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My Adventure With The Controversial Music Of Arnold Schoenberg Today

 For my latest session with my classical music listening group at United Hebrew today,I chose an early work by Arnold Schoenberg, whose music and life I've discussed here before . Of course, Schoenberg is famous,or infamous , for being the father of 12 tone music in the 20th century , and many people who attend concerts would rather be waterboarded that hear his thorny music at a concert . But by no means all . He was born in Vienna in 1874 , and died in 1951 , he began to write his "ultramodern" music about 100 years ago,after having begun writing music in a lush,late romantic style which is not difficult to listen to at all.  Despite the controversy , his music has stood the test of time and is still performed and recorded .

  So I decided to play a recording of one of his early masterpieces,written around the turn of the century ,the elaborate symphonic poem "Pelleas &Melisande", based on the play by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck , and made into a well-known opera by Claude Debussy ,which the Metropolitan Opera  will be performing later this season . 

  I explained to my listeners that while Schoenberg's "modern" works are considered very difficult and unappealing by many listeners, his Pelleas is a beautiful,lush, and  highly romantic work. But something went wrong. There was some glitch on track one of the CD I was playing  and the entire piece is on that one track   , and I had to take it off after about 10 minutes or so.The work is about 40 minutes long. I had just played it on my own equipment the day before, and there was no problem .I'm not sure what happened  today .

  As usual, I gave my listeners some background about the composer ,and explained that he began writing highly romantic music, but started experimenting in the early 20th century with a revolutionary new way of writing music which was not in any key . 

  So I improvised, and played the companion work on the CD, Schoenberg's Variations For Orchestra, a difficult 12 tone work,mbut one which I know well and like .  I told my listeners that this work might seem strange and even disturbing to them, but asked them to bear with me and give the piece a chance .

  The reception was less than ecstatic.  There's one lady, whom I've mentioned before, who comes regularly and loves classical music, but hates almost all music which is less conservative than her favorite Rachmaninov, who was an almost exact contemporary of Schoenberg .  She hated the Variations .  Oh well,you win some,you lose some . 

  I try to give my listeners as much variety as possible, but  I try to accomodate the lady who hates modern music , and I've played plenty of Rachmaninov,Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and all those popular composers whose music she loves . But I always try to stretch their minds as much as possible. 

  Don't be afraid to try Schoenberg's music yourself .  If you give it a chance, you CAN come to enjoy it.   A good way to experience the music of Schoenberg and his two most important pupils ,Alban Berg and Anton Webern, is the three disc set of their music on the Deutsche Grammophon label conducted by the late,great Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, which contains the two Schoenberg works I  have discussed hear and works by the other two composers .

  There are also fine recordings of the music of these composers by conductors such as Pierre Boulez,Zubin Mehta, Michael Gielen, Robert Craft and others . 

 

 

Posted: Sep 17 2010, 05:48 PM by the horn | with no comments
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