Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

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lennygoran
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Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by lennygoran » Mon Dec 04, 2017 8:38 pm

And yet for me just thinking about Schoenberg and Atonality exhausts me! Regards, Len

Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI DEC. 4, 2017


What’s most fascinating, and even moving, about the experimental works Arnold Schoenberg wrote in his mid-30s is how you hear a pioneering composer treading an uncertain path. Born in 1874, Schoenberg eventually concluded that the late Germanic Romanticism of his youth, with its hold on tonal (that is, major- and minor-key) harmony, had become an exhausted language. In several crucial pieces, starting around 1908, he slowly tried to find a new, atonal language.

On Sunday afternoon, the Upper East Side became a haven for these searching atonal compositions. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the conductor Leon Botstein discussed Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), a one-act monodrama for soprano and orchestra, written in 1909, and led the Orchestra Now, an ensemble from the conservatory at Bard College (where Mr. Botstein is the president), and the soprano Kirsten Chambers in excerpts from the piece to illustrate his points.

A little later that afternoon, the superb Brentano String Quartet played a typically adventurous program at the 92nd Street Y, culminating with a rare performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 in F-sharp minor, a daring 1908 work. The last two of its four movements are musical settings for soprano and quartet of two poems by Stefan George, sung at the Y compellingly by Dawn Upshaw.

Alas, the programs overlapped. After Mr. Botstein’s talk, rather than staying for the entirety of “Erwartung,” I dashed to the Y to catch the Brentano performance. But I was happy I made it to his lecture first. Mr. Botstein began by describing both “Erwartung” and the paintings of Munch (the subject of a major exhibition at the museum’s Met Breuer space) as works of Expressionism. The Expressionists rejected conventional reality, he said, believing that individuals, including artists, create their own.
Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (audio and score) Video by tomekkobialka

For Schoenberg, the system of tonality was the equivalent of the Expressionists’ conventional reality. So he set about composing in a language unbounded by the traditional expectation that music would hew to consonant points of grounding; he said he “emancipated dissonance.” “Erwartung” was a statement of purpose.

The libretto is by the writer and physician Marie Pappenheim. The sole character, called simply the Woman, wanders through a dark forest at night searching for her missing lover. She thinks she sees a body, but it turns out to be a tree trunk. Going deeper, she comes upon her dead lover. Though horrified, she speaks to him as if he were alive but finally, delirious, just walks away. Where to? We don’t find out.


Calling “Erwartung” the “first Freudian opera,” Mr. Botstein played excerpts to illustrate the work’s restless, sometimes rootless harmonic language, the skittish interplay of contrapuntal lines, the composer’s use of recurring motifs and the tormented emotional cast of the music. He drew rich, expressive playing from the orchestra, and Ms. Chambers’s bright lyric soprano lent fragile innocence to her portrayal of the desperate Woman.

Schoenberg dedicated the work to his wife, Mathilde, even though, during the summer of 1908, she devastated the composer by having an affair with the artist (and their friend) Richard Gerstl, who then committed suicide. The composer’s life at this time was like a horrific Munch painting.

The Brentano ensemble preceded the Schoenberg with Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet (so called for its eerie, slow introduction) and Respighi’s “Il tramanto” for soprano and quartet from 1914, a contemporary piece to Schoenberg’s quartet but extremely different: tonally plush and lingeringly Romantic. In an intriguing experiment, the quartet then alternated performances of five early Schubert minuets with six radically compact, essentially atonal bagatelles by Anton Webern (a devoted student of Schoenberg’s), composed between 1911 and 1913.

Then they performed the Second String Quartet. The agitated first movement is supposedly written in F-sharp minor, but that information doesn’t help you much in listening. The music, though riveting, is all over the place harmonically. In this powerful performance, the sections that are settings of the two poems by George (“Litany” and “Rapture”), for all their rapture, sadness, nostalgia and wistful beauty, sounded like warm-ups for the traumatizing “Erwartung.”

Schoenberg eventually grew frustrated writing in a free atonal language. He wanted more order, a systematic language full of possibilities, as in the tonal system’s glory days. He certainly came up with an orderly solution: the 12-tone system.

But that’s another story.



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/arts ... ction&_r=0

Belle
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by Belle » Tue Dec 05, 2017 1:36 am

This is terribly interesting, thanks Len!! I have a book by Schoenberg which is an anthology of his essays. Tonality had become effete, yes, but it was also re-energized by great composers like Ravel, Rachmaninov, Strauss and Shostakovich, amongst others. I love the idea about "more order".

I love Schoenberg's arrangement of this little gem, which is very appropriate for this time of year and is posted by way of a seasonal greeting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR94CiqtFLs

lennygoran
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by lennygoran » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:15 am

Belle wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 1:36 am
I love Schoenberg's arrangement of this little gem, which is very appropriate for this time of year and is posted by way of a seasonal greeting
Belle thanks so much for this-it sure beats Erwartung! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by John F » Tue Dec 05, 2017 6:12 am

For me, the main news in this rehash of standard music history is that Dawn Upshaw sang in the performance of the Schoenberg string quartet. She hardly ever performs nowadays, it seems; I last heard her nearly 10 years ago in Saariaho's "La Passion de Simone." A versatile and valuable artist, she appeared at the Met hundreds of times beginning in 1984 but hasn't been back since "The Rake's Progress" in 2003 and "The Great Gatsby" in 2002. Too bad.
John Francis

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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:51 am

I know that journalists mostly do not write their own headlines, but it is tonality, not harmony, that is in question, and it was tonality that was supposedly exhausted, not Schoenberg.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Belle
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by Belle » Tue Dec 05, 2017 12:23 pm

John F wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 6:12 am
For me, the main news in this rehash of standard music history is that Dawn Upshaw sang in the performance of the Schoenberg string quartet. She hardly ever performs nowadays, it seems; I last heard her nearly 10 years ago in Saariaho's "La Passion de Simone." A versatile and valuable artist, she appeared at the Met hundreds of times beginning in 1984 but hasn't been back since "The Rake's Progress" in 2003 and "The Great Gatsby" in 2002. Too bad.
I have recordings of Upshaw singing Gershwin musicals!

THEHORN
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by THEHORN » Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:45 pm

John, unfortunately, Dawn Upshaw has been fighting breast cancer in recent years , which explains her increasing rarity in public . I hope she will recover fully .

John F
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by John F » Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:05 am

Belle wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 12:23 pm
I have recordings of Upshaw singing Gershwin musicals!
She says she grew up during the folk/pop '60s and liked singing those songs; classical music came later.
John Francis

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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by karlhenning » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:18 am

lennygoran wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:15 am
Belle wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 1:36 am
I love Schoenberg's arrangement of this little gem, which is very appropriate for this time of year and is posted by way of a seasonal greeting
Belle thanks so much for this-it sure beats Erwartung! Regards, Len :lol:
Oh, it does not, Len! I love Erwartung.

Cheers (fleeing),
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
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http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by karlhenning » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:20 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:51 am
I know that journalists mostly do not write their own headlines, but it is tonality, not harmony, that is in question, and it was tonality that was supposedly exhausted, not Schoenberg.
If Schoenberg had been able to travel forward in time to hear Philip Glass, he would have found himself exhausted by harmony, indeed! 8)
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

lennygoran
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Re: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

Post by lennygoran » Wed Dec 06, 2017 6:23 am

karlhenning wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:18 am
Oh, it does not, Len! I love Erwartung.

Cheers (fleeing),
~Karl
Karl, okay then-enjoy! Regards, Len :lol: :lol: :lol:

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