About this Recording
8.557525 - SCHOENBERG: 6 Orchestral Songs / Kol Nidre / Friede auf Erden (Schoenberg, Vol. 7)
English 

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Six Songs, Op. 8 • Friede auf Erden, Op. 13
Six Pieces for Male Chorus a cappella, Op. 35 • Ei, du Lütte
Kol Nidre, Op. 39 • Excerpts from Moses und Aron

 

Six Songs, Op. 8, for Soprano and Orchestra

'Natur' (Nature). Text by Heinrich Hart. Completed 7 March 1904. The first song of the cycle establishes the pattern of brief orchestral introductions and conclusions for the other five. The influence of Wagner on the harmonic and melodic language throughout the cycle is obvious, but the instrumentation is more personal. The underlying polyphonic presence, and the cadential resolutions are new and original.

'Das Wappenschild'(The Coat-of-Arms) was completed in Vienna on 4 April 1904, then revised on 9 May 1904. Schoenberg wrote on the manuscript of the latter that the succession of keys at the end is "entirely new, a different turn of direction to major: E major, B minor, C sharp major". The style is still indebted to Die Walküre, most overtly at bar 429, and the orchestral postlude is unusually extended. The penultimate bar exposes a full octave whole-tone scale, which Schoenberg continued to favour in his next opus, the Chamber Symphony, Op. 9. A preliminary version of this song is dated November 1903, indicating that it was the first to be composed.

In contrast to 'Das Wappenschild', 'Sehnsucht' (Longing), completed in Vienna, 7 April 1904, is scored for a chamber orchestra of only twelve winds and a much reduced string ensemble.

'Nie ward ich, Herrin, müd …' (Ne'er, Mistress, did I weary). Schoenberg's setting of the text, translated from Petrarch by Stefan George, was completed on 3 July 1904, at the composer's home in Mödling. Erwin Stein's piano reduction did not satisfy Schoenberg, and he enlisted Webern to re-do it.

'Voll jener Süsse…' (Filled with that sweetness), text by Petrarch (translated by Stefan George), was completed in Vienna in November 1904. It has been the most popular of all Schoenberg's Lieder.

'Wenn Vöglein klagen …'(When little birds twitter), text by Petrarch (translated by Stefan George), was completed on 7 March 1904. An incomplete sketch score survives from 1903. The instrumentation of each song is remarkably different; thus the harp plays in No. 1 only and the full percussion only in No. 2. The tuba part is unusually prominent.

 

Friede auf Erden, Op. 13

Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), Op. 13, for a cappella mixed chorus, with text by Frederick Meyers, was completed on 3 September 1907. In June 1911 Schoenberg provided an optional orchestral accompaniment "to make clean intonation possible for the chorus singers, if they cannot attain it without this".

 

Six Pieces for Male Chorus a cappella, Op. 35

Now, three-quarters of a century after they were written, the Six Pieces for Male Chorus, a cappella, Op. 35, is being performed with accurate intonation, utmost clarity and balance of the polyphonic lines, and with élan. The originality and the musical beauties of the work can at last be heard and not simply analyzed.

First-time listeners should perhaps begin with the last piece of the group, 'Verbundenheit' (Obligation), since its harmonic make-up is entirely tonal-triadic. The first of the six in order of composition (16-19 April 1929), it follows Schoenberg's purely tonal arrangements for a cappella mixed chorus of three sixteenth-century German folk-songs, completed in February 1929. The form of 'Verbundenheit',a dialogue between basses and, later, tenors, and the whole chorus, is supremely limpid. The solo line is sung at a stronger dynamic level than the full choral responses. The intervals of the principal melody at the beginning are inverted at the midpoint of the piece, where the principal line passes to the tenors in a new key.

The actual first piece, 'Hemmung'(Inhibitions), was completed on 19 February 1930, the other four during the following month. The harmony begins in a tonal triad, and also like it, distinguishes one of the four choral parts dynamically, as well as by a different metre and accentuation. The second section is marked by a change to faster note-values, triplets, then sixteenths (quavers), the latter leading, through a crescendo, to music similar to that of the beginning, but in forte, though the ending is quiet, and the last chord tonal-harmonic.

The second piece, harmonically dense and contrapuntally complex, is appropriately titled 'Das Gesetz'(The Law). The rhythmic movement and figuration is steady nearly throughout. The use of ostinato, shortly before the mid-point, in the bass part is a novelty, a major third figure repeated for three bars, then transposed and changed to a minor third repeated for two more bars.

'Ausdrucksweise' (Expression), the third piece, is a philosophical rumination, as difficult to understand textually as it is musically, for which reason, no doubt, the composer, who wrote the words for all six pieces, provided it with his "leading voice" indication in the second bass and first tenor parts. Several changes of tempo are required and a faster section near the end brings relief through a passage of repeated notes in the inner voices.

'Glück' (Happiness), the fourth piece, is a welcome contrast, brisk in tempo, staccato in articulation, and short in duration. At one place near the middle the chorus divides into eight parts, for an antiphonal game between basses and tenors that anticipates the whole of the fifth piece.

'Landsknechte' (Mercenaries) is a lively, playful, rhythmical march. The text, for the most part, consists of soldiers' invented marching-rhythm words: tapp, tapp; hopp, hopp; tuturu; pumparupru. For the most part the basses are assigned to drum-like accompaniment music, but the first basses and the first tenors must also produce a yodeling figure, and the top tenors are required to trill. The pitch range extends from high C in the top tenors to the C three octaves below in the second basses.

 

Ei, du Lütte

'Ei, du Lütte' (Oh, you little one) was composed in 1895 or 1896, when Schoenberg was 21. The text of this a cappella mixed chorus song, the shortest (under a minute) that Schoenberg ever wrote, is by Klaus Groth (1819–1899) and the language is Plattdeutsch (the Low German dialect). The music is exuberant and delightful.

 

Kol Nidre, for Rabbi-Narrator, Mixed Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 39

The music of Kol Nidre was composed between 1 August and 22 September 1938. In a letter to Paul Dessau, Schoenberg reveals that he altered the traditional text of Kol Nidre because he was shocked by the conception that "all obligations undertaken during the year should be dissolved on the Day of Atonement, which contradicts the high ethical quality of all Jewish commandments". He also identified the text as Sephardic Spanish, and realised that it pertained to Jews who had "gone over to Christianity". "There is no authentic single version of the melody", he further pointed out, but "only a number of melismas. I have added to the total effect by establishing a motivic basis." But Schoenberg's deviations from the Orthodox ritual resulted in the banning of his version from use in synagogues. The substantial orchestral introduction begins with a florid oriental melody in the flute. Kol Nidre is a little-known small-scale masterpiece.

 

Excerpts from ‘The Golden Calf and The Altar' (Moses und Aron, Act II, Scene 3)

The time is evening. Fires are kindled under the pots. Roasting and stewing begin. With increasing darkness large fires are started everywhere. Torches are lighted and people run to and fro with them. Skins of wine and oil are distributed. Wine and oil are poured into large jars. In the background the slaughtering continues.

The music begins with a six-chord fanfare played by horns, trombones, and tuba. Preparing for a sacrifice, the followers of Aron assemble their livestock, slaughter the beasts, and throw pieces of meat to the crowd. The music of The Dance of the Butchers is notable for the melody sounded by two mandolins, piano, celesta, and harp, playing in unison, and accompanied by violins and violas playing on open strings. A dialogue between the trombone and the upper woodwinds follows. The last voice in the excerpt is that of the Young Girl, who is joined by a quartet of Naked Virgins. She and her companions are sacrificed by the priests of the Calf. An orgy follows, but at this point the excerpt ends.

At the proper moment a path is opened in the background for the entrance of the Tribal Leaders, who gallop in; several people press forward from various sides toward the Golden Calf, then form themselves into two groups: male and female beggars on one side, old men on the other side.

© 2007 Robert Craft

 

Available sung texts can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/557525.htm

 


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