21 November 2008

Some more Schoenberg

Including some canons this time

Darf ich eintretern - Canon for Alban Berg (complete works XXIV) (9 february 1935)
An unending canon to signify the unending nature of the freindship of Berg and Schoenberg - short and chromatic and with a strange melancholy. Would work well for brass.

Man mag über Schönberg denken, wie man will (for Charlotte Dieterle) (Bärenreiter XXIII) (1935) (4 voices)
A hymn -like mirror canon with augmentation and an opening. It is somehwat odd harmonically but is a rich little exercise for a string quartet or viol consort. Not his finest canon. Makes use of a descending fifth (E-A) as a motive - this appears in octaves in the middle with the words "ach, ja" written above.

Kol nidre, op. 39 (1938) (voice, chorus, orchestra)
Schoenberg set this version of the Kol Nidre prayer for "Rabbi", chorus and orchestra for, I believe, synagogue use. It is a powerful and strong work, in a tonal system that is purely Schoenberg - we see actual use again here of the precepts that he lays out in the Harmonielehre. Also, frankly, the mannerisms that mar muc of his work are not a part of this. That said the counterpoint is dense, not Verklarte Nacht dense, but present dense. Choral parts are not too difficult. Effective, strong and enjoyable.

Double canon (Bärenreiter XXV) (1938) (4 voices)
An infinite double canon in which the canonic voice is proportionally related to the other rhythmically. It has the sound of something by Obrecht.

Mr. Saunders I owe you thanks (for Richard Drake Saunders) (Bärenreiter XXVI) (December 1939) (4 voices)
A sweet charming little canon, though also chromatic, written as a Christmas greeting in 1939 to a certain Mr. Saunders, who assisted the Schoenbergs in their transition to LA. Nice how it ends with a greeting to Mrs. Saunders as well - the words bear writing: "Mister Saunders, I owe you thanks for at least four years. Let me do it in four voices so that every one of the mcounts for one year. Merry Christmas four times, listen how they sing it! Also Merry Christmas to Mrs. Saunders." Reminds me of those Glenn Gould canons, which were no doubt influenced by these.

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19 November 2008

Catching up on Schoenberg

Here's some of my recent notes - continuing the chronicle of my dysfunctional relationship with Schoenberg:

Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene [Accompanying music to a film scene], op. 34 (1930) (orchestra)
Amazingly this seems to step away from many of the Schoenberg cliches to provide a potent, evocative work. The melodies are interesting, the tensions and climaxs are fresh in a nineteenth century way. Jokes circulate as to what Schoenberg's film music would be - apparently he asked for tons of money and way too much time.

6 Stücke [6 Pieces], op. 35 (1930) (male chorus)
Devasting, at least the fifth and sixth pieces. One to four sound overburdened by counterpoint, it becomes a texture. Five is split up between voices as drums and others in an almost narrative way enacting soldier life, it reminds me of Mahler's Revelge. Six is a beautiful D minor.

Quarter note = mm. 80 (Gesamtausgabe fragment 13) (February 1931) (piano)
A lot of activity but not overcrowded, almost always four-part texture. Large leaps.

Double Mirror Canon (Bärenreiter VIII) (April 1931) (4 voices)(complete works 6)
This is the Schoenberg of the Christmas Music, a lovely canon that would sound well for strings and with a charming and quirky ending. Recommended.

Sehr rasch; Adagio [Very fast; Slowly] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 14) (July 1931) (piano)
Not recorded on the Fragments CD. It is an alternation of whole step octave displaced octaves with some Adagio sections and then almost imitative sections. Feels like a cadenza of sorts.

Andante (Gesamtausgabe fragment 15) (10 October 1931) (piano)
Barely worked out, mainly a single melody with bare accompaniment at the beginning.

(Bärenreiter IX) (Dec 1931)(Complete Works 7) (4 voices)
Crowded, too busy, high in conception, but clumsy. Quirky ending. #7 in the complete works.

Concerto “after Monn’s Concerto in D major for harpsichord” (1932/33) (violoncello, orchestra)
Schoenberg seemed to have a blast with this concerto dedicated to Casals who, not surprisingly, never played it. The orchestration is elegant and the cello line fiendishly difficult. Often the cello is buried in the score, which has a feeling like Schumann's orchestra. I suppose this is Schoenbeg's attempt at neoclassicism.

Double Mirror Canon (Bärenreiter XII) (Dec 1932) (4 voices)(complete works 9)
Small, only seven measures, it has potential to be expressive.

Concerto “freely adapted from Handel’s Concerto grosso in B-flat major, op.6, no.7” (1933)
If the concerto for cello is one crazy instrument with the ensemble then this concerto "freely adapted" from Handel is four crazy instruments with ensemble. Triple stops, double stops, eight parts in the strings, fast. Either this is Schoenberg's sense of humor or perhaps at the same time, his way of outdoing all the neoclassical works that were out there at this time.

Jedem geht es so [No man can escape] (for Carl Engel) (Bärenreiter XIII) (April 1933; text 1943) (3 voices)
This and it companion (Mir auch ist es so ergangen) form a birthday greeting to Schoenberg's friend Carl Engel, lamenting on how people say that at sixty you cannot do what you did before, but that once you are sixty this is nonsense, and ending with the English: "Life begins at 60" It's a rather straightforward D minor mensuration canon that becomes major in the final section. Quite charming. Ends with the musical realization of their two names. Of the canons I have heard this is the most succesful.

Mir auch ist es so ergangen [I, too, was not better off] (for Carl Engel) (Bärenreiter XIV) (April 1933; text 1943) (3 voices)
See above

Perpetual canon, A minor (Bärenreiter XV) (1933) (4 voices) (complete works x)
This canon (#15 in the Barenreiter collection and #10 in the complete works) a highly chromatic work that is elegiac in nature.

Mirror canon, A minor (Bärenreiter XVI) (1933) (4 voices) (complete works xi)
Stodgy and not particularly artful.

Piece (Gesamtausgabe fragment 16) (after October 1933) (piano)
A tiny twelve-tone fragment with a melody in the tenor and accompaniment in the bass. 3 measures only.

Moderato (Gesamtausgabe fragment 17) (April 1934?) (piano)
Weak, begins almost like a canonic exercise with all of Schoenberg's cliched figures prominent - the dotted rhythms, the slurred descending leaps. Never gets off its feet.

Es ist zu dumm [It is too dumb] (for Rudolph Ganz) (Bärenreiter XXII) (September 1934) (4 voices)
Schoenberg wrote this jaunty little canon as a response to an invitation to Chicago. The words that leap out are schade and Chicago which both are assigned a seufzer. Interesting.

Suite, G major (1934) (string orchestra)
It has been some time since I heard a full Schoenberg work and not a canon or fragment. This is the Schoenberg of the folk songs, and the Schoenberg of the Weihnachtsmusik. Coming to this sort of Schoenberg fun piece I hear the things I like about Schoenberg and the things I don't. So for instance, let's reflect on the way that Schoenberg beats a rhythmic fragment into the ground, usually a dotted figure (which here makes its entrance in its original guise - as a French overture figure). The reason these things become so tiresome is found in their chiseledness. Schoenberg will choose a figure that has a very strong profile, rhymically and often in the shape of the melody. These are then often broken up into small fragments which themselves are repeated and varied lending an overall sameness to the music. So in the final - otherwise quite enjoyable especially with its polyrhythmic divison of the 12/8 meter - Gigue we have a fragmetn reminiscent of Three Blind Mice (they all go under the mulberry bush, etc) the dum-da-dum, dum-dum-dum figure which is short and catchy and repeats over and over - if Arnie could shake things up more melodically we could enjoy it much more. In this light, look at the B section of the Gavotte which plays with the divisions, or the A section of the same which puts the listener in a constant state of losing the meter. The opening is lovely with a full diatonic complement that reminds me of Pulcinella mixed with Purcell in its moving back and forth from Adagio to Fugue. In this opening we see the beauty of Schoenberg's harmonies and the techniques he talks about in the Harmonielehre at play in the way that he views any harmony as able to move potentially to any other harmony and this in the very first phrase with its modulation from G major to B minor - following exactly as he does in his textbook (this was a piece for a student orcestra, so why not teach them something about harmony). We see this also at 165-169 of the otherwise tedious Adagio with its play of harmonies moving one into the other - the narrative at the point is simply harmonic motion and harmonic motion in a new and interesting way. The minuet is like an old man's bad joke - you feel like you have to laugh along. The polyphony is superdense which makes it almost impossible to bring out the proper melodies espcialy in the bluesy Gavotte.

Concerto, op. 36 (1934/36) (violin, orchestra)
It strikes me that this is the sort of work that one has to grow into. When I first heard it nearly ten years ago in the old Krasner recording I found it ponderous and annoying, with its overreliance on harmonics and squeaky high notes that didn't really sound well in the instrument. Hearing it now with the benefit of much of Schoenberg's catalogue in my ears I have a different appreciation for it, though not entirely a full appreciation. I recognize the remarkabe virtuosity of the part with its preponderance of triple and quadruple stops as well as harmonics as coming out of the Schoenberg string concerto school - one needs only think of what he did to that Monn cello concerto or the Handel concerto to see these as Schoenberg's playing around with virtuosity. Second, it seems to me that one of the most understudied aspects of Schoenberg's work is his use of rhythm - perhaps this is a result of a Boulez bias stemming from the infamous article and the fact that in taking serialism to the next level rhythm was what was addressed among other things. But Schoenberg's rhythms here, while in many cases strongly influenced by martial rhythms retain a sense of flexibility - I was struck by how often the meter goes against the notated meter, whether it is the constant syncopation that makes the accentuation fall off the beat or the fact that a good deal of it is in 4/4 when the sounding surface doesn't match with that. It seems to me that much could be gained from a study of Schoenberg's music from that level - it's similar to counterpoint study in the unmeasured period, the smaller rhtyhms may parse well but on a larger scale we have a constant interplay of mismatched meters. We saw somthing like that in the Suite for String Orchestra as well. Otherwise, I recognize now some of the great tension builds that Schoenberg does, the obsessive return to Ab in the second movement, the refrain-type formal scheme in the third movement, but this is not a warm piece, not a piece that is welcoming. I could care less about its twelve-tone construction, you don't hear that in the piece. I wonder if this is a music that we are still simply not ready for, or else what will make us ready for it is still to be revealed, rather one needs to open up the rhythmic possibilities in it to really allow it to shine.

Quartet no. 4, op. 37 (1936) (2 violins, viola, violoncello)
The famous fourth quartet evokes the same disease in me as the third. One detects that Schoenberg is on top of his game, he is working with his system in a way that demonstrates that it is his being, it has the same unifying rhythms that have plagued the composer for decades and the same difficult to pull off conflicting metrics - an almost poetic conceit - that I've noted in the violin concerto and the G Major suite. Nonetheless, It is, beyond a few stray moments, not really a pleasure to listen to and while it points the way toward new directions of expression - metric modulation for instance (I wonder if one some level this wasn't a strong model for Carter's First Quartet) - I can't help but feel that it does't warrant its reputation from a narrative, listening point of view; it may very well warrant the reputation from a serial point of view - indeed, the segmentation of the row would become a major factor in later serialism. I've tried to wrestle with what it is about the work that bothers me. One thing is the use of the registral space - the first violin so often stands out from the rest in an unpleasant way, we'll have the two lower strings in the octave below middle C, the second violin in the octave above and then the first violin way above that. In line with this consider the solo and accompaniment effect of much of the work, not only its famous opening. As contrast, often the exact opposite problem is found with the cello. I detect also a lot of sameness in the sound and perhaps its a question of performance (I'm talking about the Vienna Quartet performance) but the rhythms are stiff - I think Schoenberg wants a more flexible rhythm to allow the tensions to grow. I'm stuck with this piece again.

Kammersymphonie [Chamber symphony] no. 2, op. 38 (1906/39)
It's hard not to think of Schoenberg historically - that is, living in history - when we listen to this piece. It is in two movements, the opening an Adagio written in 1906 and reorchestrated in 1939 and the second more lighthearted, almost Copland sounding, neoclassical which reverts to the Adagio of the opening, which when it returns sounds more impassioned and clearheaded than it did in the opening movement. You get the sense that the cheery bubbling of the second movement hasbeen a foil for the deep-seated unease of the Adagio. This is what commentators have said and what one certainly hears in the work. On the other hand, if we think about it pureply from the perspective of the composer - he's got this old work, he wants to add another movement to it and then needs something to tie it together, so why not bring back the material from the opening. Similarly the Adagio material brought back - the brought back amounts only to the gestures, the overscored polyphony of the opening does not return, is more profound in this sense, if only becuase it has been stripped of the overworking. Another work I'm ambivalent - the ending is good and the second movement breezes along, but the first just doesn't work for me.

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