Author Topic: Schoenberg Problem  (Read 44017 times)

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Offline John Copeland

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Schoenberg Problem
« on: March 11, 2009, 04:06:20 AM »
***WARNING***CONTROVERSY AHEAD*** :o :o :o ***WARNING***CONTROVERSY AHEAD***

Schoenberg.
What is it about Schoenberg?  You know, I only have Pellias und Mellisande by him, only listened to once a long time ago, so maybe I have to dig it out of that old digital collection of mine.  My problem is that he is known as the father of 12 tone and atonal music, which to me is as silly as trying to get everyone to speak esperanto.  I just don't dig what he and his second Viennese cronies did with music, manipulating it in a clever but fairly pointless way and being indirectly responsible for the rarely musical avant garde kak that flourished after his death.
Please someone put me out of my misery and explain what is so good about someone who made up his own laws of music.  What big and interesting piece of music should I get by him to switch me on instead of avoiding him as I have done (and Berg, etc.)??

 :-*

sul G

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2009, 04:15:26 AM »
Ouch! Look forward to responding to this when I have time!

but quickly - there are recommendations which avoid the issue - the luscious and immediately-appealing Gurrelieder and so on. They aren't atonal, so in that sense they will be irrelevant, but they ought to convince you of Schoenberg's pure compositional skill (which was about as great as any other composer I can think of). That in itself is no small thing, because often there lies at the back of criticism of atonal composers a sneaking suspicion that they couldn't write 'normal' music so took another path where it was possible to bluff. These early works ought to convince you otherwise in Schoenberg's case; as for the later stuff itself, I don't have time right now, but will try later.

Mark G. Simon

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2009, 04:43:40 AM »
Get the Hilary Hahn recording of the Violin Concerto. You'll hear that Schoenberg kept on writing lush Romantic music even after adopting the 12-tone method.
'

Offline The new erato

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2009, 05:04:20 AM »
***WARNING***CONTROVERSY AHEAD*** :o :o :o ***WARNING***CONTROVERSY AHEAD***

Schoenberg.
What is it about Schoenberg?  You know, I only have Pellias und Mellisande by him, only listened to once a long time ago, so maybe I have to dig it out of that old digital collection of mine.  My problem is that he is known as the father of 12 tone and atonal music, which to me is as silly as trying to get everyone to speak esperanto. 
Everybody writes in an idiom. Machaut and Ockeghem did it, Mozart and Beethoven did it, Bartok and Schoenberg did it. Sometimes idioms and techniques changes, as they have done through musical history both before end after Schoenberg. Having an idiom is not silly, and Schoenberg did not force anybody to use his idiom. Whether it was an cuccessful idiom/language is quite another matter - and somehow I think that  what you call "rarely musical avant garde kak" would have erupted anyway - that has more to do with the social setting of composers more than anything else - and lots of strange music have been written outside the 12 tone technique anyway. I think that Schoenberg was a consequence of what was happening to the arts, more than the other way around. And by all means; feel free to dislike it!

Offline Diletante

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2009, 05:44:20 AM »
Get the Hilary Hahn recording of the Violin Concerto. You'll hear that Schoenberg kept on writing lush Romantic music even after adopting the 12-tone method.
'

Ohh, I second that! I love that piece and after hearing it a few times it actually feels very melodic.
Orgullosamente diletante.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2009, 05:59:09 AM »
***WARNING***CONTROVERSY AHEAD*** :o :o :o ***WARNING***CONTROVERSY AHEAD***
 What big and interesting piece of music should I get by him to switch me on instead of avoiding him as I have done (and Berg, etc.)??

An obvious first stop is Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night"), which exists as both a sextet and a (later) string orchestra version - a strong feeling of Wagner or Mahler to it.

I agree with the thrust of posts above, that Schoenberg was a great composer and musical thinker, and that any time spent grappling with him, even if you don't like it at first, is time well spent.
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karlhenning

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2009, 06:02:54 AM »
Arnold Schoenberg's Twelve-Tone Method

There's a typographical mistake in the second line (retrograde of the first line):  there are two D's-natural.

The second ought to be a D#, of course.

karlhenning

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2009, 06:09:30 AM »
An obvious first stop is Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night"), which exists as both a sextet and a (later) string orchestra version - a strong feeling of Wagner or Mahler to it.

Yes, Verklärte Nacht is (there's that word again) exquisite!

Another long favorite of mine, John, and which has the possible added benefit of being generally light of touch, is the Serenade, Opus 24.

The Marsch is no great distance from Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/qNLQ2jDAkWo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/qNLQ2jDAkWo</a>

Offline Todd

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2009, 06:22:00 AM »
The Gurre-Lieder as musical avant garde kak?  Nah.  Verklärte Nacht described the same way?  No way.  Pierrot Lunaire?  Not a chance.  Since I don't bother concerning myself with the techniques composers use, and instead listen to the outcomes, I must say that the best of Schoenberg (and his Second School compatriot) is extraordinary.  Berg may be better yet, but Mr Schoenberg is a great composer indeed.

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Offline John Copeland

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2009, 06:29:09 AM »
 ;D
Thank you all for your comments thus far.  I appreciate it's a learning curve for me, but the post by JAMES below (or above, depending how your GMG settings are) is MORE than enough to convince me that yes, there is something very interesting to investigate here, and that the 12 Tone system has an unusual language but an intelligent voice which should be heard.  The 12 Tone system explained on YouTube is like a large red apple in a tub of broken coconuts.  How simple it is I've always known, and I've never cared even to listen to it (except when it's on radio 3 uk), but now I know more about the 'why' of it and a smattering of what Schoenberg was doing with it, it is a little more approachable.

Now then, I do have a single CD of digital music which I got in 2006, and it's a 192kbps MP3 set of 3 CD's which IS Boulez doing Webern, but knowing what it was I never, not once, listened to it.  I'm inspired now to ACTUALLY LISTEN  to some 12 tone stuff, and while it's MP3, it's still a good place to start I guess.  But if it gets anywhere close to sounding like Jazz, or isn't close to music, I will throw the bugger out once and for all.
Is Schoenbergs VC in 12 tone?

Now listening from http://www.antonwebern.com/  :  Six pieces for large orchestra

Hmmm.... :-\

Now listening to:  Schenberg Serenade Op.24 posted by Karl

I AM TRYING TO REPLY AND EVERY TIME I DO I SEE THIS:  Warning - while you were typing 4 new replies have been posted. You may wish to review your post.
 :P
« Last Edit: March 11, 2009, 06:38:42 AM by John »

Offline John Copeland

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2009, 06:32:02 AM »
Quote
Todd:  The Gurre-Lieder as musical avant garde kak?  Nah.  Verklärte Nacht described the same way?  No way.  Pierrot Lunaire?  Not a chance.

Someone said that?

karlhenning

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2009, 06:35:04 AM »
Is Schoenbergs VC in 12 tone?

Yes.

The Serenade, BTW is mostly still the 'freewheelingly atonal' Schoenberg, but famously introduces 12-tone (one of his first applications) in the central movement, which is a setting of a Petrarch sonnet.

“The choice of a sonnet by the classicist Petrarca seems to be paradoxical, for this piece marks one of Schönberg’s first 12-tone composition. In op. 24 he used only the prime form (‘Grundgestalt’) of the row but varied it with octave transpositions.”

sul G

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #12 on: March 11, 2009, 06:41:45 AM »
Now I've got a little more time - though there are some excellent posts above which cover the same ground...

Schoenberg's problem is that he's become demonised in an almost Daily Mail fashion - for those who aren't familiar with his music and his ideas, it's all too easy to think of him as a mad scientist, a Frankenstein figure who experimented with things he should have left well alone, as an absolutist who desired that all should follow the course he had laid out. None of these things are true, but they are pernicious fallacies. So, John, even though I know that you are one of the most fair-minded listeners at GMG (the fact that you started this thread is testament to that), some of your OP is heavy with these fallacious implications, and you probably didn't even intend them to be there. They need unpacking, I think, so that we can be fair to Schoenberg. Take this line:

Quote
he is known as the father of 12 tone and atonal music, which to me is as silly as trying to get everyone to speak esperanto

This short sentence is quite loaded with implications, I think. For instance:

That Schoenberg was trying to get everyone to do as he did - very far from the truth. Schoenberg was proud of his 12 tone 'discovery', but he didn't teach it except to his most advanced students. Not did he force anyone to use it. The technique has its source deep down in Schoenberg himself; it grew from an inner need and was personal to him - Schoenberg knew that any application it had for others would need to be treated in an equally personal way.

That the technique is some kind of esperanto - an artificial language that all can (or, implied here, should) speak. Again, this doesn't bear scrutiny. If the technique was an esperanto one would expect all music which uses it to sound the same, whereas as listening bears out, even Schoenberg's closest colleagues, Berg and Webern, used it in very different ways and to radically different expressive ends.

That, being an esperanto, the technique is a foolish, idealistic construct - I think this is false, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion....

and that, as an esperanto, it is wholly artificial and synthetic. No, the 12 tone technique developed organically, out of inner compulsion, as a way to aid the creation of motivically and harmonically unified music in an extremely chromatic context....

and that, as an method or set of 'laws', it is inherently unmusical. I think this particular stance is a confused one: those who react badly to Schoenberg's music blame it on the fact that there is a 'formula' (ugh! - hardly!). There is also a formula for Arvo Part's music, however - an even more strict, limiting and prescriptive one than in Schoenberg's - and yet most people find Part's music both beautiful and expressively direct. No, the problem people have with Schoenberg, for my money, isn't that there's a system - it's simply that it's atonal.

So, in place of Schoenberg the meddling mad scientist, we have Schoenberg the supremely gifted composer, capable of writing late Romantic music with a power and expressive potency greater than almost anyone else's, and with a technical capability as fine as almost any composer in the preceding centuries. A composer who thought deeply, who pushed his music as far as it could go, and who for personal and very understandable reasons developed a method of composition which pleased him.



Now, that being said - we're still left with the problem that you don't like it!  ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D

Of course, there's no reason that you should like it, that's the first thing to say. Secondly, as I suggested with my first post, listening to Gurrelieder and Verklarte Nacht will convince you that Schoenberg knew how to compose, that he was no charlatan (another implication sometimes made). But it won't help you like the later works any more - or if it does, it will do so slowly.

So, you need also to hear the progression towards 'the technique' - the freely atonal works such as (and above all) the 5 Orchestral Pieces op 16. These are wild pieces, written with the sort of white hot inspiration that Schoenberg knew couldn't come that often and couldn't easily be sustained (which is why they are so short) - this is one of the reasons he developed 'the technique', in fact.

Then try something much later but equally blazing - A Survivor from Warsaw. The presence of the text will make this brief and terrifying piece all the more vivid.

Even later - the String Trio. This is supposedly one of Schoenberg's most complex and thorny works. Well, actually, it is, but that's only because it has such great expressive density. And in between the outbursts are the most limpid, radiant moments of beauty - music that is tangentially tonal, and among the most moving music Schoenberg wrote.

And jump back a little - the Accompaniment to a Film Scene. Nowadays, of course, the fact that 12 tone/atonal music is suitable for underscoring emotions of fear, terror, dread etc., is thrown at it as a limitation. But Schoenberg was delighted with the fact, and he packs all of that into this snazzy little piece.

sul G

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #13 on: March 11, 2009, 06:44:32 AM »
Someone said that?

No, I didn't read it that way either. Though Todd's basic point - it's all music, and the best of it is exceptional - can't be denied.

karlhenning

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #14 on: March 11, 2009, 06:57:58 AM »
Then try something much later but equally blazing - A Survivor from Warsaw. The presence of the text will make this brief and terrifying piece all the more vivid.

Even later - the String Trio. This is supposedly one of Schoenberg's most complex and thorny works. Well, actually, it is, but that's only because it has such great expressive density. And in between the outbursts are the most limpid, radiant moments of beauty - music that is tangentially tonal, and among the most moving music Schoenberg wrote.

And jump back a little - the Accompaniment to a Film Scene. Nowadays, of course, the fact that 12 tone/atonal music is suitable for underscoring emotions of fear, terror, dread etc., is thrown at it as a limitation. But Schoenberg was delighted with the fact, and he packs all of that into this snazzy little piece.

Excellent post in all (true to form for Luke, of course) . . . just wanted to sign on with these three recs.  Though in truth, I need to get to know the Trio better . . . .

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #15 on: March 11, 2009, 07:01:00 AM »
That Schoenberg was trying to get everyone to do as he did - very far from the truth. Schoenberg was proud of his 12 tone 'discovery', but he didn't teach it except to his most advanced students. Not did he force anyone to use it. The technique has its source deep down in Schoenberg himself; it grew from an inner need and was personal to him - Schoenberg knew that any application it had for others would need to be treated in an equally personal way.

Two quotes I've heard attributed to him are:

"There's a lot of good music still to be written in C major." and

"I didn't want to be Arnold Schoenberg - but somebody had to be!"

He was also something of a German cultural chauvinist. When he had worked out the serial technique, he proclaimed that he had discovered a way to ensure the "supremacy of German music" for the next 50 years (or was it 100? I've forgotten).
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Offline John Copeland

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #16 on: March 11, 2009, 07:23:13 AM »
Two quotes I've heard attributed to him are:
"There's a lot of good music still to be written in C major." and
"I didn't want to be Arnold Schoenberg - but somebody had to be!"
He was also something of a German cultural chauvinist. When he had worked out the serial technique, he proclaimed that he had discovered a way to ensure the "supremacy of German music" for the next 50 years (or was it 100? I've forgotten).

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Offline The new erato

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #17 on: March 11, 2009, 07:24:59 AM »
The Gurre-Lieder as musical avant garde kak?  Nah.  Verklärte Nacht described the same way?  No way.  Pierrot Lunaire?  Not a chance.  Since I don't bother concerning myself with the techniques composers use, and instead listen to the outcomes, I must say that the best of Schoenberg (and his Second School compatriot) is extraordinary.  Berg may be better yet, but Mr Schoenberg is a great composer indeed.


Neither of thase works were written using the 12 tone technique (which were equated with avant garde kak) AFAIK. But you're right; great music transcends the technique that is using in composing it.

karlhenning

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #18 on: March 11, 2009, 07:25:46 AM »
Schoenberg's problem is that he's become demonised in an almost Daily Mail fashion - for those who aren't familiar with his music and his ideas, it's all too easy to think of him as a mad scientist, a Frankenstein figure who experimented with things he should have left well alone, as an absolutist who desired that all should follow the course he had laid out. None of these things are true, but they are pernicious fallacies.

Certainly is No man ever caught up with a bad rumor department.  Levine caught such flak for his Beethoven-&-Schoenberg seasons, and all the bogeymen were trotted out for their dutiful exercise . . . more than 50 years after his death, Schoenberg's very name strikes terror abroad.

Offline Brewski

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Re: Schoenberg Problem
« Reply #19 on: March 11, 2009, 07:31:32 AM »
Just following up on two of Luke's excellent points (not to mention the many others so far), there really is no reason you "have" to like any of these works.  I strongly believe that if Schoenberg doesn't move you, then another voice will (perhaps a similar one, perhaps not). 

I'd second his rec of the Five Orchestral Pieces, and for one of the reasons he mentions: they're short!  The entire thing is around 15-16 minutes.  Perhaps try this idea, which I did a few years back to get to know Elliott Carter's music: play the five all the way through once or twice, then choose the one that somehow appeals to you the most (for this purpose, "none of them" is not an acceptable answer ;D). 

Then try listening to just the one piece maybe, ten times (e.g., 10 x 2" = c. 20 minutes), until you are able to anticipate what's coming next.  (The point is: it's only 20 minutes out of your life, as opposed to say, repeating Tristan und Isolde ten times.  ;D)  My hunch is, you may be surprised at how the piece sounds after multiple hearings.

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