SCHOENBERG: Verklarte Nacht / Chamber Symphony No. 2
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Arnold Schoenberg was one of the most controversial and influentialcomposers of the twentieth century, although the composer himself hated beingcalled a revolutionary. Whilst his discovery of the twelve-note technique didindeed revolutionise the musical language of the last century, his respect forthe musical past can be seen both in his thorough grounding in the classics andin the formal models of his own compositions: the string quartet, the concerto,the chamber symphony. Stylistically, Schoenberg's works can be divided intofour distinct periods: an early tonal period; a second period of atonal worksdating from 1908 onwards (Schoenberg thought the term 'atonal' offensive andpreferred 'pantonal'); a third period, from 1920-36, of works based on thetwelve-note, or serial, technique; a more stylistically heterogeneous fourthperiod dating from the 1930s that is marked by the intermittent reappearance oftonality.
Born in Vienna on 13th September 1874 (he became an American citizen in1941), Schoenberg learnt both the violin and the cello, and played in anamateur ensemble that performed works from the Classical repertory and forwhich he began to compose quartets. More formal instruction came in 1893 afterhe befriended the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky, who had studied at theVienna Conservatory Essentially, however, Schoenberg was self-taught: heremarked that his teachers were first Bach and Mozart, and secondly Beethoven,Wagner and Brahms.
In December 1901 Schoenberg moved to Berlin where he earned a livingconducting Ernst von Wolzogen's satirical cabaret, ?£berbrettl, and byscoring operettas. Thanks to a recommendation from Richard Strauss, who hadbeen favourably impressed when shown parts of the score of the immense Gurrelieder(composition of which had begun in March 1900), Schoenberg obtained theLiszt Stipendium and a composition post at the Stern Conservatory. He returnedto Vienna in July 1903, having completed the symphonic poem Pelleas undMelisande (1902-3), and he gave private lessons there in composition andtheory. In the autumn of 1904 Schoenberg acquired two new pupils, Anton Webernand Alban Berg, two composers who were to become lifelong disciples and who,together with Schoenberg, were to become collectively known as the SecondViennese School.
Having stretched the chromatic harmony of Wagner's Tristan almostto breaking point in the works of his first period, Schoenberg then carriedthis process to its logical conclusion by eschewing structural harmonyaltogether, in a series of atonal works including the Three Pieces forpiano (1909), the settings of poems by Stefan George, Das Buch der hangendenGarten (1908-9), and one of his most famous works, the melodrama PierrotLunaire (1912). It was during this period of stylistic crisis that paintingbecame of great importance to Schoenberg, and he became friends with the artistKandinsky and exhibited his paintings with the group Der Blaue Reiter. Hecomposed little between 1913 and 1921 (with a notable exception being theunfinished oratorio Die Jakobsleiter), but the 1920s witnessed the firstfruits of Schoenberg's newly developed serial technique (the 'method ofcomposing with twelve notes which are related only to one another'), a systematicway of organizing atonal music. The first works of this third period includethe Five Piano Pieces (1920-3), the Serenade (1920-3) and the PianoSuite (1921-3).
In January 1926 Schoenberg again moved to Berlin from Vienna to take upa composition post at the Prussian Academy of Arts, and since his academicduties required him to teach for approximately six months of the year it proveda particularly fruitful period for his own compositional activity. Severalmajor works were composed around this time, including the Variations forOrchestra (1926-8), the Third Quartet (1927), and the operas VonHeute auf Morgen (1928-9) and the unfinished Moses und Aron (1930-2).
He remained there unti11933, when he was summarily dismissed by the Nazis. Heleft Berlin for France in May (reconverting to Judaism in Paris) andsubsequently emigrated to the USA. In 1936 he was offered a professorship atthe University of California, where he taught from 1936-44 Schoenberg died inLos Angeles on 13th July 1951.
Although work on Chamber Symphony No. 2 had begun in August 1906(Schoenberg had finished Chamber Symphony No. 1 in July of that year),it was not actually completed until he returned to the sketches over thirtyyears later in 1939. He cast the work in two movements, and as well asrescoring and revising it, he added an additional twenty bars to the firstmovement, whilst the second movement almost doubled in length. The slow,elegiac first movement is counterpointed with an expansive, impassioned secondmovement (con fuoco) which reaches a tragic climax. Its premi?¿re wasgiven on 14th November 1940 under Fritz Stiedry in New York.
The Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene was composed inBerlin between 1929-30. While its title may suggest that it was composed for anactual film it is in fact a completely independent orchestral piece. Thethree-movement work is based on an imaginary sequence of contrasting emotionalstates - Threatening Danger, Fear and Catastrophe - the premi?¿reof which was conducted on 6th November 1930 under Klemperer in Berlin (itsfirst British performance was conducted by Webern for a BBC broadcast in 1931).
The string sextet Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) wascomposed in 1899, with the arrangement for string orchestra following in 1917(rev. 1943). It is based on one of Richard Dehmel's poems from the cycle Weibund Welt in which a woman confesses to her lover that she has becomepregnant by another man. The poem's structure - five stanzas of differinglength - is based on a rondo-like ABACA pattern, with the recurring A sectionrepresenting a moonlit walk, the B section the woman's confession and the Csection the man's noble reply. Similarly, Schoenberg's single-movement workconsists of five continuous but clearly differentiated sections 'in which',Oliver Neighbour writes in The New Grove, 'Wagnerian and Brahmsian modesof thought meet in harmonious accord'. Its premi?¿re was given by an augmentedRose Quartet in Vienna on 18th March 1902.