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Author: Allen Shawn
ISBN13: 978-0674011014
Title: Arnold Schoenberg's Journey
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ePUB size: 1749 kb
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Language: English
Category: Music
Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2003)
Pages: 368

Arnold Schoenberg's Journey by Allen Shawn

Approaching Schoenberg primarily from the listener's point of view.

Includes bibliographical references and index. A survey of Schoenberg's oeuvre, musical and visual, and of his influence on European Impressionism and American jazz.

Approaching Schoenberg primarily from the listener’s point of view, Shawn plunges into the details of some of Schoenberg’s works while at the same time providing a broad overview of his involvements in music, painting, and the history through which he lived.

Arnold Schoenberg’s Journey is comprehensive, enlightening, and a consistent pleasure to read. Wish I Could Be There. a book that combines the sympathetic insight of Oliver Sacks’s writings with Joan Didion’s autobiographical candor and Mary Karr’s sense of familial dynamics - a book that leaves the reader with a haunting sense of how relationships between brothers and sisters, and parents and children, can irrevocably bend the arc of an individual’s life, how childhood dynamics can shape. one’s apprehension of the world.

Shawn is the author of a book about twentieth-century Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg titled Arnold Schoenberg's Journey, and a book about Leonard Bernstein called Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician. and Twin: A Memoir, also about Mary and his relationship with her. He discussed Twin with Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air on January.

Proposing that Arnold Schoenberg has been more discussed than heard, more tolerated than loved, Allen Shawn puts aside ultimate judgments about Schoenberg's place in music history to explore the composer's fascinating world in a series of linked essays--"soundings"--that are both searching and wonderfully suggestive. Approaching Schoenberg primarily from the listener's point of view, Shawn plunges into the details of some of Schoenberg's works while at the same time providing a broad overview of his involvements in music, painting, and the history through which he lived.
Reviews: 7
Even if you don't read music, there is much to be gained from this book. The author's admiration for
Schoenberg is evident and contagious. He is able to describe the music in ways that make you want to go put on
a CD immediately. There are many intelligent insights, both musical and biographical. The writing style is lively and graceful. The chapter entitled 'On Being Short' could stand alone in a literary journal.
Composer and pianist Allen Shawn wrote in the Foreword of this 2002 book, "What follows is not a biography or musical study in any conventional sense but rather a linked series of visits to points of interest in Schoenberg's life... in chronological order." (Pg. xii)

He notes, "Another paradox is that it was the very reverence this famously 'atonal' master had for the tonal tradition of his forebears that spurred the thoroughness of his extension of it." (Pg. 8) Later, he adds, "Schoenberg never accepted the term 'atonal' as a description of his work." (Pg. 131)

He states that "When the Gurre-Lieder was performed [in 1913], it became the greatest triumph of his life," and produced a fifteen-minute standing ovation. (Pg. 24, 130) This contrasts with his later music, where "An admirer ... recalled having sometimes to get Schoenberg 'out of a concert hall by a back entrance' and to 'shield him with our very bodies against all the things that were thrown at him.' After a performance of Pierrot Lunaire a musician member of the audience pointed at Schoenberg and shouted, 'Shoot him!'" (Pg. 55)

He observes of Schoenberg's relation with Stravinsky, "this (Pierrot/Le Sacre period) WAS the one period when the two composers were face-to-face on amicable terms." (Pg. 147) When Stravinsky was informed of the 1951 death of Schoenberg, "After drafting a telegram of condolence... Stravinsky... 'was silent all day.'" Upon seeing Schoenberg's death mask, he was "'visibly moved' by the face of the composer to whom he had not spoken since 1912." (Pg. 277; it is interesting to note that Stravinsky only began to utilize the twelve-tone method in his own music after Schoenberg's death.)

Shawn gives a lengthy description of Schoenberg's development of the twelve-tone style: "He found that if he used a specific succession of notes as his basis for a composition, the ear would hear any other version of the same succession of the intervals created by these tones as belonging to the same tonal family... The twelve tones would not be tied to tonality or to what one might have previously expected of them. They would be 'related ONLY with one another.'" (Pg. 199-200)

He records that in 1933, Schoenberg and his family "fled to Paris, and from there to the United States... if the Schoenberg family had not left Germany and Austria, it is highly unlikely that any of them would have survived. In Paris, Schoenberg made his return to Judaism official." (Pg. 237)

This is a very informative study of Schoenberg and his music; highly recommended!
Schoenberg's music gets treated at times like no more than a necessary intellectual evil: "Ok! Ok! Tonal centers aren't the only musical expressive form! We get it! Now can we please get back to beautiful life-affirming melodies and harmonies?!?!" The music often gets treated from only a theoretical viewpoint, and many people read about Schoenberg, or worse, read opinions about his music, before really experiencing the music itself. In this sense the music doesn't get a chance to live and breathe on its own without an angorra-thick layer of theory and sometimes obscure and opaque musicology heaped over it. The author of this book states this idea very eloquently in the introduction: "...it is not entirely in a spirit of facetiousness that I have said to friends that I feel perhaps Schoenberg's work deserves a more superficial treatment than it has hitherto received." This theme runs throughout the book, and the reader actually has a chance to get to know Schoenberg's biography and how that biography potentially related to his music without being subjected to stifling theory.

The book as a whole is made up of short chapters some of which contain mostly biography and others of which contain mostly descriptions and reflections on some of Schoenberg's major works (there are chapters completely dedicated to the following works: Verklärte Nacht, Gurre-Lieder, Brettl-Lieder (from Schoenberg's suprising tenure with Berlin cabarets in 1901-1902), Five Pieces For Orchestra, Erwartung, Pierrot Lunaire, Die glückliche Hand, Moses Und Aron, and the String Trio). This book doesn't just cover his music, though. One chapter gets devoted to his very literary treatise on harmony, "Harmonielehre". Another chapter discusses Schoenberg's paintings (some of which Gustave Mahler purchased to help support his financially struggling colleague). Two interesting later chapters deal with his propensity to create games and practical inventions, and even a reflection on being short (a trait that the author confesses to share; Schoenberg himself was under 5'4" which ranks him heightwise beneath Napolean).

Some of the most fascinating biographical episodes involve the audience and critical reactions to Schoenberg's works (at a performance of Pierrot Lunaire an audience member supposedly pointed at Schoenberg and yelled "Shoot him! Shoot him!" other concerts prompted his friends to shield him from projectiles thrown by the audience, or to evacuate him from the theater, and many performances were literally shouted down - the vocalist at the premiere of his Second String Quartet apparently left the stage in tears). An entire chapter also gets dedicated to Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique (often derogatorily subsumed as "overly intellectualist"); a technique he followed in his later works (most notably in "Music for a Film Scene", Op. 34, and the famous Piano Concerto, Op. 42).

Schoenberg also lived through major world events: World War I (in which he took a part) and World War II (which forced him to flee Germany and Austria in the rising tide of 1930s Anti-Semitism; "Ode To Napolean Bonaparte", Op. 41, stands as Schoenberg's musical lashing out at Hitler's tyranny). He also tried to help Jews in europe during Hitler's rise; he took anti-semitism as a given (one could arguably make the depressingly bizarre claim that anti-semitism was almost "fashionable" in the early part of the twentieth-century) and advocated a Jewish homeland.

Schoenberg's skills as a teacher (his most reliable source of income throughout his life) receives notice here, too. His pedogogical style apparently didn't encourage devoteeism. Some of his most famous students included Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and John Cage. All followed their own distinct directions following Schoenberg's instruction.

This book brings Schoenberg to life for those who know little about him. Those who have not heard any of Schoenberg's music should seek it out before reading this book. After all, the message of this book relates to finding meaning through active listening to, not intellectualizing about, the music of Schoenberg. Some passages might get a little thick for those with no musical background. And some contain actual musical notation. Nonetheless, a music theory background is not required to read or even to enjoy this book (though admittedly it would be helpful). The book overall opens up the expressive possibilities of Schoenberg's music to those whose spines curl at the mere mention of his name.