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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHOENBERG: Verklarte Nacht / Chamber Symphony No. 2
ABC Radio 24 Hours
By Matthew Rye
BBC Music Magazine
By Victor Carr
Arnold Schoenberg was one of the most controversial and influential
composers of the twentieth century, although the composer himself hated being
called a revolutionary. Whilst his discovery of the twelve-note technique did
indeed revolutionise the musical language of the last century, his respect for
the musical past can be seen both in his thorough grounding in the classics and
in the formal models of his own compositions: the string quartet, the concerto,
the chamber symphony. Stylistically, Schoenberg's works can be divided into
four distinct periods: an early tonal period; a second period of atonal works
dating from 1908 onwards (Schoenberg thought the term 'atonal' offensive and
preferred 'pantonal'); a third period, from 1920-36, of works based on the
twelve-note, or serial, technique; a more stylistically heterogeneous fourth
period dating from the 1930s that is marked by the intermittent reappearance of
Born in Vienna on 13th September 1874 (he became an American citizen in
1941), Schoenberg learnt both the violin and the cello, and played in an
amateur ensemble that performed works from the Classical repertory and for
which he began to compose quartets. More formal instruction came in 1893 after
he befriended the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky, who had studied at the
Vienna Conservatory Essentially, however, Schoenberg was self-taught: he
remarked that his teachers were first Bach and Mozart, and secondly Beethoven,
Wagner and Brahms.
In December 1901 Schoenberg moved to Berlin where he earned a living
conducting Ernst von Wolzogen's satirical cabaret, Überbrettl, and by
scoring operettas. Thanks to a recommendation from Richard Strauss, who had
been favourably impressed when shown parts of the score of the immense Gurrelieder
(composition of which had begun in March 1900), Schoenberg obtained the
Liszt Stipendium and a composition post at the Stern Conservatory. He returned
to Vienna in July 1903, having completed the symphonic poem Pelleas und
Melisande (1902-3), and he gave private lessons there in composition and
theory. In the autumn of 1904 Schoenberg acquired two new pupils, Anton Webern
and Alban Berg, two composers who were to become lifelong disciples and who,
together with Schoenberg, were to become collectively known as the Second
Having stretched the chromatic harmony of Wagner's Tristan almost
to breaking point in the works of his first period, Schoenberg then carried
this process to its logical conclusion by eschewing structural harmony
altogether, in a series of atonal works including the Three Pieces for
piano (1909), the settings of poems by Stefan George, Das Buch der hängenden
Gärten (1908-9), and one of his most famous works, the melodrama Pierrot
Lunaire (1912). It was during this period of stylistic crisis that painting
became of great importance to Schoenberg, and he became friends with the artist
Kandinsky and exhibited his paintings with the group Der Blaue Reiter. He
composed little between 1913 and 1921 (with a notable exception being the
unfinished oratorio Die Jakobsleiter), but the 1920s witnessed the first
fruits of Schoenberg's newly developed serial technique (the 'method of
composing with twelve notes which are related only to one another'), a systematic
way of organizing atonal music. The first works of this third period include
the Five Piano Pieces (1920-3), the Serenade (1920-3) and the Piano
In January 1926 Schoenberg again moved to Berlin from Vienna to take up
a composition post at the Prussian Academy of Arts, and since his academic
duties required him to teach for approximately six months of the year it proved
a particularly fruitful period for his own compositional activity. Several
major works were composed around this time, including the Variations for
Orchestra (1926-8), the Third Quartet (1927), and the operas Von
Heute auf Morgen (1928-9) and the unfinished Moses und Aron (1930-2).
He remained there unti11933, when he was summarily dismissed by the Nazis. He
left Berlin for France in May (reconverting to Judaism in Paris) and
subsequently emigrated to the USA. In 1936 he was offered a professorship at
the University of California, where he taught from 1936-44 Schoenberg died in
Los Angeles on 13th July 1951.
Although work on Chamber Symphony No. 2 had begun in August 1906
(Schoenberg had finished Chamber Symphony No. 1 in July of that year),
it was not actually completed until he returned to the sketches over thirty
years later in 1939. He cast the work in two movements, and as well as
rescoring and revising it, he added an additional twenty bars to the first
movement, whilst the second movement almost doubled in length. The slow,
elegiac first movement is counterpointed with an expansive, impassioned second
movement (con fuoco) which reaches a tragic climax. Its première was
given on 14th November 1940 under Fritz Stiedry in New York.
The Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene was composed in
Berlin between 1929-30. While its title may suggest that it was composed for an
actual film it is in fact a completely independent orchestral piece. The
three-movement work is based on an imaginary sequence of contrasting emotional
states – Threatening Danger, Fear and Catastrophe – the première
of which was conducted on 6th November 1930 under Klemperer in Berlin (its
first British performance was conducted by Webern for a BBC broadcast in 1931).
The string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) was
composed in 1899, with the arrangement for string orchestra following in 1917
(rev. 1943). It is based on one of Richard Dehmel's poems from the cycle Weib
und Welt in which a woman confesses to her lover that she has become
pregnant by another man. The poem's structure – five stanzas of differing
length – is based on a rondo-like ABACA pattern, with the recurring A section
representing a moonlit walk, the B section the woman's confession and the C
section the man's noble reply. Similarly, Schoenberg's single-movement work
consists of five continuous but clearly differentiated sections 'in which',
Oliver Neighbour writes in The New Grove, 'Wagnerian and Brahmsian modes
of thought meet in harmonious accord'. Its première was given by an augmented
Rosé Quartet in Vienna on 18th March 1902.
gehn durch kahlen, kalten Rain;
Der Mond läuft
mit, sie schaun hinein.
Der Mond läuft
über hohe Eichen
trübt das Himmelslicht,
In das die
schwarzen Zacken reichen.
Die Stimme eines
Ich trag ein
Kind, und nit von Dir
ich geh in Sünde
Ich hab mich
schwer an mir vergangen.
Ich glaubte nicht
mehr an ein Glück
Und hatte doch
ein schwer Verlangen
Lebensinhalt, nach Mutterglück
Und Pflicht; da
hab ich mich erfrecht,
Da liess ich
schaudernd mein Geschlecht
Von einem fremden
Und hab mich noch
Nun hat das Leben
Nun bin ich Dir,
o Dir begegnet.
Sie geht mit
Sie schaut empor,
der Mond läuft mit.
Ihr dunkler Blick
ertrinkt in Licht.
Die Stimme eines
Das Kind, das Du
sei Deiner Seele
O sieh, wie klar
das Weltall schimmert!
Es ist ein Glanz
um Alles her,
Du treibst mit
mir auf kaltem Meer,
Doch eine eigne
Von Dir in mich,
von mir in Dich.
Die wird das
fremde Kind verklären
Du wirst es mir,
von mir gebären;
Du hast den Glanz
in mich gebracht,
Du hast mich
selbst zum Kind gemacht.
Er fasst sie um
die starken Hüften.
Ihr Atem küsst
sich in den Lüften.
gehn durch hohe, helle Nacht.
Two people go
through bare, cold groves
The moon travels
with them, they look on.
The moon travels
over the high oak-trees
No little cloud mars
the light of heaven,
That the black peaks
The voice of a woman
I carry a child, and
I go in sin beside
I have grievously
I believed no more
And had yet a great
For purpose in life,
for the joy of motherhood
And duty; as I
So shuddering I left
Embraced by a
And so have I
Now life has taken
Now I am with you,
She goes with
She looks up, the
moon travels with her.
Her dark countenance
is bathed in light.
The voice of a man
May the child that
you have conceived
Be no burden on your
Oh see, how bright
the whole world shines!
There is a
brilliance over all,
You fare with me on
the cold sea,
Yet a special warmth
From you to me, from
me to you.
It must transfigure
the strange child
You must bear it for
me, by me;
You have brought
light to me,
You have made me
myself a child.
He embraces her
about her strong limbs.
Their breath kisses
in the air.
Two people go through
the lofty, bright night.
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