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Monday, April 5, 2010

Arnold Schoenberg - Five Pieces for Orchestra and Chamber Symphony (1980)

Although Schoenberg is best known for his atonal compositions, his early works remain tonal and more accessible. This recording contains one of these earlier works in a post-Romantic style somewhat similar to Wagner and Mahler, and the other is one of his early atonal works. They are performed by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra directed by Gerard Schwarz. I digitized this recording from the Nonesuch LP D-79001. Below is an excerpt from the liner notes.

Although separated by only three years (1906 and 1909), the Chamber Symphony and the Five Pieces for Orchestra represent two radically different periods in Schoenberg's career. Schoenberg himself considered the difference essentially one of evolution rather than revolution, pointing to certain processes evident in the earlier work that were to reach their fulfillment in the later one. Yet he admitted after completion of the Chamber Symphony that he had ultimately found his personal style and had solved all the problems of musical composition handed down from Wagner. Indeed the Chamber Symphony may have been said to have "solved" many of these problems: how to achieve conciseness in musical structure by eliminating unnecessary repetitions; how to assimilate and relate the most diverse melodic and harmonic materials and keep them within the bounds of tonality; how to realize the polymorphous potentiality of every interval, figure and motive; how to establish connections between numerous and contrasting themes, presented in rapid succession and in contrapuntal combinations of the greatest complexity; how to unify the various movements of a symphony into one uninterrupted movement (see Schoenberg's analysis below). Schoenberg may have found novel solutions for these problems through the intense concentration and relentless logic characteristic of all of his music, but despite these new devices and their presentation by a chamber orchestra (Schoenberg claims this was a first), he still adhered to principles laid down by Brahms and Wagner—though carrying them to their extreme limits.

The change of direction in Schoenberg's style came about through the realization that the overwhelming multitude of chromatics, dissonances and ambiguous harmonies could no longer be forced into “the Procrustean bed" of tonality and their appearance could not be resolved logically and effectively by tonal cadences. In the works which follow the Chamber Symphony, the bonds of tonality became more and more loosened by what Schoenberg called "the emancipation of the dissonance.”. Evident already in the last movement of the Second String Quartet (completed July 1908), a situation was created thereby which led in barely more than a year's time of intense activity to a radically new style of composition, and which resulted in some of Schoenberg's most important works—the song-cycle "Book of the Hanging Gardens,” the Three Piano Pieces (Opus 11), the Five Pieces for Orchestra, and the monodrama "Erwartung.” In Schoenberg's own words, these works "showed quite a different style from everything I had written before ... It was the first step towards a style which has since been called the style of 'atonality'... New sounds were produced, a new kind of melody appeared, a new approach to expression of moods and characters were discovered.” He further calls attention to the discovery of new ways of building phrases and other structural elements and creating "new moods and more rapid changes of expression" —apt descriptions of the nature of the Five Pieces for Orchestra.

Schoenberg later noted that these new pieces made up in "extreme expressiveness and extraordinary brevity" for what had been lost in abandoning tonality. His statement—"In my first work in this new style I was particularly guided, in both the details and the whole of the formal construction, by very powerful expressive forces" —is further evidence of Schoenberg's link with the expressionist writers and artists of that period, who were also motivated by intense emotional experiences. Through choice of texts (as those of his operas, "Erwartung" and "Die glückliche Hand") and, particularly, in his own paintings (most of them dating from 1907 to 1910), Schoenberg may be closely identified with the Expressionist movement which sought "to record artistic immediacy dictated by inner necessity." At any rate, he was recognized as a kindred soul by Kandinsky and other prominent expressionist artists, was invited to exhibit with them and to contribute to the expressionist almanac "Der blaue Reiter- in 1912. Further corroboration of Schoenberg's artistic beliefs during this period may be found in his correspondence—recently published—with the composer-pianist, Ferruccio Busoni. Schoenberg, in discussing his Piano Pieces which were written just before and during the composition of the Five Pieces for Orchestra, states categorically: "I strive for complete freedom from all symbols of coherence and logic... My music must be brief, terse! in two words: not built, but expressed!" The goal of his music: "to express our sensations in the way our sensations really are, bringing us in communication with our unconscious." But despite this clear expression of an expressionist's creed, Schoenberg makes no reference to the term itself. Only in a much later explication of the origins of expressionism in the field of music does he have recourse to it: it happens when "a piece of music does not create its formal appearance out of the logic of its own material, but, guided by the feeling for internal and external processes, and in bringing these to expression, it supports itself on their logic and builds upon that... At each renewal or increase of musical materials, it is assisted by feelings, insights, occurrences, impressions, and the like.”

Track List:
  1. Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 - I Vorgefühle
  2. Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 - II Vergangenes
  3. Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 - III Sommermorgen an einem See (Farben)
  4. Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 - IV Peripetie
  5. Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 - V Das Obligate Rezitativ
  6. Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9

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