SCHOENBERG: 6 A Cappella Mixed Choruses / String Quartet No. 2 / Suite in G major (Fred Sherry Quartet/ Jennifer Welch-Babidge/ Robert Craft/ Simon Joly Singers/ Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble) (Naxos: 8.557521)
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Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)Six a cappella Mixed Choruses
In August 1928 the \State Commission for theFolksong-Book for Youth," Berlin, invited Schoenbergto arrange (harmonize) three sixteenth-century popularGerman folk-songs according to his own dictates.
Schoenberg became deeply absorbed in the work andcreated three miniature polyphonic masterpieces. In LosAngeles in 1948 he decided to compose three more ofthese choruses in the same style.String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10
Schoenberg began the composition of his second, Fsharp minor, string quartet, Opus 10, in Vienna, on 9thMarch, 1907. The four movements were not written inchronological order, the first having been composedmore than a year before the others. The third movement,Litanei, was completed on 11th July, 1908, the secondmovement (Scherzo) on 21st July, 1908, and the wholepiece was completed on 1st September, in Gmunden. Inthe summer, some time before this, the 25-year-oldpainter Richard Gerstl, a keen musician, student ofphilosophy and of Greek and Latin, eloped withSchoenberg's wife Mathilde. Three months afterward,in November, blaming himself for the flagitious act,Gerstl committed suicide. He had been living in a rentedstudio in the same building as the Schoenbergapartment, had painted both of them, and given lessonsto Schoenberg in the painter's art, but also developing apassion for his wife, who was nine years younger thanthe composer. Largely through the mediations ofWebern, she was persuaded to return to him, and he toaccept her, but her maternal feelings for their two veryyoung children must have been her most compellingreason. Schoenberg's diaries about the experience(published in Allen Shawn's superb book about thecomposer)1 are a revelation of his acrobaticpsychological processes and the impregnability of hisego.
The two vocal movements that conclude the quartet,Litanei and Entr??ckung, presage a new world inSchoenberg's musical development, the feeling of "airfrom another planet", as a line in Entr??ckung puts it.
The present writer cannot say whether or not the musicwas composed during or after these tempestuous events,but in any case, the quartet is dedicated "To My Wife".
It was performed by the Rose ensemble in theBosendorfersaal, Vienna, 21st December, 1908, withFrau Marie Gutheil-Schoder singing the settings of theStefan George poems. These movements markSchoenberg's greatest advance in harmonic discoveryand sensitivity thus far in his life: every chord,progression, combination of pitches, is utterly new andunerringly right, and the quiet, deliquescent stringintroduction to Entr??ckung, and the enthrallingcombination of voice and quartet throughout are a peakin early twentieth-century music.
Schoenberg's attraction to George is a subject for awriter with deep knowledge of German as well as music,and a book-length study of the interrelation is longoverdue. The present writer has chosen to present theQuartet, Op. 10, in its original form and not inSchoenberg's 1929 string orchestra version for thereason that the latter tends to overweight the bass linewhere it doubles the cello. Further, the vocal movementscontain some of the most inward Schoenberg ever wrote;Opus 10 does not make public statements.Suite for Strings in G
Schoenberg's first American composition is in fivemovements: Overture (11), Adagio (12), Minuet (13),Gavotte (14), and Gigue (15). In August 1934, after abitter winter in Boston, the composer visited thesummer music school at Chautauqua, New York, at theinvitation of one of its directors, the Australian pianist,Ernest Hutcheson, who had studied at the LeipzigConservatory in the 1880s, and whom the composer hadknown and befriended in pre-World War I Germany.
Coincidentally, Hutcheson was president of the JuilliardSchool of Music in New York, and hoped to engageSchoenberg to teach there. The Boston experience hadconvinced him that the New York climate would be toosevere for him, but, needing a source of income, heasked Hutcheson to postpone, not withdraw, the offer.
In a letter to his brother-in-law discussing possiblesalaries, which Hutcheson feared might be exorbitant --Schoenberg's reputation as a teacher was unparalleled-- the composer coyly remarks: "True, they don't knowhow cheap I'd be". Ultimately he moved to the moresalubrious climate of southern California. InformingHutcheson of this decision in a letter of 28th March,1935, Schoenberg adds a further reason, which shouldinterest culture historians: the inadequacy of the averageAmerican music student's "basic grounding":