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Vous consultezThe public life of Schoenberg’s early musical works
Auteurby Karen PAINTER[*] [*] Professor of history at the University of Minnesota. ...
suitedu même auteur
Esteban BUCH. – Le cas Schönberg : naissance de l’avant-garde musicale. Paris, Gallimard, 2006,365 pages. « Bibliothèque des idées ».
2 Much of Schoenberg’s oeuvre, indeed the very name of the composer, has remained an anathema to the general public for now over a century. Curiously, no scholar before Esteban Buch has subjected the phenomenon of the scandal to rigorous his torical scrutiny, beyond the so-called Skandalkonzert of 31 March 1913. He also does far more than study the reception of Schoenberg from 1902 to 1913. There is no sacrifice of content for context (as a traditional musicologists might put it) : musical examples abound, along with sensitive analysis of scores from this critical period in the composer’s development. It is hard to think of another book on Schoenberg more accessible to a general reader yet also highly informative to the specialist, whether in musicology, history, or German studies.
3 Le cas Schönberg serves multiple functions. It provides a lively and engaging history of Schoenberg’s life and early works. In this capacity, the book is an immensely valuable resource, reconstructing the lively scene at each important premiere and reproducing the responses of Vienna’s leading critics. It also traces the emergence of Schoenberg as a special case, one that remains emblematic today of modern music, in being alien from the general public.
4 Buch proceeds chronologically, devoting a chapter to each of the major works premiered during the period 1902-1910 : Verklärte Nacht (chapter 2), Pelléas und Melisande (chapter 3), the First String Quartet and the Chamber Symphony (chapter 4), the Second String Quartet (chapter 5), the Piano Pieces, Op. 11, the Stefan George songs, and Pierrot lunaire (chapter 6). The flanking chapters are reception history : an excellent overview of Viennese music critics circa 1900 (chapter 1) and a reconstruction and analysis of the famous « scandal concert » of March 31,1913 (chapter 7). The elegant symmetry goes further, with bookends that explore more broadly the cultural politics of the subject matter : an introduction devoted to « the controversial composer » and a conclusion that sketches « a political history of the avant-garde ».
5 At the heart of the book lies a reconstruction of premieres and « scandal concerts », drawing on reviews, diaries, and letters, including the composer’s reactions and such figures as the prominent theorist Heinrich Schenker and Gustav Mahler. Buch illuminates the debates of Schoenberg’s contemporaries by discussing prominent aspects of the scores. Though drawing on pertinent analytic literature, Buch goes beyond traditional musicology to produce a history of the public life of musical works rather than their composer. Thus one learns that Schoenberg’s success with Verklärte Nacht in 1897 and 1898 if anything intensified critics’ condemnation of the First String Quartet, with its bold counterpoint and free form, melding the four movement types into a single, uninterrupted structure. Gurrelieder in particular made critics so angry at the boldness thereafter.
6 Schoenberg’s involvement with breakaway musical organizations – both the Viennese Ansorge Society (named after the Berlin composer Conrad Ansorge, emblematic of musical modernism), which was renamed the Verein für Kunst und Kultur in 1907, and the Vereinigung schaffender Tonküsntler, founded in 1904 – contributes to Buch’s argument that the composer was a « musical Secessionist ». But what exactly the term entailed, in compositional aesthetics, is unclear, except that critics would disparage Schoenberg (occasionally Mahler too) by association with the artists and architects of the Secession. Yet one wonders, did not the institutionalization of modernism work against the idea of Schoenberg as an isolated « case » ?
7 One immediate provocation of the so-called « case of Schoenberg » was Max Marschalk’s defense of the composer. The simple reason, in addition to the fact that Marschalk had liberal aesthetic orientation, was a conflict of interest : he was also Schoenberg’s publisher. Buch also points out, as if to explain the sequence of events, that Marschalk contributed to the journal Die Zukunft, which triggered the « Eulenberg affair » – a scandal of large proportions that exposed homosexual relationships in the upper levels of the German government and military. But Maximilian Harden only published an account of the homosexual affair between Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld, and General Kuno Graf von Moltke on April 27,1907 – whereas Marschalk’s review of the Schoenberg concert appeared two months earlier, on February 22,1907.
8 The underlying question is : what made Schoenberg and these works, more than any other composer and repertoire, prone to scandal ? Historically, Buch points out, a program of absolute music has rarely provoked a scandal. One is tempted to ask why. Perhaps music that is pure sound and structure, without any explicit meaning, can only alienate, whereas texted or programmatic music can outrage. The listener is forced, in a sense, to understand the music – if only its text or its program – at the same time as disavowing its meaning. What outraged critics, in each case, is no simple matter. The most provocative aspect of the Chamber Symphony, according to Buch, was the compression of four movements into one. Yet for others it was the complexity, and therefore inaccessibility, of the music, above all given the genre. Elsa Bienenfeld made this point in her review, citing Paul Bekker’s stipulation that a symphony must appeal broadly. Schoenberg scrawled in the margins of his copy, with his characteristic sarcasm, that writing artless and shallow music in order to appeal to as many as possible is indeed ingenious   The document is housed in the Arnold Schönberg Center,...
9 Buch’s method makes for an engaging history – and surely an analytic, rather than narrative method would defy his underlying goal of bringing Schoenberg and the avant-garde alive to contemporary readers. At the same time, there are inevitable limitations to a work-based history. For example, how did the case of Schoenberg differ from the polemics that surrounded Mahler, beginning with his first season as director of the Vienna Philharmonic, 1899-1900   In an article titled after Richard Heuberger’s « Polemik...
suite ? And over the ensuing years, tension eroded the relationship of trust between critics and audiences, in Vienna as well as in Germany – undoubtedly part of the reason that critics, in effect, joined the audience in storming the stage after the premiere of the Second String Quartet. Strauss’s Salome was a spectacular public success yet defied all aesthetic norms and conventions, in the eyes of critics. Likewise, a year later, in January 1907, Mahler conducted the Viennese premiere of his Sixth Symphony – which, as well, was his greatest success with the public and his greatest failure with music critics. It was a month later that Schoenberg had two premieres during the same week : on Tuesday, February 5, his string quartet, Op. 7, and on Friday his Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, that enraged so many reviewers. To what extent, as one contemporary believed, was the « case of Schoenberg » aggravated by the fact that Mahler moved to New York late in 1907, leaving behind « a small clan of passionate friends and followers » – among them Schoenberg – « and a very large group of embittered opponents »   F. SCHERBER, Neue Musik-Zeitung 30, no. 12 (18 March 1909);...
10 Taken as a whole, the book presents a fascinating overview of musical politics and aesthetics at the start of the twentieth century. At a time when many critics sought to protect art from realism, interpreting music in political terms was tantamount to a fullscale rejection. Buch’s book is rich in examples. On January 26,1907, Emperor Franz Joseph I approved universal male suffrage, which strengthened the Socialist party and anti-Semitic rallies held by Karl Lueger but not the Liberal party. The democratic suffrage, it was feared, would undermine the cherished values of progress and reason. Two weeks later, when Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony, op. 9, was premiered, Hans Liebstöckl spurned the composer for producing « the noises of democracy » and not music. Two years later, in January 1909, the Viennese correspondent to a Breslau newspaper poked fun at the Serbian support of the Slavs in Bosnia, which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had annexed. Writing of Schoenberg’s « string quartet bombs » and « air torpedos » in the Second String Quartet, the critic reported hearing that « the war minister wants to use Schoenberg’s music against the bands of Serbs who threaten our borders ». Other political allusions are less clear-cut. At the November 17,1904 session of the Reichsrat, the prime minister Ernst von Koerber faced egregious comments, including that the air in the parliament will need to be purified if the parliament is to return to its good health. Four years later, at the premiere of Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, a similar comment was made (p. 36-37). How much at the earlier insult became part of the popular discourse, so that it could be invoked some four years later, or could this instead be a general allusion to the anti-Semitic discourse around odor   See chapter 3, « Smells : The Teutonic Duft and the...
11 There is hardly a better illustration of the generational divide among scholars – those who wish to ignore an unseemly subject, and those who may overstress its historical importance – than to compare Buch’s text to a Severine Neff’s book on the Second String Quartet, likewise published in 2006. Anti-Semitism goes unmentioned by Neff except in a few editorial notes, one that refers to Karl Kraus’s attitude towards « the Jewish question » – without further explanation or definition. Buch, on the other hand, believes that the « main cause » for hostility against Schoenberg in 1908 was his being Jewish (p. 277). In a slight revision, I might instead suggest that anti-Semitism was the vehicle for the hostile criticism. Buch himself points out that reviews of the composer’s successful Verklärte Nacht, even in the two anti-Semitic journals, did not mention that Schoenberg was Jewish. One might also point to the example of Mahler, who was embraced by mainstream critics that same year, when his Seventh Symphony – which was far more accessible and outwardly traditional than his previous works – was premiered in Prague and performed in Munich. Moreover, the early reception of Richard Strauss betrays the same anti-Semitic vocabulary that pervades reviews of Schoenberg and earlier works by Mahler, to the point that in 1908 (or at least as reported later that year), Arthur Schnitzler was overheard commenting that the composer of Salome must be a Jew, and Mahler a German. The opera displayed the composer’s « erotic sensuality, unbridled Oriental imagination, proclivity for outward effect, talent for self-presentation, and, in general, skill at an economic exploitation of his work »   This incident was recounted by a Prague critic, who noted...
12 The anti-Semitic press, however, went further than the usual anti-modernist critique. Buch’s quotations from reviews include – as I have found in the critical reception of Mahler – gratuitous comments against the performer or audience. Ideology for the sake of ideology, one might say, to no artistic (political or economic) end. The Alldeutsches Tagblatt, founded in 1903 by the pan-German Alldeutsche Partei (which was led by the anti-Semitic Georg von Schönerer), spun off into a sinister aside about the soprano soloist in the Second String Quartet, Marie Gutheil-Schoder (who in any case was not Jewish)   Marie Gutheil-Schoder was not included in H. GERIGK and...
suite. Recounting that the singer could be neither heard nor seen, the anonymous critic went on wish that she would leave Vienna, never return, and face « a good incineration in a crematorium » (p. 167).
13 Much as Mahler was accused of mining the scores he conducted, using themes in his own symphonies in lieu of inventing his own, Schoenberg was condemned for seeking and exploiting his notoriety in order to call attention to his music in lieu of winning appreciation on its aesthetic merits. The old term of Kapellmeistermusik (a second-tier conductor’s music) applied to Mahler was, in effect, replaced by that of Geschäftsmann (businessman) in Schoenberg’s case. (The critic, Liebstöckl, made the same point about Mahler almost two years earlier, when Mahler reached a similar point in his career, producing one symphony after another, year after year. The themes « all have a fabricated face, behind which lies a machine. They have no life of their own; and collapse if one loosens them from the orchestral context »   H. LIEBSTöCKL, « Theaterzeitung », Illustriertes Wiener...
suite.) Although Schoenberg’s ambitions for his paintings show a certain business acumen – hoping to accrue income at a time that he could not through his compositions – critics would have no way of seeing this side to his personality and aspirations. There is little doubt that the comments were anti-Semitic, pure and simple. Another theme was the critique of modernism as illness. The Wiener Montags-Journal quipped that the owner of the hall, Ludwig Bösendorfer, should post on the door a warning that forbids « any infection [Verunreinigung] through cacophony » (p. 165).
14 Although Buch’s readable history is not the place for an excursus into the subjects of Jewish identity and shades of anti-Semitism, some readers might object to the clear-cut categorization. Was Schoenberg, as Buch notes in passing, an « assimilated Viennese Jew » ? Although born in Vienna, he inherited Hungarian nationality from his parents; moreover, Schoenberg was raised in the orthodox faith. Moving to Vienna, as Julie Brown has pointed out, was no guarantee of assimilation. Schoenberg’s family lived in the second district, which was associated with Eastern Jews even by assimilated Viennese Jews   J. BROWN, « Schoenberg’s Early Wagnerisms : Atonality...
suite. Another question also arises as to what it meant for Liebstöckl – whose wife was apparently Jewish, or at least, with their daughter, was among the Theresienstadt concentration camp survivers   G. SCHNEIDER, Exile and Destruction : the Fate of Austrian...
suite – to mine anti-Semitic imagery. Buch does not mention the fate of Liebstöckl’s family but, in a cruel irony, associates Liebstöckl’s charge of « musique dégénérée » (p. 117, against Mahler’s protection of modern music in 1907) with the exhibition of Entartete Musik that took place thirty-one years later. He is right that the aesthetic conservatives from the turn of the century laid the groundwork for the politicization of music in the Third Reich. Yet if there is a cultural context it is surely Nordau’s Entartung, a widely read cultural tract from 1892. Nordau, for all his flamboyance in attacking modern art and society, was a committed Jewish nationalist. The language was in the air, but Liebstöckl and others, in their attack on Schoenberg as a « lunatic », probably did not intend to cite Nordau’s attack on Wagner and César Franck (pace Buch, p. 117). It would be interesting, too, to compare accounts of Beethoven as the cult figure of misunderstood genius, which is also evoked in Liebstöckl’s description of Schoenberg as « yeux enflammés et intelligents, tête dégarnie, vivacité, tempérament, conviction inébranlable » (p. 103). Another complicated case, among the vicious critic of Schoenberg (and Mahler, too), was Robert Hirschfeld, a highly assimilated Jew who, as Leon Botstein has argued, felt threatened by how Viennese modernists seemed to shatter the notion of music as a universal language that guaranteed the full assimilation of Jews steeped in the tradition.
15 Buch’s history will happily provide the material and impetus for broader examination of scandal in Viennese musical life and society. What types of behavior and responses were allowed in the context of the theater but not other milieux ? Buch makes the intriguing suggestion that a « scandal concert » had its own theatricality. In part, there was a sense of « acting out » a disagreement (p. 280-281). Given the interest in the relationship between art and life – should art provide a moral ideal for art, or reflect the richness and diversity of life at its rawest ? – it is worth asking, did the dynamics change in other arts, or other fields of disagreement ? In Schoenberg’s case, the scandal at the premiere of the Second Quartet included a weeping soprano and riot afterwards, with so much noise from the audience that many could not actually hear the last two movements. (Because much of the performance could not be heard, the press focused more on the event than the work. After a flurry of attention in the press, the work was performed again two months later.)
16 Schoenberg felt compelled to respond to certain aspects of his negative reception : specifically, when Liebstöckl changed the terms of the debate and invoked the legal question of whether a ticket purchaser has certain rights. His article, from January 16,1909, was entitled « Eine Rechstfrage ». (In another context, Buch makes the intriguing point that several critics who used legal vocabulary also had been trained as lawyers. It would be interesting to know more about this vocabulary and how this generation compared to the nineteenth century, when it was also common to study law before turning to one’s art form). On the other hand, in 1930, when the editor of the Wiener Sonn- und Montags-Zeitung, Ernst Klebinder, drew on non-legal vocabulary such as « scandal » to condemn the University of Vienna’s new plan for racial segregation of students, he was sued for libel   M. L. MARCUS, « Austria’s pre-war Brown v. Board of...
suite. Six years later, when Klebinder’s name appeared in the newspaper for his association with the « Phönix » scandal (the massive insurance fraud that helped to bring down the Schuschnigg government), he took his life. Whether this was a scandal, and what that entailed, was an important subject.
17 For all his historical erudition and theoretical prowess, Buch is a lucid thinker, with practical insights abounding. For example, in the context of Pelleas und Melisande, a work of 40 minutes, he discusses the phenomenon of perceiving length. Zdenek Fibich’s Am Abend, a work of less than 20 minutes, was criticized for its excessive length (p. 96). In recreating another scene, the premiere of the Chamber Symphony, Buch suggests that the venue, of the large room of the Musikverein, with its elite associations, contributed to discomfort of the audience.
18 Given the breadth of Buch’s narrative, it is inevitable that some will quibble over details, if inconsequential to the scope of his argument. In the conclusion, he attributes to the Third Reich what in fact were the beliefs or plans of individual National Socialists – admittedly, during the Third Reich but not the purview of the regime itself. The exhibition of Entartete Musik, which featured Schoenberg and other composers, theorists, and critics, was organized by Hans Severus Ziegler; despite his connections to Hitler, Goebbels, and Rosenberg, the exhibition did not win the approval of the president of the Reichsmusikkammer, Peter Raabe, and Goebbels found Ziegler’s taste too narrow   See F. K. PRIEBERG, Musik im NS-Staat, 1982; rpt. Köln,...
suite. Nor was there a « bataille du Troisième Reich contre l’atonalisme » (p. 278), however much some National Socialists spoke out against atonality. Paul von Klenau is one atonal composer, and a collaborator to boot, who enjoyed success during the Third Reich. When one member of the Reich Music Chamber presidium sought to reprimand a pianist who programmed modern music, the presidium refused to do so, declaring that « in principle, the Reich Music Chamber cannot forbid works of an atonal character, for it is up to the audience to judge such compositions »   Minutes of the eighth meeting of the RMK-Präsidentialrat,...
suite. Moreover, pace Buch (p. 280), to use the term « totalitarianism » for the Nazi state policy on music is somewhat questionable, given the inconsistency and unpredictable quirks of personal taste that were at play.
19 The conclusions also suggests, provocatively, that the Third Reich contributed to Schoenberg’s moral authority in the years since. The point warrants further research in the history of musicology and criticism, but surely holds some truth. It will take a scholar like Esteban Buch, outside the loyal Schoenberg community, to establish that there are no secure biographical and musical reasons for this moral authority to have grown in healthier soil, regardless of the Third Reich. Certainly there is little in the biographical literature to suggest an ethical leadership such as emerges from popular biographies of Beethoven and Bach. To the contrary, his royalist sympathies and support of a Gross Deutschland that would include Austria go hand-in-hand with an arrogance in musical taste. Moreover, the pervasive air of scandal in Schoenberg’s early history, as Buch so beautifully lays out, must figure into any future history of the composer and Viennese musical life.
20 Early reviews, whether positive or negative, can guide listeners today, and in this way Buch’s study will open audiences to new perspectives on Schoenberg’s music. Time and again, in each chapter, it recaptures just what aspects of the music were most gripping, or repulsive, to contemporaries. Future readers will undoubtedly cull the lengthy quotations in the book for their own guidance, whether how to interpret a specific passage or how to approach music that can still seem alien for listeners raised on tonal music. Let one example suffice. Bienenfeld, one supporter and former colleague of Schoenberg, recounted that Schoenberg « once said that the mood of one of his quartet movements was that of a vein exploding in the brain ». Bienenfeld (and so too Buch) used the comment to interpret Schoenberg’s paintings (p. 195). Yet it strikes me as a powerful analogy for the physicality of listening. Others too have responded physically to the early string quartets. In Arnold Zweig’s prose fragment from 1913, built around a performance of the First String Quartet, the lengthy account of listening to the music suddenly becomes personal, shifting to the first person, when the cello line stands out. Put in musical terms, the wholeness of homophony exploding into an energetic counterpoint. The narrator recounts that at this moment, he felt compelled to lift his foot. Schoenberg once sketched a contorted stick figure as a visualization of counterpoint   Both sources are cited in my « Contested Counterpoint :...
21 The « case of Schoenberg » has relevance for our own generation, as we question the vehement criticism of so-called modern music and above all the moral questions implied. It’s a pity that such an important book should have infelicities in printing and layout, a flawed index, and an occasional typo. Moreover, occasionally it would be helpful for Buch to include the German original for quotations. For example, Liebstöckl protested twice that « Schoenberg is not a ‘case’ nor a ‘problem’ (Sept. 2,1907 and Oct. 1,1909); as there are some discrepancies in the French translation, it would be helpful to know the German original. One can only hope that English and German translations of the book will lavish the care that such a project deserves.
[ *] Professor of history at the University of Minnesota.
[ (1)] The document is housed in the Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna. Bienenfeld quotes from Paul Bekker, Neues Musikalisches Journal, 5 June 1918.
[ (2)] In an article titled after Richard Heuberger’s « Polemik im Concertsaal », also from 2006, K. M. Knittel examines the fiery criticism of Mahler’s revisions to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which he conducted at the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual benefit concert for the musicians’pension fund. R. HEU-BERGER, « Polemik im Concertsaal », Neue Freie Presse, 23 February 1900. See K. M. KNITTEL, « Polemik im Concertsaal : Mahler, Beethoven, and the Viennese Critics »,
[ (3)] F. SCHERBER, Neue Musik-Zeitung 30, no. 12 (18 March 1909); quoted from Arnold Schoenberg. String Quartet in F# Minor, Opus 10, ed. S. NEFF, A Norton Critical Score, New York, W. W. Norton, 2005, p. 210. The journal published a series of articles on Schoenberg and his reception.
[ (4)] See chapter 3, « Smells : The Teutonic Duft and the Foeter Judäicus », of M. WEINER, Richard Wagner and the Antisemitic Imagination, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
[ (5)] This incident was recounted by a Prague critic, who noted with palpable pride the « political » significance that a fellow Bohemian could become the « general music director of Austria » and even be accepted as a « representative of modern German art ». R. BATKA, Prager Tagblatt, 20 September 1908; trans. in K. PAINTER, « Mahler’s German-Language Critics », with B. VARWIG, Mahler and His World, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 322.
[ (6)] Marie Gutheil-Schoder was not included in H. GERIGK and T. STENGEL’s Lexikon der Juden in der Musik, mit einem Titelverzeichnis jüdischer Werke. Zusammengestellt im Auftrag der Reichsleitung der NSDAP auf Grund behördlicher, parteiamtlich geprüfter Unterlagen, Berlin, B. Hahnefeld, 1940.
[ (7)] H. LIEBSTÖCKL, « Theaterzeitung », Illustriertes Wiener Extrablatt, 5 Jan. 1907, review of the Viennese premiere of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. The Schoenberg quotation appears in BUCH, p. 166.
[ (8)] J. BROWN, « Schoenberg’s Early Wagnerisms : Atonality and the Redemption of Ahasuerus », Cambridge Opera Journal 6, no 1,1994, p. 51-80.
[ (9)] G. SCHNEIDER, Exile and Destruction : the Fate of Austrian Jews, 1938-1945, Westport (Conn.), Praeger, 1995. I am grateful to Ira Youngerman for guiding me to this source.
[ (10)] M. L. MARCUS, « Austria’s pre-war Brown v. Board of Education », Fordham Urban Law Journal, 1 December 2004; online.
[ (11)] See F. K. PRIEBERG, Musik im NS-Staat, 1982; rpt. Köln, Dittrich, 2000.
[ (12)] Minutes of the eighth meeting of the RMK-Präsidentialrat, 26 March 1934, Richard-Strauss Archiv, Garmisch; cited from M. KATER, The Twisted Muse : Music and Their Music in the Third Reich, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 19.
[ (13)] Both sources are cited in my « Contested Counterpoint : “Jewish” Appropriation and Polyphonic Liberation », Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 58, no 3,2001, p. 226.
POUR CITER CET ARTICLE
Karen Painter « The public life of Schoenberg's early musical works », Le Mouvement Social 2/2007 (n° 219-220), p. 201-207.
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-le-mouvement-social-2007-2-page-201.htm.
DOI : 10.3917/lms.219.0201.