V020: Arnold Schoenberg: My Evolution

VHS (NTSC): UCLA Instructional Media (Office of Instructional Development, Prod. no. 6769) (available from: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, Princeton, NJ, Catalog no. ANL2665), 25 January 1990. Color, 49:59. (2 copies)
U-Matic (NTSC): UCLA Instructional Media (Office of Instructional Development, Prod. no. 6769) (available from: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, Princeton, NJ, Catalog no. ANL2665), 25 January 1990.  Color, 49:59.



Time Description Music
0:00 Credits VN (post-transfiguration)
0:15 Paintings of /by AS  
0:50 Bust of AS, voice over  
1:10 Photos of AS  
1:55 Published copy of Pelleas und Melisande  
2:05 Paintings by AS  
2:20 Scenes of Vienna  
2:35 Caricatures and photos of AS  
3:00 Posters advertising performances of AS's works  
3:19 Photos of AS and his works, realia  
5:50 Narrated voice-over introduction ends, recording of AS delivering "My Evolution" begins, photos of AS and relevant clippings, music, etc. continues  
11:50 Regarding Verklärte Nacht: "Model and sequence", "Developing variation", "Imparity of measures"  
12:17 Cello line of Verklärte Nacht Cello line of VN alone
12:42 Same as above Same phrase in context
13:09 Violin line of VN  
13:35 Same as above Violin line alone
Same as above Violin phrase in context
14:45 Photo of Wagner, then of Schoenberg  
15:13 Violin line in VN Violin line alone
16:09 Same Same phrase in context
16:58 "Sonority, Contrapuntal and motival combinations, Movement of harmony and basses"  
17:17 Piano reduction of VN Piano reduction of VN
17:25 Same as above Same phrase for strings
17:45 "Unfixed tonality"  
18:00 Piano reduction of VN Piano reduction of VN
18:15 Same Same phrase for strings
18:32 Photos of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler  
19:47 "Extra-tonal intervals"  
19:55 Pelleas und Melisande PM
21:10 "Movement of harmony against melody, Basses move like secondary melodies"  
21:24 PM PM
21:50 "Movement of accompanying voices"  
21:58 PM PM
23:00 "Syncopations"  
23:20 PM PM
24:00 "Undetermined tonality"  
24:10 PM PM
24:45 Score of Kammersymphonie, Op. 9  
25:10 "Emancipation of the dissonance"  
25:30 Sketch of AS, self-portraits  
27:30 Score of String Quartet, Op. 10  
28:50 Photo of AS in his study, paintings  
30:10 MS of Harmonielehre  
30:50 Photo of AS  
31:40 "Broken Chords", "Horizontal relationships", "Vertical relationships"  
32:45 "Melody, Successively", "Harmony, Simultaneously"  
33:33 Photos of AS  
35:00 "Rhythms, Phrases, Motives, Reference to the tonic"  
35:33 Paintings  
36:30 Score of Piano Pieces, Op. 11  
36:50 Sketch of AS, photo of Berg with his portrait, photos of AS  
39:00 Score of Die Jakobsleiter  
39:30 Score of Fünf Klavierstücke, Op. 23 Op. 23
40:52 Serenade, Op. 24, "Near serial technique", 12-tone composition devices Op. 24
45:00 Photos of AS, paintings  
48:25 End of Schoenberg's speech, narrator voice over  
49:20 Credits  
49:59 End Seitenanfang

Notes: AS = Arnold Schoenberg; PM = Pelleas und Melisande; VN = Verklärte Nacht

Produced and Directed by: Bill Wolfe
Introduced by: Robert Winter
Production Consultants: Lawrence A. Schoenberg, Nuria Schoenberg Nono
Music Notation: Stephanie Gitlin
Solo Music Examples by: Yukiko Kamei (Violin), Nils Oliver (Cello), Gloria Cheng and Robert Winter (Piano)
Orchestral Music Examples Courtesy of: CBS Masterworks, Nonesuch Records, Polygram Records International


Voice over:
Arnold Schoenberg was arguably the most influential musical figure of the 20th century.  His career forms a crucial link between the twilight of romanticism and the dawn of musical modernism.  What makes his contribution to our time both so unusual and so important is that it took so many forms:  composer, conductor, teacher, and author, among others.  By 1900, when Schoenberg was in his mid-twenties, he was already acknowledged as one of the most talented composers of the last half of the 19th century, a group that included Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and Bela Bartók. The artistic path was not an easy one for any of these artists.  For Schoenberg, it was to prove a particularly difficult and lonely struggle.

As a young composer, Schoenberg considered himself an Austro-Hungarian patriot, and he strove to reach the same audience that had supported Beethoven and Brahms before him.  He initially saw himself as another link in the great Viennese tradition.  His early works Verklärte Nacht or Transfigured Night and the tone poem Pelleas und Melisande reveal a profound mastery of late romantic styles which even his already numerous critics had to concede.  His versatility extended to arranging works from the popular operettas of Lehár to evocative paintings in the Expressionist style.  Schoenberg's outlook on art and on life changed gradually as he became more aware of his own mission.  He was caught up in the nostalgic and often turbulent end of a social and political era that had outlived its relevance to the modern world.  He believed that previous means of musical organization were inadequate to the expressive needs of a contemporary composer.  Although members of the musical establishment insisted that he was contributing to the demise of the great European musical tradition, Schoenberg maintained a profound conviction about his connectedness to a past that extended from Johann Sebastian Bach to Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wagner.  He was equally resolute about the correctness, even the inevitability, of the path he was pursuing.

After Arnold Schoenberg, the musical world was never to be the same again.  In this respect, Schoenberg functioned as a genuine prophet, and as is so often the case with prophets, a frequently unpopular one.  Along with his conviction that significant changes in the means of musical organization were necessary, Schoenberg was also one of the great pedagogues of his generation.  He knew his music history as well as anyone alive and produced several of the most influential theory and composition texts in the 20th century.  In the UCLA lecture Schoenberg refers to one of them, the Harmonielehre or Theory of Harmony, published in 1911, a book that has guided generations of scholars, theorists, and composers.  Schoenberg maintained a deep and abiding commitment to interpreting and passing on the music of the past to his students, whether they be private composition students like Alban Berg, shown here with Schoenberg in 1932, or Anton Webern and John Cage, or, in his adopted hometown on the west coast of the United States, a class of undergraduates at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Composer, prophet, and teacher.  Although Schoenberg was an articulate and often prolific writer, he spoke and wrote far less about his own personal development than about the general development of musical language.  Hence, this lecture, My Evolution, occupies a special place in Schoenberg's writings.  It was commissioned in 1949 by the prestigious Committee on Drama, Lectures and Music at UCLA for delivery before a large audience in Royce Hall, still one of America's most celebrated concert halls.  In the lecture a 75-year-old Schoenberg could look back on a lifetime of struggle and achievement.  Schoenberg focusses on his early years, which he felt were most important in understanding his own growth.  Indeed, it is the path to serialism that proved far more daunting for Schoenberg than working as a serial composer.  It is for this reason that Schoenberg's talk ends as the system of composing with twelve tones he introduced in the 1920s coalesces.  Although the twelve-tone system was viewed by many as a radical break with the past, Schoenberg argues convincingly that it represented a logical continuation of musical developments that had been going on for centuries.  We should not be surprised that he speaks of Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner as part of his own tradition.  Though the wire recording made that night in Royce Hall sounds primitive by today's standards, Schoenberg's heavily accented but fluid voice transmits his story with ironic humor and considerable insight.

(written October 1949, delivered 29 November 1949) (2:35)

Arnold Schoenberg:
I wonder sometimes who I am. When the Committee on Lectures and Drama announced my lecture in the newspapers, someone was afraid the readers might not know who I am. So they informed them as follows: "famous theoretician and controversial musical figure, known for the influence he has brought to bear on modern music." Up to now, I thought I compose for different reasons. [audience laughter] Besides, this reminds me of an event which occurred about 50 years ago, in Vienna. Our emperor, Francis Joseph the First, usually honored openings of important industrial or artistic expositions by his presence. On such occasions the chairman of the committees were allowed to present prominent industrialists and artists to the emperor. In this special case, the chairman did it as it was customary with ordinary citizens: "Your Majesty, may I present Mr. so-and-so, a great industrialist." Thereafter, turning to the gentleman, he added: "His Majesty, the emperor." After he had done that several times, the emperor said softly: "By now, I hope, the gentlemen will know who I am!" [audience laughter] May I hope, in another 50 years they will also know who I am.

(written 2 August 1949, delivered 29 November 1949) (41:53)

Of the 75 years of my life I have devoted almost 90 percent to music. I had begun violin at the age of eight and almost immediately I had started composing. All my compositions to about my 17th year were nothing more than imitations of such music as I could become acquainted with since my only sources had been violin duets and duet arrangements of operas, on the one hand, and the repertory of military bands which played in public parks, on the other hand. One must not forget that at this time printed music was extremely expensive, that there were not yet records nor radios, and that Vienna had only one opera theater and one cycle of eight Philharmonic concerts a year. Only when I had met three young men of about my age and had obtained their friendship my musical and literary education started. First Oscar Adler, whose talent as a musician was as great as his capacities in science. Through him I learned that there exists a theory of music, and he directed my first steps therein. He also stimulated my interest in poetry and philosophy and all my acquaintance with classic music derived from playing quartets with him, who already then was an excellent first violinist. My second friend was David Bach. A linguist, philosopher, connoisseur of literature, and a mathematician, who was also a good musician. He was very influential in assisting me to become an upright straight-forward character whose ethic and morale furnishes the power of resistance against vulgarity and common-place popularity. The third friend is the one to whom I owe most of my knowledge of the technique and the problems of composing: Alexander von Zemlinsky, a great opera composer. I had been a "Brahmsian" when I met him. His love embraced both Brahms and Wagner, and soon thereafter, I was an addict of the same color. No wonder that the music composed at that time mirrored the influence of both these masters, to which a flavor of Liszt, Bruckner and perhaps of Hugo Wolf, was added. This is why in my Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) the thematic construction is based on Wagnerian "model and sequence" above a roving harmony on the one hand, and on Brahms' technique of, as I call it, of "developing variation," on the other hand. Also to Brahms must be ascribed the imparity of measures, as for instance in the first example:

[Example 1: Verklärte Nacht excerpt]
So here is another example which comprises eight measures in the next line.  You see the irregularity of the phrases in that the first phrase and the second phrase consists of two-and-a-half measures each and the third, of three measures, which makes eight measures, but of a very peculiar composition.

[Example 2: Verklärte Nacht excerpt]
But the treatment of the instruments, their composition and the sonority was strictly Wagnerian. I think there was also some Schoenbergian to be found in the length of melodies, as for instance in the next example.

[Example 3: Verklärte Nacht excerpt]
Other instances might be found in the sonority, in the contrapuntal and motival combinations and in the semicontrapuntal movement of the harmony and its basses against the melody.

[Example 4: Verklärte Nacht excerpt]
But last, not least, there are already some passages of unfixed tonality which may be considered as premonitions of a future.

[Example 5: Verklärte Nacht excerpt]
True, at this time I had already become an admirer of Richard Strauss, but not yet of Gustav Mahler, whom I started to understand only much later, at a time when his symphonic style could no more exert its influence on me. But it is still possible that his strongly tonal structure and his more sustained harmony influenced me considerably. There were not many unusual melodic progressions requesting clarification through the harmony. Qualities of this kind might be found in the First String Quartet, opus 7, and in the Six Songs with Orchestra, opus 8, while the earlier composed symphonic poem, Pelleas and Melisande, suggests advancing more rapidly in the direction of extended tonality. Here are many features which have contributed to build up the style of my maturity. Many of the melodies contain extra-tonal intervals which request extravagent movement of the harmony:

[Example 6: Pelleas and Melisande excerpt]
This example shows the movement of harmony against the melody. It's always characteristic already at this time that my basses are not sustained but move like secondary melodies. In example 7, which is based on a strongly extended tonality, is the theme of Pelleas.

[Example 7: Pelleas and Melisande excerpt]
In example 8, in which the intervals of the melody request rich movement of the accompanying voices.

[Example 8: Pelleas and Melisande excerpt]
The rhythmical texture is interwoven with syncopations and a tendency of avoiding accentuation of a strong beat. It seems to be predominant in these examples.

[Example 9: Pelleas and Melisande excerpts]
But most significant are a number of sections of undetermined tonality, of which the following may be quoted.

[Example 10: Pelleas and Melisande excerpt]
The climax of my first period is definitely reached in the Kammersymphonie, opus 9. Here is established a very intimate reciprocation between melody and harmony in that both connect remote relations of the tonality into a perfect unity, draw logical consequences of the problems into which they engage and simultaneously contribute a great progress in the direction to the emancipation of the dissonance. It is here the postponement of the resolution of "passing" dissonances to a remote point, where finally, the preceding harshness becomes justified. This is also the place to speak of the miraculous contributions of our subconscious. I was at this time able to write a theme which I thought not to be related to the main theme, but nevertheless it seemed so logical to me that I didn't cross it out. And, as I said, years later I found the solution in that I saw the relation. I speak about this more thoroughly in my lecture on "Composition with Twelve Tones". And I say, if there is a composer capable of inventing themes on the basis of such a remote relationship, I am not one of them. However, a mind thoroughly trained in musical logic might function logically under any circumstances.

Externally, coherence manifests itself through an intelligible application of the relationship and similarity inherent in musical configurations. What I believe, in fact, is that if you have done your duty with the utmost sincerity and have worked out everything as near to perfection as you are capable of doing, then the Almighty presents you with a gift, with additional features of beauty such as you never could have produced by your talent alone. My Two Ballads, opus 12, are immediate predecessors of the Second String Quartet, opus 10, which is the transition to the second period, this period which renounces a tonal center, what is falsely called "atonality." Already in the first and second movement there are many sections in which the independent movement of the individual parts ignores the fact whether their meeting results in catalogued harmonies. Still here and in the third and fourth movement the key is presented distinctly at all crossroads of the formal organization. Yet, the overwhelming multitude of dissonances could not be counterbalanced any longer by occasional returns to such tonal triads as represent a key. It seemed inadequate to force a movement into the Procrustian bed of a tonality without supporting it by such harmony progressions that pertain to it. This dilemma was not only my concern, but should have occupied the minds of all of my contemporaries. That I was the first to venture the decisive step will not be considered universally as a merit, a fact which I have to ignore. This first step occurred in the Songs, opus 14, and thereafter in the Fifteen Songs of the Hanging Gardens [op. 15], and in the Three Piano Pieces, opus 11.

Most critics of this new style failed to investigate up to which degree the ancient "eternal" laws of musical aesthetic were observed, spurned, or merely adjusted to changed circumstances. Such superficiality brought about these accusations of anarchy and revolution, while it was distinctly evolution, no more exorbitant than that which always has occurred in the history of music. In my Harmonielehre (1911) I contend, the future will certainly prove that a centralizing power, comparable to the gravitation exerted by the root, is still operative in these pieces. Taking into consideration that, for example, the laws of Bach's or Beethoven's structural conditions or of Wagner's harmony have not yet been established in a true scientific manner, it is not surprising, that no such attempt has been made with respect to "atonality." What a composer can contribute to the solution of this problem, even if his mind is capable of research, is not of much consequence. He is too much prejudiced by the intoxicating recollection of the inspiration which enforced production. Nevertheless, just such psychological details might open an avenue of approach toward an explanation.

I have once mentioned that the accompanying harmony, in my atonal--so called "atonal"--pieces, came to my mind in a quasi melodic manner, like broken chords. A melodic line, a voice part or even a melody derives from horizontal emanations of tonal relations. A chord, in contrast to that, results similarly from emanation in the vertical direction. Dissonant tones in the melody, that is, tones of a more remote relationship with the occasional center, cause difficulties of comprehension. Similarly are such remotely related tones an obstacle to intelligibility. The main difference in this respect is: harmony requires faster analysis, because the tones appear simultaneously, while in a melodic line more time is granted to synthesis, because the tones appear successively. In other words: melody, consisting of slowly dissemenated progressions of tones, offers more time for comprehension of the relationship and logic than harmony, where analysis has to function many times as fast. This might be at least a psychological explanation, why an author who is not supported by a theory and, on the contrary, knows how inimical his work will be to contemporaries, how such an author can feel an aesthetic satisifaction in writing this kind of music. One must not forget that, theory or no theory, a composer's only yardstick is his sense of balance and his belief in the infallibility of the logic of his musical thinking.

Nevertheless, educated in the spirit of the classic schools, which provided one with the power of control over every step, and in spite of the loosening of the shackles of obsolete aesthetics, I did not cease to ask myself for the theoretical foundation of the freedom of my style. Coherence in classic compositions is based, broadly speaking, on the unifying factors of such structural formulations as rhythms, phrases, motives, and the central reference of all melodic and harmonic features to the center of gravitation to the tonic. Renouncement of the unifying power of the tonic still--and this is important--still leaves all the other factors in full operation. Usually when changes of style occur in the arts, a tendency can be observed to overemphasize the difference between the new and the old. Advice to followers is given in the form of exaggerating rules, originating from a distinct trend to "epater le bourgeois," that is "to amaze mediocrity." Fifty years later, the finest ear of the best musician has difficulties to hear these characteristics which the eyes of the average musicologist see so easily. Though I would not pretend that my Piano Piece, opus 11, number 3, looks similar to a string quartet of Haydn, I heard many a good musician, when listening to Beethoven's Great Fugue, cry out: "This sounds like atonal music." Also, in my Harmonielehre, some of my statements have been too strict, others superfluous. Intoxicated by the enthusiasm of having freed music from the shackles of tonality, more remote liberty of expression seemed to offer itself.

In fact, I myself and my pupils Anton von Webern and Alban Berg, and even Alois Haba, believed that now music could renounce motival features and remain coherent and comprehensible in spite of that. True, new ways to build phrases and other structural elements had been discovered and their mutual relationship, connection and combination was balanced by hitherto unknown means. New characters had emerged, new moods and more rapid changes of expression had been created, and new types of beginning, continuing, contrasting, repeating, and ending had come into usage. Forty years have since proved that the psychological basis of all these changes was correct. Music without a constant reference to a tonic was comprehensible, could produce characters and moods, could provoke emotions and was not bare of being gay or humorous. Time for a change had arrived. In 1915 I had sketched a symphony, the Scherzo of which accidentally consisted of twelve tones. Only two years later, a further step in this direction occurred. I had planned to build all the main themes of my unfinished oratorio Die Jakobsleiter out of the six tones of this row.

[Example 12: Die Jakobsleiter row]
When I took the next step in this transition toward composition with twelve tones, I called this "working with tones," not yet "twelve-tones." This became more distinct in some of the Piano Pieces, opus 23.

[Example 13: Op. 23 excerpt]
They still do not constitute a real basic set as we can hear from the twelve-tone composition. I had at this time not yet discovered all the technical tools which furnish such abundance of variety as is necessary for expansive forms. The closest approach happened in the Serenade, opus 24, which besides, contains already one piece of real twelve tones.

[Example 14: Serenade, Op. 24, Movement 5 excerpt]
Then the six tones are later used, in the later part of this movement as accompaniment of a Valse part. The clarinet adds the remaining six tones.

[Example 15: Serenade, Op. 24 excerpt]
Still closer to the twelve-tone composition is the variation movement.

[Example 16: Serenade, Op. 24 excerpt]
Its theme consists of fourteen notes, because of the omission of one note and the repetition of others. Here, for the first time, the "consequent" consists of a retrograde repetition of the "antecedent." The following variations use already inversions and retrograde inversions, diminutions and augmentations, and canons of various kinds and rhythmic shifts to different beats, in other words, all the technical tools of the method are here, except the limitation to only twelve different tones. The method of composing with twelve tones substitutes for the order granted by the permanent reference to tonal centers an order according to which every unit of a piece being a derivative of the tonal relations in a basic set of twelve tones, the "Grundgestalt," is coherent because of this permanent reference to it. Shall I repeat this? I mean instead of relating every configuration in a piece to a tonal center, every configuration in a twelve-tone piece is related to the Grundgestalt in that it consisted of always the same tone relation as this Grundgestalt provides. Reference to this set offers also the justification of dissonant sounds.

Contemporary music has taken advantage of my adventurous use of dissonances. Let us not forget that I came to that gradually, as a result of a convincing development, which enabled me to establish the law of the emancipation of the dissonance, which I mentioned before already, according to which the comprehensibility of the dissonance is considered tantamount to the comprehensibility of the consonance. I do not say the dissonance is the same as the consonance. I say the comprehensibility of both is tantamount. Thus, dissonances need not be a spicy addition to dull sounds. They are natural and logic substantiation of an organism. And this organism lives as vitally on its phrases, rhythms, motives and also melodies, as ever before. It has happened in the last years, that I have been questioned whether certain of my compositions are "pure" twelve-tone, or twelve-tone at all. In fact, I do not know always. I am still more a composer than a theorist. And when I compose, I try to forget all theories, and I continue composing only after having freed my mind. It seems to me urgent to warn my friends of orthodoxy. Composing with twelve tones is only in a rather small way a forbidding, an excluding method. It is in first respect a method ascertaining logical order and organization, of which comprehensibility should be the main result. Whether certain of my compositions fail to be "pure" because of the surprising appearance of some consonant harmonies (surprising even to me), I cannot, as I said, decide. But I am sure that a mind trained in musical logic will not fail, even if it is not conscious of everything it does. And I hope that again an act of grace might come to my rescue, and help me out of the problem in which I have engaged against my own will like that in the Kammersymphonie why I only much later discovered that my inspiration was right from my mind also. Thank you.

[audience applause]

Voice over:
With this characteristic understatement, Arnold Schoenberg concluded. Two years after this address was delivered, Schoenberg was dead. Having been scorned by many who did not wish to accompany him on his often lonely journey, Schoenberg's life and example had helped lead the language of music through one of its most turbulent periods. Although post-war composers have both embraced and sometimes repudiated his contributions, no serious composer can afford to ignore his creative achievement. We are still a long way from understanding all of the historical and individual forces that played their role in this remarkable life, but the address you have just heard offers a rare glimpse into the inner world of one of the 20th century's most remarkable and individual minds.

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