Schoenberg's New World: The American Years

Schoenberg's New World: The American Years

Schoenberg's New World: The American Years

Schoenberg's New World: The American Years

Synopsis

Arnold Schoenberg was a polarizing figure in twentieth century music, and his works and ideas have had considerable and lasting impact on Western musical life. A refugee from Nazi Europe, he spent an important part of his creative life in the United States (1933-1951), where he produced a rich variety of works and distinguished himself as an influential teacher. However, while his European career has received much scholarly attention, surprisingly little has been written about the genesis and context of his works composed in America, his interactions with Americans and other émigrés, and the substantial, complex, and fascinating performance and reception history of his music in this country.
Author Sabine Feisst illuminates Schoenberg's legacy and sheds a corrective light on a variety of myths about his sojourn. Looking at the first American performances of his works and the dissemination of his ideas among American composers in the 1910s, 1920s and early 1930s, she convincingly debunks the myths surrounding Schoenberg's alleged isolation in the US. Whereas most previous accounts of his time in the US have portrayed him as unwilling to adapt to American culture, this book presents a more nuanced picture, revealing a Schoenberg who came to terms with his various national identities in his life and work. Feisst dispels lingering negative impressions about Schoenberg's teaching style by focusing on his methods themselves as well as on his powerful influence on such well-known students as John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Dika Newlin. Schoenberg's influence is not limited to those who followed immediately in his footsteps-a wide range of composers, from Stravinsky adherents to experimentalists to jazz and film composers, were equally indebted to Schoenberg, as were key figures in music theory like Milton Babbitt and David Lewin. In sum,Schoenberg's New Worldcontributes to a new understanding of one of the most important pioneers of musical modernism.

Excerpt

Like countless refugees from Nazi Europe, Arnold Schoenberg, pioneer of musical modernism and polarizing figure in twentieth-century music, spent a significant part of his career in the United States. During his American years from 1933 to his death in 1951, he produced a rich body of works, distinguished himself as an influential teacher, and made a strong and lasting impact on American musical life. Yet while his European career and works, especially his innovative twelve-tone technique, have received significant scholarly attention, research on his American years has achieved neither depth nor breadth commensurate with the importance of this period in his career. Little has been written about his works composed in the United States, his interactions with Americans and with other émigrés, or the performance, publication, and reception of his music in this country. the existing literature is fraught with misinformation and misunderstandings, and lacks substantive discussion of biographical, cultural, and sociohistorical contexts. No full-length account of his life and work in America has yet been written, a fact all the more unusual given this topic’s significance.

My intention with this volume is to fill crucial gaps in the Schoenberg literature and dispel various myths by drawing on new information and offering new perspectives and scholarly approaches. in reexamining Schoenberg’s American career, I draw on the vast Schoenberg correspondence, much of which has remained unpublished and is only recently being made easily available through the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. I consider little-known writings by Schoenberg and a variety of primary sources by figures associated with him. Manuscripts of finished and unfinished works Schoenberg composed in America are reconsidered in new contexts. Much of this material is located at the Arnold Schönberg Center (formerly Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Los Angeles), the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. I also make use of numerous interviews with émigré and American musicians in the oral-history archives at Yale University and several West Coast libraries, and interviews I conducted with Schoenberg students, some of whom have since passed away: the late Patricia Carpenter, Frank Glazer, the late Lou Harrison, the late Leon Kirchner, the late Dika Newlin, the late David Raksin, the late Leonard Rosenman, the late Leonard Stein, and other adherents, as well as his family members and critics. All these investigations yielded much new information.

In an effort to gain new perspectives and overcome the narrow hagiographic and Eurocentric outlook of existing narratives of Schoenberg’s American years, I draw on a variety of approaches to biography (including David Riesman’s concepts of “inner” and “other directed” biographical narratives) and writings on other émigrés, as well as on ethnomusicological ideas about music migration. I take into account the new tendencies in exile scholarship since the 1990s (by Martin Jay and others); texts on the history, politics, and culture of twentieth-century America; and ideas of . . .

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