remaining between triple and quadruple pianissimo.

In fact, however, the basses begin at a louder dynamic level than that, and they are clearly intended to stand out. ("Schoenberg never abandoned [the] hierarchy of principal and subordinate voices," Mr. Rosen remarks, in connection with another work, and the distinction is "rigidly enforced by the dynamics.") Moreover, the basses descend not chromatically, but in wholetone scales (in thirds with the contrabassoon), which are in contrast to chromatic movement. Finally, by rounding out two full octaves, these scales provide a residual sense of a traditional species of cadence.

The core of Arnold Schoenberg is a discussion of Erwartung, perhaps the most radical of all musical creations, as well as, in the opinion of many, the composer's highest achievement. "This quintessential expressionist work," as Mr. Rosen writes, is a "well-attested miracle, inexplicable and incontrovertible." Few would demur, while, concerning the intractability of the piece to traditional analysis, no one could. Schoenberg himself described one of the chief difficulties:

A great number of more-than-five-tone [-pitch] chords … have not [sic] yet been systematically investigated. It can be maintained neither that they belong to a tonality, nor that they point toward one. And conversely … no proof has yet been brought that these properties are entirely lacking.

And Mr. Rosen observes:

Almost all of the chords in Erwartung have six notes.… [The] six-note chord is generally made up of two three-note chords outlining the seventh, e.g., a fourth above an augmented fourth.…

But to give any more of this analysis would require the quotation of Mr. Rosen's musical examples, so it must suffice to say that his exegesis of the chordal structure of the work is the most convincing that has so far been made.

The listener with no experience of Erwartung' s harmonic language nevertheless senses its consistency. But he apprehends the form of the piece at a different level from that of chordal relationships. Mr. Rosen states that

It is in the field of rhythm that the large form of Erwartung is most immediately perceptible … [the] contrast between passages with a marked ostinato effect and those with no repeating figures of any kind [being] the chief instrument in the definition of the dramatic action of the mono-drama.

This is indisputable, but it overlooks still another rhythmic factor, and one that must be counted among the score's most innovatory features: the unprecedented fluidity of tempo. In fact the tempo changes every three to four measures (on an average), when not actually in flux (accelerating or decelerating; also—a novelty far ahead of its time—individual sections or groups of instruments sometimes play "out of tempo," faster than the orchestra as a whole).

Erwartung also has "a shape related to the libretto," as Mr. Rosen acknowledges, but apart from rhythmic delineation, he does not say what this is. Perhaps a layman might describe it as a progression from sudden changes of direction and mood, new starts and resolutions—conveyed, to some extent, by a fragmentary, recitative style—to longer lines and more songlike passages in the later portions of the work. And, in correspondence to this, the same listener would probably retain an impression of an over-all increase in orchestral density and volume from a single instrument at the beginning to that "saturation of musical space" at the end, this being parallel to the greater intimacy of the musical dimensions in the first scenes as compared to the broader, more "open" final one. And the hypothetical listener would very likely have had a sense of increasing movement from the more static earlier scenes to the last one, in which the majority of fast-tempo passages occur. But all of this is only to say that Schoenberg's music drama, like numerous operas by other composers, intensifies as it develops.

"There is no fully developed sense of key anywhere in Erwartung," Mr. Rosen remarks, and it might be added that whatever un developed sense of key it may contain is at best ambiguous, ephemeral, and probably illusory, affirmable only during some of the ostinati and in melodic phrases, for although melody and harmony are never completely detachable, spacing (as at 418) can make them more so. But other elements than the harmonic must be considered, especially since one of them, as Mr. Rosen rightly maintains, is even more important. "Form was as basically thematic for Schoenberg as it was for most nineteenth-century composers," he writes.

The really revolutionary art was less the destruction of the tonal frame with the George-Lieder of 1909 than the renunciation of thematic form as well with Erwartung in the same year. In this work Schoenberg did away with all the traditional means in which music was supposed to make itself intelligible: repetition of themes, integrity and discursive transformation of clearly recognizable motifs, harmonic structure based on a framework of tonality.

The statement is unchallengeable, except, possibly, that it does not allow for elasticity among other arbiters of the "clearly recognizable," and that the "traditional means" to intelligibility, not completely itemized in this quotation, should also include such small features as the use of sequences. But in spite of Schoenberg's renunciation of "thematic form," does not comprehension increase with the recognition of recurring thematic figures? Here Mr. Rosen has not completely overcome the long-standing predicament that the lack of well-defined terms has created for all musicians. Thus his definition of a motif as "a succession, generally short, with a latent power of development, of creating a larger continuity" is more precise than his description of a melody as "a definable shape, an arabesque"—only that?—"with a quasi-dramatic structure of tension and resolution." As Mr. Rosen says:

Both motif and melody are tonal forms. The power of development and variation that lies in a motif is given by the context of tonality.… The structure of melody is equally tonal: a melody is intended above all to be memorable, and its mnemonic powers comes [sic] from the adherence of its line to tonal functions.… Motif generates melody: that is the traditional relation between them.…

But since motifs and melodies are also found in atonal music, the statement reveals one reason why they are more difficult to remember in Schoenberg than in Beethoven—namely, that the contexts of atonal harmony are infinitely more complex and difficult to perceive than tonal ones.

This explains why the historical significance of Erwartung can be regarded as greater than that of Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositions, which "required a mimesis of tonal melody." For Erwartung is

"athematic" or "nonmotivic" in the sense that understanding and appreciating it does not require recognizing the motifs from one part of the work to another as all music from Bach to Stravinsky demands.…

This statement, too, is unexceptionable: Erwartung can be appreciated independently of the recognition of motifs. Yet the musical experience is deepened by an awareness of the motivic relationships—which will differ from one listener to another because of the "developing variation" (Schoenberg's term for a principle of all of his music), the transformation, and even the mergers to which the motifs are subjected. An interval is inverted, or replaced by a slightly larger one—on the grounds that contour is more important than exact distance (as in the case of the Sprechstimme part in Pierrot Lunaire). Also, at least one motif in Erwartung is as short as a single interval, the minor third that occurs three times in the first melodic passage (bassoon to oboe) and obsessively after that, especially in the vocal part.

These comments are merely a part of one reader's marginalia. Now it must be said that with this book Charles Rosen not only has created impossibly high standards for the Modern Masters series but also has notched the profession of writing about music to a level that no colleague can readily approach. His Arnold Schoenberg is indispensable to anyone seeking to understand the crucial musical ideas of the first three decades of the twentieth century.

Josef Rufer (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6361

SOURCE: "Schönberg—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," in Breaking the Sound Barrier: A Critical Anthology of the New Music, edited by Gregory Battcock and translated by William Drabkin, E. P. Dutton, 1981, pp. 316-30.

[In the following essay, originally published in Perspectives of New Music in 1977, Rufer examines the relevance of Schoenberg's music and theory to contemporary audiences.]

Anyone for whom music is not merely a gourmet's treat, but an art that consists essentially of ideas, will want to provide himself from time to time with an overview of the state and development of the music of our time. And he will probably surrender, at first, to the confusing aspects of mutually contradictory or overlapping tendencies, directions, and opinions with which we are confronted verbally as well as musically. Tonal music versus nontonal music, polytonal versus twelve tone, serial versus aleatory—or whatever the latest rage is called (although often it is no longer the latest rage by the time it is disseminated): are these concepts reducible in any way to a common denominator: music? Music, which is the resounding of the spirit, the documentation of creative fantasy, and which (as Schönberg profoundly expressed) depicts the unconscious nature of these and other worlds; are we not merely talking around it when we seize it and try to bring ourselves closer with the aid of stylistic and technical terms, when we establish, as criteria for evaluation, such completely external characteristics as style and itemized contents, the recognition of which is certainly not art? Unfortunately, such superficial judgments have become increasingly common. That these remain superficial in nature can be recognized with a minimum of knowledge. And so music is no longer weighed, but labeled and catalogued instead. The newer, the better—this has become the sole criterion. It is the same hectic stampede forward that we have been able to observe for a long time in painting and literature. It destroys the spiritual continuity and organic growth from yesterday to today. It consciously rules out even tradition, and thus the confrontation with tradition that had always been the unquestioned custom in the past, with every master of every era. Hence there follows a paucity of tradition and consequently the loss of all standards of measure. The only standard that remains, then, is the obsession with being modern or ultramodern: originality at any price, even at that of music itself. But are tradition and originality actually incompatible opposites? Before we attempt to find an answer to this question, which might provide a way out of today's dilemma, let me address myself to the other side of this issue of the deterioration of musical culture—the effect on the listener. The present method of labeling music obviates all need to arrive at one's own judgment. Even before hearing a piece the listener knows whether or not he is going to like it, depending on his own attitudes, tastes, and demands—in short, on his own musical education as a prerequisite to these things. This education is the basis of all musical culture per se, and I should not be so presumptuous in speaking of its deterioration had not truly qualified people been warning of it for quite some time. In his Zeitgemässe Glossen für Erziehung zur Musik and again in a later communication, Über das humanistische Gymnasium (1945), Richard Strauss called for a comprehensive reform of the musical education of our youth, the concert and operagoers of the future. He wrote: "Wherein consists the so-called artistic enjoyment for the majority of these listeners? In a purely sensuous 'feast for the ears,' in no way impaired by understanding." Strauss went on to compare the "so-called appreciative audience" with the ten-year-old child who watches a performance of Wallenstein in Chinese translation, and then he states clearly what is to be done:

When the graduate is able to read Homer or Horace in the original, once he is in a position to understand Wahlverwandtschaften or Faust as an Englishman can understand Hamlet, once he also understands a Beethoven symphony, a Mozart quintet, or a Meistersinger or Tristan prelude in all its profoundness, and has learned to appreciate the architecture of these sound structures in their full magnitude and to read the language of these musical symbols, then will his intellectual preparation have acquired all of the fundamentals that can enable him to accomplish the most, in accordance with his natural abilities. Only then will the humanistic high school have fulfilled its obligations in the shaping of a spiritual, artistic person.

Here in Vienna in 1919, long before Strauss—and encompassing all the arts—the great architect Adolf Loos, in his Richtlinien für für Kunstamt, had already pointed out to the Austrian government its great responsibility in checking the cultural deterioration, which was already evident then. He assigned the task of writing the section on music in this publication to Arnold Schönberg, who began his contribution as follows:

The most important task of the music faculty is the preservation of the German nation's superiority in music, a superiority rooted in the giftedness of its people. This would seem to be owing to the fact that the German elementary school teacher of earlier times was invariably a music teacher as well: and that even in the smallest village he was active as such, creating a reservoir vast enough to satisfy the needs of the highest strata of society. With the establishment of the modern elementary school, musical training was reduced to a barely sufficient vocal training. And in another hundred years we will have lost our superiority.

These warnings went unheeded, and until now nothing has been done to alter the situation. The consequences began to be felt as early as around 1900, at first with some isolated scandals concerning concert performances of the music of Schönberg and his circle—at that time still tonal music! This must be kept in mind; more than any subsequent resistance to non-tonal music, this pins down precisely when and where the rift occurred before the beginnings of current new music, and why it widened: to the extent, namely, that knowledge as well as feeling for tradition was lost. First, among the listeners, the audience. Further—and we have come that far today—among those composers of today's avant-garde for whom tradition was never a vital concept, in other words something productive, which has been for all masters the self-evident point of departure for creative enterprise and not merely an obstacle to that originality at any price, which for them became the sole evaluative criterion. They had not learned it any other way; perhaps they did not want to learn it at all. For had they taken a look at Schönberg's Harmonielehre (which is in fact a part of a master's theory of composition), then they might have opened their eyes and ears to the fact that this revolutionary, in 1911, having just realized his first keen visions outside the realm of tonality, wrote a tonal harmony text in which one reads:

Moreover it is sad that the notion that nowadays one may write anything one pleases prevents so many young people from first learning something worth respecting, and from understanding the classics and acquiring some culture. For in the past one could write whatever one pleased, but it just was not good. Only the masters could never write as they felt like; they had to do the inevitable: the accomplishment of their mission. To prepare for this with all diligence and amid a thousand doubts—whether having a thousand scruples will suffice, whether one has understood correctly what a higher power has commissioned—this is reserved for those who have the courage and the fervor to bear the consequences, like an awesome burden loaded upon their shoulders against their will. This is a far cry from the willfulness of a method—and more courageous.

That was a warning and a confession at the same time, uttered by Schönberg the revolutionary at the very moment when he himself had seemed to throw all tradition overboard, the first step beyond the confines of tonality—note that I use the expression "seemed to"! Because tradition for him was something indispensable, experienced, alive: the sum of everything new in the creative work of the old masters—the link between the new and what had been previously created; the precondition for anything new. For, in his words, "all music is new insofar as it is the product of a truly creative spirit. Bach is as new today as ever—a continuous revelation."

With these words Schönberg destroyed the opposition between tradition and progress. Likewise, I am free of any suspicion of advocating that the future imitate the past—that it take the comfortable path of traditionalism, which must be held in sharp contradistinction to tradition. For the former transmits only the scheme or prescription by which music is made: the artistic, which Schönberg abhorred exceedingly and against which he constantly warned his students. He merely taught them at all times to recognize "what music is," above all through the works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms, hence in a continuously self-rejuvenating tradition. On the other hand, he would never have shown anyone how to compose "modern." In this connection it is essential to emphasize this once and for all.

In his lecture "Brahms the Progressive," written in 1947 on the fiftieth anniversary of Brahms's death, Schönberg said:

Anyone who analyzes my music will realize how much I am personally indebted to Mozart. People who looked at me with disbelief, thinking that I was making a poor joke when I called myself a "pupil of Mozart" will then understand my reasons. This will help them, not to grasp my music but to understand Mozart. And it will show young composers what is essential, what must be learned from the great masters, and how to bear this teaching in mind without sacrificing their own personality.

Can the meaning and function of tradition be outlined more clearly? And the word personality here stands for individual style, for being original against one's will, for the unconscious aspect of creative expression.

The musical public was scandalized at Schönberg's originality at the very beginning, during the tonal period (which lasted until 1908), without feeling or recognizing the natural increase of its innate affinity with tradition—this originality in statu nascendi, which unfolded unconsciously and imperceptibly from one work to the next. And it is precisely in these tonal works of Schönberg that there lies the key to his later works; to his unbridled unconscious, which represents the roots of an originality that is genuine for this very reason; and to his extremely sensitive feeling for structure [Formgefühl,] with which his imagination moved resiliently between the Scylla of tradition and the Charybdis of its visions and of its inner compulsion to bring law and freedom, always represented anew in each work, to harmonic resolution. From the first work to the last, this bears the stamp of what we understand and treasure in the concept of classical.

At the end of his life, Schönberg deplored his status with the public:

Those of my works which would have interested them (namely, those which they regarded as atonal and interesting) they did not wish to hear; and those works which are not called atonal, because they are less dissonant, are not interesting enough for these people, who do not know them at all.… I am convinced that the works of my last period would at least gain the respect they deserve if the public had the opportunity to do justice to the works of my earlier periods.

Whether yesterday, today, or tomorrow—whether tonal, atonal, or twelve tone—Schönberg remained the same: a composer whose sole endeavor was to make music. The principle by which it is made, the style—these were always questions of secondary importance to him. For this reason he loved and treasured to the end his early tonal works (something we ought to remember with due respect); thus at the high point of his twelve-tone period (after 1934) he returned to composing several significant tonal works (It goes without saying that these are also hardly known). When news of this reached Europe, after the last war, it was generally reported that "Schönberg had contritely returned to tonality." I recall a telephone call from Furtwängler, who wanted to know more details about this; but anyone knowing Schönberg would have hardly needed to hear his reply:

Fate directed me along a more difficult road. But there has always been within me a burning desire to return to the earlier style, and from time to time I yield to this desire. And so it happens that at times I write tonal music. For me, stylistic differences of this sort have no special significance. I do not know which of my compositions are better; I like them all, for I liked them as I wrote them.

And so it seems appropriate now to investigate the creative synthesis of originality and tradition which the composer realized ever since his early tonal period; to investigate the New, which still remained hidden here in tonal guise, yet at the time was perceived by the public as new and produced a vehement shock wave; and to trace the tradition that accommodated itself to the New without losing any of its own spiritual identity—indeed, to see itself newly affirmed in its rejuvenation.

The fertile soil in which this grew was Mozart and Beethoven, whose quartets young Schönberg played with his friends in the early 1890s, and Wagner and Brahms, the antipodes about which Viennese families were split. Yet Schönberg at that time sensed the fascination of Tristan as much as the constructive forces—the New—that he discerned in the music of Brahms. Both were models to which he dedicated himself, without sacrificing himself to them.

"Schönberg yesterday" conceptually encompasses his entire life and work—which is to say that it includes a yesteryear and a yester-yesteryear. This yester-yester-year, the first tonal period, began with songs. Strictly tonal, they testify to his schooling in classical models—for example, with the structured bass lines in the counter-point of Brahms's piano music—as well as in increasingly stronger individual modulations in successive songs. Germs of a development important for the future are found everywhere, still more or less hidden in conventions dictated by tradition. A striking example of this is Erwartung from opus 2. Right at the beginning, the daring chord E-flat-A-D-G-flat-C-flat stands embedded between two E-flat-major triads. But it is not there merely on account of its daring, that is, for it sonic effect. Rather, it is encircled by the voice, which builds it up melodically, thereby illustrating its many facets and establishing an entirely new element of tension in E-flat major. In what follows, freely varied and sequenced, this chord then constitutes the germ cell of the middle section, so that the entire song is built upon and developed from this one chord formation, borne by a stupendous feeling for structure. Already here we can see the compositional foundation upon which he experiences tonality and its carrying capacity, pursuing its subtlest ramifications to the limit. Moreover, it is the same feeling for structure, the same manner of thinking and forming music, that Schönberg applied twenty-five years later to composition with twelve tones that are related only to one another (rather than to a fundamental tone), in which a work is invented and developed from a single underlying construction.

In the melodic aspects of the string sextet Verklärte Nacht one can already find Schönberg's characteristic alternation between chromatic passages and those involving wide melodic skips. At the time it made listening more difficult, like constant variations in the repetition of musical ideas, like the rhythmically artful "hamming-up" of the stereotyped metric articulation ("In a given phrase there exists only one strong beat"), or asymmetric melodic construction, that is, the departure from four-bar regularity (which, like the rhyming of "heart" with "part" and "love" with "dove," made understanding and perception easier), and the turning toward something that Schönberg likened to "metrical prose" in contrast to rhyme, a trend in musical development that was already perceivable in Reger.

And of course the rich harmony that was already considered "new" by listeners of the day. The Tonkünstlerverein in Vienna, to which Schönberg had submitted the sextet for performance, rejected it on the grounds that it contained an inversion of the ninth-chord that could not exist, namely one with the ninth in the bass. Schönberg took this in good humor, realizing that one "could not perform what does not exist."

The next composition, the tone poem Pelleas and Melisande (1902), represents a further leap forward in the realm of harmony. In one place the basic tonality of D minor is extended by chainlike sequences piled on top of one another in contrary motion, resulting in six-part whole-tone chords. These suspend the tonality momentarily and at the same time prepare the way for the first chords in fourths, which Schönberg created here, independently of Debussy and Scriabin. And this was in 1902! Years later, the composer admitted that he had hesitated to write down these harmonies, but that they had forced themselves on him against his will (!), as a particular expression of a mood, with such clarity that he was unable to reject this inspiration. But if these new harmonies in Debussy and Scriabin are purely impressionistic and motivelike, respectively, in Schönberg they are a means of expression constructively embedded in the tonality. Despite this Schönberg hesitated in the face of such an unusual idea and cautiously probed, in keeping with his deep sense of responsibility.

Schönberg's feeling for structure, which developed from traditional practice, secured him even then and not only in his own musical ventures; but it grew just as the classical models themselves had developed. A page from the composer's Nachlass describes how he had fitted content and organization in Maeterlinck's drama into a purely musical four-movement framework. In composing his First String Quartet in D Minor, he followed the formal organization of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, especially in the layout of the development section. The single-movement format of the quartet was retained in his next work, the First Chamber Symphony in E Major, except that now the content and its presentation force an imaginative new formal conception: the first movement, in sonata form, has its reprise only at the end of the work, and thereby frames the middle part, which consists of scherzo, development section, and slow movement. To this is added a new melodic-thematic development: the whole-tone and quartal harmony of Pelleas is now linearized as well, opening up entirely new areas that result in new grammatical modes of expression. And one more thing becomes clear: This is not chromatically "softened-up" music. On the contrary, the new harmonies do not explode the tonality, but render it even firmer. Once more, Schönberg tamed the centrifugal forces in a sovereign manner, producing the most extreme concentration of tonality extracted with the greatest harmonic enrichment up until the Second String Quartet in F-sharp Minor. That work—in 1908—marked the end of the tonal period of creativity and, at the same time, the climax; but also, in the last movement, the organically necessitated transition to music without a key signature. The first movement is still clearly in F-sharp minor. In the second and third (the single-movement form is abandoned in favor of the classical separation of movements) the structural cohesiveness of the basic tonality becomes increasingly questionable, and in the last movement Schönberg takes the revolutionary step forward by omitting the key signature altogether—a historic moment in music, which now looks upon new territories and dreams of new worlds. Once again, to be sure, with supreme power the music returns to tonality, as both movement and piece end in F-sharp major. But something truly unheard-of had already occurred—the step beyond the boundaries of tonality was irreversible, and its crisis could no longer be ignored; precisely because Schönberg tried simply everything in his power in order to overcome this crisis.

To this Finale, like the third movement, words are added in the form of a song: Stefan George's poem "Entrückung," which significantly opens with the words, "I sense air from other planets." This is preceded by a brief instrumental introduction, which is also interesting because Schönberg designated it as the first example of what he called Klangfarbenmelodie [tone-color melody]. It expresses the feeling of weightless hovering, which the poet utters in words and which is transformed into music here—written in 1908, a glance into the then still Utopian future—truly creative vision!

And that was yester-yesteryear. Yesteryear followed immediately and—as we recognize today—entirely organically: the period of free atonality. With a single blow Schönberg opened up new worlds of musical means of expression, inviting boundless freedom and fully unfettered music-making. And here Schönberg's total genius manifested itself: instinctively, with uncanny sureness, and with the sense of duty of a true artist, he avoided these dangers. Of course he was aware of having exceeded the limits of an aesthetic that had been valid until that time, but he considered himself all the more sure of the language he had built on the foundations of a tradition that was part of his flesh and blood. Very likely he saw himself face to face with sheer, limitless freedom, yet he never let this degenerate into chaos. But that is precisely what he was accused of. He was reviled as the destroyer of tradition—without his accusers recognizing traditions themselves. Professionals and public alike reacted with an outrage of unimaginable vehemence. But Schönberg remained unperturbed. He had arrived at a decision: either to retreat within the confines of tonality, accepting it as an ostensible law of nature and thus sacrificing the veracity of his music; or to believe in the infallibility of the logic of his musical thinking and to fulfill the task assigned to him by fate—despite all the consequences for his bare existence, which for years meant extreme poverty and complete isolation. This posture grew out of a deep religious sense and remained undaunted by the heavy blows from the political and artistic world, which accompanied him until death.

But at that time he replied to his adversaries:

What I did was neither revolutionary nor anarchical.… Never was it the intention or effect of the new art to displace, let alone to destroy, the old. On the contrary, no one loves his predecessors more deeply, intimately, and respectfully than the artist who creates truly new things. For reverence is class-consciousness, and love the sense of belonging together.

What Schönberg composed during the period of free atonality, which lasted about fifteen years, was controlled exclusively by his profound sense of structure, schooled by the models of the old masters. With what sovereignty this occurred is immediately recognizable in the first of the Three Piano Pieces opus 11, which ushered in the new era. It is sixty-four measures long and in strict two-part song form. The eleven-measure theme, itself divisible into three parrts, and its five-measure resolution are followed by a varied repetition, again sixteen measures long. Then, for contrast, a loosely constructed middle section—once more sixteen measures in length—is followed by the fifteen-measure reprise. The sixteenth measure is missing here to compensate for an extra measure inserted before the middle section—an extraordinary structural subtlety!

But his other works of the period are also, in this respect, abundant with links to tradition; in fact, far more than the obvious classical and preclassical forms, as are found in Pierrot lunaire, or the artful six-part canons of the choruses in Die glückliche Hand. What an abundance of new concepts of form were produced and developed, for example, from the new discoveries and their novel manner of presentation in Das Buch der hängenden Garten, a song cycle on poems of Stefan George; or in the Five Orchestral Pieces opus 16—consider only the third of these, whose musical idea was labeled "changing chord" by the composer; or the Six Little Piano Pieces opus 19, each in the form of a musical aphorism, again a new idea conceived by Schönberg.

I have used the term originality several times to mean an apparent contradiction of tradition. Doubtless, there exists from time immemorial a tendency to overrate this term. Its use is especially questionable when it does not refer, spontaneously, to the originality of ideas but to that of workmanlike technique, that is, to purely external ability. Regarding this matter, I found a scrap of paper in Schönberg's Nachlass on which some remarks were out-lined, dating from the time when Pierrot lunaire was composed; and this underscores their importance, because Pierrot is to this day regarded among the most original works of the new music: "The originality craze is degenerating into vogue. Artists seek nothing but more newness. And find it!! But surely they are not all geniuses?!? Therefore: newness (originality) not the decisive factor of genius. Only one of its most common symptoms." From this we can infer that Schönberg never once searched for originality. Rather—recall his assertion regarding the chords in fourths in Pelleas—it had intruded "against his will"—unconsciously. The unconscious dominated his creativity everywhere and at all times, and what he produced thereby he esteemed more highly and more profoundly in each case. "When more happens than one can imagine," he said, "then it can only happen unconsciously."

Yesteryear became yesterday; it was fifty years ago that Schöonberg with his "Method of Composition with Twelve Tones Related Only to One Another," succeeded in finding a firm basis on which to construct nontonal music. He was now (as he wrote to J. M. Hauer in 1923) "in a position to compose without hesitation and with imagination, as one does in childhood, and yet work under a precisely defined aesthetic control."

The public's reaction was predictable: Schönberg was now decried as a musical design engineer. He was convicted for all time. The catchword was unsurpassable as an argument. For it relieved everyone of having a personal opinion beyond the slogan "we said it all along" and of the responsibility of listening to these musical designs and coming to grips with them. Had those who had been chosen to be musicians and musical scholars done so at the time, they could have found the path to the music that lay within and behind these designs. Had they but heeded what Schönberg indicated—both orally and in writing—in the way of advice to his students, friends, and anyone who cared to listen: that it was a matter of twelve-tone compositions, not twelve-tone compositions, that is, of intellectual, sonic, and musical substances; that these were works of a musical conception and not mathematical designs; and that twelve-tone music certainly requires no more design work than is demanded by what is known as "motivic work" in tonal music. Moreover, to what extent is design to be looked upon with such contempt? Surely augmentation and diminution, inversion, and other mirror forms of counterpoint need not be taken entirely as phantoms, especially if the other voices simultaneously contribute to the thematic material. "But," wrote Schönberg to his brother-in-law, violinist Rudolf Kolisch, "although I am not ashamed of a solid design basis in a composition even where I have consciously produced it—where, in other words, it is less valid than in the places where it was conceived instinctively and subconsciously—still, I do not wish to be regarded as a design engineer because of a little serial combination, since that would signify too little reciprocal accomplishment on my part."

"What can be designed with these twelve tones," he stated on another occasion, "depends on the inventive powers of the individual. Expression is limited only by the creative ability and personality of the composer." For Schönberg, the twelve-tone method of composition was "rather a method of a workmanlike nature, which could exercise a decisive influence on neither the structure nor the character of a work. This is a question of the treatment of the material, in the sense of a characteristic refinement of its stipulations, which determines the form. As such, however, it is of a very great importance."

And here, within the scope of our topic "Schönberg yesterday, today, and tomorrow," we must address ourselves to a fundamental misconception concerning his twelve-tone method of composition: the mechanical transfer of the concept of the row [Reihenidee] to all the elements involved in the creation of music—rhythm, dynamics, tone color, and so on—as has been practiced in so-called serial music. Whoever rejects this procedure and denies it the name music is comparable to, and thus apparently branded as, an arch-opponent of Schönberg, in a parallelism as illogical as it is superfluous. In so doing, one forgets or neglects only that the premises in the two cases are fundamentally different. Underlying serial music is a conscious intellectual effort, an artistic manipulation by which an idea—that of Schönberg—is taken over mechanically. Underlying Schönberg's twelve-tone music, however, is a musical inspiration, thus an unconscious act. For the tendency toward dodecaphony was intuitive and, long before its recognition and formulation by Schönberg, was clearly recognizable in the music of Reger, Hindemith, Bartok and—last, but not least—Schönberg and Berg. Schönberg did nothing but "hear out" the inspirations of this genre with all their possibili-ties of development. And he did this not for the sake of effect or of being original but out of a necessity: to compensate for the loss of the supremely structural functions of tonality. He himself used the term necessity in this connection. For the transfer of the row concept to all other parameters of music, there was no such necessity; on the other hand, only this necessity legitimizes, in the realm of art, what would otherwise remain arbitrariness, or at best exhibitionistic contrivance.

Hand in hand with this misconception there goes another: the conscious and radical rejection of all tradition on the part of serial composers. In sharp contrast to this, Schönberg's theory demands the complete mastery of classical and preclassical compositional techniques as an unconditional prerequisite for composition with twelve tones. But here the boundaries are clearly drawn, as the incompatibility and, moreover, the contradiction between serial and twelve-tone music are apparent. To this it must be added marginally that the welfare of music is in no way dependent on the use of Schönbergian methods; that these in no way will guarantee the quality of a work; and that most twelve-tone works—written and as yet unwritten all over the world—may be just as dubious as is most tonal music at all times. Value is determined neither by style nor by label, but by whether the music says something; whether we are moved, stirred, or inspired by it. This is the gist of Schönberg's saying that the difference between old and new music is smaller than the difference between good and bad music. And in justifying the necessity of the development toward non-tonal music by the richness of its combinations, ideas, and tone pictures, which a priori predestined it to a higher level, he closes with the characteristic sentence: "But everything depends not on material, but on genius, as is always true in Art."

That his genius developed in the fertile soil of the German musical tradition is not only evident in his music but also in numerous self-critical documents. In Schönberg's Nachlass I found a penciled remark on a yellowed sheet of paper, probably dating from World War I, at which time German music was boycotted abroad:

Whenever I think about music, nothing ever comes to mind—whether intentionally or unintentionally—but German music. Whoever is its opponent will often have to take the responsibility for utter starvation before this knowledge becomes natural to him. But German music thrives in times of hunger; deprived of nourishment, its silent power will create and fill banquet halls in eternity. And it will always be reaching toward Heaven, where rampant inferiority boasts artistry.

More than a decade later, during the composing of Moses und Aron, Schönberg commented on his deep identification with German music in a paper titled "Nationale Musik":

The fact that no one has yet recognized this is due not only to the difficulty of my music but also, and to a greater extent, to the laziness and arrogance of those who sit in judgment. For it is quite apparent. But I will say it once more myself: my teachers were Bach and Mozart primarily, and Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner secondarily.

And then, having summarized what he learned from these masters—it turns unwittingly into an embracing composition method in key words—he continued:

I have never closed my ears to anyone, and there-fore can safely say that my originality derives from having imitated immediately whatever good I saw, even when I did not see it in others at first. I might add that, often enough, I saw it first in myself. For I have not stood still with what I perceived: I acquired it in order to possess it; I developed and expanded it, and it led me to new things. I am convinced that people will some day recognize how intimately this New is related to the very best of what was given to us as models. I claim credit for having composed truly new music, which, since it is founded on tradition, is destined to become tradition.

But no one paid any attention to him. That was yesterday, more than forty years ago. His name and his music seemed to fall into oblivion after 1933. In the 1930s the young Dallapiccola, who made an effort to learn something about Schönberg and his twelve-tone music, was advised not to waste his time on something that had been considered passé for a long time. The surprise was all the greater when the free world became accessible to us once again in 1945: Schönberg's ideas, in the meantime, had found resonance everywhere, especially among young people, all over Europe, in all corners of the earth. Today Schönberg has become the center of musical development in twentieth-century music, which does not mean that he is universally understood and accepted. That will still require considerable time, and today nothing is in shorter supply than time. But there exists no composer of yesterday, today, or tommorrow who can avoid coming to grips with Schönberg. It can be said, without exaggeration, that not only Alban Berg and Anton Webern would not be what they are without him, but also Luigi Dallapiccola, Ernst Krenek, Hans Werner Henze, Giselher Klebe, Wolfgang Fortner, Luigi Nono, and Pierre Boulez, the last of whom (as H. H. Stuckenschmidt wrote):

with unsuspecting naïvaté wrote his Schönberg est mort and then, as a conductor, took ten years to acquaint himself with what he had defamed, as the rebel disciple who had betrayed Schönberg. As once before, namely Hindemith in the 1920s, so the admittedly defenseless Webern, who lost his life in 1945, was crowned a sort of antipope to Schönberg, commensurate with his boundless admiration of the master. The idea that Webern's music, in its essential forms, is thinkable without Schönberg is as absurd for any knowledgeable person as that a pupil could have a formal influence on his teacher. But the power of fanfare, with which nearly every adherent to the Boulez-Stockhausen generation blared out Webern's simple countenance, is leveled, both quantitatively and qualitatively, at their own standard-bearer. It does not diminish Webern's greatness to assert objectively that, in his work and specifically in his adoption of the twelve-tone technique, the elements are a simplification of Schönberg ad usum delphini.

This also is part of the picture "Schönberg today," and I could not have expressed it any better. The noise from the fanfare has long since faded away. Perhaps it was needed to chase away the great shadows that lay beneath this generation. Tomorrow and the future will bring new sounds, probably without fanfare. But they will, as before, encircle the focal point called Schönberg and, we hope, understand him as a great living tradition. And out of this recognition, the strength will be drawn for future developments. Until then Schönberg will have the last word, as is the case here and now.

Around 1930 he had an interview with Dr. Eberhard Preussner and Dr. Heinrich Strobel on the Berlin radio network. May his concluding remarks from then be also those of today:

… Herr Strobel, do not underestimate the extent of the circle that has formed around me. It will expand out of the thirst for knowledge of an idealistic younger generation, which feels itself drawn more to the mysterious than to the everyday. But however this may turn out, I can only think and say what my mission prescribes. Gentlemen, do not call that arrogance; I would rather have had greater success. It is in no way my wish to stand on a pedestal as a stylite. As long as I am permitted to consider my thinking and imagination as correct, I will not be able to believe anything except that my ideas must be thought out and expressed, even if they cannot be understood. I personally do not believe that my ideas are so utterly unintelligible. But let us consider: should great incontestable ideas, like those of a Kant, not be permitted to be thought or expressed, simply because to this day honest people must admit that they cannot follow them? To whomever the Lord God has given the mission to say unpopular things, he has lent the power to resign himself to the fact that it is invariably the others who are understood.

Lucy S. Dawidowicz (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3675

SOURCE: "Arnold Schoenberg: A Search for Jewish Identity," in The Jewish Presence: Essays on Identity and History, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977, pp. 32-45.

[In the following essay, Dawidowicz concludes that Moses and Aaron is "the vehicle through which Schoenberg asserted his Jewishness. "]

In December 1966, more than fifteen years after the composer's death, Arnold Schoenberg's unfinished opera Moses and Aaron was given a belated American premiere by the Opera Company of Boston. The occasion was full of ironies. The performance, which took place in America's historic citadel of high culture, was staged in a shabby one-time movie palace; the impresario was Missouri-born and Arkansas-reared; the work itself, a twelve-tone opera glorifying Jewish monotheism, was written by a Jew who had become a Lutheran but returned to Judaism. As a further affront to Boston's traditions, the opera contained an orgy scene which, in another day, would certainly have been banned.

Producing Moses and Aaron demands immense resources. Sarah Caldwell, the artistic director whose previous productions of other seldom-heard works have put Boston on the national operatic map, assembled for Moses and Aaron a cast which included two stars—a bass-baritone for the role of Moses (Donald Gramm, one of the Metropolitan Opera's best acting singers) and a tenor to sing Aaron (Richard Lewis, who sang the role in the British production of 1965); twenty singing principals; a chorus of fifty-five sopranos, mezzos, and altos; forty-eight actors and dancers; and members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Osbourne McConathy. What with seventy Elders, twelve Tribal Chieftains, four Naked Virgins (not to speak of the Golden Calf), and who knows how many supernumeraries, it is no surprise the production cost $300,000. (Boston has a tradition of sorts for big musical settings: In 1869, to celebrate the National Peace Jubilee, 10,000 singers, 1,000 musicians, and 100 firemen beating anvils with sledgehammers performed the "Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore.)

Both the libretto and the music of Moses andAaron are fully Schoenberg's creation. As to the music, it is a complex contrapuntal composition whose absorbing twelve-tone structure and atonality serve to enhance and amplify the terror and awe of the libretto. The opera opens with God's summons to Moses before the Burning Bush, as told in Exodus 3-4. The Voice from the Burning Bush (sung by six solo voices behind the stage and a six-part speaking chorus) calls Moses to bring the Israelites the message of the One God and to lead them to freedom. Moses pleads that he is unfit; because he is slow of speech and of a slow tongue, the people will not believe him. God promises that He will perform wondrous things to convince the people of Moses's message. Aaron will be Moses's spokesman to the people.

In the next scene the brothers confront one another (Exod. 4:27-28). Text and music stress the discrepancy between word and image, thought and feeling, idea and myth. Moses speaks earnestly, in inflected, accented speech (Sprechstimme), while Aaron sings sensuous floating melodies, florid, with a hint of the cantorial. Aaron fails utterly to understand the new and religiously revolutionary basis of Moses's monotheism—that man's reward lies in his freedom to act righteously. Instead, he translates this idea back to the pagan concepts of reward for obedience to the gods and punishment for disobedience.

In the third scene, against nervous orchestral runs, the Israelites exchange fearsome rumors about the impending arrival of Moses and Aaron. The intricate contrapuntal choral composition gives expression to their fears and superstitions, and to the divisions among them. In the closing scene of Act I, Moses and Aaron bring God's message (Exod. 4:29-31). The Israelites at first mock the new God who cannot be seen or heard. As Moses despairs of his ability to communicate his message, Aaron performs "the signs in the sight of the people." He turns Moses's rod into a serpent, and back into a rod; Moses's hand becomes leprous and then whole again; the Nile waters turn into blood. (In the Boston production, all these actions were pantomimed.) "And the people believed." The act closes with a rapturous hymnal chorus in march tempo as the Israelites go off into the desert wasteland: "We are His chosen folk before all others, / We are the chosen ones, / Him alone to worship, / Him alone to serve."

Between the end of Act I and the choral interlude that precedes Act II, the Jews have left Egypt, crossed the Bed Sea, and journeyed into the desert. Moses has ascended Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:18). The Israelites fear that Moses and his God have abandoned them. The small chorus whispers its anxiety in hushed tones: "Where is Moses? Where is his God?" The musical theme recalls God's promise to Moses, but its repetitive syncopated staccato heightens doubt and insecurity.

Act II opens to show the disarray in the Israelite camp in the forty days since Moses's ascent. Violence and lewdness prevail; the seventy Elders can no longer exercise authority. The people turn on them savagely, demanding their old gods back. The fearful elders turn to Aaron for direction. Unsure of himself, he yields quickly.

The jubilation begins, introduced by great fanfares. The Golden Calf (Exod. 32:3-6) is brought onstage. The stupendous scene of "The Golden Calf and the Altar" is, according to Karl Wörner's analysis, a symphony in five movements for solo voices and choruses. It opens with a ritualistic dance of the slaughterers who prepare the animal sacrifices; then follow worshipful processions of the sick, the poor, and the old. The music has an eerie, abnormal character. Fanfares introduce the tribal leaders who come to pay homage to the Golden Calf. The tempo accelerates. When a youth exhorts the Israelites to remember their religion of freedom and to destroy "the image of temporality," the tribal leaders murder him, to a fury of brass and drums. Then a gentle swaying dance tempo is heard as the people begin to exchange gifts and kindnesses. But coarseness and drunkenness soon overtake them. The priestly ritual begins: the four Naked Virgins give themselves to the embrace of the priests, who then sacrifice them upon the altar to the Golden Calf. Music and action intensify in a frenzy of syncopated tension, ending in a percussive, delirious finale.

As the killing, self-destruction, and sexual debauchery come to an end and the sacrificial fires are extinguished, a voice from afar proclaims that Moses is descending from the mountain. Moses appears and destroys the Golden Calf with these words: "Begone, you image of powerlessness to enclose the boundless in an image finite!" The brothers confront each other. Moses demands an explanation. Aaron justifies himself: he loves his people—"I live just for them and want to sustain them." Moses insists that his love is for the idea of the One God. Aaron answers that the common people can comprehend only part of that idea, the perceivable part, that they need feeling and hope. Moses refuses to "debase" his idea; he will remain faithful to it, as it is set forth in the tablets. Aaron counters that the tablets, too, are images, "just part of the whole idea." At that, Moses smashes the tablets. (In Exod. 32:19-20, Moses smashes the tablets first, then destroys the Golden Calf.) In despair, he asks God to relieve him of his mission as Aaron chides him for faintheartedness. Then the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day appear, and the people follow them in religious ecstasy. Aaron explains that "the Infinite thus shows not Himself, but shows the way to Him and the way to the Promised Land." Once again believing in, and reconciled to, their chosenness, the Israelites sing the marchlike hymn with which Act I closed. But Moses sinks to the ground, despairing of the possibility of expressing the idea of the inconceivable God. The violins sustain taut legatos of unbearable poignancy as Moses cries out in defeat, "O word, thou word, that I lack!"

Schoenberg's text for the unfinished third act departs rather drastically from the biblical original. Aaron, a prisoner in chains, is dragged in by soldiers. Moses calls him to account for having betrayed God's word, wrought miracles, believed in the physical reality of a land flowing with milk and honey, and given the people false gods. Now, Moses charges, Aaron has disobeyed God's word by smiting the rock, instead of speaking to it, to make the waters of Meribah flow. (In a letter to Walter Eidlitz in 1933, Schoenberg complained about "incomprehensible contradictions in the Bible" which made it difficult for him to complete the act. He was referring to the variants in Exod. 19:5-6 and Num. 20:7-12.) When the soldiers ask to kill Aaron, Moses orders them to "set him free, and if he can,/he shall live." But Aaron, freed, falls dead.

There is in Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron an almost uncanny intuition of the meaning of biblical Judaism and of Moses's historic role as the founder of Israelite monotheism. It is doubtful whether Schoenberg read any serious scholarly literature on the subject; in any case, much of what was then available had been written under the influence of Wellhausen and the higher critics who dated Israel's ethical monotheism from the later period of classical prophecy. Schoenberg's artistic conception, on the other hand, is essentially traditionalist (and quite in accord with recent archaeological findings and modern scholarship), and it is thus interesting to speculate on how he arrived at his position. He was quite obviously not a fundamentalist, of either a Jewish or a Christian variety, and he had been remote from traditional Jewish thought. Is this operatic exaltation of monotheism and condemnation of idolatry to be seen then as a confession of Jewish identity? Or did he perhaps undertake it as a celebration of Jewish morality at a time when European society was poised at the brink of pagan violence and destruction?

Schoenberg completed the first two acts of Moses and Aaron in March 1932. While he was still at work on the third act, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act (March 23, 1933), which gave Hitler and the National Socialists the power to enact any legislation at will. A month later, the Jews were driven by Nazi law from their positions in government and cultural institutions. Dismissed from his post at the Prussian Academy of Arts, Schoenberg left Berlin for America. On July 24, 1933, in a simple ceremony at the Liberal Synagogue of Paris, he was readmitted to the Jewish community. (His two witnesses were David Marianoff, Albert Einstein's son-in-law, and Marc Chagall.) On October 16, 1933, he wrote to Alban Berg: "As you have doubtless realized, my return to the Jewish religion took place long ago and is indeed demonstrated in some of my published work … and in Moses and Aaron.…"

Schoenberg himself considered his return to Judaism to be a political rather than a religious act. Yet such matters are seldom as simple as one would like to believe; indeed, the complex twists of Schoenberg's own life would indicate that religion and politics cannot in his case be easily separated, and that faith and identity, self-esteem and group pride, all played a part in the formulation of his final intellectual and emotional position.

Arnold Schoenberg was born in Leopoldstadt, Vienna's Jewish quarter, on September 13, 1874. His father, Samuel, a shopkeeper, had come from Pressburg, now Bratislava, the stronghold of Jewish Orthodoxy in Hungary. No doubt Samuel Schoenberg had brought some Jewish traditions and practices with him when he migrated to the big city. Until his death in 1889, when Arnold was fifteen, the family still observed the Jewish holidays, according to Gertrud Schoenberg, the composer's widow, with whom I spoke in California in 1966. It is unlikely that Schoenberg himself had any Jewish education.

At the age of seventeen, Schoenberg began working in a bank, and at the same time continued his self-education in music and composition. Around 1895, as a cellist in an amateur student orchestra in Vienna, he met the conductor Alexander von Zemlinsky, who became interested in his compositions. In 1901, Schoenberg married Zemlinsky's sister Mathilde (she died in 1923).

In 1898, at twenty-four, to his family's deep shock, Schoenberg became a Lutheran. No one knows exactly why he converted. His cousin, Hans Nachod, says that Schoenberg was persuaded to make the move by a singer friend, but Gertrud Schoenberg probably was closer to the truth in maintaining that his conversion was prompted by cultural rather than by religious motives. It was, she said, "quite a usual procedure for educated Jews, as the belief in assimilation at this time flourished."

Schoenberg's parents had come to Vienna during the great Jewish migration from the hinterlands of Galicia, Hungary, and Bohemia after the enactment of the 1867 Constitution, which erased the legal inequities under which Jews had suffered. In thirty years, from 1860 to 1890, the Jewish population of Vienna rose from 1 to 12 percent. Jews flocked to the gymnasia and the universities, where they were overwhelmingly concentrated in the faculties of law and medicine. They also went into journalism—en masse, it seemed to the Austrians. Yet although (or because) Jews shaped Vienna's literary and artistic tastes, anti-Semitism continued to prevail in most professional, academic, and government circles, even before Karl Lueger became Bur germeister and Christian Socialism a vehicle for political anti-Semitism. At a time when a birth certificate should have sufficed, many positions still required proof of baptism. Freud, for example, a privatdozent for seventeen years, was kept from being appointed at the University of Vienna, according to Ernest Jones, by "the anti-Semitic attitude of official quarters.…"

The keys to musical Vienna were similarly held by men who did not like to open doors to Jews. Mahler's baptism, in 1897, constituted his ticket of admission to the directorship of the Vienna Opera. It seems entirely likely that Schoenberg, too, became a Christian in order to have easier access to important musical institutions and influential musicians. Perhaps, like others of his generation and upbringing who stood neither here nor there in their Jewishness, he was attracted to what must have seemed the dazzlingly brilliant cultural life of the non-Jewish and ex-Jewish intellectuals, poets, composers, and artists. (Schoenberg was also a painter, active in the Expressionist movement and a participant in the Blaue Reiter exhibition of 1912.) Among themselves, young Jewish cosmopolitans often attributed Vienna's accelerating antiSemitism to the bearded traditionalist Jews who had migrated from the Galician towns and villages with their baggage of poverty, Orthodoxy, and Yiddish. For many, the baptismal waters represented a means of escaping identification with these Jews.

Religion—Judaism or Evangelical Lutheranism—meant little to Schoenberg in the time following his conversion. One of his biographers has characterized it as a period of "positivistic atheism." Later he developed an interest in Swedenborgian ideas. Schoenberg himself described this process in a letter to the German poet Richard Dehmel on December 13, 1912:

For a long time I have been wanting to write an oratorio on the following subject: modern man, having passed through materialism, socialism, and anarchy, and despite having been an atheist, still having in him some residue of ancient faith (in the form of superstition), wrestles with God (see also ) and finally succeeds in finding God and becoming religious.

Dehmel could not provide the poetic text Schoenberg wanted. Eventually, using Balzac's now quite unknown theosophical novel, Seraphita, Schoenberg began composing both text and music for the oratorio, Die Jakobsleiter. The work contained suggestions of ideas he was later to use in Moses and Aaron: "this Either and this Or," "instincts" versus "commandments," spirit versus matter. But Schoenberg never finished Die Jakobsleiter. For one thing he was drafted into Franz Josef's army, where he became a Kapellmeister. Later, groping his way back toward Judaism, and more rigorous in his religious thinking, he may have become uneasy with alien and pseudoliterary texts and have decided to turn to more appropriate and authentic ones.

In 1922 a small incident set Schoenberg on an irrevocable course back to Jewishness and Judaism. At a resort in Mattsee near Salzburg, where he had gone to spend the summer, he was told that Jews were not welcome. He came to realize that the Christian promise to accept Jews at the price of assimilation (read: conversion) was a fraud. "For I have at last learnt the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year and I shall never forget it," he wrote to Wassily Kandinsky. "It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely even a human being (at least, the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me), but I am a Jew."

In a second letter to Kandinsky on May 4, 1923, in which he referred to "that man Hitler" who would make no exception even for a "good" Jew like himself, Schoenberg prophesied that though the anti-Semites would try to "exterminate" Einstein, Mahler, and himself, they would not succeed with those "much tougher elements thanks to whose endurance Jewry has maintained itself unaided against the whole of mankind for twenty centuries. For these are evidently so constituted that they can accomplish the task that their God has imposed on them: to survive in exile, uncorrupted and unbroken, until the hour of salvation comes!"

Thereafter, Schoenberg's immersion in Jewish themes seemed inevitable. Until his death in 1951, Jewish subject matter continued to attract him. During 1926 and 1927 he worked on a play, Der biblische Weg, which he said had been "conceived in 1922 or '23 at the latest"—that is, at the very time his self-esteem rebelled at German anti-Semitism. The drama, never published, was, in his own words, "a very up-to-date treatment of the story of how the Jews became a people." Its protagonist, Max Aruns (Moses and Aaron in one), attempts to unite his people and lead them to the fulfillment of their God-given mission. But dissidents beat him to death, and his leadership falls to another. Der biblische Weg foreshad-owed the dramatic core and conflict of Moses and Aaron. Thus, Asseino (from "Sinai"?), the spokesman of traditional Jewry, speaks to Max Aruns:

Max Aruns, you want to be Moses and Aaron in one person! Moses, to whom God gave the idea but denied the gift of speech; and Aaron, who could not grasp the idea but could formulate it and move the masses.

Thenceforth, the idea of an opera about Moses and Aaron seized Schoenberg's imagination. On April 10, 1930, he wrote to Alban Berg that after a year of "very strenuous work," he needed a holiday and he was playing tennis instead of working. (Oscar Levant said Schoenberg once told him that if he had not been a composer, he would have liked to have been a champion tennis player.) At the end of the letter, he said he would like best to do an opera: " … perhaps I shall do Moses and Aaron." By August 1930 he was already at work on it. He completed the second act just as National Socialism stood at Germany's threshold.

Theodor W. Adorno has suggested that the composition of Moses and Aaron was Schoenberg's defense against the rise of Hitler. (Hence the fall of the Third Reich eliminated the need to complete the opera.) This must surely have been a major motive. The figure of Moses served to reinforce Schoenberg's Jewish self-esteem, to strengthen his rejection of the world that National Socialism was then fashioning in Europe, a world governed by paganism, violence, and bloodshed. (Something akin to this motive probably animated Freud's interests in Moses as well.) It has also been suggested that Schoenberg saw himself as a revolutionary herald of a new musical system—atonality—and identified his own lack of popular success with Moses's failure to communicate with the people. I myself, however, prefer to think that Schoenberg intended Moses and Aaron as a challenge—musically, philosophically, politically, and culturally—to Wagner's Parsifal, the only other religious music drama to which it might legitimately be compared.

The two operas are total opposites. Musically, Wagner was the last great Romantic, while Schoenberg, the great adversary of Romanticism, advocated musical cerebralism and classicism. Philosophically, or theologically, Moses and Aaron and Parsifal appear to represent the antagonism between Judaism and Christianity, between monotheism and trinitarianism. Parsifal, Wagner's version of the legend of the Holy Grail, glorifies compassion and repentance through Christ. It is religious drama in that it leads from conflict to a renewal of faith and a restatement of religious values.

Yet notwithstanding its exaltation of Christianity, Parsifal remains pseudoreligious; it is not genuinely Christian. Wagner hardly identified himself as a Christian, in part because he could not accept Christianity's Jewish origins: "For us it is sufficient to derive the ruin of the Christian religion from its drawing upon Judaism for the elaboration of its dogma." Rather, he defined the Holy Grail as the spiritual aspect of the Nibelungen hoard, Amfortas with the German kaiser, Parsifal with Siegfried. He wrote once that "the abstract highest God of the Germans, Wotan, did not really need to yield place to the God of the Christians; rather could he be completely identified with him.… Christianity has been unable in our day to extirpate the local native gods." Thus, Wagner's Christianity turns out to be Teutonic paganism; as others have pointed out, Parsifal is not a religious Christian drama but the fifth opera in the Ring, welding Teutonic paganism, medieval Christianity, and modern German nationalism into one romantic Gesamtkunstwerk, a stage-consecrational-festival play.

It is, I think, plausible that Schoenberg felt the need to define himself in opposition to this kind of German Christianity, which was, at different levels of consciousness, inextricably associated with paganism and idolatry. Perhaps, in Moses and Aaron, he wished not only to surpass Wagner as a composer but also to distinguish himself decisively from the Wagner who was a Christian-pagan, German nationalist, and anti-Semite, and from the rising Nazi culture that Wagner would have applauded. Thus, Moses and Aaron, the vehicle through which Schoenberg asserted his Jewishness, comes to symbolize the antithesis of everything that Parsifal represents, a reassertion of the intrinsic and superior value of Jewish monotheism—in itself, for Schoenberg, the purest concept of belief.

Carl Dalhaus (essay date 1978)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5575

SOURCE: "Schoenberg's aesthetic theology," in Schoenberg and the New Music, translated by Derrick Puffett and Alfred Clayton, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 81-93.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1978, Dalhaus discusses Schoenberg's essays that reveal the aesthetic sense upon which he based his musical compositions.]


In 'My Evolution' (1949), his draft of an inner biography, Schoenberg wrote: 'This is also the place to speak of the miraculous contributions of the subconscious. I am convinced that in the works of the great masters many miracles can be discovered, the extreme profundity and prophetic foresight of which seem superhuman.' Then, using a music example, Schoenberg demonstrates a latent connection between contrasting themes in the Op. 9 Chamber Symphony 'solely in order to illustrate the power behind the human mind, which produces miracles for which we do not deserve credit.'

Dubious though the thematic connection which Schoenberg thought he had discovered in his work decades later may seem, it is unusual and characteristic that the inspiration that he felt had been conferred on him did not consist of a theme, but rather of a connection between themes. The inspired idea, in the face of which Schoenberg felt moved to make use of the language of art religion, occurred unconsciously, remained initially latent and manifested itself in a relationship and not a substance. The idea which assumes concrete form in a work such as the Chamber Symphony is thus realised less in the musical shapes that make up the surface than in the tissue of relationships which, hidden beneath, connect the ideas with one another.

The principle on which the interconnection of themes in the Chamber Symphony is based is that of 'contrasting derivation'. It was formulated by Arnold Schmitz in 1923 with regard to Beethoven sonata movements. And the very fact that both Schmitz's analyses and those of Schoenberg contain certain questionable features, and yet were produced independently of each other, enables us to see them all the more clearly as the expression of a tendency characteristic of the time, which transcends their inherent differences: the tendency to regard hidden connections as being the most important and convincing ones.

Yet the most striking thing about the quotation from Schoenberg's 'My Evolution' is the seemingly self-evident manner with which, in one and the same sentence, there is talk of the workings of the 'subconscious' and of a 'miracle', with the result that categories taken from religion and from psychology or depth psychology inter-mingle as if they were interchangeable.

It would be completely unjustified to dismiss the word 'miracle' as being a mere metaphor lacking religious substance. In the essay 'Composition with Twelve Notes' from the year 1935 Schoenberg makes use of the language of aesthetic theology in a way which requires us to take him at his word, and with a seriousness and an insistence which prevent us from suspecting his manner of expressing himself of being pardonable pseudo-religious rhetoric:

To understand the very nature of creation one must acknowledge that there was no light before the Lord said: 'Let there be Light'. And since there was not yet light, the Lord's omniscience embraced a vision of it which only His omnipotence could call forth. We poor human beings, when we refer to one of the better minds among us as a creator, should never forget what a creator is in reality. A creator has a vision of something which has not existed before this vision. And a creator has the power to bring his vision to life, the power to realise it.

This mingling of religious and psychological categories, which irritates in the 1949 'My Evolution', reaches back in Schoenberg's thinking at least to the year 1911. In the essay 'Franz Liszt's Work and Being', 'faith', which Schoenberg contrasts sharply with mere 'conviction', moves close to 'instinctive life':

Liszt's importance lies in the one place where great men's importance can lie: in faith. Fanatical faith, of the kind that creates a radical distinction between normal men and those it impels. Normal men possess a conviction; great men are possessed by a faith.… But the work, the perfected work of the great artist, is produced, above all, by his instincts; and the sharper ear he has for what they say, the more immediate the expression he can give them, the greater his work is. That is exactly the relationship, or perhaps it is even more direct, between faith—faith independent of reason—and instinctive life.

The Romantic religion of art to which Schoenberg subscribed whole-heartedly—a religion of art which his opposite Stravinsky felt to be inadmissible and dishonest, as regards both religion and aesthetics—was rooted in an assumption which seemed as natural to nineteenth-century Protestant theology as it seems suspect to that of the twentieth century: the assumption that the substance of religion consisted in subjective emotion, which one could then interpret as the guarantee of religious truth, as in the case of Schleiermacher, or as the source of religious illusions, as in the case of Feuerbach, but which in any case formed the starting-point of both apologetics and polemics. Theology was—contrary to the name, which it continued to bear—anthropocentric.

However, it is not the business of a historian to subject the roots of religion in subjective emotion to theological criticism for which he is not qualified. What matters is to recognise that the art religion which spread in the aesthetics, and particularly in the popular aesthetics, of the nineteenth century was a variant of the religion of emotion which was considered to be legitimate theology by Protestantism of the time. Dogmatism, the decline of which seemed inexorable, was replaced by philosophy of religion, and this finally turned into psychology of religion. Thus it is not surprising that the basis of art religion changed progressively from Wackenroder's emotional devotion via Schopenhauer's metaphysics of the will to Sigmund Freud's psychology of the instincts, which was adopted by Schoenberg.

If as a result of this the proximity of 'faith' and 'instinctive life' in Schoenberg's thinking is capable of being interpreted in the context of the history of ideas, then the aesthetically decisive factor lies in the conviction that the idea of a musical work, in which a composer's 'instinctive life' manifests itself, consists primarily of relationships, and indeed of relationships which in essence remain latent. In Schoenberg's thinking there is a configuration of three factors: faith, to which reason cannot attain; the urge which emanates from the expressive need of the subconscious; and the expression of a musical work idea less in terms of themes than in terms of thematic relationships which are not capable of being perceived directly and which, precisely for that reason, seem all the more convincing. The configuration proves difficult to explicate inasmuch as to concentrate on one of the factors to the detriment of the others—be it the theological, the psychological or the aesthetic, compositional—technical component—would be one-sided, inadequate or heavy-handed.

The extent to which the aesthetic categories of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries are secularised theological concepts has never been underestimated. As a result, the fact that the reverse of the consecration of the profane, which one calls art religion, is a deconsecration of the sacred, led to a situation where the various interpretations of the phenomenon veered from one extreme to the other. Because of its legal origins, the term 'secularisation' was associated with the idea of taking other people's property; but this did not stop the view that the acquisition was illegitimate from being countered by the opposing view that the transformation was legitimate because it was a historically necessary formal change. While on the one hand the art religion of the nineteenth century could be suspected of investing the musical expression of earthly and sometimes all-too-human emotions with a metaphysical dignity which was a mere aesthetic illusion, on the other hand Richard Wagner claimed, in commenting on Parsifal, nothing less than that the substance of religion, which had petrified in the form of ecclesiastical Christianity, should be saved and incorporated by art as the living manifestation of the spirit of the age.

A belief in origins which considers the primary ownership of a thing to be the only legitimate one is the antithesis of a philosophy of history aimed at the future which adheres to the possibility that the real substance, or at least the part relevant to the present, which lies concealed in theological ideas and concepts, can be brought out into the open by translation into the realms of aesthetics, psychology or politics; and that this secularisation does not represent an illegitimate appropriation, but the fulfilment of a promise contained in the religious categories. To translate them into another language is to establish their true meaning.

Yet Schoenberg's texts cannot be interpreted unequivocally in either way, and, in any case, it is probable that similar formulations from the turn of the century have to be assessed differently from those of the last few decades. Whether Schoenberg, like Freud, conceived of psychological categories as being the roots of religious ones, or whether he simply regarded the subconscious as a place where religion manifests itself without being psychologically reducible must remain in the balance, at least for the time being.

In general one can interpret the process that one calls secularisation in at least four ways: first, as the questionable appropriation and transformation of theological substance; secondly, as historical evolution, to which as a historian one already accords a claim to validity, without openly coming to a conclusion, in that one concedes continuity to the process—and in the language of historians that virtually amounts to historical legitimacy; thirdly, as a structural analogy in which the direction of the transfer—for example, between depth psychology and theology—remains just as open to question as does its legality; and fourthly, as a metaphorical interpretation, the substantiality of which depends on how close to the truth one considers an 'unreal', poetic language to be.

To apply the various schemes of interpretation available in hermeneutics to Schoenberg's art-religious confessions would not be impossible, though it would be like going for a walk in a labyrinth, the exit of which is very difficult to find indeed.


Schoenberg's output consists to roughly equal extents of vocal and of instrumental works. Yet his aesthetic theory—sometimes at odds with his compositional practice—is one-sidedly determined by instrumental music. Schoenberg's claim, in his essay on 'The Relationship to the Text', that, when composing a song, he permitted himself to be led solely by the initial sound of the poem, turns out to be all the more revealing in the context of the history of ideas on account of the fact that an analysis of the George songs proves it to be blatantly untrue. However implausible the idea may seem, faced with a work like Erwartung, that in the period of early atonality the text was merely a means of building large-scale forms without the support of tonality, it does tally with the fact that dodecaphony, the primary function of which Schoenberg considered to be the purely musical foundation of larger forms, at first formed the basis, on the whole, of instrumental works.

Thus the fact that instrumental music, particularly in the form of a discourse based on musical logic, represented what Schoenberg considered to be 'real' music is doubtless connected with the influence of Schopenhauer's metaphysics of absolute music, a metaphysics which, transmitted by Wagner and Nietzsche, had around 1900 become the aesthetics of all German composers from Strauss and Mahler to Schoenberg and Pfitzner. Yet if one is not afraid of a hypothesis for which there is no tangible documentary evidence, one can also reconstruct a link back to the time around 1800, which, even though Schoenberg may not have been aware of it, makes his aesthetics appear more comprehensible.

The 'vision' which, in Schoenberg's words, characterises a musical 'creation' that may be referred to as such without arrogance or blasphemy is the outline of a distinct world of one's own. Mahler, for example, spoke of a 'world' constructed by a symphony 'with all the technical means at one's disposal'. That music is 'a world of its own' was however the fundamental idea with which, in 1799, Ludwig Tieck, in his Phantasien über die Kunst, founded the Romantic metaphysics of music, which was in essence an aesthetic of instrumental music, or, to be more precise, an aesthetic of the symphony as the paradigm of large-scale instrumental music. That aesthetic theology, which was centred on the concept of musical creativity, believed it had found its proper subject in instrumental and not in vocal music was by no means an accident, as can be shown by a short digression into the history of ideas.

The claim that man, God's likeness, is an 'alter deus' as a poet and only as a poet, who does not imitate but creates, had been advanced as early as 1561 by Julius Caesar Scaliger, the compiler of Renaissance poetics. But the idea, as Hans Blumenberg pointed out, first acquired philosophical substance and historical importance in the eighteenth century, when it combined with Leibniz's idea of the possible worlds to form a configuration from which emanated the idea, crucial to modern poetics, that a poet is the creator of another, that is, of a possible world. Johann Jakob Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst of 1740, as Oskar Walzel realised, puts 'Leibniz's idea of the possible worlds to aesthetic use'.

But the concept of the creative formed an exclusive antithesis to the traditional imitative principle moulded by Aristotelian philosophy. Planning a world of one's own could not be reconciled with imitating nature as it is—be it the empirical appearance or the metaphysical essence of nature.

Yet vocal music—to return to the starting-point of the argument—had since the sixteenth century been declared to be the imitation of that which was expressed by the text. Instrumental music without a text, the content of which remained imprecise as long as it did not regress to primitive tone painting, seemed both to the sixteenth-century humanist and to the eighteenth-century encyclopaedist to be an inferior kind of vocal music, to say nothing of more negative ways of describing it.

But from 1800 onwards there is a gradual change in the order of precedence of the genres. If for thousands of years the lack of a text had been regarded as a deficiency in music defined in principle by harmony, rhythm and language, then this was reversed in the writings of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Eduard Hanslick, where the text appears as an 'extra musical' addition to a tonal art whose 'real' being manifested itself in 'pure' instrumental music. Yet there is, it seems, a close and direct connection between the change of paradigms in music aesthetics from vocal to instrumental music, and the transition from the imitative principle to the idea of the creative. If vocal music in general remains an imitation formally dependent on a text or on the contents of a text, then instrumental music, inasmuch as it aspires to the heights of the symphonic style, can be understood as the construction of a world of its own. In the symphony the composer adopts a claim which had previously been made for the poet: the claim that a poet, as opposed to a painter or a sculptor, does not imitate the real world but founds a possible one. (Scaliger spoke of 'condere' as opposed to 'narrare'.)

But if one acknowledges the connection which existed between the emancipation of instrumental music and the use in music aesthetics of the poetological idea of the creative, then it becomes clear why it was instrumental music, which had liberated itself from poetry, that Tieck called 'poetic'. Poetry, understood in the sense in which Breitinger had formulated it, was the paradigm of the generation of a personal, possible world; and music became 'poetic' in advancing a similar claim and substantiating it convincingly in works such as Beethoven's symphonies and Bach's fugues—which Goethe felt to be a musical symbol of a possible world prior to the creation of the real world.

Tieck's metaphysics of instrumental music were adapted by Schopenhauer, and Schopenhauer's philosophy was in turn adapted by Schoenberg. It is hardly possible to deny that the aesthetic theology implied or encapsulated therein, the conjunction of the concept of the creative and that of large-scale instrumental music, had a far-reaching influence on Schoenberg's thinking, with the result that in spite of the oblique relationship between aesthetic theory and compositional practice—a practice in which there can be no talk of instrumental music ranking lower or of a secondary role for the texts—we must expect to find traces of metaphysical dogma.


It would not be an exaggeration to call early atonality, which Schoenberg embarked upon with 'fear and trembling' and in full awareness of an irrevocable quality which was difficult to bear, a state of emergency in the precise sense that a state of emergency is the opposite of a state of affairs in which the law prevails. Yet the emancipation of the dissonance, which was not so much a qualitative leap logically resulting from what had gone before as an arbitrary act, was not at all the mere abolition of an old law and the introduction of a new one. The critics who raised a hue and cry about anarchy did indeed touch upon an essential aspect of the process, the significance of which they vaguely perceived, even though their aesthetic judgment failed to assess it correctly.

The concept of the state of emergency means that Schoenberg claimed that the suspension of the existing musical order, which he accomplished in the final movement of Op. 10, defined a historical state whose advent would turn out to be irrevocable, no matter how one looked at it. Schoenberg took a decision whose seriousness—and the fact is nothing short of self-evident—no one at the time who was musically competent could afford to disregard. Before embarking on an interpretation of history which concerned itself with continuity and discontinuity, one would first of all have to find a reason for the fact that even bitter opponents perceived Schoenberg's decision to be an act of incalculable significance, an event which, even a decade and a half later, could only be circumvented, so it was thought, by countering it with an equally abrupt decision in favour of neoclassicism, the supposedly necessary next step, with which Schoenberg's expressionist atonality was so to speak to be relegated to a past which was of no concern to the present.

To say that Schoenberg owed to the resounding success of the Gurrelieder a reputation which could not simply be destroyed by claiming that Opp. 10 and 11 were insignificant sectarian aberrations is of course true to a certain extent, though it does not explain everything. One of the reasons why the transition to atonality was taken seriously at all, that is, in the sense of a catastrophe, was, apart from the respect which was Schoenberg's due, a mode of thought no doubt typical of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the tendency, which ran counter to the dominant belief in progress, to look upon approaching events as being both the road to impending disaster and unavoidable.

Yet the fact remains—and to have to admit this is rather difficult for a historian—that it is, strictly speaking, im-possible to give a reason for Schoenberg's decision of 1907. Those who speak of historical necessity, of the dictates of the historical moment which Schoenberg obeyed, make the event appear more harmless than it actually was. The suspension of the existing order, the proclamation of the musical state of emergency, was an act of violence. And thus the theories with which Schoenberg attempted to justify the emancipation of the dissonance are characterised by a helplessness which prevents us from taking them at their word as being motives for compositional decisions. The same holds true, a decade and a half later, for the step to 'composition with twelve notes related only to one another'. Dodecaphony did not acquire the power which caused it to spread irresistibly, even if with some delay, on account of the arguments on which it was based. The reasons for its validity were always rather weak, both in the case of Schoenberg, and later in that of Adorno, who mistrusted it anyway. And even the works in which it manifested itself were, considering its subsequent influence, evidently not the decisive factor, despite their undoubted quality. Either, as in the case of Berg, the technique was unmistakably of secondary importance, one means amongst many with which Berg took precautionary measures within the works themselves. Or, as in the case of Webern, it produced a conflict between latent structure and expressive gesture which led to an open controversy in Webern reception. Or again, as in Schoenberg's late works, dodecaphony remained one of several possibilities, the common and all-embracing principle of which was developing variation.

Apart from this, the attempt to explain in terms of the philosophy of history Schoenberg's power to take decisions, that is, to interpret the diktat of the individual as that of history, is questionable inasmuch as the concept of the 'one' history which the philosophy of history assumes to exist is doubtful and may be suspected of being a myth. What really happens are histories—in the plural: at different places and under diverging circumstances. 'History' in the singular is a fiction.

But insofar as neither a diktat of history, nor the unavoidable logic of apologetic arguments, nor even the compelling evidence that we are dealing with technical preconditions to which important works owe their aesthetic life, is able to provide truthful reasons for the steps to atonality and dodecaphony, then the problem of authority, which arose nonetheless in the case of the one decision as in that of the other, comes to the fore with the clarity it requires, even if a solution is at present hardly in sight.

The authority which Schoenberg claimed for himself and which his contemporaries also accorded him through the tone they assumed, both in their polemics and in their apologias, was rooted in the emphatic awareness of a calling based on the feeling of being a tool. One would not want to deny the obvious fact that Schoenberg's interpretation of himself was determined by a concept of genius which was of Romantic origin, though this is not a sufficient explanation. It is far more the case that the moral pathos which marks Schoenberg's musical poetics, and even technical statements such as those about musical prose—a pathos which was completely foreign to the nineteenth-century concept of genius—bears unmistakably prophetic traits, in the original, authentic sense, that is, that prophecy is directed less at the future and at its impending calamities than at the present and its corrupt depravity. Schoenberg, from a position of extreme vulnerability, is continually sitting in judgment over his contemporaries, whose artistic shortcomings he deciphers as moral ones in an essay such as 'Opinion or Insight?' of 1925.

The fact that anarchical and law-giving tendencies or instincts conflicted in Schoenberg's thinking, forming a complicated configuration which forces one to read him twice if one wishes to understand him, has never been underestimated, and for this reason the phrase 'conservative revolutionary' seemed appropriate. An attempt to uncover the common root from which both the rebellious and the dictatorial traits emanated cannot content itself with pointing to the stereotype of revolutionary dialectics, in which there is a transition or sudden reversal from the one to the other. Rather, the state of emergency which Schoenberg induced with atonality, and the renewed state of legality which he hoped to constitute by means of dodecaphony, were similar in character, in that their substance consisted in an act of decision and not in a systematic web of argument or historical derivation. Schoenberg, if one is not afraid of applying the notorious phrase to him, was a musical decisionist.

The concept of an authority which is prophetic and moral, which judges and which simply decides and does not engage in argument, is so unusual in aesthetics, however, that at first one involuntarily feels that the religious pathos—despite the tradition which sees an artistic genius as a homo a deo excitatus—has been assumed illegitimately. The claim that only theological language can enable one to deal with Schoenberg's irritating decisionism in an appropriate manner is in fact based on nothing but the observation that the other languages taken over by aesthetics have failed when faced with this phenomenon. The striking contrast between the compelling fact of Schoenberg's authority and the weakness and in-adequacy of compositional-technical or historical-philosophical explanations forces one to have recourse to theological categories, which do at least make some kind of orientation possible. One may then continue to argue endlessly about their logical status—about whether they are legitimate or illegitimate examples of secularisation, whether they are structural analogies without claims to historical origins and continuity, or whether they are merely metaphors whose sole function consists in maintaining the awareness of an unresolved problem.


The analyses of Classical and Romantic works which Schoenberg published and the commentaries which he added to them are based on an unusual concept of tradition which cannot be properly understood as the adherence to an agreed position, nor as the reconstruction of an original state of affairs, nor as the redefinition and appropriation of the ideas of others. Schoenberg offended generally accepted opinion when interpreting the works of others hardly less than when planning his own. He did not think seriously about the possibility or impossibility of understanding the past as it really was; historical authenticity was of little interest to him. The charge that his method of analysis was nothing more than a reflection of his own ideas and problems in the works of others he would rightly have considered narrow-minded and rejected accordingly.

The aesthetics of reception, which in the past few decades have become the scholarly fashion, have made art historians aware of a problem which conveys a feeling of the unfathomable: the problem that the meaning of a work which has come down to us from the past cannot be classified with sufficient exactitude and clarity as the intention of the author or as the embodiment of its contemporaries' views, nor as the result or even the quintessence of reception history, nor yet as an objective substance inherent in the object itself which is independent of the history of its genesis or influence.

An author does not need to know what he is doing; and that he is a privileged interpreter of his own works is a view which was long ago consigned to the scrapheap of outmoded prejudices, with the result that one almost feels provoked to resurrect it a little. The views of contemporaries prove to be a doubtful court of appeal, for what was put in words almost always seems narrow and biased, and the special kind of empathy which contemporaries have and which later generations do not have was either not expressed at all or only expressed inadequately. The documents of reception history are either few and far between and inconsequential, or, if many of them have come down to us, paint a confusing picture; and they seldom permit the abstraction of a result in which inner connections are perceivable, even in the case of unrestrained dialectical interpretation. And finally the idea that a work has an objective, clearly defined meaning per se which reception more or less approaches, independent of its author's intentions and the perceptions of the audience, is, as 'substantialism', suspected of being metaphysical. (Of course, the empiricists' premiss that metaphysics are a priori unscientific is itself unscientific because it is dogmatic.)

It seems then that Schoenberg shared none of the opposing convictions in the controversy sketched above, but rather that he took his bearings tacitly from a concept of tradition which is far removed from presentday thinking and whose essence can most nearly be elucidated by looking at the theological source contained in the aesthetic transformation, albeit in concealed form.

If one is not afraid of crude simplification one may assume that there is a distinction which is as self-evident in theology as it is initially disconcerting in aesthetics: the distinction between the meaning that a tradition or a work conveys and the substance on which it is based.

The belief that the revelation on Mount Sinai did not put into words a distinct, clearly defined meaning, but that 'meaning' is a category which first constitutes itself in the countless refracted forms in which revelation discloses itself to the human mind—in other words, that an undivided other world of meaning manifests itself in a divided real world of meaning—belonged, as Gershom Scholem has shown, to the fundamental principles of Torah exegesis in Jewish mysticism of the Middle Ages and the early Modern Age. Revelation is not in itself a comprehensible message, but becomes one only in the reflections which it experiences in human consciousness. And there is no limit to their number.

The changes which aesthetic 'substantialism' (let us not abandon the concept as such) experiences when it is subjected to a theologically-based interpretation are far-reaching. On the one hand, instead of a hard and fast meaning which reception may or may not elucidate, one assumes that there is merely a possibility of meaning which can be updated in various directions. But on the other hand—and this circumvents a dilemma of reception aesthetics—the substratum on which the constitution of meaning is based is not conceived of as a dead letter which only reception can fill with life borrowed from the subject, but appears as an energy which imbues all forms of appropriation.

The mystical exegesis of revelation and the concept of tradition in modern reception aesthetics—which, it is true, do not seem to be aware of the theological implications or structural analogies—share the fundamental assumption that meaning handed down from the past can be experienced only via a third party, and not directly. The Utopian dream of a congeniality which provides direct access to it turns out to be an illusion, the reason being an inadequate model, that of a message between subjects engaged in conversation. Furthermore it belongs to the realm of mystical dialectics to accord the same validity to interpretations which are obviously incompatible simply because no one can know whether or not an exegesis unacceptable under certain circumstances will, under quite different premisses, turn out to be true in the near or distant future. And finally the fact that in the case of equally valid but conflicting interpretations we are still dealing with interpretations of one and the same thing forces us to assume the presence of a substance in which is rooted the identity of the object, which in extreme versions of reception aesthetics is on the point of dissolving into thin air; of a substance which can only consist of the mere letter of the text or over and above that in an energy effective therein, though not in an unalterable sense, if, that is, one is prepared to accept the assumptions that form the common feature of the mystical exegesis of a text and modern reception aesthetics.

That the idea of a primaeval energy, which only constitutes itself as meaning or a message in a multitude of refractions, could be turned from theological to aesthetic use was only possible because Schoenberg, in the analysis of the works of others as in the design of his own, proceeded from the concept of a formal idea whose essence lies beyond the real tonal forms and the connections created between them. In order not to understand Schoenberg too quickly, and that means, wrongly, one has to become aware of the fact that his method of analysis, if pursued to its logical conclusion, dissolves musical works into a system of relationships in which—contrary to hidebound prejudice—not even interval structures form a clear, unalterable substance. What holds a movement together from within is intangible and cannot be written down, for—to put it in its ideal form—it is an embodiment of relationships between variants or manifestations of thematic material which can be divided into an unlimited number of constituent parts and whose every feature can be varied.

But if one now allows that it is on the one hand not enough to speak solely of relationships and of connections which as it were are suspended in thin air, and that the substance, in which the inner unity is founded, cannot on the other hand be pinned down, then there remains only a single solution: that Schoenberg presupposed as a foundation an energy which, as we have seen, he determined in theological-aesthetic terms when at one and the same time stating that it emanated from the 'subconscious' and that it was brought about by a 'miracle'. The idea of tradition on which his analyses of Classical and Romantic works were tacitly based thus belongs to the same theological-aesthetic configuration in which ideas about 'belief and 'instinctive life', about the latent character of what is structurally important, and about the primacy of the tissue of relationships over the fashioning of forms were also rooted and where they found the place which permits their significance as part of the systematic coherence of Schoenberg's thinking to become clearly apparent.

Peter Stadlen (essay date 1981)

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SOURCE: "Schoenberg's Speech-Song," in Music & Letters, edited by Edward Olleson and Nigel Fortune, Vol. 62, No. 1, January, 1981, pp. 1-11.

[In the following essay, Stadlen examines Schoenberg's use of "speech-song, " a compositional technique of using "spoken note with fixed durations and pitches, " in Pierrot Lunaire.]

If Pierrot lunaire has never had quite the success which that work of genius surely deserves, the reason is above all the confusion that has resulted from the vocal mixture known as speech-song. It was not, as Erwin Stein claimed, Schoenberg's invention. Rudolph Stephan has reminded us that spoken notes with fixed durations and pitches were first used in Humperdinck's melodrama Die Königskinder. His belief that Schoenberg is likely to have attended one of the Vienna performances of 1897 is supported by the fact that a song composed in 1899 is marked 'less sung than declaimed, to be performed in a descriptive manner'. It will not do, on the other hand, to trace Schoenberg's use of speech-song to his connections with Wolzogen's 'Überbrettl'. This Berlin cabaret did not feature the genre of the diseuse, and Schoenberg did not start his engagement there until December 1901, that is to say after he had composed his 'Brettl Lieder'; they are to be sung, and he received the texts around Christmas 1900. Yet by that time he had already conceived of the essence of the melodrama in the Gurrelieder.

The melody of Pierrot, Schoenberg says in his preface, is not meant to be sung, but must be transformed, 'with due regard to the pitches indicated', into a speech-melody. The artist

needs to be acutely aware of the difference between sung sounds and spoken sounds: the sung sound maintains a constant pitch; the spoken sound starts off at a given pitch but instantly leaves it by rising or falling.

This formulation of an undoubted phonetic fact is to blame, if generations of 'speech-singers' have failed to realize an amalgam of speech impressions and fixed pitch—precisely because they have attempted to follow Schoenberg's instructions. True, pitches never remain stationary in the course of speaking, and each syllable does, of course, start with a definite frequency; but it is wrong to conclude from this that the initial frequency of a syllable occupies a privileged position. Neither at the start of a syllable nor at any other moment of its duration can the pitch be perceived as unequivocally as in the case of a sung note. The ear must be content to establish a kind of average pitch," and it will succeed best in this with short, staccato notes, for instance in a particularly incredulous 'really?'. Close scrutiny may reveal this to comprise a tenth—rather unexpectedly, because an interval produced in this way tends to be veiled through the musically undemonstrative voice-production of speech.

In Pierrot reciters have always found it easiest to reproduce the prescribed pitches without singing them where it is a matter of short notes and wide leaps, for instance 'Erinn'rung mordend!' in 'Nacht', precisely because in such cases there is no time for the change of gear that Schoenberg, in his instructions, demands for every single note. Ethnic groups do exist whose speech-sounds are sometimes longer than many of their singing notes, but in European languages the reverse is clearly true. In Pierrot it is above all the long notes, as Boulez has observed, that cause the difficulties. Not only does Schoenberg's faulty analysis tempt speakers to render the notated pitches unambiguous by simply singing them, correctly or incorrectly; in order to minimize that initial impression and to restore the speech character, there follows a glissando. This brings us to Schoenberg's second error: the pitch curves of natural speech cannot be slowed down without leading to a kind of howling which is utterly dissimilar to speech and often will add an unintended and misleading nuance to the poetics of the work. These un-authentic glissandi, moreover, as distinct from the few expressly notated in the score, have a tendency to land well below the next note, a fault that leads to a further, equally regrettable glissando in the opposite direction. Most awkward, however, is the shifting of the pitch impressions as a result of these ups and downs—always provided, of course, that the rendering of the notated pitches was really intended at all.

Such doubts may seem absurd, given the musically highly significant role that is assigned to the recitation in Pierrot and to the spoken choruses in Die glückliche Hand. In Pierrot the speaking voice is given vital thematic tasks, for instance in 'Parodie', where it forms canons at the unison or at the octave with various instruments, or again in 'Oh alter Duff, where it doubles an instrumental line, as had already occurred in Gurrelieder. There are, furthermore, those cases of self-contained phrases when some notes are sung and others spoken: in Pierrot bar 10 of 'Mondestrunken', bar 35 of 'Colombine', bars 16-18 of 'Dandy', bar 13 of 'Gebet an Pierrot' ; in Die glückliche Hand bar 8 in the first tenor part. Finally, at the start of the latter the polyphonic section consists of singing, sonorous speaking and whispering. One may well wonder how Schoenberg imagined whispered pitches to be realized; but that he intended these, too, may be deduced from the fact that one of the whispered passages, bar 30 of 'Dandy', is notated without pitch differences.

Verbal instructions as to pitch occur in both works, however. In Pierrot one finds at bar 10 of 'Madonna' the instruction 'very high', in the male voices of Die glückliche Hand in the whispered bar 9 'with some tone, high', and in the spoken bar 216 'higher than the female voices'. Schoenberg would hardly have made these entries had he taken it for granted that the pitches he had indicated would be observed. This raises the question whether these entries were made at the time of composition or at a later stage. The 'very high' in 'Madonna' is found in both Pierrot autographs, but this does not prove that the entry dates from the time when the piece was first written down, on 9 May 1912. For although the manuscript that eventually served as the printer's copy appears to have been largely the one used during the composition, the 'Madonna' pages belong to those that Rufer has declared to be not in Schoenberg's hand. Given Schoenberg's Berlin-Zehlendorf stamp at the end of the piece, it could have been written down at any time before the end of May 1913. The other autograph certainly dates from a time after the work's completion, since the pieces are written in two groups of eleven and ten respectively, each group on music paper of the same size but not in the sequence in which they were composed. Admittedly, the sequence here is not the final one either, which seems to imply that the manuscript was written before the first performances in the autumn of 1912—unless, to be sure, the sequence on those occasions was not the definitive one.

The verbal instructions in Die glückliche Hand are found not only in the fair copy, finished on 20 November 1913, but also in a working autograph. Although this working score was not completed until 18 November of that year, its first page (which contains bar 9) bears the note: 'started Friday 9 September 1910'. In the margin Schoenberg wrote, clearly at the same time as (almost) everything on the page: '[the notes with crossed stems] must be spoken at exactly the prescribed time and sustained as indicated; the pitch is to be realized approximately through speech'. Apart from the sketchy style of these remarks, other features suggest that this page of the manuscript—interrupted as we know for a long time—may have been written substantially earlier than the fair copy, perhaps really in 1910. All instruments are written at pitch, whereas the fair copy and the published score employ the conventional transpositions; and one finds here the method, later abandoned, of distinguishing spoken from sung passages, not only by the crossing of stems but also—as is specially pointed out in a marginal note—by underlinings of different thickness.

One cannot dismiss the possibility that as early as the time of conception of Pierrot, or even perhaps of Die glückliche Hand, Schoenberg was capable of disloyalty towards the pitches of his speech-song. Such an assumption is further supported by the remark found as a foot-note to 'Gebet an Pierrot', the first piece to be composed (12 March 1912) and originally intended to open the cycle: 'The recitation must just hint at the pitch'. The blatant contrast between this indifferent attitude to the realization of the pitches and, on the other hand, their minutely differentiated elaboration and integration into the composition suggests a conflict, from the very beginning, in Schoenberg's mind between a desire for speech character and another, seemingly incompatible desire for an exact rendering of the notes. It is little wonder if the confusion caused by such a conflict continues to make itself felt time and again.

It is noteworthy that the Gurrelieder score, sent before 16 July 1912 to Vienna for facsimile publication, contains no instructions for the execution of the speech-song part. It seems, moreover, that Alban Berg, who coached the speaker of the first performance in Vienna on 23 February 1913—he had worked since 1909 under Schoenberg's supervision on the piano reduction—had at first no doubts that the part was musically unambiguous. At least he implies as much in his letter to Schoenberg of 13 January 1913, when he asks: 'Does it suffice if one achieves the closest possible approximation to the pitch?'. No less remarkable is Schoenberg's reply:

Here [in the speaking part of the Gurrelieder] the pitch notation is certainly not to be taken as seriously as in the Pierrot melodramas. The result here should on no account be such a song-like speech-melody as in the latter … the pitches are merely to be regarded as differences of register, which is to say that the passage in question (!!! not the individual note) is to be spoken higher or lower, respectively. But no interval proportions!

It is hard to avoid the impression that this radical denunciation of the pitches in Gurrelieder mirrors Schoenberg's disappointment when, for the first time, he was confronted with the reality of his speech-song during the 25 Pierrot rehearsals and the ensuing tour with his first soloist, Albertine Zehme (26 August to 8 December 1912). He must have been particularly anxious to eliminate this problem in the Gurrelieder since there was the danger that in a tonal work, as distinct from the atonal Pierrot, identifiable but wrongly reproduced pitches could sound like wrong notes. On the other hand, in the letter to Berg the taboo on a singing mode of speech is not yet extended to include Pierrot; with regard to this work it appears for the first time in the preface sent separately to Vienna on 31 January 1914, in time to be printed. The warning next appears, emphatically, in the published score of Die glückliche Hand (1917)—'a "singing" manner of speech must be avoided'—though it is not yet found among the instructions on the first page of the autograph fair copy.

On the other hand, both the 'to be taken seriously' in Schoenberg's letter of 1913 and the 'with due regard to the pitches' in the printed Pierrot preface sound more confident than the earlier 'approximately' and 'hinted at' ('andeutungsweise', admittedly also found in the Spielanweisungen of the published score of Die glückliche Hand). Again, 'to be taken seriously' sounds more definite than the formulation found in draft—left incomplete and heavily crossed out—in the printer's manuscript of Pierrot, sent to Vienna before December 1913: 'the pitches observe their mutual relations as indicated'. The same wording appears in modified form about a year later on the first page of the fair copy of Die glückliche Hand: 'The pitches, but in particular the relations between the individual pitches, are to be rendered accordingly'. An apologetic nuance in 'but in particular' is unmistakable; it sounds like resigning oneself to what is possible, if what had originally been intended should turn out to be impossible.

The speech-song confusion is mirrored most vividly in a footnote to bar 214 of Die glückliche Hand, both in the fair copy and the printed score and in Steuermann's piano reduction (1923). Here the speaking chorus of six men and six women receives the following instructions:

the three-note chords are meant to indicate that the passages in question are to be spoken on pitches that lie within the corresponding registers of the singers so that, as it were, chords result. This refers always to the phrase in question (even if the chords are no longer notated) and is suspended by the instruction 'unisono'.

For this footnote to make sense, it has to be assumed that everywhere else in the speech-song parts Schoenberg expected the notated pitches to be strictly observed. Yet it is precisely in the bars marked 'unisono' that one finds in the (fully notated) tenor parts the already mentioned instruction 'higher than the female voices', which implies a doubt whether the written notes will be realized. In such a case it is unavoidable that chords will result, as it is in the many other cases where the same notes are given to more than one member of the chorus. For how can a group of singers sing a phrase 'unisono' if they do not know on what pitches they are to agree? And on what pitches can they agree if not on those which they find in their parts?

In the course of an historic contest in the house of Alma Mahler in 1922, Schoenberg came down on the side of the predominantly spoken delivery of the actress Erika Wagner-Stiedry and decided against the predominantly sung interpretation—later censured in several letters—by Marya Freund. Milhaud, who conducted the second of these performances (Schoenberg himself was in charge of the first), wrote later that Marya Freund 'if anything erred on the side of observing [the notes] too carefully'; by this he probably meant, not that she sang too correctly, but that her delivery was too reminiscent of singing, for it was just this that Schoenberg later reproached her with. No one who has heard a brazenly sung performance will deny that this does substantially detract from the Pierrot ambience. When Milhaud adds that in his view there exists no final solution of this problem, one may suspect that the existence of a problem was discussed in the course of that evening.

Also problem-ridden is the attitude of Erwin Stein, whose Pierrot performance with Frau Wagner-Stiedry in 1920 had been expressly sanctioned by the composer and who in those years belonged to the innermost Schoenberg circle. Yet in two articles of 1927 and 1928 Stein declared that in the speech-song of Pierrot the initial pitches are so short as to be irrelevant for the formation of harmony. This new twist served to justify and elaborate on the wording of the previously mentioned footnote to Die glückliche Hand—'to be spoken on pitches that lie within the corresponding registers'. The reciter, we now read,

must not only transpose her part regardless of the accompaniment, just to suit the register of her voice; she must also reduce the individual intervals in accordance with her vocal compass; what matters are merely the proportions of the melodic line, that is to say, as long as a fifth represents a larger leap than a fourth, and so on.

One may well doubt whether Schoenberg and Stein tried to think this through to the end. Did they really expect the reciter to establish the ratio between her own speaking compass and a generally valid, average vocal compass, so that in due course she would be able to multiply each occurring interval by this complex fraction? None of this was evident when I took the piano part in the Pierrot performances that Stein conducted in England in 1942. On the contrary, he tried his utmost during rehearsals to get the speaker, Hedli Anderson, to render the pitches correctly.

That same year, 1942, saw the release of Schoenberg's own Pierrot recording with Frau Wagner-Stiedry, whose interpretation almost always ignores the pitches and quite often even goes against the direction of the melody as notated. Nonetheless, one reads of a letter to Schoenberg in which Stein describes how he had defended this interpretation in a discussion with the English musicians Walter Legge and Cecil Gray. And one is incredulous when he goes on to report Karl Rankl's delight with Hedli Anderson's nearly note-perfect rendering: are, then, he asks, the prescribed pitches in Pierrot to be observed?

Yet if Stein, in his articles, still grants a measure of validity at least to the pitch contours, Schoenberg in 1949 went so far as to claim that after all the reciter in Pierrot 'never sings the theme, but, at most, speaks against it, while the themes (and everything else of musical importance) happen in the instruments'—unmindful that prior to 1914 he had added the annotation to 'Eine blasse Wäscherin': 'here the recitation must definitely sound like an accompaniment to the instruments; they are the main parts and the voice is subsidiary'. This can only mean that in all other pieces the opposite is the case. Not many months later he insisted that the Pierrot poems 'must be spoken without fixed pitch'; and in 1950 he declared in a letter, after complaining about the 'wrong melodies' produced by the speaker in a recording of Gurrelieder, that there no melodies at all are intended, for otherwise he would surely have written them down—precisely as if he had forgotten that that was just what he had in fact done.

The wheel comes full circle in January 1951 when he writes to the Stiedrys—as he had done 38 years earlier to Berg—'as against Pierrot, there are no pitches here [i.e. in the melodrama of the Gurrelieder]'. Yet a year or two after Schoenberg's death Rudolf Kolisch, his brother-inlaw, told me that towards the end of his life Schoenberg had repeatedly declared that in Pierrot the notated pitches need to be avoided because they do not fit the music. Considered jointly, what these two edicts amount to is that in Pierrot Schoenberg was prepared to accept any pitches whatsoever, with the sole exception of those which he had actually composed.

A variant of the disavowal reported by Kolisch is already found in a footnote to the score of Moses und Aron: 'Here, as everywhere else, please never sing the speech notes! They do not correspond to the rows!' Referring as it does to the chorus in bar 752 of Act I, this remark would seem to come rather late in the day; it also contradicts the prefatory instruction to the chorus comprising the Voice from the Burning Bush, not, admittedly, to sing the notes but to speak them with the 'closest possible approximation of the indicated heights'. This, in turn, does not agree with the cryptic statement that in Moses's spoken part 'the pitch differences are merely intended to characterize the declamation'.

It is true that in Moses und Aron (1930-32), as distinct from the earlier works that contain speech-song, there are indications in the compositional style itself that the speech-song parts were not conceived in a uniform manner. On the one hand, the chorus contains, time and again, diatonic and even triadic formations that could not possibly have been intended as such, since in the context of this score they would amount to at least as drastic a stylistic contradiction as are the dissonant melodies which Schoenberg, I believe, dreaded in the Gurrelieder in 1913. On the other hand, such a view of speech notes as representing no more than approximate indications of the speaking register contrasts with the once again very precise elaboration of other spoken episodes, both of the chorus and, above all, in the part of Moses. The latter, moreover, contains some passages—as Pierrot had done already—where the notes are written without heads but merely with stems (e.g. Act II, bars 1003, 1010-11, 1019), proving an obviously intended contrast with most bars in the part. Yet again Aron, a sung part, is offered the choice of speaking some notes, in which case, though, they have to be played by an instrument (bars 1043-7); this may well mean that Schoenberg assumed at that time that the frequencies of the spoken pitches could not be perceived as such.

These obvious inner contradictions in Schoenberg's attitude eventually brought about a radical solution. Whereas in Kol Nidre of 1938 the recitation of the Rabbi—in so far as notes are used at all—is still notated on the usual five lines (as also in the De Profundis of 1950, perhaps because here the same voices alternate between singing and speaking), in the Ode to Napoleon (1942), A Survivor from Warsaw (1947) and Modern Psalm (1950) Schoenberg places the notes at varying distances above or below a single line. Significantly, he applied the same procedure to the originally still fully notated speech lines of Die Jakobsleiter when, in 1944, he temporarily resumed work on the oratorio, left unfinished in 1922—almost as if he wanted to make it clear that he had never wanted those sour pitches. In spite of this, however, he uses extra stave-lines and—height of absurdity—accidentals, so that here again some twelve to fourteen pitches are not so much indicated by the notation but can be read into it, though the intervals as assumed here are considerably narrower than those of the chromatic scale since they are supposed to fit into the narrower range of speech.

With this, Schoenberg finally reveals his basic misconception—going back fifteen years and implied by Erwin Stein's articles—that as a consequence of the speaking range being narrower than that of the singing voice, spoken sounds have a lesser pitch tolerance than sung sounds. In fact the opposite is the case: in comparison with a singer, a speaker has at his disposal a greater variety of sounds all of which may be heard as the same pitch, precisely because—as noted earlier—a spoken pitch impression results from the vague, hardly predictable average of a frequency curve. And not only does the speaker operate with a larger number of single-pitch frequency impressions than the singer; the difference between his one 'note' and the next is less distinct.

All this suggests that at some level or other of his consciousness Schoenberg did intend the notated pitches to emerge as speechsong pitches, but that with characteristic stubbornness he was prepared to sacrifice an essential aspect of his composition for the sake of an interpretative nuance. But such a sacrifice was not really necessary. The difference between singing and speaking is by no means, as Schoenberg assumed, restricted to the contrast between steady and sliding pitch. It also depends—and not least—on tone production, i.e. the distribution, density and strength of those bands of the frequency spectrum that function as vocal formants. In singing, vowels preserve their timbre, whereas in the course of speech there is a continual interchange of various diphthongs and triphthongs. While a singing voice could hardly produce the rapid pitch curves of realistic, natural speech, it is perfectly possible for the speaking voice to maintain a given pitch for substantially longer periods than are usual in everyday speech. Schoenberg, in fact, did not desire a realistic speaking for his melodramatic style but repeatedly demanded a kind of declamation: Stein talks of 'elevated speech' and Schoenberg, in the Pierrot preface, of 'speech that contributes to a musical form'. But evidently Schoenberg failed to take into consideration the fact that the elevated speech of auctioneers, priests and tragedians (to take a grouping used by phoneticians) not only exaggerates the ups and downs of speech but will also occasionally prolong a given pitch unnaturally. If this goes unnoticed in most cases, the reason is that the notes of such a sequence only very rarely belong to the chromatic scale.

There remains the question why such virtually fixed pitches still do not sound as if they were being sung. The answer is that, somewhat ironically, the impression of singing in fact results from the minute fluctuations of pitch that comprise vibrato. A voice production avoiding vibrato has enabled Marie-Thérèse Escribano, and to some extent Helga Pilarczyk earlier, to convey in recorded performances of Pierrot the prescribed pitches without violating the taboo on singing. There remain, to be sure, problems of range and of notes that are too long after all. These have to be shortened unless they happen to end on one of the 'musical' consonants 1, m or n on which it is possible to linger, even though Stein—that is to say, Schoenberg—explicitly prohibited such compromises.

Nonetheless, it is this technique that renders possible a realization of Schoenberg's grandiose Pierrot that is by and large authentic—and not only musically. Schoenberg, it is true, noted in his diary at the time of composition: 'Here the sounds acquire an all-but-animalic immediacy in expressing sensuous and spiritual emotions'. Yet it seems that this was meant to relate to the expressionist style of the music rather than to the execution of the speech-song. At least, one may conclude as much from his letter to the Stiedrys dated August 1940, where he writes: ' … this time I intend to catch perfectly that light, ironical, satirical tone in which the piece was actu-ally conceived'. This is confirmed by Steuermann's story of Schoenberg's reaction when the first-ever speaker showed a tendency to play the tragic heroine and grow too tearful in 'Der kranke Mond': 'Don't despair, Frau Zehme, there is after all such a thing as Life Insurance!'

Had Schoenberg been aware that an effective method exists of realizing speech-song, he would presumably never have become enmeshed in the contradictions set out above. Nor would he, in Moses und Aron, ever have written those tonal chorus passages which have now become realizable and thus render the work, strictly speaking, impossible to perform. Finally, in the Ode to Napoleon, A Survivor from Warsaw and Modern Psalm he would have composed the speaker's part in as unambiguously precise a manner as he evidently had conceived it.

Jean Christensen (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: "The Spiritual and The Material in Schoenberg's Thinking," in Music & Letters, Vol. 65, No. 4, October, 1984, pp. 337-44.

[In the following essay, Christensen explains the system of philosophy underlying all of Schoenberg's work.]

Preserved in the archive of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles is a collection of some 200 items, mostly unpublished and undescribed, consisting of drafts, sketches and casual notes left over when Schoenberg's more finished writings were selected for publication towards the end of his life and after his death. They are not in their original condition. Many hands have sifted through them searching for items of specific interest. Eventually what order remained was obliterated when the archivist, the late Clara Steuermann, dismantled Schoenberg's binders and folders as a consequence of her decision to preserve ideas rather than artefacts. But the composer's own annotations make it possible to restore his ordering and, to a large extent, to reconstruct his design.

During his last stay in Germany, in the late summer and autumn of 1932, Schoenberg sorted his already extensive collection of personal papers according to chronology, form and content. The organization emerged readily from the recurrent subject-matter and concerns contained in this rich fund of ideas and observations from which he drew and to which he added continuously. Individual documents were assigned to various classifications, and an additional system of numbering provided cross-references between categories, enabling him to plot interrelationships between ideas in different areas.

This comprehensive enterprise, more like a filing system than a simple method for clearing one's desk, is characteristic of Schoenberg's temperament. A demonstration of his dedication to the internal logic of his own ideas is a plan for an autobiography designed to reveal the coherence of his intellectual world. From the earliest dated document of 1924 it is already clear that this was to be no factual narrative, and on its revision in 1932 the title 'Biography in Encounters' ('Lebensgeschichte in Begegnungen') was added.

I have for a long time been planning to write an autobiography that will be accomplished, as far as my memory allows, by presenting all the persons with whom I have been in contact, in so far as they and their relationship to me are of interest, as they showed themselves to me and by describing precisely the relationship between them and myself. This is of course not primarily an act of revenge, rather it is a system which I expect will open my memory. [As I proceed,] the links between different persons and separate events will emerge; in such a way I believe that I will be able to be as truthful as is possible, whereas I should certainly fail in an attempt at a chronological account.…

I will prepare a filing system of envelopes or small manila folders and gradually collect notes which I shall write as they occur to me, without forcing anything, without any programme. I will read through these notes frequently, make comments on persons and events at the relevant places and eventually come to the point where I can give some sections a finished shape.

The autobiography was to have been a record of his thought, of the transitions that marked the stages of his intellectual development. In one of the early documents (c. 1932) he wrote a brief outline of his spiritual itinerary:

How I became a musician
How I became a Christian
How I became a Brahmsian
How I became a Wagnerian

The project was continued in America. At some time in the mid 1940s Schoenberg wrote a series of headings, distributed over a number of pages, each with subsequent additions of relevant names and dates (not included here): 'My friendships … Publishers … My relations … Musicians, painters, poets … Writers … Music critics and theorists … Conductors … Rabbi … University … Scientists … Thieves … Rogues … Patrons … Students … Orchestras … Performers.…'

Schoenberg's lifelong concern to preserve coherence and consistency in his ideas and activities is nowhere more succinctly stated than it is in the draft of a letter to Willem Mengelberg discussing his role as co-chairman of the proposed Mahler Society:

I can work in one way only: with total personal commitment. Consequently, everything that hap-pens must be my own work, my responsibility, and carry my personal stamp throughout. Impersonal attitudes should not be expected of me; people have the right to demand that I take a personal standpoint, and I have the duty to do so.

The 'personal stamp' that informs all of Schoenberg's writings, from his most ambitious projects to even the more ephemeral and circumstantial notes in the Los Angeles papers, was the product of a consistent personal philosophy at whose heart lies the concept of an opposition between the spiritual and the material. This religious/philosophical idea, expressed for the first time in explicit form in Die Jakobsleiter (c. 1915-22), structured all his thinking. According to the two categories of spirit and matter he evaluated persons and events and created a scheme of divisions which, though flexible and never doctrinaire, was the source of his unfailing idealism. He made use of them when defining the principles of his ethics, when explaining his hierarchical model of human existence, when evaluating cultural activities and when developing his ideas about the nature of art, about the obligations of artists and about the relationship between beauty and truth, progress and tradition. In each of these areas the dual categories of spirit and matter were his touchstones.

The two categories are seen with particular clarity in a fairly complete draft of 1931-2 for the text of a choral work. The first of its three verses comprises a strophe and an anti-strophe focusing respectively on the qualities that belong to the material and to the spiritual.

Man is evil!
He not only defends himself
but also attacks;
he not only searches for what is right
but also reaches for power;
he strives not only for what is necessary
but also for the superfluous;
he not only defends his own interests
but also desires the hurt of his opponent;
he wants not only to preserve his self-esteem
but also to oppress his fellow man.

[Man is good!]
  He is not subservient to dark instincts
but is capable of telling good from evil.
  He can forget evil, think about good.
He searches for what is new, reaches out for what
  is great.
He not only fights for himself and his belongings
but promotes ideas, sacrifices himself for them.
He saves not only himself by flight.
but also covers your retreat.
He is not only a friend in good fortune
but is also concerned about the suffering of

The text immediately demonstrates Schoenberg's procedure for testing a cultural phenomenon: he first draws the balance between the material and the spiritual elements involved and then determines its place within his scheme. In its unmediated confrontation between the two extremes of his universe the choral text presents in starkest contrast the outer limits of the hierarchy of human attitudes that had been developed in detail in Die Jakobsleiter, with its distinct classes of 'progressing' characters and its list of 46 types of 'lost souls', the latter subdivided into a dozen or so main groups according to degrees of materialistic preoccupation. The scheme takes the form of a pyramid rising from the low region of material concerns to the elevated sphere of spiritual achievement. At the top are the few capable of approaching the highest revelations. At the bottom are the many who, at best, glimpse the divine truth only fleetingly. In between is a profusion of 'stages' distinguished by the varying intensity with which the protagonists engage in the battle against materialism. Indifference is culpable, but the spiritual awareness of those on the lower levels can be raised by those above.

Apathy is the most primitive kind of resistance. This is the condition of unorganic matter, which can be organized—given organs—by subjecting it to strong emotional shocks.

Consequently, Schoenberg's view, though uncompromising, is essentially optimistic and non-élitist: education and the arts are the means for creating a progressively intellectual milieu. Thus his evaluation of the results of his own teaching in America is one of satisfaction:

Out of 1,000 students not one will become a great master; but quite a few will become able connoisseurs, good teachers, good friends of the arts…

He was active in a number of societies for the promotion of the arts, and a draft survives of plans for an 'Alliance for the Protection of Intellectual Culture' ('Schutzbund für geistige Kultur'). This provides further gradations within the upper levels of his hierarchical pyramid. There are students and friends of the arts, willing to make sacrifices for the sake of 'intellectual culture'. On a higher level are 'teachers and reproducers', actively concerned in the struggle to raise spiritual standards. The highest class comprises 'creative scientists and artists', the devoted seekers after truth. The 'Alliance' is Schoenberg's ideal model for cultural progress:

Culture … tempers everything that would be too hot or too cold if left to primeval, savage instincts; it avails itself of elemental forces only in exceptional situations, cases for which society has as yet not found a different solution.

The conviction in the possibility and necessity of progress lies at the root of Schoenberg's refusal to tolerate uninformed criticism.

I find applause and hissing equally embarrassing and humiliating … not least for the audience itself; it should beware of giving vent to its inability to judge, since that would only reveal its own cowardice and its lack of responsibility…

His vehement response to criticism, predictably well-represented in the Los Angeles documents, was not merely a matter of injured pride; first and foremost it reflects his belief that critics have the obligation to keep abreast of artists and other explorers in order to be the first to comprehend new ideas and communicate them to the public. When they excuse themselves from their task by arguing for outdated aesthetics they shirk their responsibility. On occasion they even have the presumption to state flatly that they 'do not understand' new works—and this they do 'with pride! not with embarrassment; with no sense of shame'.

The chief responsibility for sustaining the battle against materialism, however, must be waged not by critics but by artists, those in search of the highest revelations, and no one reaped sharper criticism than fellow composers who betrayed their deepest obligations. The full weight of sarcasm fell on Richard Strauss, who in Schoenberg's opinion openly exploited the low, materialistic concerns of his audiences. In response to a comment by Strauss to the effect that 'in each of my works there must be a melody which can be understood by the most stupid fellow in the hall' he noted:

One would like to believe that Strauss has a hard time placing himself on the level of the most stupid fellow: but if one takes a look at these melodies, one has to admit that he has succeeded in doing so. And it gives the impression of being done quite naturally.

One yields to practical necessities; he identifies concessions with practical necessity. Genius has the boldness to dispense with conventions in pursuit of inner necessities; he has the effrontery to dispense with the conventional necessities of his tiny ego. This confusion is typical of the purveyor of kitsch in the face of ideas. Problems arise for him and are solved by him in the same way: he misunderstands them. But it cannot be disputed that he has dealt with them: he has hidden them under a coating of sugar icing, so that the public sees only the greatness of his world, the world of a Marzipanmeister.

The commentary ends: 'This is not the way of thinking of a man whom God has given a mission.'

Schoenberg's concept of the artist's vocation is unyielding: liberating man's divine spirit is the one worthy goal of artistic creations; concessions to materialism are unacceptable. The artist who sacrifices truth for grandeur, popularity, charm or beauty betrays his commitment. The conflict between truth and beauty was of vital importance to Schoenberg. This central theme of Moses und Aron was already present in the earliest sketches for Die Jakobsleiter in the persons of the two main characters, 'The Chosen One', who searches for a hidden truth, and 'The Called One' , whose goal is sensuous beauty. Schoenberg's delineation of the relative value of truth and beauty is that of an artist to whom the process of artistic creativity is a way of participating in the universal struggle between matter and spirit. In this interpretation, beauty is but the occasional by-product of the search for ultimate truth; and it is a dubious quality that readily partakes of the nature of matter. As a late note (in English) on performance practices states: 'The most beautiful tone is often only the result of superficiality joined with sentimentality.'

Schoenberg's musical theories and compositional practices were consistent with his philosophy. A small note-book from the American years contains a hasty but resolute draft (in English) for an essay on the 'mutual relations between beauty and logic in music' describing his creative approach in terms of a quest for truth, a tenacious testing of materials:

[The essay's] main purpose shall be to dethrone beauty as much as possible as a serious factor in the creation [of] music. It shall be assumed that it [is] neither the aim of a composer to produce beauty nor is a feeling of beauty a producing 'agence' [sic] in his imagination. It might and often does occur that in spite of an occupation in quite a different direction the complete work produces a feeling of beauty in a listener.

But the main problem of a composer is: expression and presentation of musical ideas, the right organization which is based on musical logic, and what one calls form in music is not a preconceived shape in which music has to be filled in.

Musical ideas are such combinations of tones, rhythms and harmonies, which require a treatment like the main thesis of a philosophical or [space left open] subject. It arises [sic] a question, puts up a problem, which in the course of the piece has to be answered, resolved, carried through. It has to be carried through many contradictionary [sic] situations, it has to be developed by drawing consequences from what it postulates, has to be checked in many cases, and all this might lead to a conclusion…

Another draft, entitled 'Some Ideas about the Establishment of a Modern Theory of Composition' ('Einige Ideen zur Begründung einer modernen Kompositionslehre'), explains the origins of his artistic tools with a characteristically direct comparison between the problems of verbal and musical communication; the need for artistic creativity arises at the precise moment when a person wants to refer to something that transcends the sphere of ordinary, circumstantial matters.

In the case of simple events, happy or sad experiences the like of which everybody knows, the strictly historical enumeration of the facts is enough for me, mostly by stating the facts alone, as one does in such instances as births, engagements, deaths and so on.

I need to make further demands on my presentation only when the event I want to communicate is complex, unusual, or when I want to attain the effects that lie outside the material sphere … In this case the prevailing concern is for the best, the most effective disposition, for structure; this requires consideration alongside, if not priority over, the material facts. In this case I am obliged to depart in some degree from the pure truth; I can no longer be content with representing things and events as they are, as they happened; I must change the sequence of events; things that are too light I must colour darker, tint dark hues lighter; I must represent insignificant elements more modestly and allow essential elements more room, pride of place and the external attributes of a more important appearance. I will often have to separate and dissociate elements that in real life were connected; conversely, I have to associate elements where I need to do so for my particular effect. Thus I distance myself from ordinary facts, dispense with them, place myself—the narrator—above them … This big step away from the imitation of nature is the first step in art…

This view dictated all Schoenberg's artistic practices. In his paintings he frequently disregarded the outward appearance of his subjects—the details of their material form—in order to capture an inner truth, their spiritual reality.

I have, on the one hand, a poor memory for what people look like, but I could (formerly), on the other hand, with a few lines draw a person's face after having seen him once. I was unable to explain this contradiction until I discovered that it is connected with another ability: I can imitate the vision [Blick] of most people! And that is because I only look people in the eyes (so that I often would not know whether somebody has a moustache or not). This is also the reason why my drawings got worse after the first few lines; that is, when I started adding details.

As a composer he followed comparable procedures. When setting texts to music, for instance, he rigorously refused to let words, even his own, determine the expressive features of the musical setting, since music can capture a truth which is beyond words. Noticing that a large part of the public feels more comfortable when the understanding of a musical work is facilitated by a text, he complained:

My music has never been liked unless there was a text to it.—As for Pierrot Lunaire, after a while people so liked the text that they did not even let themselves be distracted by my music.

In the large religious works the characters closest to truth do not communicate with words: in Die Jakobsleiter the Soul's words dissolve into ecstatic, textless vocalise as she is liberated from her material body and approaches the divine light, and in Moses und Aron the prophet lacks Aaron's command of language.

To Schoenberg the sole concern of serious music was that spiritual reality which notes can express. Indeed, one of the most personal features of his compositional technique, those unmediated, often abrupt and extremely demanding transitions that characterize his musical style, is dictated by his determination to dispense with circumstantial matters and penetrate to the essential. He selected this feature for special consideration in a 'brief self-characterization' written for the Herder Konversationslexikon:

As a composer: Continuation of artistic procedures that have been passed down, in an effort to achieve the most intensive use of musical space (in the smallest space the greatest content).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Schoenberg's philosophy is its close correlation with his compositional working procedures. In his sketchbooks for Die Jakobsleiter, for instance, there are two predominant types of sketches. One consists of notations written down in broad outline, leaving space open for filling in details and often continuing for pages with all its main features present in next-to-final shape. In this manner the sketch catches the essence of an idea, neglecting details of its materialization. The other type is written down in fairly complete form but not continued or expanded in situ. When it eventually reappears in a later draft it is often found in a new context but with all elements of its original form retained. For Schoenberg, then, these sketches represented inspired ideas, particles of ultimate truth, which once found or revealed could neither be altered nor lose validity. In the letter to Mengelberg already quoted he wrote:

For me there is only the music paper on which I write my music, which therefore has to be right. I think once—thoroughly, and nothing of what I write is then open to change later on.

To capture those moments of truth when the spirit escapes from its material prison was the lasting goal of Schoenberg's artistry, the one which, he felt, applied to all genuine works of art from all ages:

There is only one direct way to perpetuate the past, tradition, the thinking of our predecessors: to begin all over again, as if everything that went before were false; once again to enter into contact with the essence of things and not just to proceed with the technique of elaborating on given materials.

This vision, acquired early in life and defined in philosophical terms in maturity, inspired that unity of his work to which he refers in a note written when he was about 54:

To be quite precise, I have been saying the same thing for about 25 years (if not more), only I am constantly saying it better.

Schoenberg was never the strict, systematic philosopher, though he frequently referred to philosophical literature in his writings and possessed a number of treatises. His personal approach to the laws and resources of human knowledge was largely an offshoot of nineteenth-century idealism, itself characterized by the categoric distinction between mind and matter and the prominent place accorded ethics in its scheme of things, the opposition between reason and desires. Though for the most part rejected by present-day philosophy, this 'categoric' conceptual scheme was for Schoenberg an inspiring and organizing force in a rich creative life. His own system served his personal interpretation of the human condition; it was his means of exposing inertia and generating creativity. His categories did not constitute a rigid set of separate pigeon-holes but served as guidelines for his intuition, allowing him to evaluate a variety of phenomena against a single basic ideal without neglecting contradictions and ambivalences. A seeker of eternal truth, he accepted the relative and often paradoxical nature of human knowledge. And he believed that the highest revelations elude verbal formulations. As he once put it:

Should an author ever try to say anything about his work?

If something remains to be said, why is it not in the work itself?

If nothing remains to be said: what is there to talk about?

Robert P. Morgan (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7046

SOURCE: "Secret Languages: The Roots of Musical Modernism," in Modernism: Challenges and Perspectives, edited by Monique Chefdor, Ricardo Quinones and Albert Wachtel, University of Illinois Press, 1986, pp. 33-50.

[In the following essay, originally published in Critical Inquiry in 1984, Morgan associates Schoenberg's development of atonal music with a "crisis in language " that occurred in the early twentieth century.]

In der modernen Prosa sprechen wir eine Sprache, die wir mit dem Gefühle nicht verstehen.… Wir können nach unserer innersten Empfindung in dieser Sprache gewissermassen nicht mitsprechen, denn es ist uns unmöglich, nach dieser Empfindung in ihr zu erfinden; wir können unsere Empfindungen in ihr nur dem Verstande, nicht aber dem zuversichtlich verstehenden Gefühle mittheilen.… In der modernen Sprache kann nicht gedichtet werden, d.h.… eine dichterische Absicht kann in ihr verwirklicht, sondern eben nur als solche ausgesprochen werden.

(In modern prose we speak a language we do not understand with the feeling.… we cannot discourse in this language according to our innermost emotion, for it is impossible to invent in it according to that emotion; in it, we can only impart our emotions to the understanding, but not to the implicitly understood feeling.… In modern speech no poesis is possible, that is to say, poetic aim cannot be realized therein, but only spoken out as such.)

Seitdem nun die modernen europäischen Sprachen … mit immer ersichtlicherer Tendenz ihrer rein Konventionellen Ausbildung folgten, entwickelte sich andererseits die Musik zu einem bisher der Welt unbekannten Vermögen des Ausdruckes. Es ist, als ob das durch die Kompression seitens der konventionellen Civilization gesteigerte rein menschliche Gefühl sich einen Ausweg zur Geltendmachung seiner ihm eigenthümlichen Sprachgesetze gesucht natte, durch welche es, frei vom Zwange der logischen Denkgesetze, sich selbst verständlich sich ausdrüken könnte.

(Now, ever since the modern European languages … have followed this conventional drift to a more and more obvious tendency, music, on the other hand, has been developing a power of expression unknown to the world before. It is as though the purely human feeling, intensified by the pressure of a conventional civilization, has been seeking an outlet for the operation of its own peculiar laws of speech; an outlet through which, unfettered by the laws of logical thought, it might express itself intelligibly to itself.)

In reading recent literature on the history and aesthetics of Western music, one consistently encounters references to the "language" of this music, especially with regard to the practice of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tonality. Although the word "language" is used metaphorically in such cases, the metaphor seems remarkably apt (and convenient), and this no doubt accounts for its persistence. When applied to twentieth-century music, however, the sense of the term—and thus the nature of the metaphor—requires significant adjustment. For here, un-like the case in earlier Western music, one is unable to find that most characteristic feature of all natural languages, the universal acceptance of an enduring set of formal conventions evident throughout a given linguistic domain. Attempts, as in Donald Mitchell's The Language of Modern Music, to define a twentieth-century musical mainstream (in Mitchell's case, Schoenbergian dodecaphony), elevating its technical and systematic foundation to the status of a uniquely "proper" language for the age, appear seriously misguided and in flagrant opposition to the actual course of twentieth-century musical developments. Musical modernism is marked, above all, by its "linguistic plurality" and by the failure of any one language to assume a dominant position.

This plurality and the significant transformations in musical structure, expression, and intent it reflects form interesting parallels with characteristic features of the modernist movement in general; and it is primarily these connections that I wish to explore here. That such parallels exist is hardly surprising, since music—or perhaps more accurately the idea of music—is intimately tied to certain basic conceptions underlying the modernist revolution. Indeed, musical developments of the critical years around the turn of the century mirror with particular clarity the general intellectual and artistic climate of the period as a whole.

Although considerable controversy persists concerning both the nature and chronology of modernism, there seems to be widespread agreement that it incorporated a wish to turn away from concrete, everyday reality, to break out of the routine of ordinary actions in the hope of attaining a more personal and idealized vision of reality. There were of course precedents for this attitude in romanticism, but its artistic manifestations began to take on uniquely modern colorations toward the end of the century. In particular, there is a prevalent move away from realism and naturalism toward a new and radical abstractionism, evident not only in a turn toward less representational modes in the visual arts but in new attitudes toward language in literature and, as we shall see, in music (by metaphorical extension) as well.

It is frequently noted that a "crisis in language" accompanied the profound changes in human consciousness everywhere evident near the turn of the century. As the nature of reality itself became problematic—or at least suspect, distrusted for its imposition of limits upon individual imagination—so necessarily did the relationship of language to reality. Thus the later nineteenth century increasingly questioned the adequacy of an essentially standardized form of "classical" writing—writing that, even though often in "elevated" form, bore a close connection to ordinary discourse—as an effective vehicle for artistic expression. Indeed, it was precisely the mutually shared, conventional aspects of language that came to be most deeply distrusted for their failure to mirror the more subjective, obscure, and improbable manifestations of a transcendent reality—or rather realities, the plural reflecting an insistence upon the optional and provisional nature of human experience. Language in its normal manifestations, with its conventionalized vocabulary and standardized rules for syntactical combination, proved in-adequate for an artistic sensibility insisting upon, in Nietzsche's words, "a world of abnormally drawn perspectives."

This dissatisfaction with "normal" language received its classic statement through Hofmannsthal's Lord Chandos. Writing in 1902, Hofmannsthal conveys through the figure of the aristocratic Chandos the loss of an encompassing framework within which the various objects of external reality are connected with one another and integrated with the internal reality of human feelings. Chandos's world has become one of disparate, disconnected fragments, resistant to the abstractions of ordinary language. It is a world characterized by "a sort of feverish thought, but thought in a material that is more immediate, more fluid and more intense than that of language." Chandos longs for a new language in which "not a single word is known to me, a language in which mute objects speak to me and in which perhaps one day, in the grave, I will give account of myself before an unknown judge." The content and forms of art thus shift away from exterior reality, which no longer provides a stable, "given" material, toward language itself—to "pure" language in a sense closely related to the symbolists' "pure" poetry. "No artist tolerates reality," Nietzsche proclaimed; and, according to Flaubert, he should write "a book about nothing, a book without external attachments, which would hold itself together by itself through the internal force of its style."

It is more than coincidental, I think, that both Nietzsche and Hofmannsthal were intensely musical and intimately involved with music. For both, music provided a sort of idealized model for the reformulation of art and language. Indeed, music acquired the status of a central symbolic image for many of the principal artistic concerns of the years immediately preceding and following the turn of the century. Walter Pater provided perhaps the strongest statement (certainly the most famous) in asserting (in 1873) that "all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." Removed from ordinary reality by its nonsubstantive and nondesignative nature, music offered the age an ideal embodiment of the notion that art is pure form, and thus pure language. Pater's is only one of a series of such pronouncements appearing in the aesthetic literature of the period, e.g., in Verlaine's "De la musique avant toute chose," or in Valéry's "Reprendre à la musique leur bien." Music, with its apparent indifference to external reality, comes to be viewed as the purest manifestation of human thought—as a "language" capable of producing the sort of "immediacy, fluidity and intensity" that Hofmannsthal found missing in ordinary words.

The tendency to propose music as a model for artistic intentions and aspirations is equally evident among painters. Delacroix, for example, stressed "the music of a picture"; and Gauguin, when questioned concerning the meaning of one of his paintings ("Where are we going…"), said that it should be understood as "music without a libretto." But perhaps the most fully developed argument for a musical "basis" for painting appeared in Kandinsky's writings from the early years of the present century, in which he calls for the creation of a "pure painting" independent of external reality. Kandinsky repeatedly evokes music as an ideal for a more abstract, "object-free" art: "After music, painting will be the second of the arts … [it] will attain to the higher level of pure art, upon which music has already stood for several centuries." Similarly: "Music, which externally is completely emancipated from nature, does not need to borrow external forms from anywhere in order to create its language. Painting today is still almost entirely dependent upon natural forms, upon forms borrowed from nature. And its task today is to examine its forces and its materials, to become acquainted with them, as music has long since done, and to attempt to use these materials and forces in a purely painterly way for the purpose of creation." Indeed, Kandinsky goes so far as to envision the eventual development of a malerische Generalbass and a Harmonielehre der Malerei (i.e., theories of figured bass and of harmony for painting).

The idea of music as a uniquely privileged medium able to penetrate to the essence of reality and thus express things inaccessible to language as such has a history extending back at least to the turn of the nineteenth century. Its definitive philosophical statement was supplied by Schopenhauer, in whose formulation it became a cornerstone of the aesthetics of romanticism. Writing in 1819, in The World as Will and Idea, he praises music above all other arts as a "universal language" capable of expressing, "in a homogeneous material, mere tone, and with the greatest determinateness and truth, the inner nature, the in-itself of the world." Unlike the other arts, it is not a "copy of the phenomenon, or more accurately, the adequate objectivity of will, but is the direct copy of the will itself, and therefore exhibits itself as the metaphysical to everything physical in the world." The composer thus becomes in Schopenhauer's eyes a sort of clairvoyant, privy to truths hidden from ordinary beings: he "reveals the inner nature of the world, and expresses the deepest wisdom in a language which his reason does not understand; as a person under the influence of mesmerism tells things of which he has no conception when he awakes."

This view reflects, and presupposes, a uniquely modern and Western conception of music as an autonomous art, freed from the verbal texts to which it had traditionally been attached and upon which its meaning and significance had always depended. Schopenhauer is explicit on the point that only instrumental music enjoys the special powers he ascribes to the art: "It is precisely this universality, which belongs exclusively to it, together with the greatest determinateness, that give music the high worth which it has as the panacea for all our woes. Thus, if music is too closely united with the words, and tries to form itself according to the events, it is striving to speak a language which is not its own." It was not until the eighteenth century, however, that instrumental music gradually began to emerge as an equal partner to vocal music; and thus only then could such a "pure" music be taken seriously, and questions arise as to what this textless music might be "saying." Already by the early years of the nineteenth century the prevailing attitude toward instrumental music had completely changed. For many it had become the only true music, the only form in which music could attain its highest and purest expression. Wilhelm Wackenroder, writing at the end of the eighteenth century, praises music above all other arts, for "it speaks a language we do not know in ordinary life, which we have learned, we know not where or how, and which one can only take to be the language of angels."

Yet though many thus viewed the insubstantiality of musical material—its "purity"—as sufficient to justify its role as a model for artistic regeneration, for the composer matters were by no means so simple. Indeed, by the end of the century a crisis had developed in musical language as shattering as that in the language of literature. To the composer, the idea that music offered a "pure material" must have seemed grotesquely naive. Far from supplying a sort of tabula rasa on which could be inscribed, free from all external interference, the "hidden hieroglyphics" of uninhibited fantasy, music in fact came tied to a remarkably fixed system of built-in conventions and constraints. Not by chance, this system began to be theoretically codified at just the time that instrumental music began to break away from its vocal-linguistic heritage. It was as if music, suddenly removed from the semantic and syntactic foundation previously supplied by language, had to discover its own grammar. With Rameau's Traité de l'harmonie of 1722 as the most conspicuous initiator, the history of modern Western music theory represents a concerted effort to map out the coordinates of a new and autonomous musical system capable of matching the logical coherence and expressive power of language itself. If music was to be a world removed from ordinary reality (in Wackenroder's phrase, eine abgesonderte Welt), it was nevertheless to be a world of reason, logic, and systemization.

This increasingly systematic conception of musical structure was bound to take its toll. As the nineteenth century progressed, a growing number of composers felt that musical language was becoming frozen in the conventions of an overly standardized harmonic vocabulary and a formal framework too heavily bound to empty symmetrical regularities. By the middle of the century, Wagner was already acutely conscious of the delimiting nature of the inherited style. His inclination to dissolve tonality through chromatic saturation of the triadic sub-structure, producing almost constant harmonic ambiguity, is one well-known symptom of this concern, as is his dissatisfaction with what he had come to view as the meaningless periodicities of "quadratic compositional construction." Wagner wanted music to become "endless melody," free to develop continuously according to its own inner impulses rather than to the "outward forms" of an imposed convention.

Intensifying the growing discontent with a musical language that, flattened out under the weight of its own habits, seemed to be rapidly losing its former expressive power was the dramatic growth of "lighter" music during this period. The nineteenth century gave birth to a veritable industry for the production of music for instruction and household entertainment—not popular music, but so-called "salon" music pretending to a degree of technical complexity and emotional depth designed to satisfy the cultural amibitions of a growing middle class. Such music was turned out in increasing volume throughout the nineteenth century as part of the burgeoning publishing and printing business. Compositions were often offered in periodic series on a subscription basis, and many of the better-known composers of the day provided songs, piano pieces, etc., for such purposes on commission. The degree of banality and sentimentality in these pieces, suitable for unsophisticated yet "aspiring" music lovers, was necessarily high. Hanslick, writing in the 1860s, commented on the phenomenon: "By far the largest portion of the music published here [in Vienna] consists of little dances, practice pieces, and the basest kind of brilliant piano music, which makes no secret of its spiritual and technical poverty."

A sense of malaise thus developed in the musical world paralleling that found in the other arts of the period. For the composer committed to a similar quest for "spirituality," the inherited language of music seemed no "purer" than the languages of such "representational" artistic modes as painting and literature. It was equally burdened with a system of conventions that, trivialized through overuse and exploitation, had been rendered unresponsive to the more immediate and intuitive dimensions of human experience. Trapped under syntactical and formal constraints rooted in the past, the composer was as much the prisoner of an "external" reality as was the poet or painter. He might well have echoed Nietzsche's famous remark: "I fear we shall never be rid of God, so long as we still believe in grammar."

Debussy, writing in the early years of the new century, expresses the dilemma in a typically witty, yet revealing, manner in ridiculing the ossified formal prescriptions of the classical-romantic symphony (a genre generally held to be the highest manifestation of absolute music):

The first section is the customary presentation of a theme on which the composer proposes to work; then begins the necessary dismemberment; the second section seems to take place in an experimental laboratory; the third section cheers up a little in a quite childish way interspersed with deeply sentimental phrases during which the chant withdraws as is more seemly; but it reappears and the dismemberment goes on; the professional gentlemen, obviously interested, mop their brows and the audience calls for the composer. But the composer does not appear. He is engaged in listening modestly to the voice of tradition which prevents him, it seems to me, from hearing the voice that speaks within him.

The inner voice has become the important one for Debussy, as well as for many others of his generation. One can already recognize the condition in Wagner, who praises Liszt's symphonic poems, for example, precisely for "those individual peculiarities of view that made their creation possible." It is what is individual and unique, rather than general and conventional, that now matters.

Yet even Wagner, certainly among the most radical composers of the later nineteenth century, remained faithful to a latent foundation of traditional tonal and formal principles. The triad remains for him an always implicit, and usually explicit, structural norm, even when the underlying diatonic basis is obscured by his richly chromatic textures; and so does the dominant-to-tonic harmonic progression, the main key-defining agent in the classical canon. Moreover, the same is true of all of his contemporaries, and even of the earlier Debussy. Thus Ferruccio Busoni, writing in 1906, can look back over the entire nineteenth century (and specifically to late Beethoven, which he takes as representative of the extremes of musical freedom attained during the century) and comment (in his New Aesthetic of Music, perhaps the first conscious—or self-conscious—manifesto of musical modernism) on the ultimate failure of even its most progressive figures to achieve a radical break with the past:

Such lust of liberation filled Beethoven, the romantic revolutionary, that he ascended one short step on the way leading music back to its loftier self—a short step in the great task, a wide step in his own path. He did not quite reach absolute music, but in certain moments he divined it, as in the introduction to the fugue of the Sonata for Hammerklavier. Indeed, all composers have drawn nearest the true nature of music in preparatory and intermediate passages (preludes and transitions), where they felt at liberty to disregard symmetrical proportions, and unconsciously drew free breath.

Busoni's words again recall Nietzsche's aphorism about God and grammar: the apparent order and logical precision of standardized language is distrusted as bearing false witness to an increasingly unstable world of "degrees and many refinements of relationships." As if in response to this view, which I take to be fundamental to all the main currents of modernism (for "grammar" can be replaced by "conventional tonal structure," by "traditional modes of visual representation," etc.), the major progressive composers of the first decade of the new century undertook a radical dismantling of the established syntax of Western music. This move "beyond tonality" was remarkably widespread (although it assumed very different forms in different composers). It profoundly altered the face of music and supplied the technical foundation for musical modernism.

Although the technical consequences of this musical revolution are, I believe, ultimately comprehensible only within the context of the broader cultural crisis I have focused upon up to now, they are themselves of considerable interest and significance. I will thus turn now to consider some of the more specialized developments in musical language that occurred during the first decade of the century. It will be useful to treat these in rather general terms, for they are thus applicable to a wide range of composers (including Debussy, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartók) who in other respects might seem to have relatively little in common. Of course these technical developments did not come about instantaneously; they had an extended history. But the final step was taken only after the turn of the century; and in this instance this step produced a difference in kind rather than simply another one of degree.

One way to view the revolution in musical language during these years is as a transformation in the relationship between compositional foreground and compositional background—that is, between the musical surface and its formal substructure. (I have already made tacit use of this distinction in discussing the music of Wagner.) Music is above all an art of ornament and elaboration; and it must maintain a subtle, and often fragile, relationship between its variegated embellishments and the simpler, stricter, and more solid supporting framework that holds these embellishments together and supplies their foundation. Indeed, a striking feature of the foreground-background relation is the mutual dependence of the two. The under-lying framework is often not sounded at all, but must be deduced from the implications of the foreground; while the foreground, though actually sounded, owes its "grammatical" meaning solely to its connection with a "virtual" background. The history of Western music theory can be read as an attempt to codify a set of rules for, on the one hand, approved background relationships and, on the other, permissible foreground divergences. To take a few relatively simple examples applying mainly to "local" levels of structure, such theoretical concepts as consonance, diatonicism, triad, and fundamental progression belong to background phenomena, while those of dissonance, chromaticism, and auxiliary tones belong to the foreground.

Since at any given moment the background elements are not necessarily present on the surface, their proper apperception must depend upon strong conventions concerning what is "normal" and thus structural, as opposed to what is "abnormal" and thus superficial and ornamental. All Western music, at least since the Renaissance, displays a more or less complex interaction between foreground and background structures. Although the degree to which these levels can depart from one another has varied considerably from style to style, it is characteristic of the post-Renaissance period as a whole that a sufficient balance is maintained to ensure that the underlying structure is never seriously threatened. During the nineteenth century, however, this balance begins noticeably to waver. Since the background represents what is essentially fixed and unchanging, while the foreground contains what is unique, individual, and characteristic in a composition, it is not surprising that an age of such marked individualism should produce a radical shift in the foreground-background dialectic, tilting the balance heavily toward the surface. The growth of chromaticism, an emphasis on novel dissonances, an ever-greater exploitation of motivic and thematic elements at the expense of architectural ones—all this reflects a significant structural realignment. By the latter part of the century such technical innovations often make it extremely difficult to hear an implied background at all through the heavy accumulations of wayward foreground detail. The latter becomes so complex, so laden with multiple, entangled, and often contradictory layers of implication that the underlying structure (to the extent that one can still be inferred) is brought to the edge of collapse.

The more adventurous composers of the nineteenth century countered the problem largely by structuring the foreground features of their compositions at the expense of background ones. The various techniques of thematic transformation evident in Liszt, Wagner, and other composers of the period serve to hold together through surface correspondences extended spans of music whose background structures have been seriously weakened. Similarly, lengthy symphonic movements are often organized according to shifting and opposed key areas that, according to conventional background criteria, form dissonant relationships applicable only to local formal contexts (e.g., the C/B dichotomy in Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra).

Yet even in such extreme instances, traditional background structures continue to exert a strong influence. Despite the often exotic surface peculiarities, the music maintains at least a latent reference to the standardized grammar of Western tonality. The triad still represents the sole harmonic norm (no matter how rarely a pure triad may appear); and the traditional dominant-to-tonic progression still retains its key-defining function (though it may now appear more by implication than by actual statement).

Nevertheless, the growing strain brought on by the conflicting claims of foreground and background in complex European music reached a crisis point by the end of the century. If, on the one hand, the substructure became too obscure, the "meaning" of the foreground was apt to seem unclear; whereas if the substructure was rendered too clearly audible, the luxurious surface detail so typical of fin-de-siècle textures tended to sound like nothing more than "junk"—i.e., decoration in the worst sense of the term. One notes the latter problem, it seems to me, to some degree in even the greatest composers of the turn of the century. It is especially evident in such figures as Reger and Franck, who attempted to reconcile a classicizing tendency with a penchant for the most progressive technical procedures of the day. Thus Reger's complex modulations and intensely chromatic voice-leading are contained within a highly regular phrase structure with cadential points defined by blatantly unambiguous dominant-tonic progressions. The heightened chromatic motion on the surface seems to have no influence upon the substructure, which sounds through with schematic clarity. Both surface and background take on the aspect of cliché: the surface, because it acquires the attributes of a momentary decoration without wider repercussions; the background, because it provides a too "easy" (because too obviously conventional) resolution for the entangled interrelationships suggested by the surface. But it is not only in Reger that one hears the problem: the specter of kitsch looms over even the greatest achievements of an age in which music threatened literally to become pure ornament.

A solution demanded a major restructuring of the received musical language. In the broadest terms, it involved a projection of musical phenomena previously considered to belong solely to the foreground—elements that are ephemeral, passing, structurally unessential, and thus, in a sense, accidental (the "chance" results of voice leading, etc.)—onto the structural background. I have already noted a tendency in this direction in nineteenth-century music, in the increasing emphasis on individual foreground features. Nevertheless, the moment when agreed-upon background relationships no longer supplied even an implicit matrix for controlling the confusion of surface detail marked a fundamental turn in the history of compositional thought. A fixed and conventional conception of musical structure gave way to one that was variable, contingent, and contextual—dependent upon the specific attributes of the particular composition. Those qualities of uniqueness and individuality, of the ephemeral and accidental, that had previously marked the fore-ground alone now characterized the background as well.

The final, conclusive break occurred in the first decade of the century, in Scriabin, Debussy, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky, as well as others. Significantly, the leaders in this musical revolution were themselves all nurtured within the tonal tradition and produced in their earlier careers compositions written according to more or less traditional tonal assumptions. The rift with the past led to different responses, but the particular solution of each composer can be largely understood as a direct outgrowth of the stylistic evolution of his earlier music and thus of a particular orientation toward tonality.

It will be helpful to consider briefly two composers who arrived at radically different solutions to this common problem: Scriabin and Schoenberg. Scriabin's early music seems remarkable mainly for its conservatism, its unequivocal harmonic relationships ordered within an essentially conventional larger tonal context. Yet as in much music of the later nineteenth century (Scriabin was born in 1872 and his first mature works began to appear in the 1890s), the harmonic structure is covered with a dense network of auxiliary tones that, although clearly subordinate (there is never any doubt about the triadic background), resolve only with the greatest reluctance. The obvious disparity between the rich accretions of surface detail and the all-too-apparent harmonic underpinnings produces formal-expressive problems similar to the ones noted in Reger. Only in Scriabin the dissonances are prolonged over such long spans that the whole structure seems to float precariously over the delicately maintained chordal foundation; and in the later 1890s and early 1900s, the complex surface sonorities are increasingly emphasized at the expense of their background supports. When triadic resolutions do occur, they sound more and more like perfunctory nods to tradition, dictated solely by protocol. The heart of the music has been displaced from the substructure to the surface, so that the resolutions sound like a breach of faith.

Scriabin's own particular development of extended chromaticism and delayed resolution is closely tied to his use of elaborate dominant type sonorities. The dominant seventh is the one chordal type within the traditional vocabulary whose tonal function is, at least under normal circumstances, unambiguous, and which is thus able to define a key area entirely by itself. By focusing upon elaborations of such harmonies in his earlier music, Scriabin was able to preserve at least some degree of tonal definition; despite the increasing avoidance of resolution, one is usually able to infer what the resolution should be. Moreover, up until about 1907 tonal resolutions do ultimately occur, although they may be delayed right up to the final measure. The moment arrives in Scriabin's evolution, however, when the dominant-type sonorities completely lose their functional subordination to an inferred background tonic. The dominant, one might say, has moved deeper into the structural background to become an "absolute" sonority in its own right, with a meaning no longer dependent upon its relationship to a simpler, more stable structure. The dominant-type harmony, in fact, assumes the role of a center, or tonic, itself; but it is a new kind of unstable tonic, whose priority must be contextually defined within each composition.

Significantly, Scriabin referred to this new tonic sonority as the "mystic chord," for to him it was the source of previously unimagined musical power. Moreover, he conceived of it as built up of intervals of a fourth, thus distinguishing it from previous harmonic norms. Yet the chord can just as readily be viewed as a series of thirds, in which case it conforms to traditional conceptions of triadic extension. What was actually novel about the chord, then, was not so much its internal structure, or even the way it sounds in isolation, but its functional location in the background. There it shed its traditional grammatical meaning, acquiring a new and seemingly inscrutable one more in keeping with Scriabin's growing mystical orientation. Only through such drastic structural means could music become more responsive to those transcendent and visionary claims that increasingly occupied the composer from about 1908 to 1915, the final years of his brief life.

Schoenberg's development, though different in many ways, reveals significant parallels with Scriabin's. In his earlier works, too, the surface elaborations of a still basically tonal language are stressed to a point that eventually brings about the latter's dissolution. But Schoenberg's chromaticism is the product of rich webs of thematic and motivic development that bury the structural background under a complex, thickly woven contrapuntal overlay. Whereas in Scriabin the harmonic background moves slowly and projects its triadic nature with relative clarity, in Schoenberg's music of the early 1900s the density and speed of the counterpoint produce a constantly shifting harmonic basis that at every moment appears ready to dissolve the argument into complete tonal uncertainty. Dominant-type harmonies, though still present, are increasingly deemphasized as too suggestive of unwanted conventional resolutions. The stress is on highly varied dissonant complexes, which sound like opaque, heavily refracted distortions of the traditional harmonic functions that were fast becoming grammatical impossibilities, or at least embarrassments, to Schoenberg's ears. The final resolutions in the op. 8 orchestral songs, for example, or those of the Second String Quartet and Kammersymphonie, are still triadic; but they seem like reluctant tributes to a remote and distrusted authority.

Schoenberg's theoretical writings also reflect his new conception of foreground-background relationships. In a famous passage in his Harmonielehre, first published in 1911, he points to several momentary vertical structures cut out of compositions by Bach and Mozart, claiming to show that the sort of complex and highly differentiated dissonant harmonic structures found in his own work were already present in music of the eighteenth century. What for Bach and Mozart were passing "accidents," the result of surface contrapuntal elaborations firmly tied to an unmistakably inferrable triadic background, have become for Schoenberg absolute entities warranting theoretical investigation and explanation in their own right.

In Schoenberg's music, as in Scriabin's, the moment at which the latent background completely receded, leaving virtually no trace, is approached gradually, almost imperceptibly; but sometime around 1907-8 a final margin was irreparably traversed. Despite this step-by-step evolution, the consequences were fundamental. Schoenberg's own awareness of having made a critical turn is apparent in the preface to his song cycle Das Buck der hängenden Garten (generally considered to be the first major composition in the new style): "For the first time I have been successful in coming near an ideal of expression and form which I had had in mind for years.… Now that I have finally embarked upon this path I am conscious that I have broken all barriers of a past aesthetic." And later he remarked of the last two movements of his Second String Quartet, a work briefly predating the cycle: "No longer could the great variety of dissonant sonorities be balanced out through occasional insertion of such tonal chords as one normally uses to express a tonality"; it was no longer "appropriate to force the motion into the Procrustean bed of tonality."

Schoenberg thus sacrificed a traditional background in order to allow the compositional foreground to speak more freely, unencumbered by the constraints of a conventional syntax. Here, finally, was a music that could communicate directly, unmediated by external controls, and that was thus actually able to approach that "purity" of language so indiscriminately attributed to music in general by those working in the other arts. Yet the price to be paid was severe: Schoenberg's newly liberated foreground projected a "language" that no one, not even the composer himself, could understand, at least in the sense that one had always been able to "understand" traditional tonal music. As the composer himself remarked in his Harmonielehre, referring to the advanced harmonic constructions found in music of the century's first decade: "Why it is as it is, and why it is correct, I am at the moment unable to say."

There can be no coincidence, certainly, in the fact that Schoenberg's final break with traditional tonality initiated the most productive period of his creative life. Within a two-year span from 1907 to 1909 he completed seven major compositions, including such extended works as the Second String Quartet, op. 10, Das Buck der hängenden Garten, op. 15, the Five Orchestral Pieces, op. 16, and Erwartung, op. 17. The sense of a release, of a newly won freedom suddenly available beyond the "barriers of a past aesthetic," is evident in both the quantity and character of this music. Yet Schoenberg, working at the outer edges of what then seemed musically possible (at least to one committed to the notion of a continuously evolving tradition), increasingly felt the strain of operating at such disorienting heights, where only his unconscious, intuitive feeling for what was musically valid could serve him as guide. After the brief period of unprecedented productivity coinciding with the first explorations of the atonal terrain, Schoenberg's output decreased dramatically, coming to a virtual halt by 1916. For seven years thereafter no new compositions were published; and when new works began to appear again in 1923, they revealed a composer embarked upon a radically different course. In the intervening years Schoenberg had evolved a new musical system intended to replace tonality, one that—like tonality—would provide a method for consciously determining compositional choices.

This was the twelve-tone system, which Schoenberg envisioned as supplying the basis for a new "musical language," the lingua franca of a new stage in musical his-tory. For despite the revolutionary character of many aspects of his thought, Schoenberg remained committed to the idea that this next stage would share with past ones a dependence upon a set of widely accepted compositional conventions, within whose terms all composers could shape their own personal statements. As a consequence, he came to view his own earlier atonal works as representatives of an essentially transitional phase of music history. Writing in 1932 on the historical necessity of the twelve-tone system, he commented upon his atonal work:

The first compositions in this new style were written by me around 1908.… From the very beginnings such compositions differed from all preceding music, not only harmonically but also melodically, thematically, and motivically. But the foremost characteristic of these pieces in statu nascendi were their extreme expressiveness and their extraordinary brevity.… Thus, subconsciously, consequences were drawn from an innovation which, like every innovation, destroys while it produces. New colorful harmony was offered; but much was lost.… Fulfillment of all formal functions—comparable to the effect of punctuation in the construction of sentences, of subdivision into paragraphs, and of fusion into chapters—could scarcely be assured with chords whose constructive values had not as yet been explored. Hence it seemed at first impossible to compose pieces of complicated organization or of great length.… the conviction that these new sounds obey the laws of nature and of our manner of thinking—the conviction that order, logic, comprehensibility and form cannot be present without obedience to such laws—forces the com-poser along the road of exploration. He must find, if not laws or values, at least ways to justify the dissonant character of these harmonies and their successions.

Schoenberg's change of attitude was by no means exceptional. Following World War I, Western composers generally tended to pull back from the heady, more experimental atmosphere of the prewar years. Manifestations of a new point of view were everywhere evident: e.g., in the simpler, more objective and more "everyday" type of music fostered by Satie and Les Six, and in the various moves toward a "new classicism" by such otherwise diverse figures as Stravinsky, Bartok, and Hindemith. Yet what seems in retrospect most telling about all of these developments was their failure to produce a new set of musical procedures even remotely comparable—in terms of commonality, of reflecting a consensus—to those of traditional tonality. Thus the twelve-tone system, though indisputably one of the most remarkable and influential technical achievements of twentieth-century music, has remained an essentially provisional method, occasionally employed by many composers but consistently used by relatively few. Nor did the widespread neoclassical turn of the between-the-war years produce an even marginally unified technical orientation; rather, it gave rise to a series of strongly personal and thus divergent and idiosyncratic reformulations of technical and stylistic traits drawn from virtually the entire range of Western music history. Cocteau's famous "call to order," which reverberated throughout the postwar period, remained in this respect largely unanswered.

From the present perspective, then, it would appear that the most important historical moment in defining the main coordinates of twentieth-century music was the widespread break from traditional tonality that occurred during the first decade of the century. From this moment springs the unprecedented stylistic, technical, and expressive variety of the music of the modern age—in short, what I have previously referred to as its linguistic plurality. Despite the numerous attempts that have been—and continue to be—made to offer a systematic account of Schoenberg's prewar music, the true force and significance of this music lies, it seems to me, precisely in its determination to speak in an unknown and enigmatic tongue that largely defies rational comprehension.

This may help explain the unique position this music continues to occupy in our consciousness. Along with other composers of the time (one thinks also, inevitably, of the Stravinsky of the Rite of Spring), Schoenberg set the essential tone of music in the modern age. He attempted to transform musical language from a public vehicle, susceptible to comprehension by ordinary people (but thereby also limited to more or less ordinary statement), to a private one capable of speaking the unspeakable. Music became an incantation, a language of ritual that, just because of its inscrutability, revealed secrets hidden from normal understanding.

The fifteen songs of Das Buch der hängenden Gärten are settings of poems drawn from the volume of that title by Stefan George, who himself favored "a language inaccessible to the profane multitude." George's distinct elitism equally colors Schoenberg's aesthetic. (The composer once commented: "If it is art, it is not for all; and if it is for all, it is not art.") But Schoenberg's elitism can be understood in part as an understandable reaction against a musical language that had lost its fundamental expressive core and thus its capacity to challenge, to illuminate, and to astonish. The composers of the first decade of the century undertook to revive musical language by reinventing it. They tried to disengage musical sounds from their inherited attachments, to set them free from conventional associations in pursuit of what Schoenberg (along with Kandinsky) called the "spiritual." In sober retrospect, they may seem to have failed; yet theirs was a brave and exhilarating effort that fundamentally altered the nature of musical discourse.

Joan Allen Smith (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10406

SOURCE: "The Twelve Tone Method," in Schoenberg and His Circle: A Viennese Portrait, Schirmer Books, 1986, pp. 183-218.

[In the following essay, Smith provides an overview of Schoenberg's twelve-tone method.]

Several Viennese composers outside of the Schoenberg circle were concerned with repeated pitch structures and some even with the concept of chromatic completion (the structurally geared use of all twelve pitch classes) coincidentally with Schoenberg. However, the idea of an ordering within the twelve-tone set, and the application of the four systematic operations of transposition, inversion, retrogression, and retrograde-inversion, which brought about a musically constructive method for twelve-tone composition, were Schoenberg's alone. They did not come to him in a single insight but rather developed slowly over a number of years.

The composer probably most concerned, besides Schoenberg, with finding a substitute for the long-range structural functions of tonal harmony was Anton Webern. Of all of Schoenberg's pupils, he was the most noticeably experimental, and in many ways Webern seemed musically less tied to the past and more willing than Schoenberg himself to carry theoretical ideas to their logical extreme. However, it was always Schoenberg who saw the far-reaching implications of compositional trends, and it was Berg, of the three most closely tied to past ideas, who many years later performed the feat of adapting the twelve-tone method to his tonally oriented style while still expanding the limits of the method far beyond Webern's rather conventional serial techniques.

Recalling the developmental period, from about 1906 to 1923, Webern, in "The Path to Twelve-Note Composition," and Schoenberg, in various sources, remember many of the same points as being important.

(Webern) In 1906, Schoenberg came back from a stay in the country, bringing the Chamber Symphony. It made a colossal impression. I'd been his pupil for three years, and immediately felt "You must write something like that, too!" Under the influence of the work I wrote a sonata movement the very next day. In that movement I reached the farthest limits of tonality.

(Schoenberg) Fall 1906 Webern returned from vacation, sees Chamber Symphony (written Rottach-Egern), says had thought about how modern music should look. Sees Chamber Symphony fulfills that idea.

1907 new style. Told Webern about short pieces. One of the piano pieces should consist of only 3-4 measures. Webern starts writing shorter and shorter pieces. Follows all my developments. Always tries to surpass everything (exaggerates).

(Webern) What happened? I can only relate something from my own experience; about 1911 I wrote the "Bagatelles for String Quartet" (Opus 9), all very short pieces, lasting a couple of minutes—perhaps the shortest music so far. Here I had the feeling, "When all twelve notes have gone by, the piece is over." Much later I discovered that all this was a part of the necessary development.

The Bagatelles for String Quartet, in common with other Webern works of the period, are significant in that they serve as a bridge between the earlier atonal music and that of the twelve-tone period. In these works, concern for a twelve-pitch organization is already evident. Many pieces (in the Bagatelles, all except the fifth piece) begin with a statement of the chromatic collection, without repetition of pitches. Although the remainder of the piece can often be divided into statements of this collection that roughly correspond to phrasing, these divisions contain numerous repeated pitches. The collection is always unordered, and most significant, it does not constitute the primary structural stratagem of the piece. This continues to focus upon the factors characteristic of earlier atonal works. As is interesting to note, with regard to Webern's feeling that "when all twelve notes have gone by, the piece is over," the introductory presentation of the chromatic collection is sometimes quite different from what follows; sometimes it is set off as an introduction, and often there is a quality of display about it. When the score reverts to the old motivic way of doing things, it is easy to speculate that Webern simply didn't know what else to do. Schoenberg described this and related problems in an essay, "Composition with Twelve Tones (1)":

The first compositions in this new style were written by me around 1908 and, soon afterwards, by my pupils, Anton von Webern and Alban Berg. From the very beginning such compositions differed from all preceding music, not only harmonically but also melodically, thematically, and motivally. But the foremost characteristics of these pieces in statu nascendi were their extreme brevity. At that time, neither I nor my pupils were conscious of the reasons for these features. Later I discovered that our sense of form was right when it forced us to counterbalance extreme emotionality with extraordinary shortness. Thus, subconsciously, consequences were drawn from an innovation which, like every innovation, destroys while it produces. New colourful harmony was offered; but much was lost.

Formerly the harmony had served not only as a source of beauty, but, more important, as a means of distinguishing the features of the form. For instance, only a consonance was considered suitable for an ending. Establishing functions demanded different successions of harmonies than roving functions; a bridge, a transition, demanded other successions than a codetta; harmonic variation could be executed intelligently and logically only with due consideration of the fundamental meaning of the harmonies. Fulfilment of all these functions—comparable to the effect of punctuation in the construction of sentences, of subdivision into paragraphs, and of fusion into chapters—could scarcely be assured with chords whose constructive values had not as yet been explored. Hence, it seemed at first impossible to compose pieces of complicated organization or of great length.

A little later I discovered how to construct larger forms by following a text or a poem.

This problem was of course eventually solved by Schoenberg's four operations (transposition, inversion, retrograde, and retrograde-inversion). In fact, a principal contribution of these operations was that they allowed the piece to continue, and in so doing, made possible a revival of large-scale traditional forms.

In an essay published posthumously, Schoenberg relates his excitement about Jakobsleiter:

Ever since 1906-8, when I had started writing compositions which led to the abandonment of tonality, I had been busy finding methods to replace the structural functions of harmony. Nevertheless, my first distinct step toward this goal occurred only in 1915. I had made plans for a great symphony of which Die Jakobsleiter should be the last movement. I had sketched many themes, among them one for a scherzo which consisted of all the twelve tones.

But in the manuscript notes, the competition with Webern comes through:

1914(15) I start a symphony. Wrote about it to Webern. Mention singing without words (Jakobsleiter). Mention Scherzo theme including all 12 tones. After 1915, Webern seems to have used 12 tones in some of his compositions,—without telling me.

Webern jealous about Berg. Had suggested to me to tell Berg he (in about 1908 or 9) should not work in the new style—he has no right to do it—it does not fit to his style—but it fitted to Webern's!!!

Webern commited at this period (1908-1918) many acts of infidelity with the intention of making himself the innovator.

The gradual move toward a twelve-tone composition seems to have gone on steadily with both composers. Webern described one of his Goethe songs, "Gleich und Gleich," from 1916, as follows:

My Goethe song, "Gleich und Gleich" (Four Songs Op. 12, No. 4, composed in 1917) begins as follows: G sharp-A-D sharp-G, then a chord E-CB flat-D, then F sharp-B-F-C sharp. That makes twelve notes: none is repeated. At that time we were not conscious of the law, but had been sensing it for a long time. One day Schoenberg intuitively discovered the law that underlies twelve-note composition. An inevitable development of this law was that one gave the succession of twelve notes a particular order.

Webern begins this piece, as he describes, with a statement of the chromatic collection partitioned into tetrachords. The remainder of the piece is divisible into sections in which the entire collection is in most cases represented. These sections correspond largely to the phrase divisions of the piece. It is the tetrachordal division, however, rather than the twelve-tone nature of it, that evokes the motivic material of the piece, and it is clear that at this point (1916) Webern had no idea of twelve-tone ordering as an organizational means for nontonal music.

Theodor Adorno suggests a problem of Webern's abbreviated works which begins to be solved in the Opus 12 songs:

With the Songs Op. 12 an almost unnoticeable change begins. Webern's music secretly expands: in his own way he is mastering the solution which Schoenberg first displayed in Pierrot lunaire and the Songs Op. 22: that one cannot persist with the method of absolute purity [clarity] without music being spiritually reduced to physical deterioration. The new expansion is only hinted at; the first and last of the songs are still aphoristically short, but they do breathe a little, and the two middle songs … have well developed vocal lines, though certainly of a subtle character in which the earlier process of splitting-up is still maintained.

This point is reminiscent of certain issues suggested by Adolf Loos:

Twenty-six years ago I maintained that ornament would disappear from articles of use as man develops.… But I never meant that decoration should be ruthlessly and systematically done away with.… Only when time has made it disappear, can it never be applied again. Just as man will never go back to tattooing his face.

Loos believed that absence of decoration was a sign of cultural advancement. A strong believer in the reflection by art of its time, he did not himself eliminate all decoration from his own work. Even in cases where the beauty of his materials was itself decorative, he employed carving to accent the line of a chest or friezes to outline the top of a wall. But for Webern, the situation was some-what different. Music, unlike architecture, usually lacks external function, and Webern, in perhaps going too far in the direction of clarity, endangered that essential filigree which, although in the foreground of musical structure, is nonetheless an inherent, essential aspect of its character. There is a point at which, in music and the painterly arts, too much clarity jeopardizes depth of expression.

The law that until all twelve pitch classes have occurred none may be repeated—a law essential to twelve-tone structure in that it creates a contextual framework within which repetition may occur—is described by Schoenberg in his same manuscript notes:

[1921] Found out that the greater distance between a tone and its repetition can be produced if 12 tones lie between. Started 12-tone composition. Told Erwin Stein I had now a way I wanted to keep secret from all my imitators, because I am annoyed by them: I even do not know any more what is mine and what is their's [sic.]

Between 1920 and the meeting of 1923, in which he revealed the method to his students, Schoenberg worked out the several consequences of ordering all twelve pitch classes and incorporated his findings into several pieces.

In the Five Piano Pieces, Op. 23; the Serenade, Op. 24; and the Piano Suite, Op. 25, Schoenberg experimented with various aspects of what was to be the method long before the twelve-tone method itself crystallized. George Perle has succinctly described the complex interrelationships of these pieces:

In Opus 23, No. 1, pitch or pitch-class order is exploited as a separable referential component, as it is to some degree in Schoenberg's earlier atonal compositions, but far more pronouncedly and extensively. The pitch and pitch-class order of the initial melodic figure in the second number of the same opus is so pervasive that one may already speak of it as an ordered set, but it is not the only source of pitch-class relations. Both movements were completed in July, 1920. Around the same time Schoenberg commenced the Variations movement of Opus 24, the earliest example of an entire movement exclusively based on a totally ordered—though not yet twelve-tone—series. The first consistently twelve-tone piece, Opus 25, No. 1, was composed in July of the following year.

Perle goes on to call our attention to an important sketch for a twelve-tone "passacaglia," dated 5 March 1920, four months prior to any of the works described above, which already contains a chart from an all-combinatorial twelve-tone set:

In the compositional sketches the row does not serve merely as a special sort of "theme," as in the passacaglia on a twelve-tone row in the first act (completed in the previous summer) of Wozzeck. Every harmonic and melodic element participates in the unfolding of one or another serially generated hexachord. The idea of a twelve-tone system, in which every pitch component is derived from an ordered twelve-tone series, was thus already formulated in these sketches, before Schoenberg had taken the first step along the irregular path he followed for almost three years before definitively arriving at the same result with his resumption of the composition of Opus 25.

The first totally twelve-tone work of some length was the Wind Quintet, composed in 1923 and 1924. Schoenberg has described the freedom provided by his method:

The construction of a basic set of twelve tones derives from the intention to postpone the repetition of every tone as long as possible.…

The other function is the unifying effect of the set. Through the necessity of using besides the basic set, its retrograde, its inversion, and its retrograde inversion, the repetition of tones will occur oftener than expected. But every tone appears always in the neighbourhood of two other tones in an unchanging combination which produces an intimate relationship most similar to the relationship of a third and a fifth to its root. It is, of course, a mere relation, but its recurrence can produce psychological effects of a great resemblance to those closer relations.

Such features will appear in every motif, in every theme, in every melody and, though rhythm and phrasing might make it distinctly another melody, it will still have some relationship with all the rest. The unification is here also the result of the relation to a common factor.

The implications of the twelve-tone method were most completely understood by Schoenberg's more intellectual students. Max Deutsch and Felix Greissle, who both taught the method for many years, and Erwin Ratz, who was a scholar, all knew Schoenberg's music intimately and could follow his musical development in great detail. Their knowledge of the twelve-tone method is organic and invaluable. Humphrey Searle, a pupil of Webern rather than Schoenberg , came to Vienn a after Schoenberg had already moved to the United States but had the opportunity to observe Webern' s compositional technique. Of the performers included in this chapter, those of the Kolisch Quartet, especially Rudolf Kolisch, engaged in exhaustive analytical labors and therefore had an intimate acquaintance with the method. Their concerns focus upon the interpretive problems of twelve-tone music.

EUGEN LEHNER: I don't know who coined the phrase "It's not the answer that matters but the right question is what matters." But I would really, if nobody else claims the authorship, then I would rather attribute it to Schoenberg. That was what Schoenberg was about—to find the right question, not the answer. He was not interested in the answer but the question he was interested in. And that's the reason he would not supply an answer if somebody asked about something he did, because, "That's your worry." So, I would say, I wish nobody would claim it so that I can attribute it to Schoenberg.… And that was the essence of Schoenberg as intellectual, as the egghead. And that's the reason, whatever he heard, whatever snatch remark, he worked on it. It bothered him and occupied him until he could formulate the right proof.

OSKAR KOKOSCHKA: Webern was an outspoken puritan. He reduced even what he learned from Schoenberg. Schoenberg was already reducing the material to the essential, but he—in just five sounds, he wrote music. He gave what Schoenberg wanted.… Schoenberg wanted to reduce [to] the essentials.

MAX DEUTSCH: You have some pages in the Harmonielehre where you can find he was under the impression to find out something very exceptional. When he wrote Jakobsleiter … for the first time in the history of music, you have a chord with twelve tones—all the twelve tones are in it.… That was the first moment he had the twelve tones together. You have a kind of discord in Erwartung. You have it too in Glückliche Hand, but not in this way. I mean,… without the octave and not doubled. For the first time in this place in Jakobsleiter.

LEHNER: Pierrot lunaire as a twelve-tone piece. In other words, it's so close to it—to total organization—that it is just one step off it, and why should we believe that Schoenberg, with his incredibly keen intellect and his superhuman sense of curiosity, was not aware of that? Certainly he formulated, "What makes music get away from a tonal center? Obviously, the equal importance of all the notes, so there is no tonal center and no more gravitating force." … Of course, if we could consciously force our whole musical thinking [so] that this balance is kept perfect, no predominance of any single note which could possibly exert a gravitation, then that would be the ideal of atonal music.… Then, of course, we must organize it so that there is a perfect balance—take care that no note happens more often before the other notes are out. So therefore,—… remember that's a conjecture on my part—the idea of the twelve-tone must have been born [at] this moment when he realized what makes music lose tonality, the tonal effects. And the next step was probably a conscious step: if the equality of the existing twelve notes in our Western system brings that, then we must organize it so that we make sure that there is no tonal center. And indeed, if I could accept my own supposition, and if you go through such a piece … like the Wind Quintet, then you will see how true it is. But then, fortunately for posterity, this phase didn't last, because Schoenberg was the same naïve, inspired artist like all the great composers were. So, fortunately, … no matter what his intention was, when he sat down and the inspiration came, he was just writing music, very much to his astonishment, because it always turned out differently than what he expected.

Schoenberg might have continued to keep his secret had it not been for the publications of another composer, Josef Matthias Hauer. Hauer, who began writing a kind of twelve-tone music around 1908, organized the possible combinations of the twelve pitch classes into groups, called Tropen, which formed the material for the composition. Hauer began publishing articles about this method in 1919. Schoenberg did not like to read articles and seems not to have read these until several years later, although some of his students, including Kolisch, had seen the articles. He himself had met Hauer through Adolf Loos. It was the fear that he would be considered a follower of Hauer and not himself the originator of the twelve-tone method which prompted him to announce the method publicly. Schoenberg's attitude toward Hauer varied but was always formal and courteous. Although Hauer was more a theoretic realizer than a composer, several of his pieces were performed in concerts of the Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen.

In June of 1921, the Verein held a competition for chamber music works. The judges for this event were listed as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stein, and Steuermann, although it is doubtful that Schoenberg and Stein actually took part in the deliberations, being away from Vienna for the entire summer. Fritz Heinrich Klein, a pupil of Berg, entered under a pseudonym a piece entitled Die Maschine: Eine extonale Selbstsatire, a work that experimented with various unusual twentieth-century compositional techniques; these were itemized on the title page of the piece:

This work contains:

  1. A twelve-beat "rhythmic theme";
  2. A twelve-different-note "pattern theme";
  3. a twelve-different-interval "interval theme";
  4. a "neutral scale" constructed from alternating minor and major seconds;
  5. a "combination theme" constructed from nos. 2, 3, and 4;
  6. the largest chord in music: the "mother chord" consisting of twelve different pitches and also twelve different intervals, derived from the "pyramid chord" (twelve intervals arranged according to size);
  7. the "mirror construction" and the "clef register" of a theme, as well as its "systematic symmetry," and
  8. the mathematical-contrapuntal development of ideas 1 to 7.

This piece, which utilized a kind of chromatic completion including the all-interval set discovered by Klein and used by Berg in his first twelve-tone works. "Schliesse mir die Augen beide" and the Lyric Suite, eventually won the competition. It thus seems unlikely that Schoenberg would not have seen the piece. A copy of the score containing the following inscription was found in Schoenberg's library:

It is the same Machine which found itself (as a score for chamber orchestra) in the summer of 1921 in your beloved hands, on the occasion of the competition of the Society f. P. M. P.…

Beneath this, Schoenberg added the following note:

Not correct. In Webern's hands, who told me about it but was not able to interest me in it. I doubt if I had this in my hands, but more especially that I looked at it, and certainly that I knew what it represented.

In any case, he has fundamentally nothing in common with twelve-tone composition: a compositional means which had its discrete precursor in "working with tones," which I used for two or three years without discovering the twelve as the ultimate necessity.

Schoenberg's concern to prove the twelve-tone method entirely the necessary and inevitable consequence of his own musical development and so irrevocably tied to historical context is not evidence that he was uninfluenced by this and other early twelve-tone or serial experiments. Schoenberg's highly developed curiosity and his tendency to impose himself upon the activities of his students and associates would in fact suggest the opposite. There is no reason to believe that Schoenberg's own eventual method was not influenced by the work of those around him, although such influence may have been un-conscious. Schoenberg preferred to consider himself influenced by Mozart and other great composers of the past, a view attributable to his own sense of uniqueness and a necessity to set himself apart. Whatever the effects of these other early ventures, Schoenberg's method does indeed possess important features that go far beyond the developments discussed above and that were for Schoenberg himself of basic importance.

The aspects of twelve-tone writing that Schoenberg took most seriously—the concept of chromatic completion and the ordering of pitch classes within the set—are missing in Hauer's method. As Schoenberg described it:

In using Hauer's Tropen, one could not even postpone the reappearance of a tone for as long as possible. Hauer mixes Tropen, that is sets of six tones, according to his own taste or feeling of form (which only he himself possesses); there is certainly no such function of logic as in the method described here.

Although Schoenberg himself was not fully aware of the totality of implications inherent in his method either at the time of its inception or later, it is nevertheless true that the Schoenbergian twelve-tone idea embodies a richness of combinational and derivational possibilities related to its special properties that is unavailable in other similar but less refined approaches.

In February of 1923, after learning about Hauer's publications, Schoenberg called together about twenty of his students and friends and explained to them his method of twelve-tone composition. Felix Greissle, who was present at the meeting, recalled it as follows:

He all of a sudden called all of his students and friends together, you see, and we had a meeting at which there were present Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Egon Wellesz, Steuermann, Erwin Stein, and many others, and there he began to develop the twelve-tone theory; in other words, he explained to us the four forms of the row, and he also showed us certain fragments he had composed this way—a piano piece, I remember …—we all tried to understand and I think we came pretty close to what he meant except there was one person who resisted—who resisted more by being silent and not saying anything, and that was Anton Webern. He was the one who resisted most. At one point, when Schoenberg said, "There I used the row transposition and transposed it into the tritone," so Webern said, "Why?" Schoenberg looked at him and said, "I don't know," and then Webern burst out, "Ah, ah!," because Webern was waiting for some intuitive sign in the whole matter and this was it, you see.

Considering that Webern undoubtedly was already very aware of the ramifications of eliminating tonal structure and even of the concept of chromatic completion (although probably not of the structural possibilities of chromatic ordering), it is interesting that, according to Greissle, he more than Berg had difficulty in accepting the twelve-tone method as outlined in this initial meeting. It seems likely that it was the very concept of ordering within the set, together with the seemingly mechanical operations implied by that ordering, that caused Webern some concern. Only with familiarity and practice would it have been possible for the operations of the twelve-tone method, which must first have seemed so mathematical and artificial, to have been handled with the ease and custom of the often equally mechanical operations (such as modulation, progression, and cadence) that long use of the tonal system had by then made second nature. This view is supported by Schoenberg's recollection of the meeting:

In 1924 [actually 1923] I had become aware that Hauer had also written 12 tone music. Up to this time I had kept it a secret that I do it. But in order to make clear that I had not been influenced by Hauer, but had gone my own way, I called a meeting of all my students and friends where I explained this new method and the way which I had gone.

Curiously, when I had shown the four basic forms, Webern confessed that he had written also something in 12 tones (probably suggested by the scherzo of my symphony of 1915) and he said: "I never knew, what to do after the 12 tones" meaning that the 3 inversions now could follow and the transpositions. One thing had become clear to all of them:

That the permanent use of only one 12-tone set in one work was something quite different from everything else others might have attempted. My way meant: Unity. My way derived from compositional necessities.

Although Schoenberg explained the method to his pupils in this meeting, he did not especially encourage them to use it in their own compositions. (At the same time, he expected it from Berg and Webern.) He mentioned it rarely in lessons with his students and resisted talking about either the method or about his own compositions in front of them. This reticence could be explained by his strong reluctance to interfere with the direction of his pupils and by his conviction that the twelve-tone method arose out of historical necessity:

In the last hundred years, the concept of harmony has changed tremendously through the development of chromaticism. The idea that one basic tone, the root, dominated the construction of chords and regulated their succession—the concept of tonality—had to develop first into the concept of extended tonality. Very soon it became doubtful whether such a root still remained the centre to which every harmony and harmonic succession must be referred. Furthermore, it became doubtful whether a tonic appearing at the beginning, at the end, or at any other point really had a constructive meaning. Richard Wagner's harmony had promoted a change in the logic and constructive power of harmony. One of its consequences was the so-called impressionistic use of harmonies, especially practised by Debussy. His harmonies, without constructive meaning, often served the colouristic purpose of expressing moods and pictures. Moods and pictures, though extramusical, thus became constructive elements, incorporated in the musical functions; they produced a sort of emotional comprehensibility. In this way, tonality was already dethroned in practice, if not in theory. This alone would perhaps not have caused a radical change in compositional technique. However, such a change became necessary when there occurred simultaneously a development which ended in what I call the emancipation of the dissonance.

Although Berg appears to have been less concerned than either Schoenberg or Webern with the compositional problems leading to the development of the twelve-tone method, it is possible that he was more intimately involved than was Webern in its beginnings. This alternative is suggested in a letter from Berg to his wife, dated 1 April 1923:

Schoenberg was very nice and once more very friendly to me. But alas at the expense of other friends who (according to him) whenever he talked about his achievements in musical theory would always say: "Yes, I've done that too." As he doesn't expect this sort of thing from me, he wants to show me all his secrets in his new works.

It is not conclusively established by any textual evidence in the work of Berg that he was familiar with the details of twelve-tone composition before Schoenberg explained it to his followers. Although many passages in Wozzeck suggest an awareness of the concept of twelve-tone completion albeit within an otherwise tonalistic context, there is no indication that Berg was consistently attempting a substitution for the articulative possibilities of the tonal center. His experiment with the abbreviated style of Schoenberg's Opus 19 and many of Webern's pre-twelve-tone works was confined to the Clarinet Pieces, Op. 5, and the Altenberg Lieder. Even after taking up the twelve-tone method, Berg never completely abandoned tonal concepts, preferring instead to suit the twelve-tone method to his own tonally-enhanced ideas in a way that went far beyond Schoenberg's adaption of tonally associated formal structures to twelve-tone composition. In his use of the twelve-tone idea, Berg never strictly adhered to the Schoenbergian method, using more than one set in a composition (something not done by Schoenberg) and, especially in the case of Lulu, interpolating passages of material that cannot strictly be termed twelve-tone at all.

Schoenberg accepted Berg's independent use of the method:

I have to admit that Alban Berg, who was perhaps the least orthodox of us three—Webern, Berg and I—in his operas mixed pieces or parts of pieces of a distinct tonality with those which were distinctly non-tonal. He explained this, apologetically, by contending that as an opera composer he could not, for reasons of dramatic expression and characterization, renounce the contrast furnished by a change from major to minor.

Though he was right as a composer, he was wrong theoretically. I have proved in my operas Von Heute auf Morgen and Moses und Aron that every expression and characterization can be produced with the style of free dissonance.

Berg may not have understood fully or cared about the theories motivating the genesis of the twelve-tone idea but rather adhered to it in his position of Schoenberg disciple or for other, also personal, reasons. His adoption of the twelve-tone method at a time when he was at the height of his success as a composer was made possible through his great originality and compositional flexibility. Although the twelve-tone method may not have been adopted with the same urgent necessity by Berg as by Schoenberg and Webern, it is perhaps in Berg's music that the twelve-tone method is used in the most refined and original manner, even if the composer himself may not have come to it spontaneously and from necessity. Certainly, as a composer, Berg was very conscious of the need to remain independent of the opinions of his mentor, as he stated repeatedly in his correspondence. It seems unlikely that he would have embraced the twelve-tone method purely from a loyalty to Schoenberg if he in fact failed to appreciate its possibilities.

MAX DEUTSCH: You know the score of Glückliche Hand? That is the most important work of our century. The row technique is in it. So,… in 1923, when he came back from Amsterdam, he called us for [an] appointment for a meeting in Mödling, … in the Bernhardgasse 6 in Mödling. And he spoke the first words, … "I finally have found out that the new technique is the completion with twelve tones of the chromatic scale, but these twelve tones in interdependence from what"—that is, those were Schoenberg's words, and he added, "And with that, our music," he means Austrian music, "they have for fifty years the leadership."

That was the words of Schoenberg.…

JOAN ALLEN SMITH: Before this time, had he said anything to you about it?

DEUTSCH: Never! … Nothing! 1923, he told it and he wrote it down. That is the truth!

SMITH: Who was at the meeting where Schoenberg disclosed the twelve-tone method?

FELIX GREISSLE: … [People] close to Schoenberg like Wellesz, who had at one time studied a little with Schoenberg but then was not so close any more.… Then [Oskar] Adler was there. He was a friend of Schoenberg's youth—a doctor, a medical doctor—played the viola marvelously, and he was at the same time very much occupied with theosophy and astrology. He was a very unusual man. He was there.… George Szell composed at that time, but he was not there. Szell was in the other camp. Ja, Hauer, he was not on that day there, but a little later, he invited Hauer on one Sunday and again a lot of friends, and he said, you know, he and Hauer had found from another side almost the same thing, and he was very—and he acknowledged it very much. He did it also, you see—he wouldn't have done it, it would have looked bad, but if he did it openly and friendly, it looked much better. Hauer behaved badly, very badly. I never understood why he gave Hauer so much importance, because Hauer was a very bad composer—he was a terrible composer.…

SMITH: But Hauer did get the idea first, didn't he?

GREISSLE: Ja, he did it but it was absolutely—the genesis was so different. It was put together almost mechanically, you see, and with Schoenberg it was the result of coming to it through composition—Hauer through speculation. There was an enormous difference between the two.… Hauer was—I found him mediocre, really very stupid. You know, there is an excellent portrait of Hauer. There's a novel by Werfel, Verdi, and in there, I think in the fourth or fifth chapter, comes a German composer who befriends Verdi, and this is a portrait of Hauer—an excellent portrait of Hauer. I was there when Hauer was invited by Mrs. Mahler, who was married to Werfel at that time, and Hauer … started immediately talking about twelve tone and he never stopped. He wore everybody out. And Werfel was there and he listened.… And he wrote and the portrait is very good—better than almost anything else Werfel ever did.

SMITH: Did you have any idea that Schoenberg was working on something new before this meeting with the students?

ERWIN RATZ: Oh yes, he entertained ideas of it for many years. We see it in the works—what is the oratorio called?

SMITH: Jakobsleiter.

RATZ: Yes, yes. These ideas were already in preparation for a long time. It didn't happen overnight. Schoenberg had for many years—already during the war he was occupied with these ideas. The real revelation was … 1923.…

SMITH: I wonder if Schoenberg ever talked about this new thing to you while he was thinking about it.

RATZ: No, he spoke first about it after it was completely worked out. After he [had written] his first composition—that was the Suite, the Piano Suite, then he showed us the thing.

SMITH: At this meeting with the students, was everyone enthusiastic about it or did it seem very difficult?

RATZ: They really weren't students. There were—yes, I was also studying at the university at that time, but it was a matter of people who had a private interest. They had heard nothing about twelve tone. There was then the later circle of students, to some extent the older ones—there were Berg, Webern, Polnauer, and so forth.

SMITH: So then did he present this to you as something he had already thought out completely?


SMITH: Do you think he ever discussed his ideas with anyone during this period? It was all by himself? Not with Berg or Webern?

KOLISCH: No. In fact, it was only as a fait accompli. It was even presented in a very strange and solemn way. He called us all together, you know. It was Mödling. And he told us that he—but I don't know whether he called it—probably not discovery or invention, but he said he had found something which would assure the hegemony of German music for centuries.… Ja. That is true. That he really said, but … it's very strange, no? Don't you find it strange?… The particular perspective of assuring that the—

SMITH: How did people react? Was everyone very excited in a positive way?

KOLISCH: Well, there was only the small circle of his, you know. All of us were of course very excited about it. None of us had any idea what it really was.

SMITH: Did everyone accept it immediately and start working on his own piece or were there people who were skeptical?

KOLISCH: Well, there was no model yet at this time. There was no model which to follow. Of course I knew already. I had been thinking about it because I was in touch with Hauer. Hauer showed me his tropes, you know?

SMITH: And this was independently that you were in touch with Hauer? Did you perform his music?

KOLISCH: Also I did—as much as one could call it—. It was really more demonstrations of the principle than music.

SMITH: Did Hauer himself consider them mere demonstrations or did he consider them important pieces?

KOLISCH: That is hard to say. Certainly important. He considered it important—very—completely convinced of—the importance of himself and of—and, in a way, it was important. But, whereas Schoenberg always emphasized the—what happened apart from this category, Hauer was completely absorbed in it.… The principle is the same, only Schoenberg composed music and used this—ja?—as a method of composition, whereas Hauer composed tropes—twelve-tone rows.

SMITH: Was Hauer at this meeting?


SMITH: He did meet with Schoenberg several times, didn't he?

KOLISCH: Oh yes. They were friends.… And Schoenberg took him completely seriously.

HANS CURJEL: I was in Donaueschingen, the music festival, in '24; there Schoenberg was playing his Serenade and in the same program was Hauer—not the same evening. And they met at Donaueschingen, and I remember there was a big discussion in a café … with Schoenberg and Hauer, and the atmosphere was not too friendly—was not at all too friendly.

SMITH: Do you remember what was said?

CURJEL: It was a discussion about how near Hauer and Schoenberg were, and everybody—Hauer said, "I am the inventor" and Schoenberg said, "I am the inventor."

SMITH: And they argued there in the café?

CURJEL: Yes, it was very lively. There were Schoenberg, Hauer, Hindemith, and a few people—two or three—and I.

GREISSLE: I think he must have made up his mind not to tell anybody. He had a reason later to do it. And the reason was that he—I told you that he didn't read any books about music and so on. But he came across an article of Hauer, and then he saw all of a sudden. So he invited all his pupils and friends, and he told us what twelve tone was. He explained it. We were in part puzzled and part surprised. I was not because I knew already that there was something, and even that it was twelve tone. And there were degrees of acceptance, and there was one who couldn't accept it so easily. Guess who?

SMITH: Perhaps Berg?

GREISSLE: No. Berg didn't have a hard time at all. Berg accepted it only in part, huh? He had a twelve-tone row and he made a, as he called it, a palette of colors. And he used it in different combinations, but he was not twelve-tone. Almost never twelve-tone with him. No, Webern had a hard time—terribly hard time.…

SMITH: Do you think he accepted it because he decided eventually that it was the right thing to do?

GREISSLE: Ja. That it was the right thing to do. Oh, yes, of course, yes. Naturally. The only thing is that Webern did nothing of which he wasn't sure that Schoenberg would approve of it. Webern was never independent—his whole life, he wasn't independent. Wait a minute, from 1933 to 1938, ja. In 1933, Schoenberg left Germany and came to this country, and I lived very close to Webern. So I saw him almost every day, and I saw the dependence. I don't blame him for it, you know. I mean, still he was a great composer. Well let's say—I don't like to use the word "great" easily. He used to write Schoenberg in Los Angeles, and Schoenberg never answered letters very frequently, and the longer Webern would have to wait for an answer the more angry he got and the more things he found that weren't so bad about the Nazis and so on. And Schoenberg wrote a letter and he got the letter and everything was all right.… Webern was sometimes towards friends very open and his innermost thoughts would just spill out. But between thought and action is an enormous difference. And that was there, you see; he never would have done anything against Schoenberg. But he was hurt if Schoenberg didn't write him—he was deeply hurt because everything—his belief in himself depended on how Schoenberg [saw him].… And of course, when he said something uncontrolled, it didn't mean that he actually thought it.

SMITH: Well, do you think that it would have been possible for Webern to decide against writing twelve-tone?

GREISSLE: No, no, impossible! Totally impossible.

SMITH: Webern seems very remote to me. Was he that way in person? Was he very restrained?

KOLISCH: Ja, ja, he was that. He was even inhibited. But enormously strong—very strong person.…

SMITH: One of the impressions that I have definitely received is that he changed his mind frequently.

KOLISCH: Entirely wrong.… I know no other person who—who changed his mind so little.…

SMITH: Did Schoenberg appreciate Webern's work?

KOLISCH: Oh, ja.

SMITH: But Schoenberg was never influenced by what other people were composing. Do you believe that Webern was himself influenced much by Schoenberg?

KOLISCH: Well, completely.…

SMITH: Then how can you say that he was a strong person when he was so completely influenced?

KOLISCH: You see, he established his own orbit—ja?—around the planet. The planet was still in the center.

SMITH: Did Schoenberg ever discuss twelve-tone music?

RATZ: Well, you see, I was there when he gave his first lecture on twelve-tone music. He called his group of students together and said he would like to talk about these new principles.… Schoenberg always refused to do twelve-tone analyses. He said it was a purely technical matter which isn't anyone's business, and it certainly has nothing to do with art; it's as if someone wanted to develop a philosophy of C-major.

CLARA STEUERMANN: My husband told me that when the first performances of Gurrelieder were being prepared and a whole group of them traveled together, I forget which city it was, but they went together to hear the performance and to hear the rehearsals. And at one of the rehearsals—they were having difficulty at the time because this chorus in the last part, the voices were not finding their pitches. And so there was Schoenberg sitting with—I don't know, Jalowetz, Erwin Stein, Steuermann, and whoever else was there, and Schoenberg was sort of thinking out loud and said, "I wonder what I could do, what instrument I could use to reinforce the voices to help them to find their pitches." And Steuermann, who was then a very young man, and who had not been with Schoenberg very long, sort of said under his breath "harp," because it occurred to him that after all the harp has a sort of indeterminate quality and would blend with the voices. Whereupon, Schoenberg turned around and said, "Why did you say that? How did you think of that? How did you know what was in my mind?" He was very disturbed because apparently he had also thought of using harp, so he was not at all charmed by the idea that someone else could have that idea also. So it seems scarcely possible to me that, with something like this twelve-tone idea, he would have discussed it a priori with any one of his students. Now, my husband did say that he had a feeling that Webern may have begun to sense certain implications of the consequences of atonal writing. But as far as I know from anyone connected with it, there is no question whatever that this was indeed Schoenberg's unique intellectual property at the time that he presented it.

BRUNO SEIDLHOFER: Berg was, in my opinion, by far the most musically gifted of the three. He obeyed; Schoenberg was a god to him. Even when one talked with him—ah, Schoenberg, ah, whatever Schoenberg said, that was it.… Also other people said that who knew Schoenberg—. He had an enormous will, had Schoenberg—influence! He was a great man. He was above all many-sided, I think; he painted fantastically well also, and he composed very well, but unfortunately, its grounding on a twelve-tone basis shifted everything off-balance. I don't think much of it.

SMITH: So you think that Berg really didn't want to do twelve-tone composition?

STEFAN ASKENASE: He would never have invented it. That is sure, because Schoenberg was a very strong personality and he was very much influenced by him. If he had not been influenced—let's say even if he had been living in the same period and had not met Schoenberg, I don't think he would have become a twelve-tone composer. That's my feeling.

SMITH: Do you think that this relationship with Schoenberg was a bad thing for Berg?

ASKENASE: As I said, … he could see that it was—well, I can't say a bad thing, but something—etwas was ihn belastete. He had the feeling of a weight—something that [weighed] on him.

SOMA MORGENSTERN: Alban usually—all of his life, most of his works he did on vacation in the country. He composed—very few things composed in Vienna. The most of the work he did on vacation.

SMITH: What did he do when he was in Vienna?

MORGENSTERN: Oh, he was teaching, he was working continuously, but he didn't do the first version, you know. But he worked in Vienna. But the very first composition, he always made on vacation.

SMITH: When you first began to play twelve-tone works, did you approach the music in the same way more or less that you would have approached a tonal work?


SMITH: And when Schoenberg would rehearse you, did he rehearse in the same way that he had rehearsed tonal music?

KOLISCH: Ja. He even refused to let us in on the secrets, you know? You already knew that.…

SMITH: Why do you think he had this attitude?

KOLISCH: Well, he had it mainly because this method for composing was so much misunderstood and taken as … a system and a recipe for composing … It was not necessary with us, of course. It was an error, which he admitted. It was, you know, a principle which he really carried through. He did not talk about it—and much later, you know, and not very deeply. And you know he never taught it … never even wrote it.

SMITH: I understand that Schoenberg was very particular in his rehearsals.

EUGEN LEHNER: Very, ja. Especially when he was younger. And naturally, when he dealt with music which he understood. His later music, he obviously didn't understand.

SMITH: What do you mean by that?

LEHNER: … I maintain that all these things that Schoenberg did that were rationalized, it was only [ex] post facto, not before the fact.… I see an incredible resemblance between Bruckner and Schoenberg, even physical.… Both were the same naïve, inspired composers who, when the inspiration came, they just sat down and they were writing with an incredible speed music. But then, when the final double bar came, then the difference set in. The Austrian peasant, the Catholic Austrian peasant [Bruckner], when he finally did the final double bar, knelt down and thanked the Lord that he deemed his body right to be his mouthpiece. The intellectual Jewish Schoenberg did the same, but something else happened to it. He was too curious. When he, next day, when he surveyed what he did, he was astonished. "What the hell did I do here? What does it mean? That's not what I wanted to write. Why did I do it?" … That's how I feel it must have happened. And then, out of his intellectualism, the rationalization and the theories, building theories, came into the picture. But [ex] post facto. And the more, I have an indirect indication of it when I see certain compositions. When I take a piece like the Wind Quintet. It's worthwhile studying this fact because you see that is a piece that I have the impression that was written with premeditation. Because that was just about when circumstances forced him to formulate, unfortunately much too prematurely, a theory about the twelve-tone.… Well anyway, when circumstances forced him, very, very prematurely, to formulate the theory of it, then I think the Wind Quintet must have been the piece to which he sat down with that in mind, you know, to prove it. Because, if you study it, you can see the really practically infantile simplicity and completely guileless proceeding—how he applied that.

SMITH: When you say, "forced by circumstances," are you speaking of Hauer's activities?

LEHNER: Partly that and partly also the interests of all his—don't forget that Schoenberg was a passionate teacher. Don't forget that Berg and Webern, they were more than pupils, they were absolutely dependent on Schoenberg.… Schoenberg was absolutely the most essential part of their lives.… So it's easy to imagine how such a person, when he hits upon a fascinating idea, that he was unable to keep it for himself and not theoreticize and talk about it endlessly and formulate it and so on.

SMITH: After he started writing twelve-tone music, was his approach to analysis of twelve-tone music very similar to his analysis of tonal music?

GREISSLE: … I can't tell you. First of all, you see, the analysis of a piece always depends upon what the piece is. So, if it is like other music, then it [the analysis] will be like [that] of other music. You mean, did he follow the same principles? Yes, of course. And always—it was frequently—almost always—the interaction between the theme or the melodic line of the harmony, you see, which in twelve-tone counterpoint didn't count so much any more, but all that was going on, what the events forced the composer to do.

SMITH: Have you seen many of Schoenberg's sketches?

DEUTSCH: Frankly, no. But I can tell you something which happened with me and him alone. One day, after the war—1918, 1919—I was very—because I was an injured soldier, he asked me to come to Mödling. I was alone with him. He had something to tell me concerning his son. I was the teacher of his son. But not a musical teacher—in Latin and Greek, in mathematique and so on. He chose me for his tutor. The other story! He was alone in his room, and suddenly, he rises up and goes to his armoire, took out a score.… I was the first man to see the score of the Jakobsleiter.… And I have seen, in this first page, corrections. I had not—I was not able—I was so emotional for that that I cannot ask him, so he told me, "Very good, huh?" That's all. I was so emotional. And that is what I have seen of his own works. Nothing—I am not Webern, and not Berg. And none of the others have seen it.

SMITH: Did Schoenberg ever discuss his sketches and unfinished pieces with other people or was he very private?

GREISSLE: Occasionally he did, yes. Occasionally he did and he even told us what he had done and why he had done it. I heard quite a lot about the Serenade. And—he showed us at one time the slow movement of the Suite for clarinets, strings, and piano.…

SMITH: Did you ever have a chance to find out how Schoenberg himself went about writing a piece?

GREISSLE: Ja, at one time, he said how he invented it. This was much later. At one time, there was a contract at Universal Edition that some of his works had to appear in transcriptions. And we all got it distributed among us, and Steuermann got Die glückliche Hand and Erwartung. Jalowetz got the Pelleas und Melisande, and I got … the Second String Quartet. The First String Quartet, nobody wanted it I think. And when I worked on it, I had to show him every movement, and when it came to the second movement, he looked and I said to him, "I don't know how you wrote this.…" So he said to me, "The first time I had in mind nothing but the motion. Something was moving in eighths, and fast eighths, and only out of this motion, the theme finally evolved, and when I had the theme, it was a regular composition." He said it's the piece that was one he always wanted to write and never succeeded.… I think that the work came to him as a whole concept, so that he didn't make any mistake when he worked on it because this was always in his mind somehow. But, it went from measure to measure. I never saw him. I lived in the house, and I saw how he worked for instance on the woodwind quintet, and it was from measure to measure. In the evening, he stopped and it continued there and he never—oh, he did a little erasing once in awhile when he wrote something down wrong but very little only—only when there was a slip of the pencil. Otherwise, it came out of his mind. He was at that time already—when he was at the last movement, he knew the row in all its forms by heart. He didn't have to write it down again. Webern never knew. Webern always had to write it down.

SMITH: Did Schoenberg make charts of the different set forms?

GREISSLE: In the beginning, he made a chart for himself. And then, when he started working he knew it by heart. Webern never knew it by heart. Webern used too many forms, too many forms—four or five transpositions and so on for one small piece. I always remember Webern's big boards on the piano.… And there were all the rows in all their forms. In the middle, was a small sheet of music paper. There were four notes, and it was the composition. And when I visited him three days later, there were two more notes. And, look, one shouldn't make any jokes about somebody. It is none of our business how he does it. The result is what counts. And the result was there, but it was very hard for Webern—very difficult. It was not difficult for Schoenberg. Schoenberg really wrote with comparative ease. When he had a problem, it was certainly not a problem because he was not able to put it down on paper. Never. This was never true. Schoenberg, of all the musicians I have met in my life, had the greatest technique—fantastic technique—with greatest ease!…

SMITH: I know that there are some sketches in the Schoenberg collection. Would you say that in these sketchbooks the materials are quite well developed when they are first written down.

GREISSLE: Sketches? Very little—almost immediately the whole piece. And I said because he had this idea in total of something—of a Gestalt of a whole piece—and he worked from there, the sketches were in his mind.… The image was there already. He didn't need to sketch.

LEHNER: Once, we spent a summer with Steuermann and Kolisch … down in the mountains in a village, and we analyzed the whole Third Quartet, bar by bar, note to note, and in these nearly thousand bars, to our great satisfaction, we found two places where there is a misprint or, if not a misprint, Schoenberg made a grave mistake … So, no sooner we came to Berlin, the first time we went to Schoenberg, we … showed it to him. "Is that a misprint?" … I don't know the notes; let's say it was an F-sharp into an F-natural and a B-flat instead of a B-natural.… And so he called his wife to bring the manuscript. So she found the manuscript. " … That's correct; it is F-sharp." "And this other place?" "No, no, that's correct." So, we said, "Oh, it's not a misprint, then it's a mistake, because it must be an F-natural and a B-flat." And then we explained to him and I don't know, that's the third transposition and that is the fifth note.… And Schoenberg gets mad—red in the face! "You want to say—if I hear an F-sharp, I will write an F-sharp. If I hear an F-natural, I will write an F-natural. Just because of your stupid … theory, are you telling to me what I should write?"

BENAR HEIFETZ: You know, everybody thinks about Schoenberg, his kind of composing—twelve-tone system—was far away from the music but it's not true. He could sit the whole evening and listen to a Beethoven quartet or a Mozart quartet, and we always have to know it because he really loved it.… So, since Schoenberg still was in Vienna, we were very close together. We came always together; he was very gastfreundlich. He was a wonderful host, and I remember the way he used to say—we were all very arrogant because, under Schoenberg and Alban Berg, nobody could compose so—but he always said, 'There is no bad composition. If the composer doesn't have talent, he knows how to write. He has a gift to write. Sometimes he does it, he has a talent but he doesn't know how to write. So every composition has something good." You wouldn't believe that Schoenberg would say this. And, for instance, he always used to ask us, "Why don't you play [an] Edvard Grieg quartet?" "Schoenberg, how could we play such music today?" And he said, "You know, I always hear the way he composed it, and when he composed it, the harmonies were absolutely new to us." So he was very gracious and very—he hated the world because they hated him. He was suspicious and very stubborn.

HUMPHREY SEARLE: I think the interesting thing was that he [Webern] didn't feel that atonal music and twelve-tone music were a break from the past; they were sort of a continuation of it. That was sort of his point of view.

SMITH: At the time that it all happened, did you feel that this was a development—a natural development—out of what he had been doing before, or that this was something new—that it was more like an invention?

KOLISCH: Ja, it appeared as something new. We could not see this from this perspective yet. That appeared really as something very fundamentally drastic.

OSKAR KOKOSCHKA: [About twelve-tone music] And that we knew, so there was no discussion. The past was active at that time still. For us, it was the past. It was out of discussion. We talked about when he wrote something—this passage, whether it expresses what he meant to do—about such things we were talking—would it be better in that way or in that way and so on. But mostly, they played. Bach he played. He liked Bach very much.… These tendencies like Poulenc or like the Russian [Prokofiev], that wasn't clean for us. Purist he was in that way, and me too, of course, and that's why we liked each other, because we were both in different ways common.…

SMITH: When you came back in 1924, Schoenberg had already developed the twelve-tone method. Did he talk to you about this or did you have any feelings about it at the time?

KOKOSCHKA: We all thought it's the music, so there was no dispute about it. It was just the fact. All the others were behind and didn't understand it, so we thought.… But we all agreed that the late Beethoven was the tower. We even thought Schoenberg was building on the late Beethoven, and not only building on it but now trying to open our ears for Beethoven. That's what we thought, at least I understood it in that way. As a nonmusician, I didn't care for these fights between the musicians—didn't know even about it. I only knew that Alban Berg, for example—and I think Schoenberg thought the same way—that he wanted to be on the safe side, so he was inclined to be the bridge between the past and this new music. Just as I thought new painting is when you paint what you really see and not what you have learned or routine or convention—what you really not only see but in a way feel as the expression of the period in which you live—the Geist, the spirit, of the period—so he thought he reflects in his music the spirit of his time and all the others didn't.… We were like Auswanderer … like immigrants, but in your own town. Of course afterwards, they discovered that we had been the real ones, but it's always the same.

David Hamilton (essay date 1989)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2615

SOURCE: "Schoenberg's First Opera," in The Opera Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3, Spring, 1989, pp. 48-58.

[In the following essay, Hamilton concludes that Schoenberg's opera Erwartung, while highly original, owes more to the influence of his contemporaries than to his later, more radical, atonal music]

Each of Arnold Schoenberg's four operas is sui generis. The first two one-acters, Erwartung (1909) and Die glückliche Hand (1910-1913), stem from his most experimental period and break new ground both musically and dramatically. The former is an intense, apparently freely associative psychological drama, the latter an auto-biographical allegory with a more self-evident musical structure. The one-act comedy Von heute auf morgen (1928-1929), the first opera written using the twelve-tone technique, belongs theatrically to the Zeitoper tradition.

The libretto by Gertrude Schoenberg, the composer's second wife (under the pseudonym "Max Bionda"), was, like that of Strauss's Intermezzo, suggested by an incident from contemporary life—in this case, the domestic affairs of Schoenberg's colleague Franz Schreker; formally, it reflects the neoclassical practice characteristic of the contemporaneous instrumental music. Finally, the two-act torso of the incomplete Moses und Aron (1930-1932), a profound and disturbed exploration of the impossibility of communicating great truths, religious and otherwise, presents an equally clearly articulated musical design.

Besides the sheer practical difficulty of these operas, two world wars and the consequences of Nazi racial and artistic policies also militated against frequent productions and inhibited the growth of any continuous performing tradition for Schoenberg's operas. The first two did not reach the stage until 1924 and accumulated relatively few productions in the years remaining before Hitler's advent (most notably, as a double bill at Berlin's Kroll Opera in 1930). Erwartung has acquired some currency since 1950, both in concert form and as part of "contemporary" double and triple bills, while the progress of Die glückliche Hand has been impeded by its obscurer dramatic character and by Schoenberg's elaborately specific staging and lighting conceptions. Von heute auf morgen came before the public more rapidly (Frankfurt, 1930), but has been seen only rarely since; perhaps the current revival of interest in Zeitoper will bring it up for reappraisal, though past verdicts on the stageworthiness of its comedy have been less than encouraging. Moses und Aron, not available for performance as long as Schoenberg lived and hoped to compose music for the brief final act, was first heard in concert form in 1954 and staged in Zurich three years later. Since then it has become established in the international repertory (lately and conspicuously at the Salzburg Festival); the New York stage premiere is promised in 1989 by the New York City Opera.

By the time this article appears in print, Erwartung will have received its New York stage premiere (at the Metropolitan Opera), and, as a favored item in Hildegard Behren's repertory for orchestral-concert engagements in the 1980s, has been heard if not seen in other American cities. Within the context of Schoenberg's compositional development it has long held a special place as the most extended and "athematic" example of his "atonal" style; though recent studies have revealed a multitude of sub-surface motivic and harmonic connections, its uniqueness subsists. Less often has it been viewed in the perspective of general operatic history, in which regard its designation as a "monodrama" is immediately a red herring. The standard music-historical reference books tell us that a "monodrama" was a melodrama—a theatrical work spoken over musical accompaniment—for a single character.

The sketchy historical record indicates that the designation, like the subject matter itself, originated with the text's author, Marie Pappenheim (1882-1966). Some fifty years after the event, the musicologist Helmut Kirchmeyer recorded her account of Erwartung's origins: "On a summer holiday in Steinakirchen in lower Austria, where Stein, Berg, Mopp, and other artists were staying near the Schoenberg and Zemlinsky families, Schoenberg suddenly challenged the young poetess: 'Then write me an opera libretto, young lady.… Write whatever you wish, I need a libretto.' Marie Pappenheim responded: 'I certainly cannot write a libretto, at most I could write a monodrama.'" According to Kirchmeyer, Pappenheim then believed that she had invented the word monodrama (presumably intending it to denote a "one-character drama") and was thus unaware of its music-historical background. Schoenberg may have been similarly ignorant, though he definitely knew the then-still-active tradition of melo drama, exemplified by such recitations with music as Strauss's Enoch Arden (1897) and Max von Schillings's Hexenlied (1904) and, in the theater, by the more specifically notated Sprechgesang in the first version (1897) of Humperdinck's Königskinder, which he emulated in the final part of Gurre-Lieder and would develop to powerful effect in Pierrot lunaire. However, Erwartung is sung throughout.

Here is the rest of what Pappenheim told Kirchmeyer about the opera's origins:

Two days later, Marie Pappenheim went to friends at Traunkirchen, and there wrote the libretto for Erwartung. She had experienced the forest a year earlier in Ischi, where every night around 10:30 she had to go through a stretch of dark forest on her way home; therein she found the plot of the drama.… Lying in the grass, she wrote in pencil on large sheets of paper, and made no copy; she hardly read through what she had written, and expected that Schoenberg, whom she did not yet know very well, would surely make proposals for changes.… Three weeks later, she returned to Steinakirchen, firmly believing that her poem was no opera libretto. But Schoenberg took it from her page by page (she wanted to correct it), and composed it immediately.

In 1909 Pappenheim was a medical student in Vienna, interested in literature and the arts; some of her poems were published in Karl Kraus's Die Fackel. At this point she was not entirely confident of her literary abilities, as her letter of 3 October to Schoenberg at Steinakirchen suggests: "I am writing out the final alterations on a separate piece of paper. Naturally I don't want you to have to work any more. I have shown it to no one, not even Zemlinsky. Certainly it does not please me. I did not write earlier, as I was very agitated. Now I am 50 percent better. That you have already finished gives me new courage." Although her medical degree, conferred the following year, was in skin diseases, Pappenheim's older brother Martin was a psychiatrist, and both must have been well aware of the psychoanalytic movement—indeed, their second cousin Berta Pappenheim had been the pseudonymous "Anna O" of a historically central analysis by Josef Breuer, described in Freud and Breuer's 1895 Studies in Hysteria.

The single character of Erwartung is an unnamed woman; searching in a forest for her lover, she is gripped in rapid alternation by violent apprehension and rapt reminiscence. Progressively, fear gains the upper hand, and after three relatively short scenes in the forest she emerges in a clearing before a house, dress torn, hair in disarray, face and hands bleeding. Here she discovers a body, which turns out to be that of her lover—the only event in the drama that takes place outside of her mind (or does it?). Following this traumatic identification, her mind careens through states of increasing bitterness and suspicion, alighting upon past hints that the lover might have been betraying her with another woman. Her final words may imply that she now denies the reality of his death:

Oh, bist du da…
  Ich suchte…

Oh, are you there…
  I was looking…

In fact, the reality of the entire action is ambiguous, at the least. At the time of the Kroll Opera performances Schoenberg noted that "the whole drama can be understood as a nightmare of anxiety [Angsttraum."] In a roughly contemporaneous essay he wrote: "In Erwartung the aim is to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour." Subsequent writers have speculated that the protagonist herself may have murdered the man out of jealousy, prior to the opera's beginning, and is returning to the scene of the crime. These interpretations are not, of course, incompatible.

The woman's situation in part parallels that of Isolde, but filtered through the distorting mirror of intense psychological stress. At measures 237-42 she retrospectively imagines the reunion she had expected with her absent lover, reminding us of Isolde and Tristan in act 2 of Wagner's opera:

Der Abend war so voll Frieden…
  Ich schaute und wartete…
Über die Gartenmauer dir entgegen…
so niedrig ist sie…
  Und dann winkten wir beide…

The evening was so peaceful…
I looked and waited…
Across the garden wall, toward you…
so low it is…
And then we both waved…

By the time of this fleeting vision, however, she is virtually in the position of Isolde in act 3, who came "to die with Tristan true" but found him at the point of death. Pappenheim's woman accuses her lover of depriving her of "the favor of being allowed to die with you" ("Oh! nicht einmal die Gnade, mit dir sterben zu dürfen"; mm. 351-56). Near the end of Erwartung (mm. 401-09), Tristan's central imagery of night and day, light and darkness, is particularly conspicuous:

Das Licht wird für alle kommen…
aber ich allein in meiner Nacht?…
Der Morgen trennt uns … immer der Morgen …
So schwer küsst du zum Abschied…
Wieder ein ewiger Tag des Wartens…

The light will come for everyone…
but I, alone in my night?…
The morning separates us … always
  the morning…
So heavily you kiss me farewell…
Yet another endless day of waiting…

Moreover, the characterization of the "other woman" as "die Frau mit den weissen Armen" recalls an element of the Tristan legend, albeit one not used by Wagner, the rival Iseult of the White Hands.

This should occasion no surprise, for Wagner's opera—its words as well as its music—was the governing image of sexual passion in the culture that brought forth Erwartung. Even closer than Tristan to the world of abnormal psychology that Pappenheim's libretto inhabits were the then-new one-act operas of Richard Strauss. Especially if she were herself the cause of his death, Erwartung's protagonist apostrophizing her lover's corpse resembles Salome, and their lines once almost converge: "Was soll ich allein hier tun?" (mm. 392-93) echoes Salome's "Was soll ich jetzt tun, Jochanaan?" The moon that literally presides over Salome's action is also on hand at the beginning of Erwartung, vanishing in the second scene and reappearing in the third. Elektra, first performed in Vienna the preceding March, finds further echoes; Hofmannsthal's drama deals more directly with its characters' neurotic concerns than does Salome, in which Wilde's penchant for ornamental verbiage and parallel structure gets in the way of psychological truth.

But the Elektra libretto, too, is structured and "artificial" by comparison to Pappenheim's erratically gushing stream of incomplete sentences and freeassociative phrases, as her protagonist's mind darts between past and present, desire and fear. What she gave Schoenberg was truly not a libretto, but instead an interior monologue, with no distance, none of the objectivity required by a drama of characters who must display external selves to each other and to the spectator. In previous operas that objectivity occasionally gives way to the special, close-up focus of the soliloquy or scene, but in Erwartung that focus is both normative and exclusive, persisting for the entire opera. Nor does Pappenheim's libretto indulge in artifices of verbal structure and parallelism. Its imagery, however conditioned by the period of its origin, offers itself as symptomatic rather than symbolic, as raw mental data rather than metaphor.

Schoenberg's response to this unique text was equally extraordinary. In 1946 he wrote that "I personally belong to those who generally write very fast, whether it is 'cerebral' counterpoint or 'spontaneous' melody," and he cited Erwartung as an example, claiming that he wrote its nearly thirty minutes of music in just fourteen days. The first page of the composition draft in short score (see illustration) is dated 27 August 1909, and the end of the work 12 September, which actually makes a total of seventeen days; the manuscript full score was finished a few weeks later, on 4 October. As Charles Rosen has observed, when Schoenberg "lost the thread of a piece, he could almost never pick it up again without disaster," and fortunately no Austrian equivalent of Coleridge's "person on business from Porlock" interrupted this period of extreme concentration, though in 1940 Schoenberg told his class at UCLA that "when he was about halfway through, he found something in the text that didn't seem to fit the rest, so lost a whole day correcting that. He had to write to Marie P. about it and wait for her answer." According to Josef Rufer, Pappenheim's manuscript text includes "many cuts and alterations in Schoenberg's handwriting, and several musical sketches at various points in the text."

As already noted, Erwartung's reputation as "athematic" and "atonal" has eventually yielded to analytic efforts; certain motivic cells (among them tri-tone-plus-semitone, minor-third-plus-semitone) pervade the texture both horizontally and vertically. Occasional suggestions of Schoenberg's favored D minor come to a head near the end in the quotation from the song "Am Wegrand" (originally in that key), at "Tausend Menschen ziehn vorüber" (m. 411). The motivic and harmonic correspondences are close enough to the surface to bring about consistency, yet too ephemeral to afford the security—the formal bearings, the sense of location within the piece's progress—we are accustomed to receive from explicit themes and from procedures such as repetitions and symmetries, abjured in the music of Erwartung.

This is intentional, of course, and appropriate to an opera in which the time scale is not realistic, but purely psychological: to a mind at sea, buffeted by conflicting impressions of nature and spontaneous irruptions from the sub-conscious, the flow of consciousness is constantly unordered and surprising. Schoenberg has captured this with remarkable fidelity, so that even after repeated hearings we can hardly help experiencing the music's progression as still startling. (This characteristic definitely complicates performance. In a recent conversation James Levine reported—and concurred with—Pierre Boulez's view that Erwartung is one of the two most challenging pieces to conduct from memory, because there is no ordered repetition of elements.) That music influences our perception of time is a truism; Erwartung's aggressively heterogeneous aspect effectively numbs the listener's ability to measure the passage of time.

Erwartung isn't formless, but the dimensions of the formal units are small—as brief as a few measures each—and they aren't articulated in traditional ways, via cadences or symmetries. That many of these segments center around a leading melodic component should help, but will do so only if the performance is really well prepared; too often, those melodic components fail to emerge from the orchestral polyphony, despite the cautionary Hauptstimme markings in Schoenberg's full score. Again, the performance difficulty is a necessary consequence of the special expressive task Schoenberg has undertaken. For maximum timbrai diversity he generally uses the large orchestra as a repository from which to draw ever-fresh chamber ensembles for successive formal units. The players must therefore continually readjust to "new" colleagues with whom they are playing and trying to balance lines—quite a contrast to conventionally scored repertory, whose relatively standardized orchestrational practices (not to mention, in most cases, the works themselves) they have long since internalized.

Yet, for all its originality, Schoenberg's first opera remains fundamentally within the operatic aesthetic promulgated by Wagner in doctrine and example, and subscribed to in the present century by Strauss and Berg among others (though rejected by Debussy and Stravinsky): structural and emotional weight concentrated in the orchestra, formal units linked to yield an uninterrupted composition, intensively motivic textures, the strong didactic intent inherited from Beethoven's high ethical concerns. Its three successors would further extend that tradition, if each in a specific direction.

Robin Gail Schulze (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: "Design in Motion: Words, Music, and the Search for Coherence in the Works of Virginia Woolf and Arnold Schoenberg," in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. XXV, No. 2, Fall, 1992, pp. 5-22

[In the following essay, Schulze examines the influence of Schoenberg's musical theory on the works of Virginia Woolf]

Academics, alas, can be surprisingly narrow-minded. Shaped by our institutions, we have a tendency to divide ideas into neat little teachable, publishable packages, defining ourselves and our thoughts in terms of time periods, genres, continents, languages, theories, departments, and disciplines. Such separations certainly make the work of knowing easier, but they often lead us to read only part of a complex story. The period now roughly defined as "modern," from the late 1800s to the Second World War, happily and frustratingly resists every arbitrary boundary the academy attempts to draw. Modernism, modernist literature, call it what you will, occurs in vastly different forms in many different countries. Authors borrow freely from other arts and across disciplines, experimenting in a variety of languages and media. Poetry becomes prose, literature becomes music, music mimics painting, American writers live in England, France, Italy, and Germany, and the "beginning" and "end" of modernist writing remain tantalizingly elusive and ambiguous. T.S. Eliot's poetry speaks to the slipperiness of academic distinctions. His poems serve scholars as examples of both British and American verse, his plays appear in both drama and poetry courses, his work is read as both staunchly elitist and decadently subversive, he remains a Monarchist Anglican from London and a rebel from St. Louis, Missouri. Attempting to determine the general tendencies of such a lively period and such perplexing authors boggles the mind. To think about the "modern period" at all, one must think broadly and widely, just the sort of thing that we scholars seem to hate most.

The fact remains, however, that thinking broadly and widely is just what many modernist authors did best. Fed up with the conventions governing their work and their lives, they wandered across boundaries of time and place, borrowing from sister arts, rummaging the cupboards of the distant past, exploring non-western cultures, casting and recasting themselves and their art in an ongoing intellectual journey that demanded and valued change. One of the most vigorous such explorers of the modern period was Virginia Woolf. Like many of her modernist colleagues, Woolf did not divide her life into disciplines. Hungry for new forms that would not duplicate past repressions, Woolf embarked on an experimental interdisciplinary voyage that eventually led her to consider words as music.

It is certainly nothing new to say that from 1925 to 1931, roughly the years between her completion of Mrs. Dalloway and her creation of The Waves, Virginia Woolf became increasingly dissatisfied with the conventional form of the novel. Woolf's criticism, letters, and diaries of the period all reveal her growing distaste for the constraints of chronological plot—this happened, then that happened—and detailed narrative. In her much-quoted 1925 essay, "Modern Fiction," Woolf paused to consider her artistic development in light of her paunchier Victorian contemporaries. Leveling her pen at the literary abuses of Arnold Bennett and the "materialist" school, Woolf's now famous commentary shows her deepening sense that the novel must evolve to fit the fragmentation of the time.

Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide. Nevertheless, we go on perseveringly, conscientiously, constructing our two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision in our minds. So much of the enormous labour of proving the solidity, the likeness to life, of the story is not merely labour thrown away but labour misplaced to the extent of obscuring and blotting out the light of the conception. The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this? (The Common Reader)

Clearly, the answer from Woolf's perspective is no, novels need not be "like this," they need not adhere to a single chronological narrative full of boring details that leave the characters more dead than alive. Woolf pictures Bennett and company as vassals of an autocratic dictator who insists that there must be one kind of order, one definition of "real," one plot to govern the whole. "Done to a turn," such novels follow a given recipe to perfection, but they result in a monotonous mental meatloaf. Woolf continues:

Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being "like this." Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it.

Using Bennett as a foil, Woolf throws off her chains only to face a further dilemma in the question of form. Given Woolf's picture of "life going on," how does the author ever shape such fragmentary experience into a "novel"? The work Woolf pictures as a replacement for Bennett's (and by implication, to some extent, her own) misguided efforts, is a study in negativity. The perfect novel has no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest, no catastrophe, no solidity. Woolf distinctly lists the conventions that authors must abandon, but offers little concrete advice about what a potentially liberating new order might look like. Woolf's essay ends on a vague note of "anything goes." "Nothing," she writes, "no 'method,' no experiment, even of the wildest—is forbidden, but only falsity and pretence." Woolf couches her affirmation of experimentation in negative terms. Her amorphous protonovel remains a matter of "what if," a consummation that, sensing its difficulties, Woolf herself appears hesitant to enact and equally unwilling to prescribe.

1925 thus found Woolf in a quandary. On the one hand, she believed that the imposition of a causal chronological system upon the random play of experience was a potentially deadly thing. On the other hand, she recognized the enduring need for some kind of artistic order to generate meaning and save the author from utter chaos. The problem Woolf faced was to create a new, more protean form that could move beyond complete negativity without duplicating the oppressive sins of novels past. In response to the problem, Woolf produced increasingly experimental novels that comment on their own creation. In Mrs. Dalloway, the conflict Woolf creates between Dr. Holmes and Septimus Smith mirrors to the letter the conflict between Bennett's solid autocratic realism and a liberated art of a "myriad impressions." A lover of rational systems, Dr. Holmes, as Septimus notes, reflects "human nature," that part of us that wants desperately to believe that life operates according to a prescribed pattern, that every effect has a discernible cause, that order and normalcy can be discovered and maintained. Septimus, on the other hand, remains open to an incessant shower of innumerable atoms that score upon his consciousness. Past, present, and future meld together; dogs become men; the dead peer out from behind bushes; nothing can control the flood of life coming in. Septimus lives in a state of imaginative freefall, his thoughts the embodiment of Woolf's plotless, conventionless, non-chronological fiction.

Septimus, however, is also mad as a hatter—a state, as Woolf well knew, incompatible with writing a good book. His visionary nature leaves him unable to communicate, and he ends his life by leaping out a window to avoid the ministrations of the ever persistent Holmes. Septimus' flight from the window constitutes an image of artistic liberation, but Woolf sees such complete freedom as ending in isolation and death. Woolf kills off Septimus, an act that reflects her own reluctance to reject completely the Bennettian constraints on the novel.

Indeed, the form of Mrs. Dalloway mirrors the anxious nature of its content. Periodically throughout the book, Woolf throws off the control of causal plot and retreats into moments of mind-time where the flow of events ceases. During segments of mind-time, Woolf sets various time streams loose at once, either in the mind of one character, who retreats into internal solioquy, collapsing past, present and future, or in the simultaneous perspectives given by several characters recording a single moment. The result of either technique is that plot time stands still; Woolf replaces conventional chronological narrative with a simultaneous internalized expression of "life going on."

Yet for all of its experimental tendencies, Mrs. Dalloway, by Woolf's definition, remains a conventional novel. Mrs. Dalloway has a plot, a love interest, and an omniscient narrator who gives play to a privileged authorial perspective. Woolf grounds Mrs. Dalloway solidly in the world of causal events. Despite Clarissa Dalloway's detours into mind-time, her day moves from morning to night with steady regularity, a progress marked by Big Ben, who tolls ominously in the background, "first a warning, musical; then the hour irrevocable," an image of inescapable chronology. The novel begins in the middle of June; the War is over; Clarissa is over fifty; she has lived in Westminster for over twenty years; it is Wednesday morning, 10:30 a.m. Woolf endows Mrs. Dalloway with a distinct "air of probability," a particular time and a definite place, rooted in the tradition of the "one plot."

Mrs. Dalloway, then, poses a serious question for Woolf as an artist. How does one write a novel without becoming either a Septimus or a Holmes? To record life as a series of jumbled impressions that score upon the mind poses the threat of literary madness. To record life as a plot, however, makes the author into a Holmes, a mono-narrative bully who insists that everything cohere in a particular way. Woolf's response to the problem reveals the working of a distinctly interdisciplinary mind. In To the Lighthouse Woolf turns her attention to the visual arts in the work of Lily Briscoe, projecting a new aesthetic order to counter Bennett's autocratic reign. For all her grace and elegance, Mrs. Ramsay takes the place of Dr. Holmes. A purveyor of comfort, a singer of lullabies, a constant reassuring force, Mrs. Ramsay embodies a Victorian confidence in "ideal completeness," or, as Woolf put it in her essay "How it Strikes a Contemporary," "the conviction that life is of a certain quality" (The Common Reader). Shore-bound and short-sighted in both a literal and figurative sense, Mrs. Ramsay's brand of order is safe, but limited. Lily's canvas, however, poses a distinctly different kind of coherence. Abstract rather than mimetic, Lily's work moves away from a conventional, representational form. Like Woolf's projected prefect book, Lily's painting does not succumb to an air of probability or a wealth of stultifying detail. Like Woolf's projected perfect author, Lily records atoms as they score upon her consciousness, creting a simultaneous expression of "life going on." Confident in Lily's experiment, Woolf successfully kills off Mrs. Ramsay without any fear of impending chaos. To the Lighthouse ends with Lily's triumphant claim, "I have had my vision."

Woolf thus closes To the Lighthouse with a statement of faith that the artist can offer a new form to capture the essence of "life going on." In spite of Lily Briscoe's triumph, however, To the Lighthouse again reflects Woolf's definition of a conventional novel. Woolf herself speculated that the critics would find To the Lighthouse "sentimental" and "Victorian" (The Diary of Virginia Woolf III). The book has a definite beginning and a definite end, held together by the steady chronological progress of Lily's artistic process. Where Lily achieves a simultaneous record of atoms, Woolf stays rooted in the realm of causal teleological chronology, the world of the "one plot" and the omniscient narrator. The most adventurous part of Woolf's novel shows her persistent fear of the potential chaos behind a frame of causal plot. In "Time Passes" Woolf collapses time into a formless pool, relegating "events," such as Mrs. Ramsay's death, to sentence-long afterthoughts separated from the rest of the text by brackets. A stab in the direction of Woolf's perfect book, "Time Passes" has no plot, no love interest, at times, no characters at all. Yet "Time Passes" is also a space of things unmade rather than made. Woolf pictures the text in which night and day, month and year, run shapelessly together as the potential space of "idiot games," mad Septimus-like ramblings that can only reflect the chaos they wish to record. At the end of "Time Passes," Woolf retreats back into the realm of conventional causal chronology, forming a protective frame around the disruptive, achronological space within. Formally, To the Lighthouse struggles against the abstract experimental possibilities posed by Lily's picture.

Woolf's reluctance to look to the visual arts as a sustaining experimental model, however, perhaps reflects the fact that Lily's picture, too, presents problems in terms of Woolf's perfect book. Woolf closes her novel with Lily's "vision," and the atoms of experience stand ordered in one particular way. Lily finishes her painting and sets down her brush, Mr. Ramsay reaches the lighthouse. The form of the book implies that Lily's ordering task ends and that, behind the mask of metanarrative coherence, there lies a particular single set of atoms to be seen. Her vision is static rather than changing, an end point of causal chronology that contradicts Woolf's professed artistic ideal of art as continuous process, "life going on." Lily's new order threatens the birth of a new dictator. Lily herself notes the similarity between her task and that of Mrs. Ramsay.

This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying, "Life stand still here"; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent)—this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs. Ramsay said. "Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!" she repeated. She owed it all to her.

Both Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe seek to make the moment something permanent. Lily, like Mrs. Ramsay, wants to shape the flow of chaos, the clouds going and the leaves shaking, into something fixed and lasting. Woolf thus grappled with the fact that a picture, while creating a moment of simultaneity, can never sustain simultaneous expression over time.

Faced with a further crisis of form, Woolf longed, as she wrote in her diary, not for the visual arts, but for poetry and music, for a compact, nonchronological, simultaneous expression of "life going on" to take the place of Holmes's restrictions and Lily's vision. In 1928 Woolf set to work crafting The Waves, and from the very start of her experiment Woolf felt she was making something different. "Never in my life," she wrote in her diary,

did I attack such a vague yet elaborate design; whenever I make a mark I have to think of its relation to a dozen others and though I could go on ahead easily enough, I am always stopping to consider the whole effect.… I am not quite satisfied with this method … yet I can't at the moment devise anything which keeps so close to the original design & admits to movement. (The Diary of Virginia Woolf III,)

Woolf thus conceived of The Waves not as a sequence of events or a causal thread, but as an intricate interconnected whole, a pattern of particles that had to be considered both backwards and forwards during its creation, each mark in relation to a dozen others rather than simply the one that came before.

Woolf envisioned the book not as a story, but as a "shape," a "design," or, Woolf's most popular metaphor, a "method." As in To the Lighthouse, the characters in The Waves comment on the artistic experiment at hand. Like Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe, the voices Woolf presents attempt to order a world of random experience with varying degrees of success. Woolf constructs six "characters" that represent competing systems of imposed conscious order. Neville, Louis, Bernard, Susan, Jinny, Rhoda—each voice constructs an internal narrative that shapes the self and orders experience. Jinny, Susan, Neville, and Louis all choose to define themselves and interpret experience through a single artificial system. Each of the four selects a single "story," a single end to life which serves as a buttress against the waves. As Rhoda says, Jinny, Louis, Neville, and Susan choose to live life "wholly, indivisibly, and without caring in the moment." Louis is the man of business who "forms unalterable conclusions upon the true nature of what is to be known." Neville is the limited poet who clings to the words and the myths of the past, believing that "change is no longer possible." Susan chooses a life of unchanging "natural happiness"; Jinny cries her single sexual call of "come, come, come." Adopting distinctly chronological, teleological views of existence, all four see the end of life even as they live the beginning. All four characters, however, also suffer for their imposed stability. Louis, Neville, Susan, and Jinny lead ordered and focused lives, but they become the static, constricted, dull victims of their own narrow interpretations of self and experience. The imposition of a single narrative upon random experience creates order and meaning, but, like Bennett's solid narrative, it ultimately destroys life.

Along with her four failed, or anchored "characters," however, Woolf presents two protean figures in The Waves who remain open to random experience, Rhoda and the author, Bernard. Both Rhoda and Bernard exist without unifying singular stories to govern their lives. Rhoda lives in the crushing waves of experience without a narrative anchor to shape her self and stabilize the atoms that score upon her consciousness. "I cannot make one moment merge in the next," she says, "to me they are all violent, all separate." Unable to form fictions, to string experience together with "like and like and like," Rhoda collapses into the disordered realm of her own dreams, eventually choosing death as a release from chaos.

Like Rhoda, Bernard the author exists without a stultifying imposed mono-narrative. Yet, unlike Rhoda, Bernard has the ability to create meaning. Bernard spins stories and makes phrases. Where Rhoda cannot make one moment merge with the next, Bernard sees endless sequences. Drawing images together in an alphabetized notebook, Bernard effectively orders experience within the pages of a never-ending fictional catalogue, pellet by pellet of bread, drop by drop of water, moments and fragments linked together in a creative and active chain. For Bernard, life is a story that he never stops telling himself, an ever-changing artistic process. Bernard states:

I took my mind, my being, the old dejected, almost inanimate object and lashed it about among these odds and ends, sticks and straws, detestable little bits of wreckage, flotsam and jetsam, floating on the oily surface. I jumped up, I said, 'Fight.' 'Fight,' I repeated. It is the effort and the struggle, it is the perpetual warfare, it is the shattering and piecing together—this is the daily battle, defeat or victory, the absorbing pursuit. The trees, scattered, put on order; the thick green of the leaves thinned itself to a dancing light. I netted them under with a sudden phrase. 1 retrieved them from formlessness with words.

Faced with a choice between fiction and emptiness, Bernard consciously embraces fiction. The process of putting together ends only with the end of life itself.

Thus, Woolf gives us one consciousness that manages to stay afloat in the waves without submitting to the paralysis of mono-narrative or the terror of chaos. Bernard escapes both forms of death by approaching life as a protean artistic process. His stories offer a theoretical alternative to both Bennettian constraints and experimental lunacy, a changing artistic order that offers coherence yet insists that there is no one true story, no one final vision. Yet The Waves is not merely a triumph of theory, it is a triumph of form. Woolf's design successfully mimics in structure what Bernard preaches in content. Throughout The Waves, Woolf clearly rejects both the chronological plot and the omniscient narrator. Woolf crafts the entire book into a series of nine time pools in which her six voices register experience simultaneously in the same, utterly consistent, narrative voice. Within the pools the six voices chart six perspectives, six different versions of "life going on." No one voice gives the "privileged perspective," no one acts as the governing omniscient consciousness, no one offers a restrictive true story. Within the time pools, causal chronology ceases; Jinny speaks, Susan speaks, Rhoda speaks, Neville speaks, Bernard speaks, Louis speaks—Woolf's six voices form a changing pattern that she orders and reorders from pool to pool. Woolf thus creates a clear "method" that substitutes for the stultifying coherence of causal chronological plot. Woolf's continuously reordered time pools stress the fact that artistic coherence is a matter of process rather than product, a necessary on-going linking and relinking of random particles to form an endless number of stories rather than a single story.

For such formal and theoretical experiments, Woolf frequently earns the critical label, "postmodern." Drawing on the old notion that modernist writers value unity, coherence, completeness, and authority, critics find Woolf's antiauthoritarian aesthetics of process and Bernard's acceptance of meaning as multiple to be sure signs of her subversive difference. Such critics "rescue" Woolf from the oppressive modernist canon by enshrining her as a postmodern author ahead of her time. Yet Woolf's ever-shifting stance and attention to process rather than product do not necessarily indicate a "postmodern" approach. Such provisionalizing strategies are a hallmark of works of modernist music. Looking again across disciplines, The Waves reveals a musical sensibility common to that of many twentieth-century composers, particularly that of the founding father of atonal expression, Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg's push toward new forms in music—his ultimate rejection of functional tonality and his creation of the method of composing with twelve tones—resembles, in both rhetoric and ideology, Woolf's rejection of chronological causal narrative and her subsequent creation of a "design in motion" to hold the text of The Waves together. Broadening the scope of critical vision to include modernist music suggests that Woolf conceived of The Waves, like To the Lighthouse, in a distinctly interdisciplinary context.

Indeed, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that Woolf's aesthetic longing for music during the creation of The Waves was not simply an idle wish. As Quentin Bell notes in his biography of Woolf, Leonard Woolf began working as a record critic for The Nation in 1927, roughly the time that Virginia Woolf first began to conceptualize The Waves (Virginia Woolf: A Biography). To assist Leonard's new post, the Woolfs purchased the finest gramophone money could buy and, as Bell notes, Woolf became immersed in a flood of music that accompanied her own creation. Bell claims that Woolf, who had a "fairly catholic taste" in music, developed a particular preference for Beethoven's late string quartets, quartets that test the very boundaries of tonal music, quartets of "rhythmic violence" and complex chromaticism that pre-figure many of Schoenberg's techniques. Schoenberg himself presents Beethoven's late quartets as an antecedent to his own more radical systems in his widely read essay "Composition with Twelve Tones" (Style and Idea).

Also during the composition of The Waves, Woolf met Ethel Smyth, Britain's foremost female composer. Energetic and aggressive, Smyth stormed into Woolf's life and the two quickly became friends and eventually, lovers. Entirely conversant with the modern music scene throughout Europe, Smyth was friends with the great conductors Bruno Walter and Thomas Beecham, both of whom she petitioned frequently for aid in getting her works performed. As Louise Collis notes in her biography of Smyth, Impetuous Heart, Smyth also knew well the work of Schoenberg, whose music she disliked and used as a frequent point of negative comparison with her own compositions. Given Smyth's consistent desire to talk about herself and her work, Woolf gained a great deal of information (as much unsolicited as requested) about both musicians and musical forms. Woolf attended Smyth's rehearsals at the BBC and listened to her broadcasts on the radio (Collis 123). Woolf's letters and diaries are filled with comments such as the one she wrote to Smyth on February 27, 1930: "I want to talk and talk and talk—About music" (The Letters of Virginia Woolf IV).

Given the cultural climate of England at the time, it appears that Woolf would have had ample opportunity to fulfill her desire to "talk about music," particularly avantgarde music. The late 1920's were a time of increasing difficulty for modern composers working in proto-fascist countries. Schoenberg's work, scorned by the Viennese public and rejected by the cultural elite, remained virtually unplayed in Europe in the years between the wars. Ironically, however, Schoenberg's music gained some exposure in England, a country traditionally musically conservative. As early as 1921, Edward Clark, the head of the BBC Music Department, made a policy of broad-casting concerts of new music to the British public that was being repressed and ignored throughout Europe. As British musicologist Leo Black notes with gratitude, Clark was almost single-handedly responsible for creating a public forum for the work of Schoenberg and his circle:

Edward Clark, who left the BBC in 1936, should have a key place in any history of twentieth-century British music. It was he who knew everything that was going on in the world of contemporary music—particularly in Europe—and everybody who was engaged in it. The BBC was involved from the 1920's onwards in the hazardous enterprise of introducing to the British listeners Schoenberg and Webern as well as Bartok and Stravinsky.

Clark, a composer himself, was Schoenberg's only English-speaking pupil before the First World War, and he took it as a personal trust to bring Schoenberg's compositions to the British public at a time when virtually no one else was listening. The results, by today's standards, were amazing. On January 28, 1928, Schoenberg came to Queen's Hall in London to conduct a concert of his own works. The hall was packed to overflowing; the concert was relayed, thanks to Clark, to all British radio stations. After the concert, Schoenberg was greeted by a cheering crowd of hundreds of British followers who waited out-side in the streets until the concert was finished. Clark generated a level of public acceptance for Schoenberg's music in the late twenties that Schoenberg was never to see again.

Thinking in such a musical and historical context, the potential similarities between Woolf's and Schoenberg's experiments come into focus. Schoenberg, like Woolf, was a rather cautious innovator who balked at the constraints of conventional tonal music even while he clung to hierarchical tonal systems to order his art. Functional tonal music is directed music, music with a destination, a home base, a tonic key that serves as an anchor for the harmonic motion of a particular piece. Tonal music operates through a strict hierarchical system: dominant triads (triads built on the fifth of the scale) resolve to tonic triads; subdominant triads (triads built on the fourth note of the scale) resolve to dominant traids; median triads (triads built on the sixth scale degree) resolve to sub-dominant triads; and so on. All tones have a particular function and an acknowledged proper direction, tending toward tonic through a carefully mapped set of harmonic relationships or "progressions." Translated into literary terms, tonal music has a causal chronology, a series of tonal events (this leads to that) dictated by an exacting conventional system, a specific teleology that imposes a "one true story" that orders all tonal materials. Tonal music implies the expectation and fulfillment of a single impressed rubric.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, composers such as Wagner and Mahler began to experiment with breaking the constraints of conventional tonal music. Increased chromaticism, lengthy excursions from tonic through remote key areas, prolonged cadences that evade a return to tonic and destabilize tonal expectations—Wagner and Mahler's tonal innovations led to richly chromatic compositions that Schoenberg and his contemporaries labeled products of "extended tonality." Like Wagner and Mahler, Schoenberg began his career writing lush chromatic music that, for all its complexity and extended techniques, was distinctly tonal in conception.

Yet like Woolf, Schoenberg soon became dissatisfied with the conventional restraints of his task. Schoenberg longed to be rid of the causal, chronological "one plot" of functional tonality. Schoenberg's early work, like Woolf's, was motivated by a clash between a musical Septimus, who wished to break the bonds of tonal music, and a musical Holmes, who insisted that the system of tonal hierarchy stay in place. The result was a radically extended tonality, moments of densely chromatic, virtually atonal, music held together by an imposed tonal superstructure—music, like Woolf's novels prior to The Waves, at war with itself.

In Schoenberg's case, however, the pull of the musical Septimus was too great to resist. In 1908, Schoenberg broke free from tonal conventions and began to write music that consciously defeated tonal expectations. Schoenberg's Second String Quartet, generally considered the first truly atonal utterance in Western music, bids farewell to a coherent tonal base. As Schoenberg notes in My Evolution,

In the first and second movements there are many sections in which the individual parts proceed regardless of whether or not their meeting results in codified harmonies. Still, here, and also in the third and fourth movements, the key is presented distinctly at all the main dividing points of the formal organization. Yet the overwhelming multitude of dissonances cannot be balanced any longer by occasional returns to such tonal triads as represent a key. It seemed inadequate to force a movement into the Procrustean bed of a tonality without supporting it by harmonic progressions that pertain to it. This was my concern, and it should have occupied the mind of all my contemporaries also. That I was the first to venture the decisive step will not be considered universally a merit—a fact I regret but have to ignore.

Leaving functional tonality behind, Schoenberg reconceptualized the musical universe as a world of atoms scoring, a vast unrelated pool of potential tones outside the constraints of an imposed hierarchy. Stripping away conventions, Schoenberg reached the musical equivalent of the atomistic space behind Bennett's Victorian metanarrative of "ideal completeness."

In 1909, Schoenberg took a further step into chaos and composed Erwartung, an operatic mono-drama that has since its inception plagued musicologists who relish the challenge of discerning hidden orders. Within Erwartung, Schoenberg pushes atonal expression to its furthest limits, generating the musical equivalent of Woolf's perfectly negative book. Erwartung contains no classical formal structures, no motivic recurrences, no rhythmic patterns, no themes, no clear repetition of any kind. To save himself from utter disorder, Schoenberg ties Erwartung together with the thin thread of a text, an imposed literary plot to substitute for the missing musical plot of functional tonality. Schoenberg, like Woolf, realized that Septimus alone could not create art. Afraid of the implications of his own formless rambling, Schoenberg retreated into his study and emerged, eleven years later, with a new, more protean, technique for ordering tones.

Schoenberg's method of composing with twelve tones was the result of his withdrawal, a carefully controlled musical technique designed to generate purely non-hierarchical, atonal, acausal music that utterly defeats, through a coherent system, all tonal expectations. Schoenberg's method divides the octave, not into a diatonic key presentation of eight notes, but into twelve equal half steps. Twelve-tone music consists of varied presentations of a basic "tone row," a set of twelve different notes that forms a complete egalitarian expression of all musical material contained in the octave. The twelve notes in the row are sounded twelve at a time, without repetition of any one note, a technique that leads to the highest possible chromatic density and completely disorganizes the tonal expectations of the listener. Schoenberg varies presentations of the tone row from set to set through the musical techniques of "inversion" (the row turned upside down), retrograde (the row presented backwards), retrograde inversion (upside down and backwards), and pure transposition. Yet from presentation to presentation, the row always consists of twelve half steps, taken twelve at a time, without repetition. In twelve-tone music there are no "leading tones," no fifths or fourths, no one note leads or tends toward any other. No one note is more important than any other.

Thus Schoenberg's twelve-tone music replaces functional tonality with a tightly-ordered chromatic barrage that overturns the very idea of directional dissonance and consonance. Twelve-tone music disrupts the causal hierarchical "plot" of tonal music and allows for, as Schoenberg put it, "the emancipation of the dissonance." Schoenberg writes in "Composition with Twelve Tones,"

But while a "tonal" composer still has to lead his parts into consonances or catalogued dissonances, a composer with twelve independent tones apparently possesses the kind of freedom which many would characterize by saying: "everything is allowed." "Everything" has always been allowed to two kinds of artists: to masters on the one hand, and to ignoramuses on the other.

Schoenberg, thus, saw his technique as a highly complex, protean structure that defeated tonal causality without succumbing to chaos.

Working across disciplinary boundaries, I believe that Woolf's "method" for composing The Waves, her "design in motion," shows some striking similarities to Schoenberg's method of composing with twelve tones. Translating The Waves into musical terms, Woolf's rejection of a single causal chronological plot (this leads to that), her rejection of the "one true story," leads her to write fiction which is basically "atonal" in conception. Like Schoenberg, Woolf abandons the causal impetus of her art and creates a form which defeats both chronological causality and functional hierarchy. In place of the causal stream of tonal music, Woolf presents six voices, the rough equivalent of a Schoenbergian "tone row," that are ordered and ordered again. Woolf discards a single plot in favor of a process of, as Schoenberg put it, "continuous variation" that disrupts the idea of any one proper musical movement.

Woolf essentially creates pools of six voices taken six at a time in a shifting array that defeats expectations and prohibits the question "what happens next?" Woolf's "row," her ever-changing pattern of six particles, has the same destabilizing effect on Woolf's fiction as the tone row has on Schoenberg's music. Six characters, offering six perspectives, six at a time, defeats the idea of any one privileged perspective or, in musical terms, any one privileged harmonic base. Woolf's serial presentation of voices defeats the convention of the omniscient narrator in the same way that Schoenberg's serial presentation of tones defeats a tonic key. Woolf's voice pools are adirectional spaces of simultaneous presentation that provide for the emancipation of all perspectives, a literary corollary to Schoenberg's "emancipation of the dissonance." The Waves uses distinctly Schoenbergian serial techniques to disrupt the ideas of the "one true story." The antiauthoritarian, ever-changing presentation of voices mat lies at the heart of Schoenberg's twelve-tone music is also the motivating force behind Woolf's The Waves.

Reading Woolf's words as music, the very first "movement" of The Waves shows an attention to ordered disruption worthy of the best of serial composers. The order of voices in the opening of the first voice pool of The Waves reads as follows:


In the opening of her first movement, Woolf presents all six of her voices, six at a time, without repeating any one voice until the entire set has been used. No one presentation of the voice row is privileged, no one voice is privileged. Woolf's organization disrupts standard narrative expectations. All the voices seem equally important, all the visions of the childhood equally true. The ever-changing non-causal array defeats the wish for a stable chronological narrative with a definite direction. Woolf's presentation guarantees that, in Bernard's terms, "there is nothing one can fish up in a spoon; nothing one can call an even." In musical terms, nothing you can walk out humming. Although Woolf, like most serial composers, does indeed deviate from the strict row presentation set out in the opening movement (voices repeat, interruptions intervene) at many points in The Waves, the patterns of carefully controlled rotation remains the same. "Neville, Susan, Louis, Jinny, Rhoda and a thousand others," says Bernard at the end of The Waves,

How impossible to order them rightly; to detach one separately, or to give the effect of the whole—again like music.… Each played his own tune, fiddle, flute, trumpet, drum or whatever the instrument might be.

Woolf's six voices sound as distinct musical tones, each different, each separate, each playing his or her own tune. Yet each adds to a musically conceived simultaneous serial whole.

This essay thus ends with a web of probability rather than an actual proof of influence. Yet I think that the ideological similarity between Woolf's and Schoenberg's work is helpful in defining the period and the sensibility we loosely term as "modern." Both Woolf and Schoenberg inherit a late-Victorian abyss. They each look out into the random sea of particles behind the metanarrative coherence of a bygone age and realize that art must order the world in a new way without becoming a new dictator. Both respond to a late-Victorian confusion and artistic breakdown by creating protean artistic systems to substitute for the loss of old beliefs. Both create controlled forms, born of artistic confidence, that assert the beauty of artistic process over potential chaos or static product.

Given the work of Woolf and Schoenberg, the "modern" period may be seen as one of provisionalizing action rather than formalist oppression. Perhaps Woolf herself says it best in "A Sketch of the Past."

It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what; making a scheme come right; making a character come together. From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare; there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

For modernists like Schoenberg and Woolf, art is the thing that "makes it come right." There is no pattern behind the cotton wool, no God, no ultimate Beethoven, no cosmic Shakespeare to order this vast mass that we call the world; the patterns we make on our side of the carpet are pure imposition. Yet, without the one God, the one order, the world becomes our palette, our keyboard, our stage—a place where beautiful patterns can be made and made again.

Michael Gilbert (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7494

SOURCE: '"Ich habe von einen Esel gelernt': Eisler Pro and Contra Schönberg," in High and Low Cultures: German Attempts at Mediation, edited by Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1994, pp. 59-73.

[In the following essay, Gilbert discusses the relationship between Schoenberg and Hanns Eisler.]


In a series of conversations with GDR scholar/journalist Hans Bunge, published under the title Fragen Sie mehr über Brecht (an allusion to a passage in which Eisler states: "Fragen Sie nicht so viel über Schönberg—Fragen Sie bitte mehr über Brecht!"), composer Hanns Eisler mentions a cantata text which he presumably talked his friend and collaborator Bertolt Brecht into writing on the occasion of Arnold Schönberg's seventy-second birthday in 1947, and for which he, Eisler, evidently prepared at least a few musical sketches. Eisler had previously referred to this intriguing birthday present in a brief article "Brecht und die Musik" (written for a special issue of the journal Sinn und Form in 1957), in which the story behind the cantata is explained. In the article, Eisler notes that the text was based on Schönberg's own description of an incident in which he was able to climb a steep grade in spite of heart condition by emulating the serpentine manner in which a donkey made it to the top. As related by Eisler, the end of Schönberg's story went as follows:

Da habe ich ihm [dem Esel] das nachgemacht, und so kann ich sagen: ich habe von einem Esel gelernt.

Interestingly, this anecdote reportedly dates from the first occasion on which Eisler introduced his friend Brecht to Schönberg, something which made Eisler very nervous, given Brecht's reputation for "behaving badly" (Eisler's words). In any case, the cantata title "Ich habe von einem Esel gelernt" is clearly intended as a provocatively humorous comment on Eisler's difficult but close relationship with Schönberg and his music.

In his conversations with Bunge, Eisler also emphasizes the fact that the text had never been located again (that is, as of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Bunge conducted the interviews) though the composer was convinced that Schönberg's widow could find it if she only looked hard enough. In any event, since that time the birthday cantata has not been found—neither the text nor the musical sketches; Joachim Lucchesi and Ronald Shull's recent exhaustive documentation volume Musik bei Brecht (1988) makes no reference to it at all. But whether the cantata ever turns up or not, its title—"I learned from an ass"—remains and serves to represent the essential two-sidedness of Hanns Eisler's relationship with his teacher/mentor Arnold Schönberg, the point being that Eisler did learn from Schönberg. Indeed, he learned a great deal and seldom failed to acknowledge the enormous debt of gratitude he owed to his former teacher both musically and personally, even if he regarded Schönberg politically and ideologically to be an Esel.

Before addressing Eisler's association with Schönberg and its aftermath, some preliminary theoretical consideration should be given to the matter of "mediation between high and low culture" specifically in reference to the art of music. Musical culture represents a particularly significant example of this issue, for in no other (traditional) art form has the modern split between high and low culture assumed such extreme proportions, and created such devisiveness among producers and consumers of culture, as in the case of music. Moreover, this state of affairs has everything to do with the difficulty Eisler experienced in coming to terms with both the musical-artistic and ideological stance of his teacher Schönberg; indeed, this is what eventually caused Eisler to seek a very different path from that of his mentor, one which, in many respects, represents an attempt at mediation. The various dimensions of that attempt and the question of how successful Eisler was in his efforts to mediate or reconcile the so-called "new music" and workers' culture, the bourgeois avant-garde and socialist Volkstümlichkeit, constitutes the core of the following discussion.

First, however, the thesis stated above merits elaboration and closer examination: Why is music the example par excellence of the high/low culture phenomenon? One key aspect of this is the fact that even before the advent of what, properly speaking, constitutes musical modernity—i.e., the dissolution of traditional form, abandonment of traditional principles of harmony and tonality, etc.—in fact, beginning as early as the mid-19th century, the art of music, especially in the German tradition, comes to be celebrated by many for its presumed "lack of content" {Inhaltslosigkeit). This is a perspective which found its bestknown defender in the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick (in particular, with his book Vom Musikalisch-Schönen [On the Musically Beautiful, 1854]). Without delving into the often overstated absolute vs. programmatic music debate of the later 19th century, we may say that the issue pertinent to the emergent high/low culture split is that the ideological underpinnings of musical modernity are already contained in this perception of music as the quintessentially autonomous art form, one essentially disinterested regarding reality and existing in a world of its own as "absolute sounding form." The notions of Hanslick and others in his camp were subsequently institutionalized and/or radicalized (aesthetically speaking) in the early 20th century, yielding a doctrine of esoteric, avant-garde, high-cultural formal experimentation. By the 1920s, this segment of musical culture had come to be referred to generally as "die neue Musik," and Arnold Schönberg and his so-called "New Viennese School"—consisting primarily of himself and his pupils Alban Berg, Anton von Webern, and Hanns Eisler (frequently overlooked in this context because of his later conflict with Schönberg)—counted themselves among its most prominent and pioneering representatives. In considering the outlook of the musical avant-garde of that time, it is intriguing to note that, in defending their modernist agenda, certain key figures in the pictorial arts—for example, painter Wassily Kandinsky—appeal in their writings to music as the quintessentially modern medium of artistic expression, one which by its very nature is (presumably) "abstract" and, at least in the minds of those in the tradition of Hanslick, consists of little or nothing more than its own virtually infinite permutations of pitch, rhythm, and timbre: what one could call "sound for sound's sake."

While this factor alone cannot account for the extreme gap between high and low musical culture which manifests itself even before the end of World War I, the modernist sensibilities of the elite musical-cultural avantgarde of the time, drawing on the Autonomieästhetik of the preceding era, certainly help to explain why Schönberg, as of 1930, could legitimately claim that he no longer had a public at all: "called upon to say something about my public, I have to confess: I do not believe I have one." Eisler, similarly, could legitimately state that modern music (that is, "die neue Musik") was an art that "nobody wanted." In his words, "hardly any other form of art leads the phantom existence that modern music does.… of all the arts, it is music which most emphatically expresses the dissolution of bourgeois culture."

Eisler's concern about this "dying patient" (he likens modern art music to a death rattle) centered around his perception of a fundamental loss of "community" (Gemeinschaft) and the extreme isolation of serious music: "Der Musiker, der seine Kunst liebt und dem sie zwingendstes Bedürfnis ist, wird mit Entsetzen die völlige Isoliertheit seiner Kunst erkennen." And while Eisler approached this matter of music's concrete social function (i.e., the apparent loss of such a function) from the basis of his ever-deepening political convictions as a Marxist, composers and critics from across the political spectrum (except for those like Schönberg, who didn't seem terribly concerned about the lack of an audience) engaged in a debate about a genuine crisis in the art of music that fills the musical journals of the Weimar years and continues on into the post-World War II era. It was this situation that led composer Ernst Krenek, for example, to remark that music in the modern era had lost its "intrinsic value," by which he meant "its ability to appear as an obviously necessary element of human life, something which the public demands and which is offered spontaneously"; while Paul Hindemith, a leading figure of the so-called Gemeinschaftsmusik movement, observed in the journal Melos in 1929: "Der Musiker hat es heute schwer. Schwerer vielleicht als zu irgend einer anderen Zeit. Was uns alle angeht ist dies: wie und was müssen wir schreiben, um ein grösseres neues Publikum zu bekommen; und wo ist dieses Publikum?" Indeed, virtually every composer working from that point on, assuming that he/she was interested in any sort of more broadly based "musical community," has been confronted with this extreme high/low culture split in the realm of musical culture, and has engaged in various attempts at mediation, either for the sake of survival or, in the case of those with a more politicized agenda, for the sake of being able to contribute something of "intrinsic value" to society (to borrow Krenek's phrase).

In summarizing this first consideration with regard to the roots of the extraordinary high/low culture problem in music, it is fair to say that, as great a gap as there may be between high and low literature, or high and low art, the high end of the spectrum in those instances has been assimilated into the bourgeois cultural mainstream to a far greater degree than high modernist music (something which, moreover, appears to be true to only a slightly lesser extent of Western European culture than of American culture). In other words, it is not at all uncommon that the same people who decorate their walls with the art of Picasso or even Jackson Pollock (indeed, whose business spaces are often replete with abstract designs, and housed in the most modern architecture) and who appreciate the writings of Joyce and Kafka, Stevens and Ginsberg, are by and large skeptical of, or even averse to, modern art music. Another aspect of this is the fact that the works of modern music that have succeeded in making it into the mainstream concert repertoire (for example, early and "neoclassical" Stravinsky, or Berg's quasi-Romantic Violin Concerto, or the folk-idiom based works of Béla Bartók) are precisely those which are not as far removed from traditional musical values. In comparison, much of what Arnold Schönberg or Anton von Webern wrote in the 1920s is still distinctly too "far out" for many audiences. By the same token, modern art attracts hordes of people to museums and commands exorbitant prices on the art market, while at the same time the programming of so-called "avant-garde" music is in all but academic communities (in which modernism has typically been canonized if not enshrined) or the most advanced centers of culture (Berlin, Paris, New York, etc.) still a serious financial risk for musical ensembles, most of which are already in debt.

Another related dimension of this situation is the fact that musical life in our time has broken down into a multiplicity of subcultures to a degree unprecedented among the arts. With slight exaggeration, one could argue that the defenders or representatives of the high-cultural musical avant-garde may as well be dealing with an entirely different medium than those who perform rock or produce music video, to say nothing of the fabricators of "Muzak"; or one thinks, for example, of the phenomenon of "formatting" in musical broadcasting on radio. In that sense, one can truly no longer speak of music, but only of musics, a phenomenon which also reflects the advanced commodification of our culture, specifically, the development and cultivation of different markets for those different musics. The essential point to be emphasized here with respect to "attempts at mediation" is this: in such a cultural-ideological climate, attempts at mediation between high and low culture are inherently difficult, perhaps even impossible; in the context of advanced or radical cultural pluralism, it is very difficult to define any longer what constitutes "intrinsic value" as Krenek spoke of it as late as the 1920s; and, in any case, such attempts at mediation are courageous, requiring a great deal of vision, determination, and (perhaps) idealism. One of the points I wish to make about Hanns Eisler is precisely this: as worthy as his attempts at mediation often were—Eisler wrote much good music—his greatest legacy may well be the vision he left behind of a new intrinsically mediated musical culture that didn't yet and perhaps couldn't yet exist.

I turn now to a second preliminary consideration with regard to the dimensions of the high/low culture situation in music, and, by way of that, to the story of Eisler's association with Schönberg, his subsequent break with him, and his efforts to find some socially productive middle ground between high and low musical culture. Hanns Eisler was born in 1898, the same year as Brecht, into a national-cultural tradition (Viennese/Austrian/German) at a critical moment in its historical development: namely, on the threshold of cultural modernity. The emphasis here is on the phrase "national-cultural tradition," for art music, from the point of view of Austrian/German national-cultural identity (and/or national-cultural ideology) was not merely perceived as high culture, but rather as highest culture, the supreme achievement of German intellectual and cultural life and, in the minds of some (young Thomas Mann, for instance) as its very soul or essence. Many factors contribute to this prominence of (high) music in the German tradition; not least of all it has to do with the uniquely difficult and repressed development of modern German civilization, that peculiarly German "Missverhältnis von Geist und Macht." From the perspective of cultural philosophy and ideology, it is clearly linked as well to the legacy of German Romanticism, extending back at least as far as E. T. A. Hoffmann and culminating in Richard Wagner's reception of Schopenhauer, in which music becomes the supreme art precisely because it is supremely ineffable. As Isolde says in her grand apotheosis at the end of Wagner's Tristan: "höchste Lust, unbewusst"—those three words, for better or worse, suggest the sublime (and sublimely irrational) position occupied by music in the German national artistic canon and consciousness. Another way to put it would be to say that the familiar characterization of Germany in the 19th century as "the land of poets and thinkers" ("das Land der Dichter und Denker") is, with all due apologies to Madame de Stàel, essentially misguided; it was above all the land of musicians and composers, where poets and thinkers were preoccupied with music to a degree not found in other European cultures. Indeed, as far as high musical culture in the era of Romantic nationalism is concerned, one could easily speak in terms of a "German century" extending from Beethoven to Mahler.

How does this tie in with Eisler's work with Schönberg and the former's subsequent attempts at mediation? The point is that Eisler was born into a national-cultural tradition in which the very concept of music (specifically, musical high culture) was laden with extraordinary cultural-historical and ideological baggage. Around the turn of the century—one thinks of Thomas Mann, Hofmannsthal, Nietzsche, the phenomenon of Wagnerism, the sheerly monumental "musical-philosophical edifices" (Gedankengebaude) of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss—high music had become the object of a veritable national-mythological-intellectual cult. It is therefore necessary to keep in perspective that Eisler's break with Schönberg as of 1926 was not merely a personal act of rebellion by an outspoken and at times impudent pupil, but rather a conscious act of outright sacrilege. Schönberg, after all, in spite of his radical technical innovations, was rooted as deeply as one could possibly have been in that great tradition of German music, and was in that sense truly a conservative if not reactionary figure (something the sophisticated, critically-minded pupil Eisler realized from early on). To Schönberg, a work like Eisler's "Zeitungsausschnitte" (newspaper clippings) of 1925-26 (with which, in the words of Albercht Betz, Eisler "bid good riddance to the lyricism of the concert hall"), to say nothing of his efforts to reconcile Schönberg's compositional standards with socialist political ideals, represented nothing less than the debasement of art, or, in the parlance of the young, apolitical Thomas Mann (whether Schönberg would actually have spoken in such terms or not), the ultimate corruption of culture by mere "civilization." This, too, was part of the burden with which Eisler was dealing in being an Austrian-German, and a socialist, and composing in the wake of Schönberg's advance into musical modernism, in his efforts to mediate between high and low musical culture. To reenforce this observation from another angle, one could well argue that mediation between high and low musical culture was easier (that is, intrinsically less of a challenge) for an American composer like George Gershwin (given the more democratic, pluralistic cultural ideal of America and the pervasiveness of indigenous popular traditions such as jazz and spiritual music), or even for an Eastern European composer like Bartók, whose musical identity as a Hungarian national was strongly linked to popular folk tradition. Obviously, such traditions existed in Germany as well, but apart from the fact that they became virtually impossible for Eisler and others to draw on in the wake of National Socialism, Eisler was rooted and educated overwhelmingly in the high cultural tradition, meaning the extraordinary achievements of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Mahler, and all of the others: i.e., music as highest culture. That represented an additional complication and, in the end, had at least something to do (I suspect) with the relative effectiveness of Eisler's attempts at mediation.


The story of Eisler's apprenticeship to Arnold Schönberg is related in several standard sources (most notably, the Eisler biographies of Fritz Hennenberg and Albrecht Betz) and need not be related in detail here. (Another crucial source for this are Eisler's many documented conversations; he liked to talk.) It should therefore suffice to highlight the most essential chapters in this story vis-à-vis Eisler's eventual attempt to mediate between high and low musical culture.

By the time Eisler came to Schönberg as a pupil at the New Viennese Conservatory in 1919 on a tuition-free basis (a matter which from the outset complicated things emotionally for Eisler in dealing with Schönberg), Eisler had already developed a keen interest in socialism, partly for personal reasons (his mother had a working-class background). He began working with workers' choruses that same year and taught at the Verein für volkstümliche Musikpflege, a kind of musical Volksschule for working-class people. In general, from early on, Eisler had a tendency to be very outspoken (also quite witty) and politically inclined. He also had a serious critical interest in literature (his early poetic sources were writers such as Klabund, Morgenstern, Trakl, and even Rilke) and composed an antiwar oratorio ("Gegen den Krieg") already during his school days, one reflecting his pacifist inclinations. In addition, as of the time he entered the conservatory, his older brother and sister (Gerhart and Elfriede, the later Ruth Fischer) had already embarked on their long, problematic careers as professional socialist revolutionaries; the tendency toward political radicalism clearly ran in the family. Thus, without citing further evidence, given Schönberg's emphatic political conservatism, it is clear that the Eisler-Schönberg connection was from the very outset a Spannungsverhältnis.

It is also noteworthy that Eisler's apprenticeship with Schönberg dates from precisely that point in Schönberg's career at which he embarked on the twelve-tone (dodecaphonic) method of composition (ca. 1922-23, beginning with the op. 24 Serenade), a new, daring, untried proposition—and in the end, Eisler's skepticism about the potential of this latest musical experiment of the bourgeois avant-garde was among the things that led Schönberg to feel so betrayed when they had their great falling-out in 1926. At the same time, this strong sense of personal betrayal on Schönberg's part cannot be understood without reference to the fact that their personal relationship was fairly close and rather father/son-like in nature. Consequently, it is not surprising that, later in his life, Eisler humbly acknowledged how Schönberg had reacted with such "generosity" at the time of their break, in response to his own "ungrateful, rebellious, irritable, crude, and insulting" behavior (Eisler's own words).

Examining the Eisler-Schönberg connection from a more positive angle, Eisler clearly had in Schönberg a gifted and very strict teacher with the highest technical standards. In reflecting on this in the latter years of his life, Eisler wrote:

Das Hauptsächliche, was ich Schönberg verdanke, ist, ich glaube, ein richtiges Verständnis der musikalischen Tradition der Klassiker. Ich kann sagen, dass ich überhaupt erst dort musikalisches Verständnis und Denken gelernt habe.… Dann lernte ich bei Schönberg etwas, was heute gar nicht mehr richtig verstanden wird: Redlichkeit in der Musik, Verantwortlichkeit… und das Fehlen von jeder Angeberei.… Diese unerbittliche Strenge, dieses Streben nach musikalischer Wahrheit … die strenge, saubere, ehrliche Handwerkslehre, die Schönberg gab … das ist eben eine grosse geschichtliche Leistung von Schönberg.

Indeed, for all of his innovations as a composer, Schönberg the teacher and theoretician was tradition-minded to the nth degree: instruction consisted largely of analysis of the works of the great German canon—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, etc.—but absolutely nothing modern. There was, interestingly enough, some common ground between Eisler and his teacher musically; above all, both shared an affinity to the "logic and clarity" of the work of Johannes Brahms, in particular his chamber music.

Eisler's early work in the shadow of Schönberg included some atonal and twelve-tone writing, also the use of Sprechstimme, a Schönbergian technique; and the young composer was quickly recognized for his talent, receiving, for example, the prestigious Kunstpreis der Stadt Wien in 1925 for his Piano Sonata op. 1. From there, he went on to have numerous successes at so-called "new music festivals" such as those held at Donaueschingen and at Baden-Baden, one of the most important forums for the "neue Musik" movement at that time, as well as abroad. His first regular teaching appointment was in Berlin, at a private conservatory.

Given the personal and professional support Schönberg had given him (at no charge), it was a reasonably nasty affair when Eisler finally parted company with his teacher in 1926. The essential problem, notwithstanding the personal dimensions to this, was that Eisler could no longer take Schönberg's political attitudes seriously—or, rather, his apolitical attitudes—for even if he had monarchist sympathies, Schönberg was more than anything else a classic Unpolitischer. Above all, Eisler had become convinced that something had to be done about the extreme isolation of modern (high) music and its creators, which in his judgment rendered music impotent as a means of social and cultural regeneration and change. In the words of Albrecht Betz, "in short, it was the fact that music turned a deaf ear to the conflicts of the times, its social confrontations, that disturbed him and made him want to break away from Arnold Schönberg." With that, Eisler emancipated himself and embarked on his journey to create "socially and politically useful" music. His intent was to restore some social purpose or function to an art which he regarded as inherently communal (going back to the dawn of civilization), but to do this without abandoning the sophisticated compositional standards and techniques to which he had been held by his teacher Schönberg—or, for that matter, neglecting the historical reality of musical modernity. It would be fair to say that, if some of Eisler's music was less than great, it was very seldom less than impectably composed and logically conceived, just as it possessed genuine historical integrity, something which would have been unthinkable without Schönberg's influence and the kind of rigorous training he received under his tutelage. There is much of Schönberg which therefore remained aufgehoben in Eisler's music—as different as much of that music was on the surface, most notably in its distinct lack of sentimentality or subjective emotionality, either in music or choice of text, and its more restrained application of modernist compositional techniques.

Just as the Eisler-Schönberg story has been told in detail elsewhere, the development of Eisler's career has been extensively documented and discussed. Hence, it should suffice here to outline the major phases of his life and work, although it is true that Eisler's name (in contrast to those of Schönberg's other two pupils, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern) is still found primarily in the foot-notes of music history books, if it is to be found at all. This, of course, is the price he paid for breaking company with Schönberg and becoming a "socialist composer." Following this brief overview, a series of key issues pertinent to the question of mediation between high and low culture will be addressed as they relate to Eisler's music. Finally, by way of concluding, a few remarks will be made concerning the last phase of Eisler's career: in particular, the impact of Schönberg's death on Eisler, who at the time (1951) was coming to grips with the repressive Stalinist cultural climate of the early GDR.

As noted above, Eisler's break with Arnold Schönberg came in 1926, not long after his relocation to Berlin. Later that same year, he applied for membership in the KPD (German Communist Party), and by 1927 his involvement in the Arbeitermusikbewegung (leftist workers' music movement) had also increased significantly. Eisler became a musical columnist for Die Rote Fahne, worked with the agitprop group "Das Rote Sprachrohr," and taught music at the Marxist Workers' School in Berlin beginning in 1928. This was during the time when his future collaborator Bertolt Brecht was still working with left-liberal composer Kurt Weill (as well as, for a brief time, Paul Hindemith)—which is to underscore the fact that when Brecht turned to Eisler as of 1930, he encountered someone who had a head start on him both politically and aesthetically. (This is not the place to go into Eisler's influence on Brecht, but it is worth noting the decisive influence Eisler had on Brecht's political and intellectual/artistic development at this early stage of their association.)

The next few years leading up to Eisler's exile from Germany witnessed the first of several productive periods of collaboration with Brecht, resulting in, among other works, the Lehrstück Die Massnahme (1930), the film Kuhle Wampe (1932), and the play with music Die Mutter (likewise 1932). While in exile, Eisler became deeply committed to the antifascist cultural "Volksfront" (popular front) concept; indeed, he represents a far better example of that ideal than Brecht, as Eisler maintained close ties to many people and groups whom Brecht rejected or from whom he remained quite distant—most notably, Thomas Mann, with whom Eisler enjoyed a warm personal friendship; the Horkheimer-Adorno circle, about which Brecht was very skeptical; and, of course, Arnold Schönberg himself. In 1935-1936, Eisler made the first of several trips to the United States and began teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He moved to the U.S. "to stay" in 1938, but not before he encountered considerable difficulty obtaining a visa and a residency permit—a matter in which Thomas Mann personally intervened. Eventually, like so many other German exiles, and after further problems with U.S. immigration authorities, he wound up in Holly-wood in 1942 and remained there until 1948. Prior to his relocation to California, Eisler had begun one of his most important projects, a book on film music (Composing for the Film) that was supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. While the juxtaposition of the names Rockefeller and Eisler may seem a bit amusing, the project resulted in a volume now considered a classic in its field, as well as a remakrable piece of instrumental music, "14 Ways of Describing Rain," composed for the Joris Ivens documentary film Rain (1940).

Interestingly, the music Eisler wrote during the Hollywood years consisted largely of songs—lieder in the great German tradition of lieder—at times, quite personal and rather lyrical, though inevitably resistant to undue sentimentality. There were, for example, the Hollywood Elegies, the Anakreon-Fragmente (based on Mörike's translations) and the set of Hölderlinfragmente, written, as Eisler put it, "für die Schublade," in the darkest days of exile (1943). but he also wrote a fair amount of stage music, keeping up with Brecht's prolific output during those years: in particular, scores for Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches, Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Leben des Galilei, and the film score for Hangmen Also Die. Most of these were composed for voices and small orchestra or chamber ensemble, yielding that kind of antisentimental musical transparency which both he and Brecht preferred (a style often referred to as "Brechtian music"). Apart from his impeccable musical logic, the most distinctive hallmarks of Eisler's style, consistent with his rational, politicized, anti-Romantic outlook, are his economy of musical means, transparency of texture, predominance of the text/vocal line (i.e., the distinct primacy of the text), and general conciseness of form.

In 1948, facing deportation in the wake of the HUAC witch-hunt, Eisler left for Europe, following a gala farewell concert in his honor in New York City sponsored by the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson, Roy Harris, Roger Sessions, and Walter Piston—in short, the entire progressive American musical elite of the 1940s. His travel paper arrangements were, once again, looked after by Thomas Mann, who in this instance went far out on a limb to assist him. As of 1949, he was back in Berlin; he began lecturing at the Humboldt Universität and settled in Berlin/GDR the following year. It was at this time that he became known as the composer of the GDR national anthem "Auferstanden aus Ruinen" (text by Johannes R. Becher).

The next and final chapter—life under Stalinism—was not unlike what Brecht experienced, but it took a greater toll on Eisler. In particular, in the wake of the controversy over his libretto for an opera based on the Faust legend, a project of tremendous personal and artistic significance to the composer, Eisler spent most of the years 1953-1954 in Vienna, while Brecht, back in Berlin at the Berliner Ensemble, was genuinely concerned that his friend and chief musical collaborator might not return. The remainder of Eisler's life was spent in a fairly privileged position within the framework of GDR culture but, nevertheless, in a continuous Spannungsverhältnis—a veritable cultural-political tug-of-war—with the Stalinist cultural bureaucracy. As Wolf Biermann has pointed out, in spite of what they made of him—a Staatskomponist—the Stalinists generally considered his aesthetic inclinations too modern, too critical, too reminiscent of "late-bourgeois decadence"; in other words, in spite of the way his music was promoted, he was in fact more tolerated than liked, which to an extent was true of Bertolt Brecht and his work with the Berliner Ensemble as well. Eisler's last years saw the completion of some of his best-known works: a set of some forty songs to texts by Kurt Tucholsky, the Deutsche Sinfonie (based on poetry by Brecht), and his Requiem for Lenin. His last work, which bears the title Ernste Gesänge, is set for baritone and string orchestra, with (adapted) texts by Hölderlin, Leopardi, and Stephan Hermlin. He died on 6 September 1962.

This latter period in Eisler's life and work will be taken up again at the conclusion of my discussion. However, as noted above, a series of key issues pertinent to the matter of mediation between high and low culture as it relates to Eisler's music must first be considered. These are five: (1) the impact of fascism on Eisler's attitudes as a composer and his role in the so-called Expressionism debate; (2) Eisler's emphasis on the primacy of vocal music and the implications thereof for his compositional aesthetic; (3) the matter of subjectivity and emotionality in Eisler's music vis-à-vis his attempt to mediate between high and low musical culture; (4) aesthetic mediation in relation to Eisler's pronounced emphasis on the building of a new musical culture; and (5) mediation in relation to the general issue of political or politicized art, as exemplified by Eisler's music.

First, in understanding the path Eisler took that lay somewhere between the Schönbergian and post-Schönbergian avant-garde, on the one hand, and popular and/or traditional means of musical expression, on the other, it is crucial to remember that, within the framework of leftist cultural debates of the exile period, Eisler, together with Ernst Bloch, Brecht, and others, was an outspoken defender of musical and cultural modernism. Specifically, Eisler emphasized the need for an explicitly antifascist aesthetic: that is to say, one that would counter the cultural conservatism of Nazism, and one with a dialectical conception of music history: "wir [leben] nicht nur in einer Fäulniszeit … , sondern in einer dialektisch übergehenden, in einer Zeit und Gesellschaft, die von der künftigen schwanger ist." In this sense, Eisler, like Bloch, saw an element of anticipation in the music of Arnold Schönberg; or, as he stated elsewhere about his former teacher: "Aus der Geschichte der Musik ist er nicht wegzudenken. Verfall und Niedergang des Bürgertums, gewiss; aber welch eine Abendröte!"

Second, from early on, in his critical writings and in his work as a composer, Eisler stressed the inherent conceptual clarity and the consequently enhanced functionality or utility of music with text. In other words, he stressed the need, as he perceived it, to reestablish the primacy of vocal music in opposition to instrumental-symphonic music as it had prevailed in the preceding era. The crucial point to be emphasized here is that Eisler, the defender of musical modernism (on the one hand, against the conservative "aesthetic barbarism" of the Nazis, and, on the other, against Stalinist anti-modernism), relied to a considerable extent upon text to "ground" his works conceptually and ideologically, in conjunction with his efforts to "refunction" modern musical culture. Initially, around the time of his break with Schönberg (c. 1925-1928), he did so partly to make a critical statement about the poetic inclinations of Schönberg and his "high modern" music; but later, in connection with an explicitly socialist agenda, text played a crucial role in helping Eisler achieve the compositional balance he sought in terms of aesthetic mediation. Eisler had exceptionally high musical values (a legacy of his studies with Schönberg); given his sense of history, he simply would not have resorted to writing epigonal Schlag. The textual foundation, as advanced or "difficult" as the music may have been at times, provided an immediate route of access for his listeners to the content he sought to convey. Thus, the textual dimension was crucial to Eisler's efforts at mediation; without it, working in a purely instrumental medium, he would have faced a far greater, if not insurmountable, challenge in attempting to reconcile form and content. Tellingly, his output of instrumental music is very limited compared to his output of songs, choruses, and other vocal works.

With regard to the third issue, of subjectivity and emotionality in both high and low music, it should be noted that, from early on, Eisler was distinctly dis inclined toward post-Wagnerian musical grandiloquence as exemplified by composers such as Strauss, Mahler, etc.—as well as the early works of Schönberg. As noted above, he was "attracted more to Brahms's academic stringency." The pertinence of this aesthetic outlook for his subsequent attempts at mediation is that, in attempting to mediate the gap between high and low cultures, Eisler sought to counter the excessive subjectivity and emotionality associated with the former (which had reached a peak around the time he was born) without embracing the sheer banality or "canned" emotionality of the latter. One of the factors at work here was the advent of modern mass-cultural pop musical "hits". But Eisler was also turned off by the "low" music of the preceding era—for example, 19th-century ballad songs, sentimental male chorus numbers, etc., due to their prevalence in the old workers' choruses, all of which he saw as a means of perpetuating "musikalische Dummheit" or "Barbarei in der Musik," and of perpetuating, along with this, the oppression of the working class. In short, in Eisler's case, mediation also represented a quest for some kind of musical middle ground in which emotion is contained or "packaged" more responsibly than in either the high(est) or low(est) traditions/forms of musical culture. In this respect, he was fairly successful in much of his music—the primary reason why he became Brecht's composer of choice, even though Eisler felt Brecht went too far at times in his insistence on "rationality in music." While the following generalization is true to a greater or lesser extent depending upon the specific piece or type of piece involved (with Eisler's works forming a continuum ranging from hard-core Kampflieder to lyrical Elegien), it may nevertheless be said that the best of his music is sophisticated yet accessible, multilayered but transparent, and, generally, emotionally restrained without denying the significance of emotion as an intrinsic factor in the way music operates, and in people's response to it.

Fourth, related to Eisler's quest for "musical intelligence" as an aspect of aesthetic mediation was his recurrent emphasis on the need to eliminate "musical illiteracy," and to build a new musical culture upon new social foundations. In other words, the pedagogical factor and instinct behind Eisler's work are exceptionally important; figuratively speaking, one could look at his compositions as the musical equivalents of Brecht's concept of Lehrstück. Like Arnold Schönberg, he was throughout his life a composer, theoretician, and teacher; and much of the extensive body of critical writing he left behind has an implicit pedagogical function, directed as it is towards stimulating people to rethink their traditional musical assumptions and values. The "new musical culture" Eisler envisioned could simply not be realized by resorting to the standards of contemporary low musical culture; but it was just as unthinkable on the basis of modernist, avant-garde high cultural music alone. In other words, Eisler harbored no illusions about whether or not the masses were ready for Schönberg; clearly, they were not:

Eine Milliarde Arbeiter und Bauern … werden vorläufig mit Schönberg nichts oder nur sehr wenig anfangen können. Sie haben andere und dringlichere Aufgaben. Auf dem Gebiet der Musik ist es die Liquidierung des Musikanalphabetismus. Erst nach solcher Liquidierung und erst nachdem auch die kompliziertesten Werke der Klassiker volkstümlich geworden sind [!], kann Schönberg wieder neu zur Diskussion gestellt werden.

However, to this position statement Eisler added: "Über das Resultat einer solchen Diskussion bin ich nicht ohne Optimismus."

Finally, the matter of "political art." Here, it is crucial to emphasize that, while ultimately the political agenda was primary to Eisler, he never consented to the abandonment of high artistic standards; that is to say, Eisler's approach to "mediation" is intrinsically a question of how to create good art which at the same time is politically effective (or, as Brecht would have said, art with genuine Gebrauchswert). This is not intended as an apology for Eisler's political views, nor is it said to appease those who as yet maintain that art and politics (let alone music and politics) do not mix. Rather, the point is that, like his friend Brecht, Eisler saw in his work something born of the necessity of a difficult time; in considering the judgments of others about his music, he would undoubtedly have endorsed Brecht's poetic plea "Gedenkt unsrer / Mit Nachsicht."

Breaking with his mentor in 1926, Eisler set out to be Schönberg's antithesis, though having assimilated a great deal of Schönberg's musical thinking and values. But, in true dialectical fashion, what he ultimately sought to create and be was the valid synthesis of the two; the concept of dialectical synthesis seems useful in considering the matter of mediation in Eisler's case. In the end, Eisler was not able fully to realize the aesthetic solution he was after; it remained a vision, as is evident from the final, at times difficult, chapter in his life and work.


Schönberg's death in 1951 had a profound personal impact on Eisler. As he wrote at the time:

Mit Schönberg ist die spätbürgerliche Musik gestorben. Er war ein Genie, der [sic] den Weg der bürgerlichen Kunst bis zum Ende gegangen ist. Neben ihm können nur bestehen: Bartók … und Strawinsky.

And further:

Der Tod Schönbergs hat mich aufs tiefste erschüttert. Es war gar nicht leicht, bei ihm zu lernen, denn vieles durfte man nicht lernen, und es war schwierig, gegen einen solchen Meister zu bestehen.

By some remarkable coincidence, if Eisler is to be believed, the death of Arnold Schönberg on 13 July 1951 coincided precisely with Eisler's completion of the first draft of his controversial opera libretto Johann Faustus, and the conjunction of these two events serves as fruitful basis upon which to conclude my discussion.

In a sense, Eisler set out to accomplish via his Johann Faustus opera what Thomas Mann had previously envisioned through the character Leverkühn in his Faustus novel, which Eisler so deeply admired; indeed, Eisler quotes from the novel in a statement to West German musicians written in 1951, in which he attempts to clarify what he, the new socialist composer, was attempting to achieve:

Es geht um sehr viel, um das, was Thomas Mann den 'Durchbruch' nennt. Ich will die schöne Stelle aus seinem Doktor Faustus hierher setzen: 'Die ganze Lebensstimmung der Kunst, glauben Sie mir, wird sich andern. Es ist unvermeidlich, und es ist ein Glück. Viel melancholische Ambition wird von ihr abfallen. Wir stellen es uns nur mit Mühe vor, und doch wird es das geben und wird das Natürliche sein: eine Kunst ohne Leiden, seelisch gesund, eine Kunst, mit der Menschheit auf Du und Du.

Elsewhere, in his "Notes on the Faustus Project," Eisler laid out the extraordinary task he perceived to have before him at this moment in history:

Mit meiner Oper hoffe ich einen neuen Weg gehen zu können, der uns aus dieser Verwirrtheit herausbringt. Ich kann das nur tun, wenn ich nicht experimentiere, wie mein Freund Brecht, oder gar provoziere und schockiere, wie es ebenfalls Brecht liegt, sondern indem ich mit einer reifen, runden, gültigen Leistung komme; sie muss begriffen werden von den unerfahrenen Ohren und den erfahrensten, und der Text muss begriffen werden von den Unerfahrensten und den Gebildetesten. Die Schwierigkeiten dieser Aufgabe sind enorm.

In his efforts to realize this ambitious concept of a "new path," Eisler had at least two major things working against him: a Stalinist cultural bureaucracy which lacked his depth of sophistication and a dialectical perspective on musical history and aesthetics; and, arguably, his own idealism and ambition, i.e., the sheer magnitude of the task which he had set for himself. It is therefore not surprising that, in the decade or so that followed, leading up to the composer's death in 1962, the Johann Faustus project was shelved. As far as we know, not one note of music for the opera was ever written, and whether the work could ever have lived up to Eisler's extraordinary expectations of ushering in a new, intrinsically mediated, musical culture—of a highly refined culture but, nevertheless, "eine Musik mit der Menschheit auf Du und Du"—necessarily remains a matter of speculation.

On this final point, some element of skepticism or reservation seems prudent, as worthy and noble as Eisler's aspirations otherwise may have been. In conclusion, it may fairly be said that Eisler, like his contemporary and compatriot Johannes R. Becher, died with a dream of "kiinftige Vollendung"; his concept of a new synthesis inherently mediating "Musik mit der Menschheit auf Du und Du" ultimately remained a vision. It appears that Eisler himself realized that his outlook was somehow unzeitgemass, out of synch with historical, political, and cultural reality. Perhaps this is what he had in mind when adapting Hölderlin's poem "Der Gang aufs Land" for his final work, the Ernste Gesänge: the movement in question, entitled "Komm! ins Offene, Freund" (the opening words of the poem), contains the revealing lines "aber kommen doch auch der segenbringenden Schwalben / Immer einige noch, ehe der Sommer, ins Land." But this is not to diminish the historical significance of Hanns Eisler, Arnold Schönberg's forgotten pupil. Having learned from an Esel-Meister (which is explicitly not to say: "ein Meister-Esel"), he left behind a remarkable legacy of his own, as one who sought to create a mediated, "spiritually healthy," musical culture—a legacy that has been grossly underappreciated and unjustifiably marginalized in the annals of modern music history.

Daniel C. Melnick (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5436

SOURCE: "Music and the Modern Imagination: Nietzsche and Schoenberg," in Fullness of Dissonance: Modern Fiction and the Aesthetics of Music, Associated University Presses, 1994, pp. 44-58.

[In the following essay, Melnick explores the wider applications of Schoenberg's atonality and Friedrich Nietzche's theory of music to modern art and literature.]

Nietzsche is the conclusive nineteenth-century figure for the study of music's tie to modernism, and in this regard he is, next to Beethoven, the most significant, not only for his influence on individual novelists like Proust, Lawrence, and Mann, but for his seminal ideas about dissonance and its tie to listening and reading, and to modern existence itself.

One key to Nietzsche's ideas about music is suggested by his late reflections "contra Wagner," his postulating there that his own writings rather than Wagner's operas were the true focus of his early conceptions of music in The Birth of Tragedy. Here, as well as in his 1886 preface to his early work, and in The Wagner Case, Nietzsche's late comments abrasively confront and—in their athletic vigor—triumph over what he saw as the decadence of Wagner's operas, the music's "surrender" to passive "impotence" and "hatred against life." Wagner's listener becomes a central target of this critique: His listener is numbed to independent perception, to the needed, tragic and playful questioning. The operas achieve "effects … in the service, the slavery, of poses" in order "to give the people satisfaction," to "impress" them, so that ultimately the listener is "comforted metaphysically." The effect, then, of Wagner's art is one of "surrender," of "floating," of "hebetation" on the passive "mass, on the immature, on the blasé, on the sick, on the idiots, on Wagnerians."

The rhetorical thrust of Nietzsche's critique of the listener's "surrender" in Wagner is to call for an alternative way of engaging aesthetic experience based on radical doubt about ordinary habits of perceiving works of art. Theodor Adorno helps us to describe that doubt. A consenting passivity in the music listener, he writes, "serves the status quo, which could be changed only by people who, instead of confirming themselves and the world, would reflect critically on the world and on themselves." In Nietzsche's work, music—revalued as a metaphor—can become an instrument to identify and stimulate that active, critically reflective doubt.

Before we examine the conception of music to be found in The Birth of Tragedy and elsewhere, let me describe generally the nature of Nietzschean doubt in music. Rather than a Wagnerian, manipulative cynicism that, to Nietzsche, seems to secure and reinforce a passivity in the "spectator," Nietzsche desires a "pessimism of strength," which can arise from the musical experience and which comprehends as well as confirms "the fullness of existence." Both in aesthetic experience and in "life," consciousness and language—through which it knows itself—are redefined as activities filled with imaginative potentiality, a play of possibilities continually on the verge of coming into being. Arising from this redefinition of consciousness are critical recognitions both of the dis-figuring and imprisoning hold which cliché can have over perception and of the relative "fictiveness" of "truth." Yet Nietzsche's radical and affirming pessimism emerges from, and itself yields, a sense of the overabundance and vitality of consciousness.

As we read Nietzsche's own texts, we confront a rhetoric—or really a process—which has an impact not unlike that detected by listeners as diverse as Tovey, Mann, Bloch, and Barthes in Beethoven's late works: We experience a disruption of complaisant "certainties" which is not cynical but rather looses in us a creative process and potentiality. The radical doubt with which Nietzsche assaults the reader compels in him a sense of the open-ended abundance of fiction, so that the text becomes, finally, the scene of intense activity in the reader. What such a text requires is embodied and defined by an important entry (no.310) on the wave and "we who will" from The Gay Science. This passage takes up a key image of sea and swimmer/navigator which has recurred in the texts on music I have examined, and it is akin also to another passage in Nietzsche's work—on the image of woman stirring the menaced recognition of life as a fiction, amid "the flaming surf—which Derrida takes up in Spurs as part of his critical performance on Nietzsche.

How greedily this wave approaches, as if there were some objective to be reached! How with awe-inspiring haste it crawls into the inmost nooks of the rocky cliff! It seems that it wants to anticipate somebody; it seems that something is hidden there, something of value, high value.

And now it comes back, a little more slowly, still quite white with excitement—is it disappointed? But already another wave is approaching, still greedier and wilder than the first, and its soul too seems to be full of secrets and the lust to dig up treasures. Thus live the waves—thus we who will.

This destabilizing metaphorical leap from the waves to the way we live evokes how the shore of our consciousness is confronted by an overfull, vertiginous choice of imaginative possibility; the leaping vigor of Nietzsche's own text aims to provoke "us," his readers, with a wrenched and greedy liberation from habitual thinking, with "waves" of self-questioning and freedom. "The danger for the reader," David Allison suggests, "ultimately lies in the dispossession of his own identity and the loss of his conventional world." Nietzsche's texts confront the bourgeois "self in the reader with its tendency to identify with the power of the will, and they stir a transformation of that tendency by means of their critical and satiric instability. To engage the aphoristic attack particularly of his late style, its hyperbole, parody, and oxymoronic ambiguity—in short, to read Nietzsche—is, finally, to engage an intimate assault on and opening up of consciousness.

The distinction between the perceiving consciousness—with its manifestation in "style"—and the perceived "world" is erased for Nietzsche; both present themselves as a "play of appearances," an interactive abundance of fictions, finally as "waves" of language. They emerge so partly because the habitual fictions or codes—which form how and what we know—are subject to the workings of desire, to our creative will (as Gilles Deleuze argues in his discussion of Nietzsche's politics of desire). What results is a suspension of consciousness and the world as fictions, as "texts." Nietzsche's notion of self-overcoming mirrors this conception of consciousness, for it celebrates a process of the provisional, committed creation and testing of versions of selves. The idea of how "overcoming" operates illuminates the workings of Nietzsche's own text—and of modern narrative, I would add—on and for the reader. The process of testing and creating selves is the process into which the modern novel initiates the reader; such fiction self-consciously promises and welcomes the playful vitality of the process as it affirms its tragic endlessness and uncertainty. To read such a text is to navigate the disaster of modernity, to preserve access to creative freedom, and to resist the totalizing structures—or horizon—of assurance; "reading," Derrida suggests about this Nietzschean strategy, "is to perforate such an horizon or the hermeneutic sail." Nietzsche's text powerfully invites this critical engagement as it eludes definitive interpretation.

Nietzsche's link to the assumptions underlying Deconstruction is worth examining here and can help us to understand some of the implications of Nietzsche's thought for dissonant narrative and for modernism itself. The work of Paul de Man, for example, offers a sometimes discomfiting appropriation of Nietzsche along with, indeed, a panoply of pre-, proto-, and postmodernisms. The dense, obscure abstraction of de Man's discourse, even the brief early invocations of racist elitism, and then the later risk of solipsism in his interpretations—all be-speak the tense importation into his work of certain, at times deformed, practices of modernism. The tortuous abstraction in de Man's presentation of these various strands of thought enacts the dilemma of a critical practice on the edge of nihilism; the agony of its circuitous refusal to affirm anything beyond its own practice in language mirrors the agony of a disappearing humanism in the aftermath of modernity.

Several essays of de Man take up Nietzsche's thought, most notably in Allegories of Reading, in which the emphasis is on exposing the disordered freedom of consciousness at work particularly in the most prescriptive Nietzschean rhetoric and texts. This approach to Nietzsche grows from de Man's allegiance to two contradictory strains in modernist thinking: One is concerned with the agonized risk and fertility of a freed, open-ended consciousness, and the other is concerned with the purely linguistic autonomy of modernist form.

About the first, more clearly Nietzschean conception, de Man develops an idea of reading—and interpretation—as an opportunity to circumvent the "self and the "self-deception or "blindness" assumed by the reader's "knowledge" and values, his epistemological and methodological perspective. In this way, de Man argues for literature's power to enact and achieve the Nietzschean insight in Ecce Homo that "to become what one is, one must not have the faintest notion what one is." "The text," de Man writes in Blindness and Insight, "brings the reader back to what he might have been before he shaped himself into a particular self." In this derivative conception, the reader experiences a version of Binneswanger's "fall upwards," an always incomplete and unstable process, a movement out of the structured representations of empirical or metaphysical "reality" onto the plain of freed, imaginative consciousness. Particularly modern literature offers the moments of "unbearable" pressure in this way to renew alternative selves, to activate the imagination.

Simultaneously at work, however, in de Man's conception is a contradictory assumption that abjures all ethical resonance in literature. De Man emphasizes that literary language does not "represent" reality or any access to "meaning," but is rather a projection of purely fictive possibility, empirical only in rejecting the claims of "presence" and certainty as meaningless. In various essays, de Man adapts and indeed reduces ideas of music developed by Rousseau or Rilke or Nietzsche to a demonstration that literature—specifically a musicalized literature—demystifies and negates all "truth" claims in a process of continual, fictive construction and deconstruction. Human reality, whether critical, creative, or empirical, becomes in de Man's hands, a shallow, debased version of the scene and drama Nietzsche brilliantly describes, as follows: "Truth" is

a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically and which after long use seem firm, cannonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are.

De Man, however, in emphasizing a quasi-tragic reduction of literature into pure figuration, solely into the language of tropes, "isolates too purifyingly" (as Harold Bloom suggests) "the trope from the topos or common-place that generates it." De Man's tendency is to with-draw from the Nietzschean insistence on truth as a struggling "sum of human relations," of "people," yet "these are," as Jonathan Arac writes, exactly "the elements, less than the figures, from which to construct a history of the contingencies that have put us in the odd place that we are."

It is in a struggle to understand "the odd place that we are" that Nietzsche himself creates a rhetoric to explore the sense of the endless multiplicity, contradiction, and nontruth of "truth." In this way, he offers us a prototype for modern narrative texts. Given the skepticism and freedom at work in such texts, the critical Nietzschean aim becomes to envision—as Erich Heller writes, echoing Zarathustra—what it is like to perceive and live without belief in truth, again not cynically, but with the awareness that "truth" is a function of will, judgment, self-critical sublimation, and choice.


We can now return to the issue of the activity—as opposed to the passivity—of the aesthetic consciousness and to Nietzsche's use of the dissonant metaphor to characterize that activity. It is Nietzsche's development of that analogy which explains and prefigures the musicality—the dissonance—of the modern novel.

Nietzsche takes up the matter of music in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music and then implicitly in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The latter work unfolds on many levels under the aegis of the musical metaphor: "Perhaps the whole of Zarathustra may be reckoned as music," Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo, and he adds a salient point about the Dionysian listener/reader: "Certainly a rebirth of the art of hearing was among its pre-conditions." Nietzsche's 1886 introduction to The Birth of Tragedy also reminds us of Zarathustra's tie to the work of 1872.

In this early major text, he presents the fundamental idea that Greek tragedy emerged from the tension between the Apollonian and the Dionysian: the former manifests itself as the perfected, dream-like heroic forms of tragedy, which imagine the desired ideals in "existence," and the latter is the Dionysian, "choric" response embodying the audience's emotional reaction to tragedy, the force of their awed, enraged, and immense desire for the perfected Apollonian forms. To maintain the balance between Apollo and Dionysus, is the process—and finally the ascetic ideal of "overcoming"—at the core of Nietzsche's vision generally, as Arthur Danto argues. Here, in Greek tragedy, the disillusioning, anarchic, "tragic insight" of the musical, Dionysian imagination—with its capacious desire for and summoning up of Apollonian forms—is the choric audience's recognition that beautiful Apollo is but a fiction yet, as such, a crucial source of the "multifarious diversity" seen as fictions, as metaphors. Here the perceiver's recognition (like the creator's) denies all certainty of self, of subject, and of audience itself, in other words, moves away from the lyric ideal toward the model of dissonance. Nietzsche's conception of dissonance provides a key analysis of this Dionysian response of the perceiver in tragic art. The passage on dissonance occurs at the end of The Birth of Tragedy, after his celebration of the Dionysian vision he has already located in Wagner; it is one of the moments in the text when, in retrospect, we see Nietzsche wrest himself free of his anxious projection of a Nietzschean image onto Wagner's operas. Now he links musical dissonance to the phenomenon in Greek tragedy of facing the terrible, out of an over-fullness of life, and of having the capacity to render and to affirm it as part of the abundance of life.

Here, the Dionysian is not seen as rooted in a Schopenhauerian "metaphysical solace" which substitutes the presence and witness of irrational "truth" for a Socratic "rationalization" of the "truth." Rather, Nietzsche's redefinition now insists that the Dionysian is an aesthetic activity, above all a process involving the listener/reader in a journey of engagement, the destination of which is unknown:

Existence and the world seem justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon. In this sense, it is precisely the tragic myth that has to convince us that even the ugly and disharmonie are part of an artistic game that will in the eternal amplitude of its pleasure plays with itself. But this primordial phenomenon of Dionysian art is difficult to grasp, and there is only one direct way to make it intelligible and grasp it immediately: through the wonderful significance of musical dissonance.… The joy aroused by the tragic myth has the same origin as the joyous sensation of dissonance in music. The Dionysian, with its primordial joy experienced even in pain, is the common source of music and tragic myth.

Musical dissonance becomes here a metaphor for the creative process activated within the freed consciousness (a "singing Socrates" indeed). Dissonance—the ambiguous movement away from and between tonal "certain-ties"—exists in a state of suspension, of striving beyond "heard harmony" toward its negation, the powerful, un-heard creative silence which each of the writers studied here finds and celebrates in Beethoven. Dissonance—which longs "to get beyond all hearing"—"reveals to us the playful construction and destruction of the individual world as the overflow of a primordial delight."

Nietzsche here moves beyond affirming the solemn myth in Wagner which holds the listener in the grasp of "metaphysical solace" and "surrender." To see this feature of the text most clearly, Walter Kaufmann shows, The Birth of Tragedy should be read in conjunction with excised portions and notes and particularly with the contemporaneous fragment "On Music and Words" (appended to Carl Dahlhaus's Between Romanticism and Modernism), a fragment which, as Dahlhaus indicates, "contains the outlines of Nietzsche's later critique of Wagner." Read in this way, The Birth of Tragedy "explodes" the limitations of its sporadic, lyrical, "Wagnerian" affirmations, of the text's "authority," so that the Dionysian process at work here is shown to concern not a mythic presence but the disordered freedom of consciousness. This movement redefining the Dionysian not as solemn, irrational "truth" but as a process, finally, of liberation, is carried further in the 1886 preface criticizing the turgid lack of musicality in The Birth of Tragedy (which was, after all, his Ph.D. thesis). The Preface avows the need to "dance," to "learn to laugh" as essential to the nature of music, to Dionysian "play." The rhetoric of modern narrative is forecast by this rhetoric of the 1886 preface, with its own experimental "dance" intermingling "critical irony and tragic gaiety, earned by that irony," very much like the autobiographical, literary strategy of Ecce Homo as Altieri describes it (such an aesthetic strategy pervades Nietzsche, as Alexander Nehamas shows).

Modern consciousness and narrative, and finally history itself (as Foucault suggests about Nietzsche) can all be understood as emanations of such dissonance. The link for Nietzsche between a dissonant aesthetic and ethic becomes evident here, and we can now also begin to see the connection between Dionysian dissonance and other keys to Nietzsche's thought—the idea of self-overcoming, as I noted earlier, and that of the eternal return. These Nietzschean ideas link together, as Kathleen Higgins has argued, to convey a "simultaneous awareness of past and present [finally projecting] a sense of the whole in which the present moment is the immediately experienced part." She explains, using and then moving beyond a Zuckerkandlian perspective, that Nietzsche reveals how "we enjoy the fullness of the present musical moment, even if it is dissonant, not for its own efficiency in moving towards the evident musical goal, but for its own surprising presence." Pierre Klossowski similarly and even more insistently shows that this network of link-ages (eternal return, self-overcoming, and, I would add, musical dissonance) shares an ethic and aesthetic which, above all, posit the flux of multiplicity in selves and events. Nietzsche's tragic affirmation of that multiplicity is nowhere more evident than in his embrace of amor fati, of the eternally recurrent process by which the encompassing flux of image and experience is tested and affirmed, now, as it were, intrinsically worthy of fated reperformance. This notion of the embrace of multiplicity and "reperformance" points again to the connection I am exploring between Dionysian dissonance and the modern novel; for, in this regard, the eternal return and dissonance provide a model for reading itself. The engagement, testing, and affirmation of the ever-changing, clashing, and unfolding waves of multiplicity define that opportunity and operation of reading modern narrative. (Claude Lévesque speaks in similar terms of the tie, in the century since Nietzsche, between dissonance and aesthetic language generally.)


The connection between Dionysian dissonance and the modern novel can be illustrated in D. H. Lawrence's vision, in Aaron's Rod, which we saw presents an image of Beethoven as well, or later in Apocalypse, which is in part a lapsed, English "nonconformist's" variation on themes from Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. In this, his last prophetic essay, Lawrence defines and presents the Dionysian as a dynamic "seeing through" the veil of the conventional, the forced pose, the "known," the empirical; in pre-Socratic Greece, for example, '"the cold,' 'the moist,' 'the hot,' 'the dry,' were things in themselves, realities, gods, theoi." What is seen in the Dionysian perspective is a great flux of "life's" images, both agonized and beneficient, all filled not with materialist presence but with imaginative desire, with the "gods"—that is, with the "primordial delight" of imaginative consciousness. And in Lawrence's Nietzschean vision such creative delight exists in opposition to the "evasion" insisted on by the author of Revelations, with John's "proud impotence" so like the resentment and solace the Wagnerian listener is confronted with.

By the very frenzy with which the Apocalypse destroys the sun and the stars, the world.… we can see how deeply the apocalyptists are yearning for the sun and the stars and the earth and the waters of the earth, for nobility and lordship and might, and scarlet and gold spendour, for passionate love, and a proper unison with men, apart from this sealing business. What man most passionately wants is his living wholeness and his living unison, not his own isolate salvation of his 'soul.' … We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.

The Dionysian is a means of ascertaining neither revenge nor false solace nor mechanistic truth. Rather it is the process of creating a world of yearned-for, imaginative truth, an earth whose soil is meaning, in which it is not only dirt but the stuff of significance into which one thrusts one's hands. Such are the images Lawrence offers in Apocalypse, as does Joyce in Stephen's epiphany at the end of chapter IV of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

What is the bearing of Dionysian dissonance on the rhetoric of such images in modern fiction? For the freed, creative, Dionysian consciousness, language becomes the scene, indeed the very process of tapping the capacity for imaging, for the metamorphosis of selves and of meanings. A result is the layering and complicating of modern narrative—its freeing from convention, its opening up to ambiguity. Language as dissonance formulates its images as freely created fictions. Particularly for the novelist with a consciousness of this fictiveness, language displaces its own self-destruction through its abundant waves of imaginative energy, the process of its dissonance. Finally, the "sinister resonance" of a work like Conrad's Heart of Darkness ("dwelling on the ear after the last note had been struck") is a metaphor imaging that freed critical and creative novelistic consciousness, above all, in the reader.

The "wisdom" resonating in dissonant fiction is particularly the awareness that, as modern fiction activates creative freedom in the reader, a profound risk is involved, which Lawrence and the novelists who play out the Nietzschean logic recognize. When Lawrence, for example, introduces the fertile image of Dionysis in his theoretical essays or of "Osiris cut to pieces" in his late The Man Who Died, the texts also simultaneously dramatize the potential despair in the object of Dionysian metamorphosis. Particularly, Lawrence's late fable takes up the notion, which Nietzsche also voices in Zarathustra, of imagining for Jesus a final human trajectory, a full, agonized fall to sensuous earth. Resurrected, he is repelled by being worshipped by his followers, disappears to Egypt, and takes a Dionysian part there in the rite of a priestess of "Isis in Search" of dismembered Osiris.

She was looking for fragments of the dead Osiris, dead and scattered asunder, dead, torn apart, and thrown in fragments over the wide world.… [S]he must gather him together and fold her arms around the reassembled body till it became warm again, and roused to life, and could embrace her, and could fecundate her womb.… [S]he had not [yet] found the last reality, the final clue to him, that alone could bring him really back for her.

The fleeing, alienated Jesus, she finds, is this realization of Osiris. In a prose of intentional uncontrol that characteristically forces together incantation and an exposing objectivity, Lawrence allows Jesus momentarily to know (both sexually and spiritually) his nakedness: "If I am naked enough for this contact, I have not died in vain." Lawrence insists always here on the naked as the operative term and concept; his emphasis is above all on the vulnerable, the unmoored and stripped down, the fated transiency, the naked circling in death of Jesus. This metamorphosis in a continual death and stripping of former selves takes him out again at the fable's end, past Isis, navigating still further in death: "Let the boat carry me."

Jesus in The Man Who Died experiences the risk and fate embodied in the image of Osiris—and of Dionysus and, indeed, of Orpheus—another dismembered god. This new, final, open-ended fable of Jesus contains precisely the challenge of dissonance to his hearer/reader, that the orphic song contains—and the same danger of dismembered, constantly disappearing and reassembling consciousness. An endless metamorphosis, charged with desire, in the midst of dying selves—Blanchot explains in "Orpheus' Gaze"—constitutes the knotted and paradoxical effect for the reader as for character and creator in twentieth-century narrative; "in his song … Orpheus is the dismembered, endlessly dying Orpheus his song has created. The song cannot do without desire and lost Eurydice and dismembered Orpheus." The "song-text" which emerges for Lawrence and other modern novelists is composed of Dionysian dissonance. "Dissonance takes root in this nether region," Claude Lévesque concludes in "Language to the Limit," a region

where resounds endlessly the mute scream let out by Dionysus.… Why be astonished that man, at the point of not being able to know and to bear it anymore, in appealing to the other, takes on the colossal and intolerable voice of the scream?

In dissonant narrative, we hear—and see bared in the text and in ourselves—the potential despair in the object of Dionysian metamorphosis: It is the yearned-for release, both endless rupture and healing, compounded of the promise and the void of creative desire. These antinomies are best defined and understood through an examination of the crucial modern composer in the mode of dissonance, Arnold Schoenberg.


The example of Schoenberg's music can further clarify the risks and opportunities for the perceiver in a musicalized text. In this composer's work, we hear a full, uncentering "roaring" of "unearthly" dissonance, to use images from the George poem sung in the finale of Schoenberg's second string quartet (1911); in that movement, as the strings violently disassemble a primitive scale of half-tones and the soprano offers a twelve tone melody as she sings of "breathfing] the air of another planet," the listener hears a historic welcome of the free play of dissonance in music. Indeed, the dissonance of this final movement of the 1911 quartet—not the serial controls of his later music—embodies the aesthetic of dissonance I explore and most clearly parallels the aims of modernist narrative. Schoenberg's dissonance achieves an intentionally difficult negation of music's grounding, commonly received, tonal conventions, a negation that becomes the only certainty left to assume (as Charles Rosen suggests). Such dissonance—typical of Schoenberg's reimagining of the entire range of musical conventions—achieves its creative negation above all, as Rosen and Adorno indicate, in the context of the common musical language—that is, above all as opposition. Schoenberg drives to its logical conclusion the subversions propounded by the irony and ironic beauty of Mahler's symphonies; by Debussy's nuanced, synaesthetic, sometimes violent freeing of tonal centers from clichéd stability, even by Brahms, as he follows a Beethovenian logic of freed formal experiment, breaking atrophied lyric conventions in favor of developing a "musical prose," as Schoenberg suggests in Style and Idea. The severe and radical logic in Schoenberg's music is an indication that—like Beethoven before him, only more "absolutely"—Schoenberg must attempt to explode the compulsively and falsely "affirming" stasis of the common language in order to emancipate the creative imaginative potentiality of language itself; both Rosen and Carl Dahlhaus emphasize that this "emancipation of the dissonance" is, as Dahlhaus writes, "the reason why tonality had been renounced."

Schoenberg's aim is, then, to give his musical language the guise and substance of freedom, of a freed, continual becoming, shaped though it need be, by opposition and negativity. By exposing what Webern calls "the chasms in cliché," this difficult, disruptive, continual negation in the dissonant language becomes in part a protest against those too-easy, preformed, subjective affirmations to which the listener could otherwise surrender. Nietzsche's prescription for a dissonant aesthetic consciousness is fulfilled here, for—as Stanley Cavell points out—Schoenberg understood the dangerous necessity of dissonant composition: "that taste must be defeated," music "discomposed," in order to fulfill "the essential moral motive" of modern art. Adorno describes this necessity in Philosophy of Modern Music when he analyzes what I am calling the Dionysian or dissonant consciousness in Schoenberg's music. The bourgeois illusion of individual subjective affirmation—the "illusion of authenticity"—is, Adorno writes, "sacrificed" because it is "incompatible with the state of that consciousness which has been driven so far towards individuation by the liberal order, to the point that this consciousness negates the order which had advanced it thus far." Schoenberg's dissonant language presents that negation "as its goal. It is the surviving message of despair from the shipwrecked."

Here we directly face the notion of the risk to the perceiver of dissonance. Schoenberg's listener is thrust into the activity of perceiving this new language of dissonance as a radical event in the language of consciousness itself. Its alienation and liberation of the "perceptual" process aims at straining the potentiality of tonality, of the order of consciousness and language exercised now in revolt at the outer limits of their capacity; the "fictive" creations of dissonance are radical particularly in that they demand an openness to negation in the listener. Schoenberg's self-consciousness about this demand on his diminished audience for the "new music" in Vienna helps to raise the issue of the performative impact of dissonance on the perceiver. By continually reenacting the "shipwreck" of modern consciousness (the casting out onto the waves of negation), the rhetorical strategy of Schoenberg's desperate negation leads the perceiver to engage a risktaking, aesthetic and ethical challenge, one suggested by the antinomies which Adorno, Rosen, Dahlhaus, and others explore: that challenge is to encounter dissonant negation as the form, the language and activity ("not mere contemplation" as Adorno says in Prisms, "but praxis") which embodies and achieves the survival of a freed consciousness in the modern period.

Jean-François Lyotard's critique of Schoenberg—in "Several Silences"—questions this freedom achieved by the composer's dissonant strategy (and his critique finds echoes in Jacques Attali's argument, in James Winn's contrasting of Schoenberg's "subjectivity" with Stravinsky's rhetoricity, and in certain criticisms of Adorno's "atonal philosophy" mounted, for example, by John Shepard et al.). Lyotard would abjure what he sees as Schoenberg's puritanical seeking of "the tragic" and of a "therapeutics" in which music is a "discourse" of stigmatizing negativity and "control." Instead, Lyotard would embrace an aesthetic of "circulation by chance," a "free wandering" suggested teasingly by images of Mao's noisy swimming in the Yangste and of Cage's play with noise and silence. Yet where Lyotard hears in Schoenberg's dissonance a holding aloof from the free play of cultural sounds, there is as accurately a refusal to wrest apart—indeed an insistence on the link between—freedom and critical consciousness; and where he hears a "liquefying" or "dememorizing" of "domination" in Cagean play, there coexists in such play also an ornamental, "aestheticized subjectivity" (as Dahlhaus suggests in Schoenberg), a postmodern forgetting and erasure—like plastic surgery—of the scars in twentieth-century history and culture, to use an image from Kroker and Cook's The Postmodern Scene.

Schoenberg's art provides a revelatory model for modern fiction and particularly for its modernist aim: to prompt the perceiver first to imagine a disintegration of consciousness, a tearing apart of received, assumed "expressivity," a movement into contradiction, obliquity, parody, and silence, so that Moses and Aaron ends incomplete, fractured, its sung speech splintering into silence: "O word that I lack." Yet, simultaneously, as the act of imagining can negate the processes of consciousness, Schoenberg's music offers a paradigmatic model for dissonant narrative which conveys within that negation a liberating attitude toward consciousness. Torn from the moribund habits of ordinary, habitual consciousness, the reader of the modern novel is challenged to engage the liberated fullness of fictive form within the suspension and negation of the habitual modes of perception. The "fullness" of alienation within the dissonant fiction of Proust, Mann, and Joyce achieves above all a full, imaginative, and critical freedom within the suspension of consciousness as a fiction—abundant, multifarious, playful, alien, and distressed.

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11125

SOURCE: "The Caesura of Religion," in Opera Through Other Eyes, edited by David J. Levin, Stanford University Press, 1994, pp. 45-77.

[In the following essay, Lacoue-Labarthe discusses the religious undercurrents in Schoenberg's work.]

No doubt, it is not impossible to say that Wagner fundamentally saturated opera. A proof of this, which is nonetheless indirect, is that everything which followed without exempting itself from the exorbitant ambition he had imposed upon the form carries the stigmata of the end. This may be in the nostalgic and relatively comfortable mode to which the late Strauss resigned himself, a mode that in short ended his career with an adieu, more disenchanted than really melancholic, to the two genres in which, as he well recognized, a limit had been reached (this is why the so-called Four Last Songs, if only because they return to the "law of genre," that is, to a preMahlerian state of the Lied, have a meaning analogous to the autoreflection "in the manner of which orders Capriccio). But it may also be in the mode of redundancy, and thus of oversaturation, for which the early Strauss was renowned (or the Schönberg of the Gurrelieder) and in which the Puccini of Turandot pathetically exhausted himself. But then again, it may be in the more equivocal and more subtle (more "French") mode of déstructuration à la Debussy. Or finally, it may be in the style of properly modern radicality, the style of violent rupture and incompleteness, of "failure": Berg's Lulu, Schönberg's Moses and Aaron. And here, it is incontestable, things are much more grave. One might say, not only because it raises the ante where the means of expression are concerned (a move that Nietzsche had already denounced as an art subordinated to the search for effects), but rather because of its systematic character, in the strict sense of the term, that Wagner's work left to its posterity a task every bit as impossible as the one left by German Idealism (Hegel) to its great followers in philosophy: to continue that which is finished. Thus, just as one may speak of the "Hegelian closure" of philosophy, one might speak of the Wagnerian closure of opera and even of art itself, or as they said at the time, of great art, for such was the "ambition" of art. As a result of their anti-Hegelianism, what Wagner's writings and The Birth of Tragedy most clearly show is that in wishing to overcome [überwinden] opera and all its "culture," Wagner devotes himself with the Gesamtkunstwerk to a totalizing sublation, to an Aufhebung of all the arts, and to a restoration of "great art" which is all the more powerful for being all the more modern (with other technical means, in effect): a restoration of Greek tragedy, of course. At the same time, if the other arts were able to take another direction, and allowed themselves to be guided from the outset by another concept of "great" and another intuition of "art," opera, itself a recent art though it would wish itself ancient, suffered severely from such a declaration of completion. In fact, it was unable to recover from it, or only did so poorly.

Here saturate means simply: too much music or, if one prefers, despite the paradox, too much "Italianism" and too much credit accorded the prima la musica. In short it is the belief in music's "sublational" capacity (or, as he would say, its "synthesizing" capacity) that destroys for Wagner any chance of acceding to "totality" and binds him to musical saturation, condemning him to choose sides in what is after all nothing but the classical dilemma of opera. Saturation is a false totalization, at least insofar as it testifies to the false character of any will to totalization, be it conceptual or not. On this point at least, though for entirely different reasons, Heidegger and Adorno agree with one another, and both of them attribute the responsibility for this unrestrained, "infinite" melocentrism to Schopenhauer, to the metaphysics of "feeling" and the "unconscious" (to the vague mysticism, Adorno says, of "thalassal regression"). Wagner definitively considered nothing but the problem of opera and did so to the nearly exclusive benefit of music and not to that of theater, where, in relation to the Italian apparatus, his innovations are rather slim. Or to put it otherwise: as a Dichterkomponist (a monstrous term, as Adorno remarks), Wagner confused language with "words" and music with the essence of language, its origin and its assumption. In the demonstration which he conducts in the "Music Drama" chapter of In Search of Wagner, Adorno cites some passages that are in this sense damning:

Science has laid bare to us the organism of language, but what she showed us was a dead organism, which only the poet's utmost can bring to life again, namely, by suturing the wounds with which the anatomic scalpel has gashed the body of language and by breathing into it the breath that may animate it with living motion. This breath, however, is—music.…

The necessary bestowal from within oneself, the seed that can only in the most ardent transports of love condense itself from its noblest forces—which grows only in order to be released, i.e. to be released for the purposes of fertilization, indeed which is in and of itself [an sich] this more or less materialized drive—this procreative seed is the poetic intention, which brings to the gloriously loving woman, Music, the stuff for bearing.

Despite their erotico-dialectical pathos (the same pathos, though less rigorous, or, as Adorno would say, more "voluptuous" than that which governs the opening paragraphs of The Birth of Tragedy), texts of this genre have at least one merit: they reveal the reason why all operas that have seriously tried to resist Wagnerian saturation, leaving aside those that have deliberately renounced totalization (this is above all true of Berg), have taken the form of a sort of "performative" meditation on the essence of language (of speech) in its relation to music, and thus on the very nature of the opera form. In Strauss, who is the most belated and no doubt the most "informed," the protocol, under its slightly belabored eighteenth-century elegance, is relatively coarse, even if it gives ample evidence of a certain intelligence about what is at stake. But finally it is a bit disarming to take as one's subject the Querelle des Bouffons or that of the Piccinists and the Gluckists, for with an opera in opera or about opera (Ariadne, Capriccio) one remains in the simple register of the mise en abïme and citation. In the end, one does not choose at all; with an emphatic wink one leaves the generic conflict of opera in suspense. By contrast, in Berg (Wozzeck, the "poor creature," is the interdiction of eloquence and music, and consequently is interdiction itself) and above all in Schönberg, the problem is touched upon with an entirely different profundity, and with an entirely different acuity.

Above all in Schönberg: it is well known that this problem is the very subject of Moses and Aaron and, what is more essential, that it is constitutive of the opera's treatment. The opposition of speech and singing (or, more exactly, of Sprechgesang and Gesang) which, no matter what Adorno says, very rigorously transposes the biblical opposition of Moses' stammering and Aaron's eloquence into the register of the work—and here the very question of the prohibition of (re)presentation, which thus is also the subject of the opera, is condensed—leads the opera to put its own principle into question with great lucidity. And consequently it reopens the scar that Wagner, by musical saturation, had intended to suture definitively in a sort of hyperbolic assumption of opera itself. Now what Adorno, who is in fact one of the few who have confronted Schönberg's oeuvre désoeuvrée, "saves" from Moses, despite his vigilance with respect to Wagnerism, is precisely musical saturation. In the final pages of his great essay of 1963, "Sakrales Fragment: Über Schönberg's Moses und Aron" Adorno remarks that Schönberg, who evidently does not order his work according to a serialist dramaturgy of opera, also does not order his work according to a dramaturgy of the Wagnerian type (if a traditional model is still operative, it would be that of oratorio). This prevents nothing: when Adorno wants to justify what he calls the "success" of Moses, what he brings forward is the work's "power," and does so all the more because this power accords with the metaphysical (or religious) aims of the work. Now with what does this power or, and this amounts to the same thing, this "monumentality of tone" have to do? Not with simplicity, at least not immediately, but rather "with everything which is gathered together in this music and which occupies the musical space." Adorno comments:

In no other work does Schönberg so consistently and with such facility follow the rule that the compositional effort—that is to say, in the first place the sheer quantity of simultaneous events—should correspond to the content of the music, of the events to be represented. In Moses he takes this to extremes. Nowhere else is there so much music, almost in the literal sense of so many notes, as here ad majorent Dei gloriam. The sheer density of the construction becomes the medium in which the ineffable can manifest itself without usurpation. For it is this that can be wholly and convincingly created in the material by Schönberg's own musical consciousness.

Once again the style of this saturation is not Wagnerian, if only because the writing is too complex and because it no longer orders itself according to the imperative of a melos. But all the same, it is a saturation. And it is linked to a religious or metaphysical content as its most adequate mode of expression. It is as if in the end Moses and Aaron were nothing other than the negative (in the photographic sense) of Parsifal, thus accomplishing, in a paradoxical manner, the project of the total work. And in fact, this is virtually what we read in Adorno's final remarks:

By conceptualizing this we have probably arrived at the full measure of Schönberg's success in his biblical opera. It is intensified by what seems at first to stand in its way: the inordinate complexity of the music. This leads to the liberation of Schönberg's supreme talent, his gift for combination, his precise grasp of distinct but simultaneous events. The idea of unity in diversity becomes a sensuous musical reality in him. He was able not just to imagine, but actually to invent complexes of opposed extremes, which yet occur simultaneously. In this respect he represents the culmination of the tradition in which every detail is composed. This talent reveals his metaphysical ingenuity. The unity of what he had imagined truly does justice to the idea which forms the subject of the text. The striking effect and the unity of the disparate are one and the same. Hence the simplicity of the end result. The complexity is nowhere suppressed, but is so shaped as to become transparent. If everything in the score is clearly heard, its very clarity means that it is heard as a synthesis.

In its near clarity (and yet … ), one sees that this description could apply to Wagner. In any case, the possibility of a synthetic perception, the unified (and thus totalizing) character of music, the adequation of such a unity to the "idea" of the text (to its metaphysical significance), "obligation" itself, these are all incontestably principles which pertain to Wagnerian aesthetics. Thus we are confronted with a question, and one which is not without consequences: How is it that the shadow of Wagner can continue to cloud the hope, which was as much Schönberg's as Adorno's, to put an end—lucidly—to Wagnerism? Which is to say, to the worst (the most disastrous) conception of "great art"?

If there is any chance of making sense of this, we must reread "Sakrales Fragment."

At the end of his analysis, that is, just before the Benjaminian Rettung of the work which neatly finishes the essay on Schönberg, we find this statement (Adorno, who, without ever mentioning the word, has cataloged the reasons for the failure of Moses, has just indicated that in the end, Schönberg was the victim of the bourgeois illusion of the "immortality of art," of the belief in genius—that metaphysical transfiguration of bourgeois individualism—indeed, of the absence of doubt as to the reality of greatness; or to put it otherwise, that he was the victim of his own renunciation of "that extreme of the aesthetic, the sole legitimation of art," and he continues):

In Schönberg's fragmentary main works—the term 'main work' is itself symptomatic—there is something of the spirit that Huxley castigated in one of his early novels. The greatness, universal validity, totality of the masters and masterpieces of yore—all this can be regained if only you are strong enough and have the genius. This has something of the outlook that plays off Michelangelo against Picasso. Such blindness about the philosophy of history has causes rooted in the philosophy of history itself. They are to be found in the feeling of an inadequate sense of authority, the shadow-side of modern individuation. To overcome this blindness would mean relativizing the idea of great art even though great art alone can provide the aesthetic seriousness in whose absence authentic works can no longer be written. Schönberg has actually rendered visible one of the antinomies of art itself. The most powerful argument in his favour is that he introduced this antinomy, which is anything but peculiar to him, into the innermost recesses of his own oeuvre. It is not to be overcome simply by an act of will or by virtue of the power of his own works. The fallacy that it is necessary to negotiate or depict the most rarefied contents in order to produce the greatest works of art—a fallacy which puts an end to the Hegelian aesthetics—derives from the same misconception. The elusive content is to be captured by chaining it to the subject matter which, according to tradition, it once inhabited. A futile endeavor. The prohibition on graven images which Schönberg heeded as few others have done, nevertheless extends further than even he imagined. To thematize great subjects directly today means projecting their image after the event. But this in turn inevitably means that, disguised as themselves, they fail to make contact with the work of art. (translation slightly modified)

Schönberg's merit, which all the same no longer permits one to "save" the work, is thus to have "rendered visible one of the antinomies of art itself (and not just, as one might think, an antinomy of the art of the "bourgeois era" and of the epoch of individuation, even if it has devolved to properly modern art to manifest it). This antinomy is very simple, and is without resolution: "great art" is and cannot be (or can no longer be) the guarantee, indeed, the norm of authenticity in art. The notion of "great art," which alone provides "the aesthetic seriousness in whose absence authentic works can no longer be written," must be "relativized." But one does not relativize the absolute. "Great art" remains the norm—just as, for reasons that are hardly different, it was for Hegel and Schelling, for Nietzsche, for Heidegger—but it is a ruinous norm for all art which would submit itself to this category. This is why "great art," the will to "great art" is the impossibility of art. This contradiction is at the very heart of Schönberg's work, and especially of Moses, and we will see that it is this which makes for its "greatness," beyond its "intention." In its Wahrheitsgehalt, as Benjamin said: in its truth content.

This is, at bottom, what defines the essence of art, at least of modern art: it is only itself in the impossibility of effecting that which founds its authenticity. It does not follow from this that one must renounce apprehending "the most rarefied contents" (the spiritual contents, as Hegel said, the metaphysical as such, for this is and has always been "the high"). But it does follow, on the other hand, that one must renounce "negotiating or depicting [darstellen] the most rarefied contents." If one credits Adorno, here, with the greatest lucidity (and the allusion to Hegel cannot but lead one to do so), what is seen as the "error" is exactly what Heidegger, in the first version of his lectures The Origin of the Work of Art, denounced as the "remarkable fatality" to which "all meditation about art and the work of art, every theory of art and all aesthetics" is submitted, from the Greeks at least to Hegel, which is to say, to us: the artwork "always allows itself also to be considered as a fabricated thing [ein Zeugwerk, an allusion to the Platonico-Aristotelian mis-interpretation of tekhne,] presenting a 'spiritual content.' Thus art becomes the presentation of something supersensible in a palpable material submitted to a form." Now because of Schönberg but also beyond him, Adorno refers this questioning of Darstellung—art is not essentially (re)presentation—to the biblical prohibition of representation—to the "iconoclastic prescription," as Jean-Joseph Goux says—which "Schönberg heeded as few others have done," and which "extends further than even he imagined." It goes without saying that here all comparison with the Heideggerian procedure ends. If there is indeed something which Heidegger could not—or rather would not—recognize, even if his thought and the deconstruction of Hegelian aesthetics ought to have forced him to do so, it is that one might refer the problematic of Darstellung to such an origin. But Adorno had every reason to do just this. And so it is that he affirms, in a mode that Heidegger would probably have impugned, that all that is left is to "conceive" the "trace" of these "great contents" today, which brings us back all the same to modern art, to an art in which, by tradition, the content was attached to certain subjects. All of which amounts to saying that great contents "fail to make contact with the work of art."

Here it is clear that we have touched the problem of the "end of art." Since Hegel, the end of art signifies the birth of aesthetics (the philosophy or science of art, or even the simple "reflection" on art) no matter where one situates the event: in the decline of the Greek fifth century, as Heidegger above all would be tempted to think, or in the exhaustion of Christian art. (In the meantime, the question is relatively secondary: in both cases, the end of art means in reality the end of religion, and this is the essential point.) In his manner, Adorno remains faithful to this determination: no doubt there was once "great art," which is to say that "great contents" were once able to supply matter to artworks. But that all that remains is to conceive the trace of this—and this makes all the difference—in no way suffices to define the program of an aesthetics. The reason is simply that "great contents" do not belong essentially to the work of art. If one must maintain the project of an aesthetics—and it is well known that Adorno, perhaps against Heidegger, will resolutely devote himself to this—this will not reduce itself to end, as is the case in Hegel and also, though in a more complex fashion, in Heidegger, as a nostalgia for a religion, which is to say, a community.

This is why it is not at all a matter of indifference that this bundle of questions—at once very close to and very far from Heideggerian questions, but near at least in that it is the enclosing domination of Hegelian aesthetics that is abjured—should thus present all the marks of a philosophical reflection on the essence, the history, and the destination of art even as it proceeds both very rigorously and very loyally in its interpretation of Moses. This is an artwork, and not just any artwork, in its intentions, in what lies beyond its intentions, and in the failure or success of the two, which carries or at least allows one to assemble such a bundle of questions. All things being equal, Schönberg is for Adorno what Schiller, for example, is for Hegel, Wagner for the early Nietzsche, and Hölderlin for Heidegger: the offering of a work which explicitly thematizes the question of its own possibility as a work—this makes it modern—and which thereby carries in itself, as its most intimate subject, the question of the essence of art. Such works necessitate a philosophical decision as to the future of art or its chances today—which is to say, from now on. Schiller sanctions the end of art (its "death"), but Wagner is the hope of a rebirth. And Hölderlin, always on the condition that we do not envisage his final dereliction, is the hope of "another beginning."

Thus the question is to know exactly what Moses and Aaron offers to Adorno (to the continuing project of aesthetics).

The response to this question lies entirely in the title Adorno gives to his essay: "Sakrales Fragment."

Despite the peremptory (and perhaps uselessly romantic) declaration that virtually opens the essay, according to which "everything is in pieces, fragmentary, like the Tablets of the Law which Moses smashed," this title is not justified solely by the fact that Moses and Aaron is unfinished. This would hardly explain the fact that, despite appearances, the simplest meaning of the word "fragment" is in the end not at all the meaning retained by Adorno. The reference here to the Tablets is in reality not formal; it is even less formalist, in the genre of a more or less subtle mise en abïme. As it appears a bit further on, only the word "sacred" is able to explain the "fragment," and it is to the meta-romantic speculation of Benjamin that one must connect the following corrective:

Important works of art are the ones that aim for an extreme; they are destroyed in the process and their broken outlines survive as the ciphers of a supreme, unnameable truth. It is in this positive sense that Moses und Aron is a fragment and it would not be extravagant to attempt to explain why it was left incomplete by arguing that it could not be completed.

No doubt there is still something of the mise en abïme in this final formula. But the mise en abïme is necessary here because it is nothing other than the effect of the reflection that structures Moses and Aaron. And it is difficult to see how an art that takes itself as its own object, being constrained to put its own possibility to the test, might escape from it.

The Benjaminian hermeneutic principle that Adorno obeys obliges him in effect to perform a double reading.

On the one hand he locates, as the very intention that presides over the work, what he calls the "fundamental experience" of Moses: that of properly meta-physical heroism (more so, it would seem, than that of "religious" heroism). In applying himself to the beginning of the Pieces for Choir, op. 27: "Heroic, those who accomplish acts for which they are lacking in courage," Adorno designates the subject of Moses as the pure contradiction of a (consequently impossible) task, the task of being "the mouthpiece of the Almighty." This task is defined in a strictly Hegelian manner if one remembers the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion where Hegel says that Moses has nothing other than "the value of an organ" "over there" (in the Orient, I suppose). Moreover, "contradiction" is defined in the Hegelian lexicon as the contradiction of the finite and the infinite: the absolute—rather than God, for what is at stake in Schönberg's libretto is "thought" and not faith—evades finite beings with which it is incommensurable.

[According to Moses,] to act as the mouthpiece of the Almighty is blasphemy for mortal man. Schönberg must have touched on this theme even before Die Jakobsleiter, when he composed a setting for Rilke's poem in the songs Opus 22: "All who attempt to find you, they tempt you / And they who thus find you, they bind you / to image and gesture." Thus God, the Absolute, eludes finite beings. Where they desire to name him, because they must, they betray him. But if they keep silent about him, they acquiesce in their own impotence and sin against the other, no less binding, commandment to name him. They lose heart because they are not up to the task which they are otherwise enjoined to attempt, (trans. slightly modified)

And it is, moreover, to this contradiction that Adorno refers Moses' exclamation, at which point the music composed by Schönberg interrupts itself. For Adorno, this is the point where the work itself is condemned to fragmentation:

At the end of Act II of the biblical opera, in the final sentence which has become music, Moses breaks down and laments, 'O word, thou word that I lack.' The insoluble contradiction which Schönberg has taken as his project and which is attested by the entire tradition of tragedy, is also the contradiction of the actual work. If it is obvious that Schönberg felt himself to be a courageous man and that he invested much of himself in Moses, this implies that he advanced to the threshold of self-knowledge about his own project. He must have grasped the fact that its absolute metaphysical content would prevent it from becoming an aesthetic totality. But by the same token he refused to accept anything less.

Now this contradiction, which Adorno very strangely calls "tragic" (I will come back to this), is not simply the subject of the work. Adorno insists a great deal on this: it is indeed the contradiction of the work itself, that is, "the fact that its absolute metaphysical content would prevent it from becoming an aesthetic totality." Thus the essential and not accidental incompleteness of Moses. This incompleteness is inscribed, at bottom, in Moses' very first words, which Adorno has no need to recall: "Unique, eternal, omnipresent, invisible, and unrepresentable God."

But, Adorno remarks, "tragic" is not an adequate adjective. And suddenly the structure of the mise en abïme (the impossibility that the "work reflects as properly its own") is insufficient to open an adequate access to the work, for it is too premeditated: "The impossibility which appears intrinsic to the work is, in reality, an impossibility which was not intended. It is well known that great works can be recognized by the gap between their aim and their actual achievement."

This is why, on the other hand, with all due respect this time to the "truth content"—to that very thing, Benjamin would say, which constitutes the work as an "object of knowledge"—Adorno invokes a second, more essential reason for the incompleteness of Moses, for its impossibility. This reason is the end of art, that is, the end of the possibility of "great art":

The impossibility we have in mind is historical: that of sacred art today and the idea of the binding, canonical, all-inclusive work that Schönberg aspired to. The desire to outdo every form of subjectivity meant that he had subjectively to create a powerful, dominant self amidst all the feeble ones. An immense gulf opens up between the trans-subjective, the transcendentally valid that is linked to the Torah, on the one hand, and the free aesthetic act which created the work on the other. This contradiction becomes fused with the one which forms the theme of the work and directly constitutes its impossibility. Theologians have complained that the designation of monotheism as 'thought'—that is, something which is only subjectively intended—diminishes the idea of transcendence in the text, since every thought is in a sense transcendental. Nevertheless, a truth manifests itself in this, however clumsily it is expressed: the absolute was not present in the work other than as a subjective intention—or idea, as the philosophers would say. By conjuring up the Absolute, and hence making it dependent on the conjurer, Schönberg ensured that the work could not make it real.

Whence Adorno's thesis, if I may drily summarize it: in its intention, Moses is a "sacred opera"; but because "cultic music cannot be willed" and because "the problematic character of a religious art that single-handedly tears itself free from its epoch" cannot efface itself (trans. modified), Moses is in truth a "sacred fragment."

It is not my intention to critique this thesis. It is perfectly solid, and takes its authority from precise and reliable historical and sociological considerations. It is supported by extremely fine textual and musical analyses, and the whole thing has the weight of self-evidence. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible to put this thesis to the test of an "aesthetic" category to which Adorno, at least here, does not make the slightest allusion although everything in his text calls for it, and does so constantly: the category of the sublime.

If I was astonished a moment ago that Adorno could describe as tragic the contradiction of the finite and the infinite, which according to him is the subject of Moses, this is because this contradiction in Hegel—and this contradiction as Adorno himself envisions it—is nothing other than that of "sublimity," which, as is well known, defines the properly Jewish moment of religion. Moreover, at least since Kant, the Mosaic utterance (the Law, but above all the prohibition of representation) has been presented as the paradigm of the sublime utterance. And it is probably the case that since Michelangelo, if we correctly interpret what Freud wished to say, the figure of Moses, as paradoxical as this might seem, has been taken as the emblematic figure of the sublime. The sublime, in the tradition of the sublime, is overdetermined by the biblical reference. And everything takes place as if Adorno did not want to hear a word of this.

Here things necessarily take a turn: though he manifests the will to exceed the Hegelian determination of "great art," and thus of the beautiful—of the sensual presentation that is adequate to a spiritual content, to an Idea, which is for Hegel the (Greek) truth of the (Jewish) sub-lime, that is, of the affirmation of the fundamental inadequation of the sensual and the Idea, or of the incommensurability of the finite and the infinite, whence the prohibition of representation precisely originates—and given that he sketches this gesture vis-à-vis Hegel and, behind him, vis-à-vis the whole philosophical tradition since Plato, insofar as it thinks the beautiful as the eidetic apprehension of being (and Adorno has a very clear consciousness, for example, of the "figurative character of all European art," including music, if only because of the invention of the stilo rappresentativo and of musica ficta), how is it that Adorno was unable to see or did not want to see that in reality Schönberg's endeavor expressly inscribes itself in the canonical tradition of the sublime? This would have in no way prevented him from producing the demonstration that he produces and which is incontestable because the contradiction of Moses is in fact incontestable. But this would have permitted him, perhaps, to reach another "truth" of Moses or to attempt a Rettung which would not be solely aesthetic, that is, imprisoned by the principle of adequation and judging the "failure" or "success" of the work solely from the viewpoint of the beautiful. That is, definitively, judging from the Hegelian point of view.

For, if there is no "critique" to be made, there is all the same a "reproach" to be offered. I will try briefly to explain myself.

One can begin again with this: if Adorno were attentive to the problematic of the sublime—if only he had remembered that Kant offers the prohibition of representation itself as the privileged example of the sublime—he would have been able to maintain his analysis without any essential modifications. In any case, it is the Hegel of the considerations on Judaism and sublimity which props up Adorno's procedure here, whether he knows this or not, and these considerations presuppose the "Analytic of the Sublime." Thus with one stroke he could have returned to all the analyses of purportedly sublime works or works recognized as sublime which, since Kant and Schiller, generally agree with one another in thinking that there is no possible sublime presentation—or, a fortiori, figuration—and thus that the question of the very possibility of a sublime art always arises, at least as long as we continue to define art by (re)presentation. To take an example which Adorno could not but be aware of, this is exactly the difficulty Freud encounters when, on the basis of Schillerian aesthetics (the essay "Grace and Dignity"), he tackles Michelangelo's figure of Moses: not only does he remain perplexed as to the meaning of the figure, but in fact he wonders whether in the end it is still art, that is, if it is "successful" (and it is a "limit," he thinks).

At the same time, one cannot forget that, as regards Kant, leaving out that which arises from nature's sublime (and which poses altogether different problems), the only examples of the sublime given by the Third Critique are examples of sublime utterances (as is traditional since Longinus), of which the most important are not poetic utterances but are, rather, prescriptive utterances and more specifically prohibitions, precisely like the Mosaic Law. Thus Kant speaks of "abstract (or restrictive) representation," indeed, of "negative representation." And because it also bears on representation or figuration, the Mosaic utterance, in its sublime simplicity (it is a purely negative commandment), is evidently a meta-sublime utterance, if I may use this term: It tells the truth of the sublime in a sublime manner: that there is to possible presentation of the meta-physical or of the absolute. Mutatis mutandis, this is a bit like the exclamation "O word, thou word that I lack," which for Adorno completes Schönberg's Moses. But above all, and one must not forget this, Kant says that inasmuch as a "presentation of the sublime" can belong to the fine arts (and one can well imagine why he remains extremely circumspect on this point), the only three modes or genres that one can rigorously recognize as "sublime genres" are (sacred) oratorio, the didactic (that is, philosophical) poem, and verse tragedy (Critique of Judgment).

Now it is precisely these three genres of the art of the sublime—if such a thing exists or can exist—that Moses works together jointly, for it is simultaneously oratorio ("sacred" as Adorno says), philosophical poem (whose subject is nothing less than the absolute itself), and, I will come to this, tragedy (in verse). It is, at least, if we abstract from the opera form. And this is why I ask the question whether Adorno, beyond his critique of the opera as such, might not have been able to accede to another "truth" of the work.

That Moses is an opera, this is particularly difficult to dispute. From the dramaturgical point of view, it has all the faults of the genre: among other things, I am thinking of the episode of worshipping the Golden Calf, which Adorno considers admirable from the viewpoint of musical composition, but which, in the style of an "obligatory ballet" (in the second act, of course), lacks nothing of the lascivious absurdity of the "flower maidens" in Parsifal. But it is already less difficult to dispute that the dramaturgical principles which he obeys are those of the Wagnerian music-drama. Even if Moses can be understood as an anti-Parsifal (which would thus retain all that is essential from that against which it protests), it does not seem to me that one might affirm without further consideration, as does Adorno, that Schönberg has the same attitude toward the biblical text that Wagner has toward the myths that he reelaborates, even if Adorno's argumentation appears from the outset unimpeachable and is difficult to resume. Adorno conducts his demonstration in the following manner:

With the vestiges of a naivety which is perhaps indispensible [Schönberg] puts his trust in proven methods. Not that he is tempted to resort to formulae in order to revive or renew sacred music. But he does strive for a balance between the pure musical development and the desire for monumentality, much as Wagner had done. He too extended his critique of the musical theatre to the bounds of what was possible in his day. But at the same time he wanted the larger-than-life as evidence of the sacred. He deluded himself into believing that he would find it in myths. They are inaccessible to the subjective imagination that aspires to the monumental while suspending the traditional canon of forms which alone would create it. Moses und Aron is traditional in the sense that it follows the methods of Wagnerian dramaturgy without a hiatus. It relates to the biblical narrative in just the same way as the music of the Ring or Parsifal relate to their underlying texts. The central problem is to find musical and dramatic methods whereby to represent the idea of the sacred—that is to say, not a mythical but an anti-mythical event.

There is no doubt that Moses represents a compromise, nor is it doubtful that, as Adorno insists a bit further on, the musical language that Schönberg wanted to enlist in the service of monumentality, subject to dramaturgical constraints that are contrary to him, ruins itself as such: "The new language of music, entirely renovated to its innermost core, speaks as if it were still the old one." And it is true that the "unified pathos" of the work, a pathos which hardly suits "the specifically Jewish inflection" of Moses, causes the musical elaboration, because of this exterior fact, to disavow "the over-specific idea of the work as a whole": "The aesthetic drive towards sensuous expression works to the detriment of what that drive brings into being." Is the dramaturgical model on which Schönberg bases his work that of Wagner?

Adorno points out this contradiction: a mythical dramaturgy with antimythical aims is only in effect a contradiction under two conditions: on the one hand the dramatic action must be of a mythical type, which is not to say that the myth must supply the material for the libretto, but—this at least is the solution Wagner found—that the scenic acts, indeed all the signifiers and mythical cells, must be constantly musically overdetermined (hence, the Leitmotiv). This is not at all the case in Schönberg. (To put it otherwise, Schönberg no doubt aims for a "music-drama," in the broad sense of the term, yet all the same he does not respect Wagnerian dramaturgy.) And on the other hand, it is necessary that opera should wish itself, as Adorno says, a "sacred opera," which Parsifal manifestly wanted to be.

Now it is exactly on this point that Schönberg's lucidity is greatest. His religious intentions, his search for a "great sacred art" are undeniable. Equally undeniable is his determination to write an anti-Parsifal (at bottom, this imposed itself). At the time when Moses was in the works, this determination is indissolubly artistic, philosophical, and political. All the same, he renounced this determination, and not just at any time, but in 1933 precisely. On this point Adorno says what must be said, and not just in any way, though his remarks appear a bit short.

Perhaps it is the case that in all of his argumentation—and this would be at the very least my hypothesis—Adorno twice allows himself to get carried away: the first time by the Wagnero-Nietzschean determination of music-drama, conceived as "new tragedy" or as "modern tragedy," the second time by the Hegelian determination of tragedy.

Hegel defines tragedy, or more exactly the tragic scenario, as "the struggle of new gods against ancient gods." This is obviously the kind of scenario that Adorno rediscovers in Moses: the struggle of monotheism, as he says, against the gods of the tribe. Now as this is also, mutatis mutandis, the Wagnerian scenario (that of the Ring or of Parsifal), it is easy to see how the assimilation of the two is possible. (And this was surely the case, in one way or another, for Schönberg. Even if his true subject lay elsewhere—for as Adorno sees very well, it had to do with the very possibility of art—the rivalry with Wagner, and with Wagnerism, weighed on him with too great a force. Here I must admit that I am allowing myself to be guided by the admirable filmic version of Moses by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, for one must recognize that it is their dramaturgical intuition that is, as it happens, decisive. They stage the first two acts, but not that which remains of the third, in a Greek fashion, even if it is, for this production, actually the Roman theater of Alba Fucense in the Abruzzi region. In its original intention, in fact, Moses is a tragedy.)

But to continue from this point and think that an identity of scenario implies an identity of function, this is a great step. In the direct line of the Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy, but equally that of the Hegel who analyzes tragedy as a "religious" work of art (which is also to say, a political work of art), Adorno spontaneously thinks of tragedy from the starting point of the chorus, and of the chorus as the bearer of "religion" itself, not so much as fervor or belief, but as being-in-community. The chorus is not the people, or the representative of the people (of the spectators); but it is all the same the index that tragedy is originally a common or communitarian work of art, that it is community in and through the work, that is, a work without an individual or singular subject. That all "great art" is in the last resort the creation of a people, this is a dogma of German aesthetics from Hegel to Heidegger. And despite everything—I mean: despite "critical theory"—Adorno accepts this dogma right up to the moment in which it is revealed that the failure of a music which "extends a hand to the cult" with such force and determination has to do with the fact that such a music, not-withstanding the affirmation of the "obligatory character" of its content, fails in being "substantial" in the Hegelian sense, because it is too "willed." An art can only attain greatness if the subject which carries it is—Adorno of course does not say: the people—society. This is why at bottom Adorno condenses all the questions of Moses in this question, itself of a transcendental sort: How is a cultic music simply possible outside of any cult? This is also to say, outside of any religious belonging and of any faith, and above all outside of all (social effectiveness of the cultic. I attach here, with no commentary, the two following pieces:

The impossibility of the sacred work of art becomes increasingly evident the more the work insists on its claim to be one without invoking the support of any outside authority. With the modesty characteristic of the greatest emotional integrity, Schonberg ventured into this realm. The objection that the individual is no longer capable of the subjective piety which the biblical story calls for misses the mark. Bruckner was presumably a believer in an anachronistic sense and as musically inspired as any composer can be. Yet the Promised Land remained closed to him, and perhaps even to the Beethoven of the Missa Solemnis. The impossibility we are speaking of extends right into the objective preconditions of the form. Sacred works of art—and the fact that Moses und Aron was written as an opera does not disqualify it from being one—claim that their substance is valid and binding, beyond all yearning and subjective expression. The very choice of canonical biblical events implies such a claim. It is certainly implicit in the pathos of the music of Moses und Aron, whose intensity gives reality to a communal 'we' at every moment, a collective consciousness that takes precedence over every individual feeling, something of the order of the togetherness of a congregation. Were it otherwise, the predominance of the choruses would scarcely be imaginable. Without this transindividual element or, in other words, if it were merely a case of what is known as religious lyric poetry, the music would simply accompany the events or illustrate them. The compulsion to introduce into the music a sense of its own intellectual situation, to organize it in such a way that it expresses the underlying foundation of the events described, in short, its high aesthetic seriousness forces it into a collective stance. It must of necessity extend a hand to the cult if it is not entirely to fail its own intention. But cultic music cannot simply be willed. Anyone who goes in search of it compromises the very concept. (translation slightly modified)

We may legitimately ask what produced the conception of this work in the light of such immense difficulties, which may be compared to those experienced twenty years before in connection with Die Jakobsleiter. It is not the product of that misconceived monumentality, that unlegitimated gesture of authority which marks so much of the pictorial arts of the nineteenth century, from Puvis de Chavannes down to Marées. Of course it was Schönberg's own individual makeup that provided the critical impetus. His parents do not seem to have been orthodox in their beliefs, but it may be supposed that the descendant of a family of Bratislava Jews living in the Leopoldstadt, and anything but fully emancipated, was not wholly free of that subterranean mystical tradition to be found in many of his contemporaries of similar origins, men such as Kraus, Kafka and Mahler.

The Enlightenment displaced the theological heritage, shifting it on to the plane of the apocryphal, as we can infer from Schönberg's own autobiographical remarks. In particular, superstition survived tenaciously in his life and he often reflected on it. It is doubtless an instance of secularized mysticism. The experience of pre-fascist Germany, in which he rediscovered his Jewish roots, must have released this repressed dimension of his nature. Moses und Aron was composed directly before the outbreak of the Third Reich, probably as a defensive reaction to what was about to sweep over him. Later, even after Hitler's fall, he did not return to the score.

It is hardly doubtful that a question of the transcendental type is fundamental to Moses, and it would probably have been difficult for it to be otherwise if one considers that which in the German tradition regularly associated Kant and the figure of Moses ("Kant is the Moses of our nation," said Hölderlin). But it is perhaps not so certain that this question bears on the possibility of a sacred art in the final analysis.

In reality Adorno's demonstration is only possible inasmuch as it attaches itself almost exclusively to the music and remains perfectly indifferent to the rest, which is to say, if you will, to the text. This will not in any way be reduced to the libretto, but implies, beyond the scenario itself (in its strange loyalty to the biblical text, which Adorno greatly underestimates all the same), the dramaturgical structures which this scenario induces (for example, the chorus, which is in effect the people, is not Greek at all and in no way has a relation of the tragic type to the protagonists, despite immediate appearances) and, above all, the poem. Now not only does Adorno pay no attention to the text of Act III, under the pretext that it is not set to music (even so, this is decisive for the meaning that Schönberg expressly wished to confer upon the work, which thus concludes, as it is effectively written, with a pardon), but he systematically minimizes the problem of the relation between thought and language, a relation which is central, by assigning it to an inevitably subjective and profane ("heretical") interpretation of revelation, even though it is perhaps here that the transcendental question is articulated for Moses himself.

This exclusive attention accorded the music verifies itself in a privileged manner in the final Rettung, which is entirely given over to demonstrating the "success" of the work, which is to say, its adequation, despite the fundamental contradiction between intention and composition which subtends the opera. All of this comes down to displaying an internal adequation of the musical texture itself (identified infine with the final accomplishment, by way of musical genius, of the passage to monotheism), which properly redeems the fault that had consisted in making musica ficta serve against the figure. And it is such an adequation which fundamentally re-establishes, beyond the peripeteias of "great art" in the bourgeois era, the enigmatic but unseverable link between music and Jewishness.

At the same time, if one pays attention this time to the critical aspect of the analysis, it is still this exclusive attention to the music which explains that besides the main grievance (music would be the image of that which eludes all images), one of the major accusations bears on the "unified pathos" of the work. As Adorno very clearly indicates, the incrimination does not take aim only at the "factitious" character of pathos, which arises because the religious content has lost all "substantiality." As a result of this, the "new language," withdrawing from itself, "speaks as if it were still the old one," according to a compromise of the Wagnerian type between monumentality and musical modernity, which authorizes Adorno to speak of the strangely "traditional" effect of Moses. Nor does it take aim only at the insufficient differentiation of the couple formed by Moses and Aaron, the one who speaks and the one who sings, due this time to the "imitative" over-determination of the music. Moses, says Adorno, should not speak, for in the Bible he stutters. He adds that "it highlights the crisis of an art which makes use of this text purely as art and of its own free will." But it essentially aims for obedience to the Wagnerian principle of the unity of language, which "cannot accommodate what the subject matter requires above all: the strict separation of Moses' monotheism from the realm of myth, the regression to the tribal gods. The pathos of the music is identical in both." And it is here, moreover, that Adorno puts his fundamental hermeneutic principle into play, one which is borrowed once again from Benjamin, this time from the Benjamin of the celebrated essay "Goethe's Elective Affinities." For he explains that if one wishes to break the "vicious circle" of "entrapment in the coils of myth" which alone justifies the unity of language and technique in Wagner, "the caesura was to be decisive." But, he remarks, "the rupture was to become music." This is evidently not the case:

The undifferentiated unity from which the ruthless process of integration allows nothing to be exempted comes into collision with the idea of the One itself. Moses and the Dance round the Golden Calf actually speak the same language in the opera, although the latter must aim to distinguish between them. This brings us close to the source of traditionalism in Schönberg, an issue which has only started to become visible in recent decades and especially since his death. In his eyes the idea of musical vocabulary as the organ of meaning was still instinctive and unquestioned. This vocabulary imagined itself able to articulate everything at any time. But this assumption was shaken by Schönberg's own innovations.

To put it in other words, Schönberg betrays his own modernism. He bases his work on the codified syntax of tonality while his atonality would demand that he break it, in conformity with the subject of the work (which would thus be, one must believe: how is it that only atonal music is adequate to the monotheistic idea?). Because of this, Schönberg would be a victim of his epoch, exactly as Schiller was for Hegel. He would succumb to the bourgeois idea of genius, which is to say—but Adorno, precisely, does not say this and probably could not say this, at least not as crudely—of the sublime. But all the same, it is this which is at stake; the lexicon does not fool us:

This introduces a fictional element into the actual construction which so energetically opposes one. The situation points back to an illusion from which the bourgeois spirit has never been able to free itself: that of the unhistorical immortality of art. It forms a perfect complement to that decorative stance from which the Schonbergian innovations had effected their escape. The belief in genius, that metaphysical transfiguration of bourgeois individualism, does not allow any doubt to arise that great men can achieve great things at any time and that the greatest achievements are always available to them. No doubt can be permitted to impugn the category of greatness, not even for Schönberg. A justified scepticism towards that belief, which is based on a naive view of culture as a whole, is to be found in that specialization which Schönberg rightly opposed on the grounds that it acquiesced in the division of labor and renounced that extreme of the aesthetic, the sole legitimation of art.

A verdict without appeal, but which is all the same astonishing on the part of someone who bases his work on the past existence of a "great sacred art" in order to condemn any and all factitious "restorations," as if at the same time, to put it by way of a shortcut, the sublime (grandeur) were a bourgeois invention and "great sacred art" were not a retrospective illusion—a projection—of the educated German bourgeoisie from Hegel to Heidegger, or from Kant to Adorno himself. That "aesthetic extremism" should be "the sole legitimation of art" for us, today, this is not doubtful. Who knows if this was not the case for Sophocles, or for Bach? And who knows if it is not precisely this that Wagner betrayed with his "compromises," but not Schönberg, who, as a victim of the bourgeois mythology of art—as Adorno is right to emphasize—all the same chose to abandon (one can suppose: knowing full well the cause of his decision) Moses, to interrupt it, rather than present supplementary evidence for the re-mythologization of art and of religion.

In any case, the question remains: What exactly does Adorno mean when he declares that the rupture (or the caesura) should have made "itself music"? It is easy to see that what is incriminated here is the too powerful homogeneity of the music, its flawless density which paradoxically (or, rather, dialectically) "redeems" or "saves" it as music to the detriment of the work itself in its project, that is, as a "sacred opera." The opposition of the Sprechgesang and the melos, to put it otherwise, does not "caesure" the continuity of the musical discourse, nor therefore does it bring out the monotheistic idea. The unity of language is pagan, idolatrous. But is the caesura simply a matter of differentiation internal to language—indeed, of the clear-cut opposition of voices? In what sense, at bottom, does Adorno understand "caesura"? And, an inseparable question: Why does he make so little of the interruption of the work—apparently accidental, "empirical," but does one ever know?—and above all, why does he make so little of the very strange mode in which this interruption comes about? I do not at all wish to suggest that the interruption is the caesura, but perhaps rather that the caesura, more inaudible to Adorno's ear than it is invisible to his eyes, masks itself in the interruption—which, from then on, would no longer be thinkable as interruption.

Here of course we must credit Adorno, in an analogous manner to that which he uses with the word Rettung, for using the word caesura in the enlarged but rigorous sense which Benjamin gives it in his essay on Goethe, where it is the technical term forged by Hölderlin for his structural theory of tragedy which is elevated to the level of a general critical (or aesthetic) concept: all works are organized as such from the starting point of the caesura inasmuch as the caesura is the hiatus, the suspension or the "anti-rhythmic" interruption which is not only necessary, as in metrics, to the articulation and the equilibrium of verse (of the phrase and, by extension, of what one might call the work phrase), but, more essentially, the place whence that which Hölderlin calls "pure speech" surges forth. The caesura, to put it otherwise, is the liberation by default—but a non-negative default—of the meaning itself or of the truth of the work. And from the critical point of view, it is only the caesura that indicates, in the work, the place that one must reach in order to accede to the Wahrheitsgehalt.

On the basis of this hermeneutic model, Adorno is right to look for the caesura in Moses, as in any supposedly great work. Perhaps his only fault is to look for it, by "melocentrism," only in the music. For if one takes stock of what Schönberg effectively wrote, one can just as well construct the hypothesis that it is at the very place where the music—but not the work—interrupts itself, that is, precisely where Moses proclaims that the word (speech) fails him: "O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!"

Indeed, it is well known that up until the end of the second act Schönberg simultaneously composed the libretto and the score. And that at the moment when he was to begin composing the third act—whether it is an accidental cause or not does not matter here—abruptly and without giving any indication exactly why, he only wrote the text of one scene, the scene where Moses, who reaffirms his "idea," pardons Aaron or at least orders that he not be executed. And here again it is necessary to recognize that the dramaturgical choice of Straub and Huillet is particularly illuminating: for not only do they play this merely spoken scene in the unbearable silence which succeeds the unfurling of the music, a silence that Adorno analyzes so well, but they have it played in a place other than that which, since the outset, was properly the stage or the theater. They do this in such a way that it is not only the tragic apparatus as Adorno understands it that collapses in a single stroke, but the entire apparatus which kept Moses within the frame of opera or music-drama. And it is here, probably, that religion is interrupted.

If such an indication is fair, if, dramaturgically, one must take into account this rupture or this hiatus and the passage to simple speech—for such is the enigma of that which remains of Schönberg's work—then there is indeed a caesura, and it clarifies the truth of the work in another way. In particular, it no longer permits one to refer the difference in enunciation between the two protagonists to Schönberg's submission to the imperatives of musica ficta (and of Wagnerian dramaturgy). It is from this principle that the music must despoil itself and remain nothing other than naked speech.

Beyond its structural function, in Hölderlin the caesura signifies—and it is because of this that it holds Benjamin's attention—the interruption necessary for tragic truth to appear, which is to say, the necessary sepa-ration, the necessary cut which must (but in the sense of a sollen) produce itself in the process of infinite collusion between the human and the divine which is the tragic flaw itself, hubris. The tragic separation, the uncoupling of God and man (which Hölderlin interprets as /catharsis), thus signifies the law of finitude, which is to say, the impossibility of the immediate: "For mortals just as for immortals, the immediate is prohibited." An immediate interpretation of the divine (Oedipus) is no more possible than an immediate identification with the divine (Antigone). Mediation is the law [Gesetz,] a law, moreover, that Hölderlin thinks in a rigorously Kantian fashion (as when he speaks of the "categorical diversion" of the divine which brings about the imperative obligation for man to return toward the earth).

From here on, according to this model—and according to the logic of the extension of the concept inaugurated by Benjamin and apparently recognized by Adorno himself—why should we not think that insofar as it strikes and suspends the music in the course of a brief and dry scene, the caesura in Moses brutally makes it appear that Moses, the inflexible guardian of the Law and the defender of his own great—of his own sublime—conception of God, is also the one who by virtue of immoderation wants to be the too immediate interpreter of God: the mouth or the organ of the absolute, the very voice of God as its truth. This is why in never ceasing to proclaim the unrepresentability of God, indeed his ineffability, neither will he cease (on the same ground of musica ficta where Aaron moves around in all his ease) from striving to sing and not to confine himself strictly to speech, as if, by the effect of a compromise induced by his rivalry with Aaron, he were secretly tempted by the idea of a possible presentation (a sublime presentation, according to the rules of his great eloquence) of the true God, of the unpresentable itself. To the point where, for lack of speech or a word, in the despairing recognition of this lack—and here, precisely at this phrase the caesura is situated—he is swallowed up by his own great audacity and the music interrupts itself. By this one may under-stand why, in the only scene of the final act, all "sobriety" as Hölderlin would have said, Moses grants his pardon, which is to say that he renounces murder. Thus is verified the profound insight that underlies Freud's Moses and Monotheism, according to which the prohibition of representation is nothing other than the prohibition of murder.

Such is the reason for which that which interrupts itself along with the music, that which is "caesured," is religion itself, if religion is defined as the belief in a possible (re)presentation of the divine, that is, if religion is unthinkable without an art or as an art (which, happily, does not mean—"we have passed this step"—that art would be unthinkable without religion or as religion). What is at stake here, in the interruption of that which was without a doubt at the outset the project of a "sacred opera," is the very thing that Adorno considers beyond doubt for Schönberg: the figurativity of music. But in order to recognize this, it would have been necessary for Adorno to have been ready to read Moses, and not simply to hear it. Or it would have been necessary perhaps for him to have been able to recognize, in according more credit (or confidence) to Schönberg, the limits of his own musical mysticism.

At one moment in his analysis, Adorno notes this:

Schönberg's own need to express is one that rejects mediation and convention and therefore one which names its object directly. Its secret model is that of revealing the Name. Whatever subjective motive lay behind Schönberg's choice of a religious work, it possessed an objective aspect from the very outset—a purely musical one in the first instance.

But is it not the same Adorno who had written some years earlier:

The language of music is quite different from the language of intentionality. It contains a theological dimension. What it has to say is simultaneously revealed and concealed. Its Idea is the divine Name which has been given shape. It is demythologized prayer, rid of efficacious magic. It is the human attempt, doomed as ever, to name the Name, not to communicate meanings.

For Adorno as for Schönberg, music in its very intention would, in short, come under the horizon of that which Benjamin called "pure language," which is perhaps not without a rapport to that which Hölderlin, on the subject of the caesura, called "pure speech." But the Name, as Adorno well knows, is unpronounceable—and music is a vain prayer, the sublime as such, according to its most tried and true code since Kant: "[Music's] Idea is the divine Name which has been given shape." An art (of the) beyond (of) signification, which is to say, (of the) beyond (of) representation. All the same, under the "O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!" that Moses proclaims in the last burst of music, it is not prohibited to hear resonating an "O Name, du Name, der mir fehlt!" As when Kant takes as his major example of the sublime utterance the very prohibition of representation (the Mosaic law), this is in reality a meta-sublime utterance which tells in a sublime manner—and the passage to the naked word in Act III of Moses is absolutely sublime—the truth of the sublime, itself sublime. Ultimate paradox: the naked word—the language of signification itself—comes to tell of the impossible beyond signification, something which Benjamin would not have denied, and to signify the transcendental illusion of expression. This is why Moses is not "successful." It is "unsaveable" if for Adorno "to save" never means anything other than to consider art-works according to the scale of adequation, which is to say, of beauty: the religious gesture par excellence. Now what Moses says precisely, but despite itself—and one must well imagine Schönberg constrained and forced, which is after all the lot of every modern artist—is that art is religion in the limits of simple inadéquation; probably the end, in every sense, of religion. Or to be more just: the caesura of religion.

Michael Strasser (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6229

SOURCE: '"A Survivor from Warsaw' as Personal Parable," in Music & Letters, Vol. 76, No. 1, February, 1995, pp. 52-63.

[In the following essay, Strasser contends that A Survivor from Warsaw is the story of Schoenberg 's experiences as a Jew.]

Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46, is undoubtedly one of his most immediately powerful expressions and, in terms of public acceptance, one of the more successful of his later works. Widely and justifiably viewed as a fitting memorial to the millions of Jews who lost their lives during World War II, A Survivor from Warsaw can also be considered as a musical and literary testament to Schoenberg's own spiritual struggle—a personal parable of his experiences as a Jew.

The idea for a work honouring the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany was apparently suggested to Schoenberg in early 1947 by Corinne Chochem, a dancer of Russian origin who had organized programmes of Jewish dances in New York in the 1930s and was co-author of a book containing music, choreography and photographs illustrating dances performed by Palestinian Jews. In her first extant letter to Schoenberg, dated 2 April 1947, she informs him:

I have written to New York for a correct translation of the song 'I Believe the Messiah Will Come' but as yet have not received it.

I am enclosing the music and words to a Partisan Song that was sung by the Vilna Ghetto. I was able to find many verses both in English and in Hebrew, as well as in Yiddish. I am sending you the English words only and if you are interested I will also send you the Hebrew. Two versions of this melody with very slight variation have appeared in different publications and I am submitting both.

Thank you so much for your co-operation and understanding and please call on me for whatever additional help I can give you.

The first extant letter from Schoenberg to Chochem was written some three weeks later (20 April 1947), and it is in this letter that we find the first reference to the work that became A Survivor from Warsaw:

I think it is the best to tell you at once the fee I want to receive for a composition of 6-9 minutes for small orchestra and chorus, perhaps also one or more soloists on the melodie [sic] you gave me.

I plan to make it this scene—which you described—in the Warsaw Ghetto, how the doomed Jews started singing, before going to die.

My fee should be $1000.00 (one thousand) for which I sell you the right to make and sell records.

I hope you do not find this fee extravagant. It is not, because I got for a piece of 4 1/2 minutes for my prelude to the Genesis from Mr. Shilkret $1500.00.

I hope, when you agree to pay this sum to receive also the translations.

From these two letters we can assume that Chochem had approached Schoenberg about the possibility of composing a work that would describe a scene similar to that which is represented in A Survivor from Warsaw. She evidently envisaged a piece that would use a pre-existing song—possibly one or both of the two mentioned in her letter of 2 April. Schoenberg's request for translations indicates that, at this early stage, he was thinking along the same lines.

Chochem's handwritten reply, dated simply 'Monday', must have been written on 21 April, immediately after she received Schoenberg's letter.

Thank you very kindly for your prompt reply.

We really should have talked over the financial arrangements at our first meeting, but I was sure Dr. Toch had explained to you my financial capacity. I wish I were in the position of a wealthy patron. However, my recognition and awareness as to what such an album would be to Jewish cultural life and to the musical world in general is greater than my ability to pay adequately. Unless the composers are willing to help me carry this project through I may have to stop right there.

You have no idea how anxious I am to have your cooperation … Would it be alright if I send you $200 and on completion $300 additional? Would you perhaps wish to make just one side of a record (12 inches)?

I am planning to go to San Francisco for a while and would like to meet with you before I do so—If you can possibly see me—I will be glad to come to your house.

In addition to signalling the alarm she felt over the size of Schoenberg's requested fee, Chochem's letter reveals that she was planning to issue a gramophone album of new works by several composers, one of whom was possibly Ernst Toch, who also apparently introduced her to Schoenberg. Perhaps Chochem had conceived of a collection of pieces based on Jewish melodies; or she may have intended to pay homage to Jewish victims of World War II. In any case, she may have been influenced in her plans by the Genesis Suite commissioned by Nathaniel Shilkret in 1944, for which Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Toch, among others, had contributed movements.

Two days later (23 April 1947), Schoenberg again wrote to Chochem, explaining that his time Was principally devoted to finishing several projects left uncompleted when he retired, stating that when he took on other work he could only do it to earn extra income 'because my grocer and the State (asking taxes) demand it'. In response to Chochem's appeal to his generosity in helping her complete her project, Schoenberg pointedly argued that 'I have done throughout my whole life so much for idealistic ends (and so little has to be [sic] returned to me in kind) that I have done my duty'. He refused to reduce his fee, but offered to accept an initial payment of $500, with the balance in monthly instalments paid 'by the recording company'. If she was able to make the necessary financial arrangements, Schoenberg reminded Chochem that he 'would like to have as soon as possible the story and the translation of the text'.

There is no further extant correspondence between Chochem and Schoenberg, and it appears that Chochem abandoned her ambitious scheme. Schoenberg, however, was apparently inspired by their discussions to pursue the idea of a work based on the events of the Holocaust and proceeded on his own. In the first week of July, he received a letter (dated 1 July) from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, reminding him that the Foundation was still interested in commissioning an orchestral work. Schoenberg wrote back on 7 July 1947:

It is a co-incidence.

A little more than a month ago I had started a composition for orchestra and had planned to ask the Koussevitzky Foundation whether the commission for a work like that is still in force.

You will understand that my answer to your letter from July 1, 1947 is: yes. I accept with pleasure the renewal of the commission and will try to finish this composition in about two or (perhaps: I never know) six weeks.

But at the same time I would like to tell you, that I have not yet decided upon the definite form of the piece. My original plan was to write it for a small group of about 24 musicians, one or two 'speakers' and a mens [sic] choir of an adequate size. It is still in my hands to make it a 'symphonic poem' for standard orchestra without speakers and choir—if the commission demands this.

I must receive your answer as soon as possible, because I would like to make now a definite decision.

A week later (14 July 1947), Margaret Grant, Executive Secretary of the Foundation, wrote to assure Schoenberg that he had the freedom to cast the work as he saw fit:

It is true that a 'symphonic poem' for standard orchestra might be easier to perform and would probably be heard more frequently. Nevertheless, Dr. Koussevitzky feels that it is importnat for you to have complete liberty to choose, and that it would be most interesting to have from you a composition such as you have described.

Schoenberg's letter implies that he had begun working on his new piece in June, but according to annotations on the autograph score the actual composition took only thirteen days (11-23 August 1947). On 24 August 1947, Schoenberg wrote to Koussevitzky:

I am happy to inform you that the piece you commissioned for the Koussevitzky Foundation is finished…

I could not change the piece into a symphonic poem as I had hoped to do. It would not have been the same thing, I wanted to express. But, though I employ one narrator and a mens [sic] choir, I could at least eliminate the second speaker—it required many changes!

I don't know whether you are aquainted [sic] with the fact that for more than twenty years I abandonned [sic] the habit of writing a conventional score but used a manner of condensation by avoiding transposition in clarinets, horns etc.

But since my illness three years ago I am suffering from a nervous eye trouble which prevents small writing. I was forced to have a special music paper made for me and this is why my manuscript might surprise you. You will understand that as long as this illness lasts I am unable to write music in another manner—but these manuscripts always contain—except for possible errores [sic]—all I can say, in music at least.

In addition to the musical manuscript I send you the manuscript of the text…

Schoenberg closed his letter by asking Koussevitzky to send his commissioning fee 'as soon as possible, because I am in the hands of terrible crooks: publishers, recording companies etc' In December 1947, under the composer's direction. René Leibowitz prepared a full orchestral score of the work from Schoenberg's 'condensed' (particelle) autograph score.

Except for a brief statement in Koussevitzky's first letter to Schoenberg concerning the commission (1 April 1944) which notes that the composer 'retains all rights to the composition', there is no discussion of performance rights in the extant correspondence between Schoenberg and the Koussevitzky Foundation. One might reasonably assume, however, that the completed work would have been given its première by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as had been the case with all but one of the orchestral works commissioned by the Foundation between its establishment in 1942 and 1947. But in fact A Survivor from Warsaw was first heard not in Boston or in any other major centre but in the provincial south-western city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

On 12 March 1948, Schoenberg received a letter from Kurt Frederick, conductor of the Albuquerque Civic Orchestra, who, as part of his efforts to promote twentieth-century music, had previously contacted Schoenberg about securing performance materials for Pierrot lunaire:

Just recently I heard that you wrote a composition for a men's chorus and small orchestra. This is to ask whether it would be possible for me to obtain the score, and whether, if the composition does not prove too difficult, there would be a chance of our performing it in Albuquerque?

Schoenberg sent a copy of the score to Frederick on 20 March 1948. In a follow-up letter dated 23 March 1948, Richard Hoffmann, who was serving as Schoenberg's assistant at the time, informed Frederick: 'In the event that you perform the cantata, Mr. Schoenberg, in place of accepting a performance fee, agrees that you give him the copyright parts'.

Frederick, recognizing the implications of Schoenberg's request, quickly wrote to Hoffmann (26 March 1948) to ask for clarification:

There was one point in your letter which I did not understand. It was in connection with the right of performance of the 'Survivor'. Did you mean that I ought to copy the orchestra material and send it to Mr. Schoenberg after the performance instead of paying a fee for the performance? And if so, does that mean that Albuquerque would have the first performance of this composition? This would be, of course, a tremendous boost for our young orchestra, and would make my work in behalf of contemporary good music much easier. I also have no doubt that in this case I could meet our board's opposition against performances of modern music easily.

Please answer soon.

Hoffman's reply (31 March 1948) reassured Frederick that

the matter stands just as you describe in your letter … Yes it means that you would give the work its first performance, but, Mr. Schoenberg would like to draw your attention to the fact that copyists consider their work of great importance and charge accordingly!

Schoenberg's awarding of the première of his new composition to Frederick and his amateur orchestra raised eyebrows in some quarters. Ross Parmenter, writing in the New York Times in advance of the première, noted:

Arnold Schoenberg has never been prolific. A world premiere of one of his new works is news. It is doubly so when he bestows it unexpectedly on an out-of-the-way amateur organization. And that is what he has done…

Having been commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the work was expected to be played for the first time by the Boston Symphony. The Albuquerque premiere was a surprise even to Serge Koussevitzky, who said he was very 'pleased' when the news was relayed to him last week.

The première of A Survivor from Warsaw, originally scheduled for 7 September 1948, did not take place until the orchestra's second concert of the season on 4 November 1948 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque under Frederick's direction. Immediately after the performance, Frederick wrote to Schoenberg

to thank you for having allowed me to perform A Survivor from Warsaw in Albuquerque. The study of this work was a great experience for me and for every single one of the performers.

I would like to tell you who the performers were. The orchestra, an amateur organization, consisted of lawyers, doctors, secretaries, high school and university students, railroad engineers, etc. Besides our community chorus and the university chorus, a chorus from Estancia asked for the honor of singing the 'Sch'me jisroel'. Estancia is a community of about 1000 inhabitants, predominantly farmers. The singers from Estancia had to drive 120 miles to come to rehearsals and to the performance in Albuquerque. I have never before experienced the devotion with which the above groups studied your composition. I doubt that any professional organization could have shown as much enthusiasm.

The performance was a tremendous success. The audience of over 1600 was shaken by the composition and applauded until we repeated the performance. This happened in a town, which a few years ago was considered to be a small 'Railroad Town'.

Schoenberg's reply, dated 12 November 1948, indicates his pleasure at hearing of the successful première of his new work. It also offers some insight into why he was willing to trust Frederick with the first performance:

Your enthusiasm and capacity seems to have produced a miracle, about which not only Albuquerque, but probably the whole of Amerika [sic] 'kopfstehen wird'.

I am very glad that I had the good sense to give you the performance in this small city and I did so, especially on the basis of your personal data. They convinced me that you are a real Viennese musician of the best tradition, but simultaneously with modernistic spirit which in Vienna is not so rare as the conservative party in Vienna would like to make believe.

I thank you most cordially.

The emotional impact that A Survivor from Warsaw had on the performers and audience at the Albuquerque première has not dimmed with time. The source of the work's effect on audiences is not difficult to fathom, for the event to which it bears witness—the brutal and systematic annihilation of most of Europe's Jewish population—is a crime unparalleled in the annals of human history. To audiences of the late 1940s and the 1950s, for whom the bitter experiences of world war were still vivid, A Survivor from Warsaw must have carried a special meaning. Today, when the passage of time has, for many, dulled the sense of shock and outrage that the revelation of Nazi barbarism once provoked—when even the word 'holocaust' has seemingly lost its power to evoke the terror of the death camps—Schoenberg's composition continues to serve as an eloquent reminder of the enormity of the crime that took place half a century ago.

The reports of mass murder that began to filter out of Germany during the war must have shocked Schoenberg, but they certainly came as no surprise. As early as 1923, he foresaw the consequences of German anti-Semitism. In a letter to Wassily Kandinsky dated 4 May of that year, he asked: 'But what is anti-Semitism to lead to if not to acts of violence? Is it so difficult to imagine that?' His growing interest in the Jewish nationalist movement and his increasing concern over the fate of German Jews led him to draft a forceful and detailed plan of action just before he left France for the United States in October 1933. He asserted that it was his intention

to engage in large scale propaganda among all of Jewry in the United States and also later to other countries, designed first of all to get them to produce the financial means sufficient to pay for the gradual emigration of the Jews from Germany. I propose to move the Jewish community to its very depths by a graphic description of what lies in store for the German Jews, unless they receive help within the next two or three months.

Schoenberg specified exactly how he intended to accomplish this goal (indicating, as Alexander Ringer points out, an understanding of the power of propaganda rivalling that of Joseph Goebbels or Frank Capra) and then revealed how important this campaign was to him: 'I offer the sacrifice of my art to the Jewish cause. And I bring my offer enthusiastically, because for me nothing stands above my people.' Considering Schoenberg's deeply held views about his role as an artist, this statement serves as the best possible indication of the depth of his commitment to the cause of Jewish survival.

In spite of his efforts, Schoenberg was frustrated in his attempts to awaken public awareness to the dangerous situation. By 1938, when he wrote 'A Four-Point Program for Jewry' (a document characterized by Ringer as 'Schoenberg's political testament'), he realized that the growing spectre of war meant that the Nazi contagion would very likely spread across Europe. Within the next year, he must also have realized that his terrible vision was becoming reality and that there was no longer anything he could do to help.

One can only begin to imagine the anguish Schoenberg must have felt during the war years. For him the tragedy took on a personal meaning when he discovered shortly after Hitler was defeated that his brother Heinrich had not survived. Later, he learnt that a cousin, Arthur Schönberg, had also perished. Without doubt, there were others among his circle of friends and acquaintances who were lost.

On the surface, it appears only natural that Schoenberg would seek to memorialize the Jewish victims of Nazism and that such a musical tribute would be deeply expressive. That A Survivor from Warsaw succeeds at this level is attested to by its reception at the first performance. I feel, however, that the work held a deeper, personal meaning for its composer and that much of the emotional impact of the work arises from the fact that Schoenberg saw in this tragic and inspiring story a parallel to the events of his own spiritual struggle.

This correspondence between the text and musical structure of A Survivor from Warsaw and Schoenberg's own experience has been overlooked by commentators, who have focused on the historical aspects of the story, especially its supposed connection with the Jewish uprising which took place in the Warsaw ghetto during the spring of 1943. Michael Steinberg, for example, in a Boston Globe review of a 1969 performance of A Survivor from Warsaw by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, described the work as

a short, intensely concentrated music drama whose subject is an episode in the battle that began [on] April 19, 1943, in the Warsaw ghetto. A survivor tells the story of a group of Jews, who, at the moment of their deportation to the death camp, suddenly, in a last flaring of spirit and faith, burst into singing the prayer Shema Yisroel.

The title of the work is partly responsible for the tendency for writers to link the story to the Warsaw revolt. The narrator's reference to living in the sewers also plays a role in creating the impression that Warsaw is the setting, since it is well known that the sewers were used by the Jewish resistance fighters.

In fact, the events described in A Survivor from Warsaw have no specific relationship to the 1943 battle. The setting of the story is not Warsaw but a concentration camp. There are several clues to this fact in the narration. First, the narrator states that 'the day began as usual', thus implying that the prisoners were used to a routine such as one would find in a camp. The trumpets sound reveille, and the prisoners are awakened from an uneasy sleep. They come out of what are apparently barracks of some kind, and one of the prisoners urges the others to hurry. 'Get out! The sergeant will be furious!' This sergeant is obviously someone who is well known to the inmates; the narrator tells us that 'they fear the sergeant'. A further indication that the story is set in a concentration camp is the FeldwebeUs statement, 'In einer Minute will ich wissen, wie viele ich zur Gaskammer abliefere!' The decision as to who would be sent to the gas chamber was one made at the camps, not at deportation sites. It is highly unlikely that Schoenberg would have used the term Gaskammer as a synonym for Konzentrationslager, especially considering the care with which he handled other details of the text.

It is quite possible, however, that even though it is set in a concentration camp, the story ofA Survivor from Warsaw is actually based on an event that took place in Warsaw. Rene Leibowitz, who undoubtedly discussed the work with Schoenberg during the period when he was copying the orchestral score, wrote that Schoenberg based the text on a story related to him by a young man who had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto. This could very well be true, and should not automatically be viewed as contradicting the evidence of Corinne Chochem's role in presenting the subject to Schoenberg. After all, the composer indicated at the head of the score that the text was 'based partly upon reports which I have received directly or indirectly'. But by the time he composed A Survivor from Warsaw he had moved away from the depiction of any specific event. This tragic story had become for him a symbol—a parable—of his own spiritual struggle and that of his people throughout history.

The evidence suggests that when Schoenberg constructed his text he sought to dissociate the story from a specific incident, deliberately obscuring details of time and place in order to emphasize its symbolic character. As noted above, the scene is not Warsaw but an anonymous concentration camp. Precise time references have been removed as well. One early sketch of the narrator's text begins: "I cannot remember all that happened the last day [my italics] before I lived underground, in the sewers of Warsaw'. In the final version of the text, in which the narrator states simply, 'I have no recollection how I got underground to live in the sewers of Warsaw for so long a time', the listener no longer knows exactly when the events of the story took place.

Thus, the final version of the text is constructed in such a way as to blur the background, thereby throwing the central event of the story into sharper focus. The narrator's recollection of events mirrors this emphasis; he is very vague about how he arrived in the sewers of Warsaw, but he remembers the events leading up to the singing of the 'Shema Yisroel'—wherever and whenever they took place—in great detail.

The key to understanding A Survivor from Warsaw lies in the second sentence of the text: 'I remember only the grandiose moment when they all started to sing, as if prearranged, the old prayer they had neglected for so many years—the forgotten creed!' Surely no witness would have reported an incident to Schoenberg in such terms. The words are entirely his, and they reflect his perception of the elemental truth contained in the reports that he heard.

Let us remember the events of the story. The prisoners are run out of their barracks into the predawn darkness. They have not slept; they are worried about their families. They are shouted at, beaten, and then ordered to count off so that they can be sent to the gas chamber. In a sense, they are told to organize their own execution. Every action taken by the Nazis against them has been coldly calculated to rob them of their humanity—simply because they are Jews. Finally, at the point at which they face the ultimate humiliation and the ultimate horror—at the point when one would expect them to break—their Jewishness becomes a positive, defiant force. This is what gives the climactic moment of the work its power; this is what Schoenberg recognized to be the essence of the reports he had received; and this is what moved him so profoundly—for he saw this story as an analogue to his own experience.

Schoenberg converted early in life to the Protestant faith. Like so many other Austrian Jews, he was moved by a desire to enter into the mainstream of Viennese life, and saw his conversion as a passport to acceptability. However, amid a rising tide of anti-Semitism and the growth of Jewish consciousness personified by the writings of, among others, Theodore Herzl and the activities of Benno Straucher, Schoenberg found it harder to avoid confronting the issue of his Jewishness. Ringer states that

When, three years after [World War I] in what was ostensibly a liberal republic, Schoenberg and his family found that Jews could no longer vacation in an Austrian resort of their choice, the composer, struck to the heart, diversted himself of whatever illusions he had left about any possible benefits of assimilation and conversion and with typical vigor and determination plunged headlong into his personal search for constructive answers to the Jewish question.

Over the next decade, Schoenberg and all other German and Austrian Jews were faced with ever more humiliating reminders of their deteriorating position. The situation grew increasingly intolerable for Schoenberg after he moved to Berlin in 1925. Finally, in September 1932, in the face of growing Nazi political power and the increasing arrogance of the 'swastika-swaggerers and pogromists', as he had previously described Hitler and his thugs, Schoenberg wrote the following in a letter to Alban Berg: 'I've had it hammered into me so loudly and so long that only by being deaf to begin with could I have failed to understand it. And its a long time now since it wrung any regrets from me. Today I'm proud to call myself a Jew.…' The correlation between this statement with what happens in A Survivor from Warsaw is striking and not at all coincidental. Like the condemned Jews in that work, Schoenberg finally rebelled against the humiliations heaped upon him and forcefully reasserted his Jewish identity.

The relationship between Schoenberg's cantata and his Jewish consciousness has a spiritual as well as a nationalistic or racial dimension. Schoenberg's characterization of the 'Shema Yisroel' as 'the old prayer they had neglected for so many years—the forgotten creed' is a crystallization of his belief that European Jews, intent on assimilation, had rejected their heritage—their one source of strength. In 1933 he stated this explicitly: 'In the diaspora the idol worship of our host nations has uprooted us and deprived us of our faith … we must surrender once again to our faith … it alone ensures our viability and justifies our existence'. The connection between this statement and the message of Moses und Aron is obvious, and in this sense A Survivor from Warsaw is closely associated with Schoenberg's opera. The later work provides a modern parable of the Jewish people once again embracing the role that the inconceivable God has set out for them and realizing anew the special nature of their life 'in the desert'.

One other issue should be addressed before aspects of the work's musical structure are discussed. If Schoenberg's purpose in writing this cantata was to focus on the larger issues of his own experience and that of his people, then why did he state that his survivor was from Warsaw? As shown above, the construction of the text indicates that he wanted to obscure the background of his story; yet he must have known that listeners would link the name of Warsaw and the reference to the sewers with the heroic battle fought there by Jewish resistance fighters. Even if the evidence suggests that the events upon which Schoenberg based his story may have actually taken place in Warsaw, he could easily have stated that the survivor was from Berlin, Kraków, Amsterdam or any of the thousands of other cities and towns from which Jews were expelled, thereby further distancing his tale from a specific event. But the Warsaw uprising had a special significance for Schoenberg, as it must for all Jews—for there, they fought back. While not the only instance of armed Jewish resistance during the war, the Warsaw ghetto uprising was the largest and bestknown revolt, and it has come to be universally regarded as an inspiring symbol of the indestructability of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable brutality and overwhelming odds.

As early as 1923, Schoenberg foresaw the importance of armed struggle when he wrote that the ultimate 're-establishment of a Jewish State can come about only in the manner that has characterized similar events throughout history: not through words and moralizing but through the success of arms and a happy combination of interests'. And, a decade later, in a letter to Jakob Klatzkin dated 13 June 1933 he expressed this sentiment even more forcefully:

The timid will never be able to make the sacrifices required by courage and self-denial. Those unwilling to risk life and property won't be able to participate in our struggle for liberation. We must succeed in persuading Jewish youth of the necessity of this struggle completely and without qualifications.

These two passages illustrate Schoenberg's support for the affirmative, militant Zionism advocated by Vladimir Jabotinsky. He undoubtedly saw in the Warsaw uprising a useful example of what it would take for the Jews finally to acquire and maintain a land of their own. He may have been moved to include an oblique reference to the rebellion in his text, but again, I do not believe that he ever intended that this reference be taken as the central point of the work.

The cantata can be divided into two distinct sections. The first, lasting some 80 bars, consists of the narrator's account of the events leading up to the singing of the 'Shema Yisroel'. The setting of the prayer itself comprises the second section. Although this second part is only nineteen bars long, the intensity of the musical and dramatic expression serves to negate any sense of structural imbalance between it and the much longer narrative section.

The entire piece is based on twelve-note techniques, and the musical materials remain the same throughout, but the two sections are organized according to widely differing principles. The second section is built around the 'Shema' melody, and it thus contrasts with the narrative section, which contains relatively little sustained melodic material. Christian Martin Schmidt has suggested that the two sections are representative of different periods in Schoenberg's compositional development: the first, 'athematic', reflects a return to the techniques of the composer's so-called atonal period; the second, with its clear reliance on the 'Shema' theme, can be seen as representative of the later twelve-note period.

The narrative section does indeed seem to recall the techniques that Schoenberg used in the decade or so before the discovery of the twelve-note method. Schmidt notes in particular the pervasive use of augmented triads as a kind of 'harmonic pedal', recalling that Schoenberg had used similar extended 'harmonic pedals' in a number of works from this period, including die first of the Fünf Orchesterstücke, Op. 16, Die glückliche Hand, Op. 18, and the last of the Kleine Stücke für Kammeror Chester, dating from 1910.

The presence of a sustained melodic line in the second section of the cantata is the feature that most distinguishes it from the narrative. Beginning in bar 80, the 'Shema' melody becomes the framework around which the rest of the piece is constructed. Augmented triads no longer pervade the texture in their role as a 'harmonic pedal'. Programmatic elements that had been used extensively in the first section (the trumpet fanfare, military drum, and fifes—represented by flutes and piccolo) are also absent in this section. The texture becomes much thicker, and there is a greater reliance on horizontal realization of various set forms.

This symbolic progression in A Survivor from Warsaw from the procedures of c. 1910 to those characteristic of 'classic' twelve-note technique is not surprising if one sees the work as representative of Schoenberg's own spiritual struggle. There was always a strong connection between the spiritual and creative aspects of his life, a connection borne out in the opening paragraphs of 'Composition with Twelve Tones':

To understand the very nature of creation one must acknowledge that there was no light before the Lord said: 'Let there be light.' And since there was not yet light, the Lord's omniscience embraced a version of it which only His omnipotence could call forth.

We poor human beings, when we refer to one of the better minds among us as a creator, should never forget what a creator is in reality.

A creator has a vision of something which has not existed before this vision.

And a creator has the power to bring his vision to life, the power to realize it.

In fact, the concept of creator and creation should be formed in harmony with the Divine Model; inspiration and perfection, wish and fulfillment, will and accomplishment coincide spontaneously and simultaneously.

Although Schoenberg continues by admitting that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a human creator to imitate the perfection of the Divine Model, he clearly viewed his creative work as a spiritual activity. He saw a parallel between the struggles of his creative life and those of his personal spiritual life. He considered his discovery of the twelve-note method as a vision—a divine revelation that was perhaps as significant and meaningful as his reconciliation with his Jewish faith and heritage.

The connection between these two decisive events in Schoenberg's life is further strengthened by the fact that they occurred in close chronological proximity. Schoenberg first mentioned his work with twelve-note procedures to Joseph Rufer in the summer of 1921, but, as revealed in a letter to Nicolas Slonimsky dated 3 June 1937, there followed a period of experimentation before he fully realized the implications of his discovery. During this same period, the issue of his Jewishness had also been very much on Schoenberg's mind. On 20 April 1923, he wrote in a letter to Kandinsky that

… I have at last learnt the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year, and I shall never forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely even a human being (at least, the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me), but I am a Jew.

I am content that it should be so! Today I no longer wish to be an exception; I have no objection at all to being lumped together with all the rest.

Again, one finds a parallel between the sentiments expressed in this letter and the climactic moment in A Survivor from Warsaw—'the grandiose moment when they started to sing' the 'Shema Yisroel'. The change in musical style that occurs at exactly that point in the score underlines the deep connection Schoenberg felt between his spiritual reawakening and his discovery of the twelve-note method.

A Survivor from Warsaw stands as a moving tribute to the millions of European Jews who suffered and died at the hands of Nazi Germany. As such, it has stirred audiences from the time of its first performances in 1948. Much of the work's power, however, emanates from the deeper significance that it held for its creator. I am convinced that Schoenberg saw in this story of a small group of condemned Jewish prisoners both a striking crystallization of his own inner struggle with his Jewishness and a modern parable confirming the message of Moses und Aron: God has a special role for His Chosen People, and that only by acknowledging and accepting the uniqueness of their status can the Jews endure and triumph over the adversities that confront them. A Survivor from Warsaw symbolizes the religious and nationalistic ideals of its composer, and ranks with Moses und Aron, Die Jakobsleiter and the three psalm settings of Op. 50 as one of the most profoundly spiritual of Schoenberg's musical expressions.

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