The Voice of Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg has not had the greatest press in recent months, thanks to noisy explosions from the anti-modernist backlash department, so it’s time to fight his corner by hearing from him in person. For Friday Historical, here is a three-part exploration: first of all, a fascinating interview with him about art, music and more, recorded at the University of California in July 1949 (thanks to Brendan Carroll for alerting me to it).

After that, an interview with Schoenberg’s wife Gertrud, their son Larry and his brother-in-law, violinist Rudolf Kolisch, who seems rather disappointed that American premieres did not produce the same passionate reactions/riots as the ones in Vienna!

And finally soprano Christine Schafer in a filmic interpretation by Oliver Hermann of the first part of Pierrot Lunaire, which is 98 years old this year, but even now sounds as fresh and startling as if it were composed yesterday. Boulez conducts the Ensemble Intercontemporain.

I would like to suggest the following:

1. Schoenberg was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century – not because he invented dodecaphony, but because of his strength of personal voice, his endless questing inventiveness and the way his works encapsulated the very essence of their time. And please listen to the section of the interview in which he talks about his chief influences…

2. It isn’t his fault if his system was taken in vain after his death and used to suffocate other types of new classical music. Others must shoulder that responsibility.

3. Like it or loathe it, Schoenberg’s music is crucial, indelible, seminal…

Responses, please?

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