About this Recording
8.557529 - SCHOENBERG, A.: String Trio / 4 Pieces for Mixed Chorus / 3 Satires / Suite (Craft) (Schoenberg, Vol. 11)

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951):
String Trio, Op. 45 • Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus, Op. 27 • Three Satires for Mixed Chorus, Op. 28
Septet-Suite, Op. 29 • Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, Op. 34


String Trio, Op. 45

In a burst of creativity following a near fatal collapse on 2 August 1946, Arnold Schoenberg composed three important works in a row, String Trio, A Survivor from Warsaw, and Phantasy. Although the Trio was written after the collapse, the commission from A. Tillman Merrit of Harvard University came earlier; Schoenberg had already begun plans for the piece in June 1946. Musicians and audiences have speculated about the “autobiographical” nature of this composition, but it is good to know what Arnold Schoenberg wrote, in 1949, about what he jokingly called “my fatality”:

I awoke with a terrible pain in my chest. I sprang from the bed and sat down in my armchair. (I must correct this, for I just remembered that it was different: I awoke with an extremely unpleasant feeling, but without a definite pain, but I hurried in spite of it (!) to my armchair.) I became continually worse. We called doctors…I had believed that I had a heart attack or heart spasm. But Dr Jones determined that this was not the case and gave me an injection of Dilaudid ‘in order to bring the patient at ease’. It worked very quickly. The pain went away. Then I must have lost consciousness. For the last thing that I heard was my wife saying ‘you take his feet and I will take his shoulders’, and apparently they returned me to the bed. I do not know how long I was unconscious. It must have been several hours, for the first thing I remember was that a man with coal-black hair was bending over me and making every effort to feed me something. My wife said (to keep me from being alarmed!) ‘This is the doctor!’ But I remember having been astonished since Dr Jones had silver-white hair. It was Gene, the male nurse. An enormous person, a former boxer, who could pick me up and put me down again like a sofa cushion.

The Trio, which Schoenberg described to many people as “a ‘humorous’ representation of my sickness”, was begun on 20 August, only three weeks after the episode, and was completed on 23 September 1946. The sketches include the writing and re-writing of the twelve-note set on which the piece is based. Schoenberg often started in this fashion, but atypically there is a detailed chart, measure by measure, of the form of the piece. The Trio contains some of the most virtuosic string writing in his entire output, which the composer recognized by providing various ossias in all three parts. Thomas Mann, in his account of the origins of Doctor Faustus, reported a conversation with Schoenberg:

The work was extremely difficult to play, he said, in fact almost impossible or at best only for three players of virtuoso rank; but, on the other hand, the music was very rewarding because of its extraordinary tonal effects.

The music is deep enough to bear up to any kind of listening. It can be heard in the context of common practice harmony, as a melodic and textural essay, or as a story which describes a near death experience, an injection to the heart, and Gene, the male nurse.

Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus, Op. 27

Schoenberg, who was a master of all forms of music, excelled at choral writing. Friede auf Erden, Gurrelieder, Moses und Aron, Six Pieces for Male Choir, as well as the Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus, Op. 27, all point to his genius. The composer wrote the texts for the first piece, Unentrinnbar (Inescapable) and the second, Du sollst nicht, du musst (You should not, you must). The texts for the third, Mond und Menschen (Moon and Mankind), by Tschan-Jo-Su, and the fourth, Der Wunsch des Liebhabers (The Lover’s Wish), by Hung-So-Fan, are from Hans Bethge’s Die chinesiche Flöte (The Chinese Flute). It is important to note that the second piece is often cited as early evidence of the composer’s plan to return to Judaism which he finally realized on 24 July 1933. (He had become a Protestant on 21 March 1898.) In a letter to Berg on 16 October 1933, Schoenberg wrote:

It wasn’t until 1 October that my going to America became the kind of certainty I could believe in myself. Everything that appeared in the newspapers both before and since was founded on fantasy, just as are the purported ceremonies and the presence of ‘tout Paris’ at my so-called return to the Jewish faith. (tout Paris was, besides the rabbi and myself: my wife and a Dr Marianoff, with whom all these dreadful tales probably originated.) As you have surely observed, my return to the Jewish faith took place long ago and is even discernible in the published portions of my work (“Du sollst nicht…du musst…”)

Schoenberg’s choral music can be understood as part of the long tradition of German choral music. Although much of his music has been labelled as “modern”, the composer himself felt that the part-writing in the first piece “follows in the tradition of the proven balance of design and sound. The melody submits to principles of simplicity: two series of canonical forms are intertwined, the basic form, and its inverse transposition a fifth lower”. Throughout his career as a composer Schoenberg saw himself as a traditionalist. All of his harmonic, rhythmic and orchestrational advances were necessary in order for him to create music in his own image.

These two aphorisms by Schoenberg suggest some of his attitudes about composition:

  1. The man is what he experiences; the artist experiences only what he is.
  2. My inclinations developed more rapidly from the moment that I started to become clearly conscious of my aversions.

Three Satires for Mixed Chorus, Op. 28

The Three Satires for Mixed Chorus, Op. 28 (1925–26), present problems for some and provide joy for others. In a letter to Amadeo de Filippi, 13 May 1949, Schoenberg stated: “I wrote them when I was very much angered by attacks of some of my younger contemporaries at this time and I wanted to give them a warning that it is not good to attack me”. In the Foreword he describes the type of composer he is satirizing:

My targets were all those who seek their personal salvation by taking the middle course. For the middle course is the only one not leading to Rome. But it is taken by those who nibble at dissonances, wanting to pass for modern but are too cautious to draw to the consequences, consequences resulting not from the dissonances but also and even more so, from the consonances.

I aim at those who pretend to strive back to…Such a person should not attempt to make people believe that it rests with him to decide how far back he will soon find himself. Or even intimate that by this process he is coming one step closer to one of the great masters.

I take pleasure in making the folklorists my target as well, who apply a technique, which only suits a complicated way of thinking, to the naturally primitive ideas of folk music, either because they have to (since they have no themes of their own at their command) or because they do not have to (since an existing musical culture and tradition could eventually bear them, too).

Finally all…ists in whom I can see only mannerists. Their music is enjoyed most by people who constantly think of the slogan intended to keep them from thinking of anything else, while they are listening to the music.

Schoenberg wrote the texts to the Satires himself so he was able to hurl double darts—words and music—at his attackers. No. 1, Am Scheideweg (At the Crossroads), for a cappella chorus, confronts the apparent dichotomy between tonal and atonal music. No. 2, Vielseitigkeit (Versatility), also for a cappella chorus, makes fun of “little Modernsky”, a composer with an old-fashioned haircut and a misconception about his own music. No. 3, Der neue Klassizismus (The New Classicism) is “A Little Cantata” for mixed chorus accompanied by viola, cello and piano that lampoons a composer who flirts with different musical styles and finally decides on a “pure and perfect” classical style.

Although Schoenberg expressed his concern about “the greater danger: that some of the people at who I am aiming these Satires might wonder whether they should consider themselves my targets”, on 30 May 1926, Alban Berg wrote to him:

Oh, how happy your ‘Foreword’ made me, dearest esteemed friend. You really have finished off Krenek with this and with him half—what am I saying—9/10 of the U.E. catalogue!

In a telling statement from 1929, Schoenberg, when asked to comment on the current musical situation for the journal Der Querschnitt, responded:

I want to hurry answering this question, otherwise I shall get there too late, as happened with the Satires that I wrote four years ago about what was then current: they had scarcely been printed when they became obsolete, faster than anything else by me.

We can only guess who were Schoenberg’s attackers, and we do not need to know. Perhaps today we can strip away the “programme” and enjoy the Three Satires as we can the Bach Cantata No. 201, The Battle between Phoebus and Pan, without worrying about the name of the music critic who was Bach’s target.

Fred Sherry


Septet-Suite, Op. 29

In its playfulness and sustained high spirits, the Septet- Suite, Op. 29 resembles the Serenade. Five of the seven instruments—the trio of strings and two of the clarinets—are employed in both pieces, and both embody neoclassic forms and Ländler styles. A typewritten note fastened to the sketchbook for the Suite indicates that, again like the Serenade, Schoenberg originally had a work of seven movements in mind, though from his description of them only the first two are recognizable in the finished four movement piece: “1. (Movement) 6/8, light, elegant, gay, bluff. 2. Jojo. Foxtrot.”

Schoenberg began the composition at the end of October 1924 with a sketch of bars 5–12 of the first movement. He then turned to the second movement, written between 1 January and 19 July 1925, and the third, which is dated 19 July–15 August 1925. Meanwhile, on 17 June, he resumed work on the first movement, and, on 17 August, started on the fourth. Movements one and four were completed on, respectively, 1 March 1926 and 15 April 1926. Since the choruses Op. 27 and Op. 28 were composed in the autumn of 1925, most of the Septet-Suite is closer in time to them than the separation by opus numbers implies. E flat (Es, or S, in German) and G, the initials of the composer and his wife, Gertrud, are the first two notes of the combinatorial twelve-tone row with which the Suite is constructed. The two notes are also referential pitches throughout, providing a kind of tonal bracket for the whole work. The E flat is sustained in unison toward the end of the first movement and in the bass clarinet alone near the beginning of the second, both doubtless being intended as private jokes. The E flat and G are also the two top notes of the first chord of the second movement, Dance the foxtrot of Schoenberg’s original title, and the first two notes of its main theme; they are also the first two harmonic notes of the third movement and the first two melodic notes (unaccompanied) of the last.

Schoenberg’s biographer, H.H. Stuckenschmidt, classifies the Ouverture (first movement) as an example of sonata-form, with its two themes, development, reprise and coda, and it is true that the exposition of the first section is sonata-like, as are its recapitulations. But the three-metre Ländler episodes, which account for considerably more than half of the playing time, suggest that the title was intended to evoke the opening movement of an early eighteenth-century dance suite. The introduction is defined by four chords without piano, each one containing six pitches and each followed by six piano notes containing the other six. The four-chord pattern reappears in the cello (bars 14–17); viola with cello (bars 27–29); viola alone (bars 53–55), and in all three strings, playing pizzicato at first (bars 125–127; 133–136), then arco (bars 137–139 and in the coda). After the opening chords, shorter motives lead to the two principal themes, played by violin and viola simultaneously.

The fast, jagged section gives way to a gentle, broader, melodically sustained one introduced by the violin alone. A return to the music of the first tempo follows, developing the second principal theme, then a still slower section with an extended Ländler melody in the muted viola. The upper register clarinet repeats the viola melody an octave higher. Later the violin plays it in the home “key” of E flat, in a development that extensively exploits harmonics in all three strings. In the next episode, a reprise of the first-tempo music, the clarinets restate the first principal theme in its original and inverted forms, while the strings play triple stop chords mounting to a climax marked by a pause. A return to the broader-tempo melody follows, this time in the cello, then again the music of the first tempo and a final excerpt of the Ländler. In the coda, the strings play the first theme in unison and the movement ends, like the other three, on the offbeat. The Ouverture is in 6/8, with 3/4 counter rhythms one of them identical with a figure in Liszt’s C minor Transcendental Etude. (Some conductors actually beat the 3/4 bars in three, thereby vitiating the cross-rhythm that Schoenberg clearly intended.) The rhythmic vocabulary is remarkably simple: dotted figures in the first theme, then successions of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) and eighths (quavers); the piano part is confined to sixteenths in the first 24 bars and Morse code-like syncopation in the first etwas breiter (broader) section. Triplet figures occur in only one bar and not prominently there.

The piano, the principal solo instrument in the Suite, though the earliest sketches do not include it, engages in dialogues with both the clarinet and string groups, which alternate in playing each other’s music. Twice in the movement the piano provides transitional interludes from slower sections back to those in the first tempo; the second of them, bridging the Ländler excerpt and the coda, resembles the one between Parodie and Mondflec Dance Steps, like the Ouverture, alternates sections of fast and slow music of contrasting character. In one passage (bars 56–58) the piano accompaniment recalls the effect, in the slow movement of Haydn’s Sonata No. 46 in A flat, of making the rhythm appear twice as fast by steady syncopation between the left hand music and the right hand music. Rapid repeated note figures with wide leaps on accented offbeats are a feature of Dance Steps, as are string harmonics and strings playing with bouncing bow and by tapping with the wood of the bow. The middle register clarinet exposes the long, easy-to-follow main theme in both the original and, without break, reverse orders.

The third movement, Theme and Variations, demonstrates that a tonal-centred melody, Friedrich Silcher’s popular song, Ännchen von Tharau, is not incompatible with atonal twelve-tone music. The melody is first heard in the bass clarinet in E major. Since its third note is the same as its first, the remaining ten notes of the chromatic scale are sounded before the repeated note, a rule of twelve-tone composition at the time (1925). Accordingly, the ten notes are comprised in the piano accompaniment to the first two bass clarinet notes. The same method is employed throughout the movement. At the beginning the harmony consists entirely of sixths and thirds, the piano forming one of each of these by combining with the two bass clarinet notes. Each of the variations Allegro molto, mässige, Langsam, Moderato is radically different in character, the range of contrasts greater than in the other movements. In Variation 1, the piano interjects sprinklings of loud notes between groups of fast-tempo figures in strings and clarinets alternating and playing softly. Variation 2 is a piano solo, Variation 3 a solo by the high register clarinet accompanied by 128th notes at the top of the piano register, together with still higher violin harmonics. Variation 4, a 6/8 Bach dance, leads to the coda, the first part of which, in the same tempo as the beginning, recapitulates the Ännchen melody in the lower register of the piano. In the fast 3/4 second part each clarinet plays a single explosive note in a rotation that sounds the rhythm in every bar.

The subject of the fugal Gigue, played first by the middle register clarinet, exposes the twelve pitches of the principal theme of the first movement, but in equal note values. The bass clarinet responds, playing the inversion of the same notes in counterpoint to the continuing middle register clarinet, followed by the high register clarinet restating the opening form of the subject an octave higher. The middle register clarinet also introduces the second theme, Ländler in character, which is broken into phrases with rests between. The four-beat pulsation gives way to six beats and the polyphonic first part of the movement to block harmonies; from here to the end, the two rhythms and styles alternate and combine. The first half of the movement concludes startlingly, in a C sharp major triad. The more densely contrapuntal second half employs the inversion of the interval of the first half. The slow section that precedes the ending consists of a long-line melody in the violin, returning, in the cello, to the Ännchen song of the third movement, and a stratospheric conversation between the piano and the high register clarinet, each speaking in six-note phrases.

The standard study of the Septet-Suite is Martha Hyde’s Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Harmony: The Suite Op. 29 and the Compositional Sketches, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1981. The listener seeking to understand the “harmonic problem”, which, Ms Hyde concedes, “has been and remains the major problem in both the theory and the practice of twelve-note composition”, should consult her book. Its title is misleading in that she analyzes only the first movement, on grounds that the sketch material for it is more extensive than that for the other three. She explains that Schoenberg characteristically “worked out certain harmonic structures or designs that he used again in varied forms throughout the composition” (which does not accord with the chronology of the composition). Ms Hyde remarks, perceptively, that the sketches “reflect a self-consciousness often not apparent” in Schoenberg’s later works. But her most interesting chapter is devoted to the theory of correspondence between metre and harmony in the piece.

In a copy of the manuscript which was consulted for the recording, Fred Sherry pointed out a nota bene, in what appears to be the composer’s handwriting, underneath bar 129 in the fourth movement. It reads: “NB die Arpeggien ohne rit.” which suggested to the present performers that while the music is in “molto rit.” the crossing strings figures in the violin, viola and cello are to be played in tempo. The recorded performance of the première, which Schoenberg conducted on 15 December 1927, makes a slight accelerando starting in bar 129, leading the listener to believe that the connection between the slow music and the faster coda was of greatest importance to the composer.

Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, Op. 34

Schoenberg began to compose his Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, Op. 34, music for an imaginary film, on 15 October 1929, and finished it on 14 February 1930. The first performance, on 28 April 1930, was by the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, conducted by Hans Rosbaud. It might be said that the classical dramatic formula of the subtitle provided the composer with the perfect vehicle for his “expressionist” style. The structure is the easiest to hear and follow of any of his pieces employing twelve-tone technique, partly because the nine episodes leading to the Catastrophe are delineated by successively faster tempos and/or rhythmic units. At the Catastrophe the pulsation slows to the same tempo as the beginning which is not the only symmetry in the construction of the piece. In the first and last segments, the tonality of E flat minor is sustained throughout in the lower strings, and E flat is the emphasized referential pitch in the middle as well, most prominently at the climax (mm. 144–152), first in the bass instruments, then repeated four octaves higher in the violins.

Robert Craft

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