Tuesday, July 15, 2008


When I was first introduced to Schoenberg, I was unable to feel it. All I could appreciate was a series of numerical patterns. It did not register as music. Even so, Schoenberg’s genius revealed itself in his organization. I became curious; tempted to peel away the layers, striving to comprehend what Schoenberg was trying to say.
To begin to contemplate serialism, one must understand what music is, definitively. Levi-Strauss maintains that music must be based on two levels of articulation; the first, a general structure that allows for the diversity of the individual under narrow limits and the second, a culturally determined interpretation of the individual. Levi-Strauss claims that serialism is based only on the first level of articulation. Yet Schoenberg considered himself a student of Mozart. How could a composer whose music only fulfills a general structure be the offspring of one of the most musical souls in history? To answer this question, one must first understand the man.
Schoenberg grew up during a time of war. The times hardened the hearts of the people. Considered a man that was unable to laugh at himself, Schoenberg was caught between two worlds; the romantic age and the modern consciousness of concentration camps and world wars. Throughout these troubling times, he began to struggle to regain his roots in Judaism. He was a “God-obsessed man of his time who had to keep music alive and pure, metaphorically uncontaminated by the lewd, daring, and sensual abandon evoked by the worship of Golden Calf, of Baal.” (The aesthetics of survival, Rochberg). Schoenberg’s ambivalence to tonality is a parallel to the spiritual starvation of his time. He intended art for the sake of art, separate from any subjectivity of the composer.
As often as Schoenberg is preferred for the elaborate and theoretical aspect of his music, he actually considered himself quite expressionistic. His rhythmus are often “demonic, fraught with tension, and often exacerbated.” Schoenberg believed and was successful in proving that the musical phrase does not owe its articulation to tonality, nor does the association between melody and accompaniment. His task was to punctuate musical statements with articulation and/or inflection in order to clarify an arrival or departure. Yet at the same time, he intended to equalize all harmonic values. Charles Rose states, “Every composer before serialism played with the shapes of his themes, abstracting them from the exact pitches; only during the first three decades of twelve-toe music did pitch exert so absolute a tyranny that it deprived shape of its importance.” This was Schoenberg’s search for a new standard, a new security, and above all “simply acquiescence.” Serialism was presented to European society after the romantic era and was not accepted until after World War II. Schoenberg believed his music was a necessary extension of the past. The connection between the past and the direction of Schoenberg’s future was evident, yet so much of what secured his music, he abandoned. His search for a new construction, left tonality as a frivolous crutch. Still, so much is said in his music. Like the people of the time, Schoenberg’s music reflects nothing personal and inevitably, he was satisfied. Some would refer to his music as forgettable and truly, that was his interpretation. Music is art of the human soul and Schoenberg was successful in finding the means to express something that could, in no other way, be expressed.

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