The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908-1923

The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908-1923

The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908-1923

The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908-1923

Synopsis

Between 1908 and 1923, Arnold Schoenberg began writing music that went against many of the accepted concepts and practices of this art. Largely following his intuition during these years, he composed some of the masterpieces of the modern repertoire--including Pierrot lunaire and Erwartung--works that have since provoked a large, though fragmented, body of critical and analytical writing. In this book, Bryan Simms combines a historical study with a close analytical reading of the music to give us a new and richer understanding of Schoenberg's seminal work during this period.

Excerpt

This book contains a historical and analytic portrait of Arnold Schoenberg's atonal music, a body of some fifteen major compositions and numerous fragments created between 1908 and 1923. These include such masterpieces as Pierrot lunaire, the opera Erwartung, Five Orchestra Pieces, Op. 16, and songs from Stefan George's Book of the Hanging Gardens. The atonal works are distinguished from the composer's earlier compositions by their lack of traditional key, among many other innovative features, and stand apart in style and compositional technique from his later works composed according to his twelve- tone method.

My presentation of this complex musical oeuvre rests both on a close analytic study of the works themselves and a review of the historical circumstances through which they came into being, by which I hope to show how the musical language of this period in Schoenberg's creative life continually evolved to reflect his personal circumstances and changing artistic outlook. The music is also a product of its time, coming on the heels of the collapsing romantic style, persisting through the angst-ridden period before and after World War I, and reaching its own end in the materialistic and cynical atmosphere of the 1920s. This book is shaped also by an assessment of the many writings that already exist on the subject. In attempting to cope with the remarkably large literature on each of Schoenberg's atonal compositions (see the Bibliography for examples), I have attached the greatest importance to Schoenberg's own writings, in which the composer provocatively addresses the constructive and expressive content of his music, including its atonal phase. To the extent possible I also comment upon and synthesize other important critical and analytic points of view, despite the great diversity of method and objective that characterizes this literature.

Schoenberg was himself well aware of the ambiguities and limitations inherent in any analysis of a musical work, especially an atonal composition. In a lecture of 1932 on the Four Orchestral Songs, he cautioned his listeners in a way that the author of this book can only echo: "I would not have you believe, ladies and gentlemen, that with this analysis all aspects of this section have been elucidated.... I state what I see, as far as I am able to express it. Yet in the end, this . . .

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