Monday, May 14, 2007


More Schoenberg today. A lot of fun to read. People say he was nasty, but I don't see it--he's just brutally honest. The most vituperative I've read yet was his notes on Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, comments he apparently wrote down as he listened to it, or shortly thereafter. But afterwards, he writes in an apology: "I sometimes lose myself--one should not rely on such superficial reactions, and I'm sorry... but seriously, Oedipus sucks."

I think a lot of what turns people off of Schoenberg isn't the atonality or serialism (though they sometimes mistakenly believe it is), but rather his rapid development of ideas. Schoenberg completely recognizes this, and is not in the least apologetic about it. "It's just my style," he essentially says. Another composer could stamp out a theme, even a completely dodecaphonic one, and repeat it a few times, essentially unaltered, to let it sink in and people would probably find it much more palatable.

Schoenberg ain't about this. He gives it to you once as is. If he repeats, he'll vary it. You're never going to get it verbatim again. This taxes your memory more. You've got to remember it immediately, because you don't get a second chance.

At the same time, he doesn't criticize composers who are more repetitive (Russians, for instance, are fond of repeating melodies without development): he simply believes people have to be true to their inspirations, and his tends to be less forgiving of the listener.

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