Schoenberg

Schoenberg

Schoenberg

Schoenberg

Synopsis

In this completely rewritten and updated edition of his long-indispensable study, Malcolm MacDonald takes advantage of 30 years of recent scholarship, new biographical information, and deeper understanding of Schoenberg's aims and significance to produce a superb guide to Schoenberg's life and work. MacDonald demonstrates the indissoluble links among Schoenberg's musical language (particularly the enigmatic and influential twelve-tone method), his personal character, and his creative ideas, as well as the deep connection between his genius as a teacher and as a revolutionary composer.
Exploring newly considered influences on the composer's early life, MacDonald offers a fresh perspective on Schoenberg's creative process and the emotional content of his music. For example, as a previously unsuspected source of childhood trauma, the author points to the Vienna Ringtheater disaster of 1881, in which hundreds of people were burned to death, including Schoenberg's uncle and aunt-whose orphaned children were then adopted by Schoenberg's parents. MacDonald brings such experiences to bear on the music itself, examining virtually every work in the oeuvre to demonstrate its vitality and many-sidedness. A chronology of Schoenberg's life, a work-list, an updated bibliography, and a greatly expanded list of personal allusions and references round out the study, and enhance this new edition.

Excerpt

Musica est exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerari
animi
.

—(Leibniz)

THIS BOOK WAS FIRST PUBLISHED TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER Schoenberg’s death, and now reappears in modified guise more than thirty years on. Its original edition strikes me today as something of a historical document. When a ‘Master Musicians’ volume on Schoenberg was first mooted, the composer was still a figure of controversy in an ongoing ideological war between modernist and traditionalist critical camps. Schoenberg was seen by the former—rightly—as the principal fatherfigure of musical modernism and—less legitimately but understandably— as the forerunner whose achievements demonstrated the historic inevitability of the post-war serialist avant-garde, who took their cue from his pupil, Webern, and had since become the officially sanctioned leaders of the New Music of the 1960s and ’70s. For those of a more reactionary disposition, or simply temperamentally antipathetic to much of that New Music, Schoenberg was the misguided genius whose ‘unnatural’ approach to composition bore heaviest responsibility for the present gulf in communication and comprehension between modern composers with their supporting coteries and the general concert-going public (whose understanding and appreciation was assumed to be limited to music written in a traditional tonal idiom).

Much of the writing on Schoenberg then available in the United Kingdom was both partisan and analytical, concentrating on his innovations in compositional technique, especially the twelve-note method and its later developments. Even books ostensibly aimed at non-specialist readers, such as Anthony Payne’s admirable little monograph in the Oxford Studies of Composers series, or Arnold Whittall’s BBC Music . . .

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