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Thread: Schoenberg twelve-tone - the matadors copped out?

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    Default Schoenberg twelve-tone - the matadors copped out?

    I've noticed that there are few recordings of Schoenberg's twelve-tone works by Big Name conductors and/or solists. Take the seminal Variations for Orchestra op. 31. You have the Boulez recordings, of course, and the Karajan, as well as Rattle and a more recent Barenboim. Maybe there are two or three others, but they elude me. Or take Moses und Aron. There's practically just Boulez, and Solti (though apparently out of print).

    With the concertos, it looks a little better. You have Hahn/Salonen, Uchida/Boulez, Abbado/Pollini, Brendel/Kubelik. Compared to other contertos, though, it's a precious few.

    Now, I emphasize Big Name conductors and soloists, because we know how influential they can be in terms of popularizing works/composers that weren't that popular before. For instance, what Bernstein and Karajan did to promote Mahler, Nielsen and Sibelius was quite important. Surely there are many other examples.

    There are many, I suppose, who will give any work a shot simply it's been recorded by so-and-so.

    Of course there are many, many recordings of Schoenberg's twelve-tone works, no question. I was just wonder why so few of the legendary conductors recorded them. Why did they all cop out? I imagine record companies didn't exactly encourage them either. And some conductors, I'm sure, simply didn't like the entire twelve-tone thing. Bernstein, for instance, made no secret about this.

    Yet I wonder: wouldn't it have been, from a more objective viewpoint, almost their duty to play and record Schoenberg twelve-tone? If only from an educational point of view? And is the current degree of popularity of twelve-tone/serial music, at least partly, a consequence of the lack of support from famous and influential conductors?

    (The same, of course, could also be asked with regard to the works of later composers like Ligeti, Stockhausen, Nono, Boulez, etc., but I focused on Schoenberg, him being perhaps the most widely acknowledged milestone figure.)
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    That reminds me of the sleeve notes to Pollini's recording of Schoenberg's piano music.
    51dHzhrLRqL.jpg

    Gregor Willmes writes:
    It is a conspicuous fact that the majority of 20th-century pianists rarely if ever played the music of their time... Of the two handfuls of pianists who achieved world fame in the last century, hardly a single one ventured an approach to Schoenberg's music. Who would ever think to associate the names of Horowitz, Rubinstein or Argerich with the Second Viennese School? And even Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter considered themselves first and foremost advocates of Russian music. Alfred Brendel, of course, has made three recordings of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto op.42, but otherwise he has deliberately left 20th-century music to the specialists. Only two major pianists committed to disc Schoenberg's entire output for solo piano: Glenn Gould and Maurizio Pollini.

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    Your list misses James Levine, who has also been a big advocate of Schoenberg's works.



    There's also Sinopoli, whose recordings of Schoenberg include two 12-tone works: Blegleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene and A Survivor from Warsaw.

    The Phantasy for Violin and Piano seems to be performed more often in recent years (Julia Fischer has taken it up) and the String Trio has a disc with Yo-Yo Ma on it.

    Klaus Tennstedt said that if he had the rehearsal time, he would have loved to do Moses und Aron or Lulu, which gets to one of the big problems: Schoenberg's music is difficult to play well, and if people know it's going to take a lot of time and effort to get right, they'll be wary of putting on something that is a dubious proposition in terms of drawing in the audiences.

    The other problem, of course, is that the idea of 12-tone music frightens people. All of the cliches about Schoenberg's music being "intellectual" or "mathematics" stem in large part from misconceptions about how 12-tone music works, and they probably affect the popularity of his non-12-tone works as well. But Schoenberg doesn't have it bad at all compared to Stravinsky, whose 12-tone works are all but ignored.

    The reaction to Hahn's performance of the Violin Concerto shows, I think, that regular classical listeners don't have nearly the difficulties with Schoenberg that some would assume, as long as the music is performed well and with dedication. It's just taking time, that's all.
    Last edited by Mahlerian; Apr-02-2015 at 20:58.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andreas View Post
    Why did they all cop out? I imagine record companies didn't exactly encourage them either. And some conductors, I'm sure, simply didn't like the entire twelve-tone thing. Bernstein, for instance, made no secret about this.
    Bit of an understatement there.

    It's really a combination of (a) consumer demand and (b) conductors and performers rarely excelling at everything.

    If it's Beethoven or Mozart, the Big Names will often perform and record it regardless. But not so with Schoenberg's 12-tone or Nono or Boulez.


    ADD: also, as far as audience education is concerned, Bernstein considered himself serving this function with regards to American composers (Ives, Harris, Schuman, etc.). Others try to draw attention to lesser known Romantic/Classical composers, or perhaps lesser known works by well known composers.
    Last edited by GreenMamba; Apr-02-2015 at 17:10.

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    Well, there are also the record companies, who project potential sales against costs -- which I imagine with a work like Moses und Aron would have a highly unfavorable ratio -- except for a recording of an existing production with box office artists (the Met/Levine, for instance). There are probably more recordings of the Variations than sales even warrant. And let's face it, to them music is a business.

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    I mean, especially the artists with a broad fan base and guaranteed sales (hate to use the term cash cow) should have enough say to, every once in a while, put out something a little different. I think Abbado did that. You really have to give him credit for making those Schoenberg, Webern, Ligeti, Nono recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (besides recording pretty much everything else under the sun). It's just that it's a real pitty he was, so far as I can see, quite an exception to the rule.
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    I think the reason is historical. Boulez, Stockhausen, and other young composers formed the Darmstadt summer sessions after WWII, to catch up on things. Boulez then formed the Domaine Musical to play this music. This had to be done, because the French sensibility was ruled by the traditional academy. The resistance to the German-derived avant garde form of music (Second Viennese School) was political as well as cultural and social, determined by the events of WWII.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GreenMamba View Post
    ADD: also, as far as audience education is concerned, Bernstein considered himself serving this function with regards to American composers (Ives, Harris, Schuman, etc.).
    Right, that's a great point about Bernstein.
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    In addition, there are still, even today, historical and cultural reasons why Second Viennese School music and serialism never really caught on; Philip Glass and Steve Reich started 'minimalism' in reaction to what they have been quoted as saying was "creepy and dissonant music." Their reasons should be self-evident, and Reich's most blatant showing of his sentiments are evident in his CD/DVD work Three Tales.


    The work deals with the Hindenburg Blimp disaster story, the Bikini Atoll nuclear test, and Dolly, which deals with artificial intelligence. All three deal with Man's hubris, and his creation of systems which are beyond his control. This is related to the idea of The Golem in Jewish lore.

    I can draw from this that Reich would be naturally opposed to serialism just on principle, as a 'system' which can become a "Golem" and slip out of Man's control, becoming a self-generating, autonomous system, rather than a tool for expression.

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    This might be circular, to some extent - performers who specialize in 20th century and later music are much less likely to achieve Big Name status, because of the prejudices of the public.

    I'd say Peter Serkin and Pierre Laurent-Aimard should both have become Big Names a long time ago, but they didn't because of the music they choose to play.

    An aside re: Reich, I've read some interviews of him where he's expressed admiration for Schoenberg, Boulez and Stockhausen, so I don't know that he's morally opposed to it as you suggest, millionrainbows. It's just not his thing. Glass is the one who called it "crazy, creepy music."

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    In fact, there are a lot of Schoenberg recordings. Of all of the composers, I probably have more multiple versions of his music than of any other composer. I am always amazed by how often I come across another album of his music I had never before seen, despite having been keen on his stuff for decades.

    And I may yet get that Glenn Gould solo piano album, when it is reissued in June Never saw Levine's Moses und Aron before either: where does it end?

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    In fact, I'll go even further: it seems like to be a Big Name you have to do the Romantics. People who specialize in Classical or Baroque get pigeonholed, whereas people who specialize in the Romantics get to be Big Names even if they hardly play anything else. The 20th century is just another victim of this.

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    Check your Romantic privilege.

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    Do I detect a general trend that conductors and other interpreters who compose their own music seem more likely to promote the modern? If so I have no idea why this would be. I'm thinking of Bernstein, Boulez and Salonen. Even Mahler.

    But if a Klemperer, Hickox or Szell compose(d), you don't hear about it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    In addition, there are still, even today, historical and cultural reasons why Second Viennese School music and serialism never really caught on; Philip Glass and Steve Reich started 'minimalism' in reaction to what they have been quoted as saying was "creepy and dissonant music." Their reasons should be self-evident, and Reich's most blatant showing of his sentiments are evident in his CD/DVD work Three Tales.


    The work deals with the Hindenburg Blimp disaster story, the Bikini Atoll nuclear test, and Dolly, which deals with artificial intelligence. All three deal with Man's hubris, and his creation of systems which are beyond his control. This is related to the idea of The Golem in Jewish lore.

    I can draw from this that Reich would be naturally opposed to serialism just on principle, as a 'system' which can become a "Golem" and slip out of Man's control, becoming a self-generating, autonomous system, rather than a tool for expression.
    This reminds me of some of things Boulez said about music in his letters to Stockhausen, while he was writing Pli selon Pli.

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