Arnold Schoenberg's Journey Paperback – 30 May 2003
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One of the best things to have happened to the composer in a long time. Allen Shawn, a composer himself, is an admirer of Schoenberg. He gives us the whole man seen from within his cultural environment and from within his music too...Shawn invites us to share with him a spontaneous and warm response to Schoenberg's music rather than a purely analytical one...Shawn is exceptionally felicitous at finding words for music, which makes him an ideal companion on this journey of discovery.--George Perle "Wall Street Journal "
Nothing in recent years has filled me with an urgent desire to re-engage with [Schoenberg's music] so much as this sensitive and personal book.--Bayan Northcott"BBC Music Magazine" (10/01/2003)
A collection of elegant and persuasive essays: analytic discussions of single works and vivid accounts of phases and facets of Schoenberg's life...Shawn is an engaging writer.--Anthony Tommasini "New York Times "
About the Author
Allen Shawn, a composer, is on the faculty of Bennington College.
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Top Customer Reviews
Schoenberg was a restless, irascible, fiercely loyal man, who painted and wrote and invented things as well as composing some of the most fearsome and beautiful music of the 20th century. Shawn is very good at the cultural background Schoenberg came from. In Vienna at the turn of the century, if you wanted to pay homage to something you didn't just repeat it, you digested it and if necessary rejected it (postmodernists, achtung). Schoenberg had mostly taught himself music, and like all self-taught people he had an outward self-confidence that compensated for inner unease. Since autodidacts don't have tradition handed them by some existing institution but have to assimilate it by themselves, the inevitable need to shake it off is felt especially keenly as an inner struggle. Schoenberg had that, all right; as Buffy would say, "Inner struggle much?" He described the abandonment of conventional tonality as "like falling into an ocean of boiling water"; he never did anything lightly. In his music that sometimes leads to a humourless monumentalism, but more often than not his furious energy, fantastic inventiveness and ruthless craftsmanship win the day.
Allen Shawn's book is a really fine piece of work, better I think than Charles Rosen's rather patronising 1970s monograph on the composer. Trivia fans may note that Shawn's brother is the playwright and actor Wallace Shawn and his father was the legendary editor William Shawn. Luckily, coming from a cultured family hasn't interfered with his talent.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Shawn is a composer, and presents careful treatments of several major compositions, complete with excerpts from the scores. He includes some fascinating biographical information, but the focus is the music. Schoenberg pioneered "atonal" music in the years right around 1910 parallel to Kandinsky's pioneering abstract painting, and in fact the two were friends and collaborators.
Here is an amazing quote from Schoenberg:
"It has never been the purpose and effect of new art to suppress the old, its predecessor, certainly not to destroy it. ... The appearance of the new can far better be compared with the flowering of a tree: it is the natural growth of the tree of life. But if there were trees that had an interest in preventing the flowering, then they would surely call it revolution. And conservatives of winter would fight against each spring. ... Short memory and meager insight suffice to confuse growth with overthrow." (p. 141)
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.
Here's a few scattered quotes of what he has to say about 'Die Gluckliche Hand':
'that the representation of the unattainable is embodied in music that is itself dense and tangled is no accident.Although it is beautifully imagined and so headlong in its progress that it seems shorter than it is......yet it is precise in its intricacy,and the orchestration is lush and full of colour' pg.158
The moments of analyis are always free of technical jargon and i like the attention given to Schoenberg's painting as a means of illumination.Altogether a compelling read and well illustrated.
The possible drawbacks are minor:
for my liking,there are too many references to Robert Craft, and i don't understand what Shawn means when he describes Wagner as being earthbound in comparison with early Schoenberg(the prelude to Parsifal being one of the most weightless pieces of music i know).Also,i have a special affection for that most ravishing of choral works 'Friede auf Erden' op.13 so was sad to find no reference to this little gem.
But please,go out and buy this book.It's got just the right tone of voice.Supplement with Rosen's more dense but equally thoughtful book.
Schoenberg is tough, true. But I hope people will read this book and see he was human and passionate.
It's really silly that I haven't had the opportunity to hear one of the greatest composer's music in concert. Will that change?
With more advocates such as Mr. Shawn, I can hope so.
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.
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