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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Austria had already been a cradle of European music-making for over a century when, at the beginning of the 20th century, it became the centre of intellectual progress in Europe in all intellectual and artistic fields, including new music. Vienna had been the city of Mozart and Beethoven, of Schubert and Schumann, with Prague of almost equal musical importance, closely tied to Vienna and Austria at the beginning of the 20th century due to its position in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With the presence of Brahms (1833-1897), Bruckner (1824-1896) and Mahler (1860-1911), the focus of German music-making, of dominant influence on both sides of the Atlantic, had switched on the death of Wagner to the Austrian capital.

The culmination of the late-Romantic idiom, large in scale, employing huge forces, turbulent, eclectic, and in its inspiration and subject matter turning to the psychological soul-searching of the new Freudian age, found its locus in Vienna, matched by contemporary poetry and painting. Mahler and Schoenberg (1874-1951) in his early works took the parameters of the late-Romantic idiom, especially the harmonic foundation of traditional tonality, to their limits, and in doing so in part reconciled the division that had split the musical world in the latter part of the 19th century, between the hedonistic spirit of Wagner and the development of the classical tradition, founded on counterpoint and represented by Brahms. A number of lesser but still potent composers such as Zemlinsky (1871-1942), Schreker (1878-1934), the young Korngold (1897-1957), and Karl Weigl (1881-1949), whose output includes six symphonies and eight string quartets, continued this luxuriant and psychologically turbulent idiom. The major German exponent of late-Romanticism, Richard Strauss (1864-1949), himself became increasingly influential in, and influenced by, Viennese musical life, as his major librettist, von Hofmannsthal, was Viennese. He himself directed the Vienna State Opera from 1919-1924, spending the Second World War in Austria and becoming an Austrian citizen in 1947. The more classical tradition of Austro-German composition was continued and developed by Franz Schmidt (1874-1939), and the Viennese pleasure in operetta by a number of composers, notably Franz Lehár (1870-1948), whose major work, Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow, 1905) has sufficient depth and insight to be an opera rather than an operetta, but properly belongs to the 19th century in idiom and subject matter; it remains a staple of the international opera repertoire, and its main tune (`The Merry Widow Waltz') one of the best known of all melodies.

The major contribution of Austria to 20th-century classical music (still resonating through composition today) was the response to the crisis of the limits of traditional tonal harmony represented by Schoenberg and his two main pupils, Berg (1885-1935) and Webern (1883-1945), who have become collectively (and rather misleadingly) known as `The Second Viennese School'. Their initial move was to atonality, abandoning any sense of key and thus using the entire chromatic scale in the harmonic palette; at the same time they reverted to smaller forces, especially chamber forces, a medium hardly touched by Mahler or Strauss, and to much shorter durations. The absence of any formal harmonic structure was in part responsible for the short length of works; the need for formal structures produced adaptations of Classical forms. The next step, developed by Schoenberg, was to formalize rules for the use and manipulation of rows, or melodies, based on all twelve notes of the chromatic scale (12-note rows - for fuller details, see Schoenberg). A similar system had been simultaneously and independently developed by a little known Austrian composer, J.M.Hauer (1883-1959), who produced 71 opus numbers of 12-tone works, notably the cantata Wandlungen (1927). Webern concentrated on concise miniatures using this system, moving towards the serialization (the systematization) of other parameters besides harmony (dynamics, rhythm, etc.), fully developed by his followers in the avant-garde movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Berg eventually evolved the system to allow suggestions of a tonal base within the row, in a style that has proved perhaps the most durable. Berg also used first atonality and then 12-tone methods in his two operas, within complex and innovatory formal structures, and these have been the most influential of all 20th-century operas, propelling the genre firmly into the century.

A number of other Schoenberg pupils should correctly be included in the `Second Viennese School', notably Egon Wellesz (1855-1974), whose large output includes nine symphonies and nine quartets and some works that returned to tonality; he is better known as a musicologist and teacher than as a composer. Ernst Krenek (1900-1992) was also a Schoenberg pupil, but came to fame with a widely successful opera that incorporated jazz. The surrealist movement was represented by Max Brand (1896-1980), whose opera Machinist Hopkins (first performed 1929) was equally successful; with its machines among the singing cast and its working-class subject matter, is a powerful work worth encountering.

The experimentation that so much of this musical activity represented was cut short by the rise of the Nazis and their control of Austria (1938-1945). Most of the major intellectual and artistic figures fled, including Schoenberg, Krenek, Korngold, Weigl and Zemlinsky to the United States, and Wellesz to the U.K.. Since the Second World War Austrian composers have not been nearly so prominent: von Einem (born 1918), a major opera composer, has probably been the most widely heard, though more recently H.K.Gruber (born 1943) has attracted some attention, notably for his compelling surrealistic Frankenstein! (1976-1977) for narrator and orchestra, and as one of the first avant-garde composers to return to tonality.

Austria has, though, continued as one of the major international venues for music both new and old, and has been home, if fleetingly, to a number of other important composers, such as the Hungarian Ligeti. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has continued as one of the two most consistently superb orchestras in the world (the other being the Berlin Philharmonic), the Vienna State Opera, revived and revolutionized (1897-1907) by Mahler in collaboration with the designer Alfred Roller maintains its high standards, and the Salzburg Festival, long ruled by the Austrian mega-star conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), remains one of the premiere festivals of its kind.

Austrian Music Information Centre:

Österreichische Gesellschaft für Musk

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A-1010 Wien

tel: +43 1 512 31 43

fax: +43 1 512 42 99














BERG Alban Maria Johannes

born 9th February 1885 at Vienna

died 24th December 1935 at Vienna


The name and the music of Alban Berg has been inextricably linked with those of his teacher Schoenberg and his fellow pupil Webern. Of the three, it was Berg who most completely fused the emotional inheritance of the late Romantic composers - in particular the emotional if not always the musical legacy of Mahler - with the new ideas and explorations of Schoenberg. Collectively the three composers have become known as the Second Viennese School, a tag that has hindered appreciation of the individuality of each composer, and of Berg in particular.

Berg produced a very small number of works of astonishing power and emotional and technical range, less strictly tied to the minutiae of systems than his two fellow-composers. Unfortunately, his name is so circumscribed by 12-tone ideas in the popular imagination that many have shied away from the discovery of his music for fear of a dissonance and complexity comparable to that of Webern. This has been reinforced by the tendency of academics to treat Berg's music in terms of quasi-mathematical formulae, to the detriment of the emotional content and in particular the expressive powers of word-setting that inform his most powerful works. A couple of works apart (discussed below), the actuality is quite different. Indeed, much of the type of sound that Berg created has passed into the common currency of subsequent mainstream composers. His music provides an excellent introduction to that later mainstream, as well as a comfortable initiation into atonal and 12-tone ideas, quite apart from the intrinsic power of the music itself. It is the overt emotional content, as opposed to the shift to the cerebral in Webern's music, that provides an avenue of response and a link with more familiar traditions for those unused to or suspicious of such idioms.

His earliest music consists of a large number of songs, long unpublished but recently unearthed, that follow the tradition of Schumann and Brahms. However in 1904 he started studying with Schoenberg, developing his idiom through the late Romantic German tradition, and then following his teacher's lead to increasingly atonal works. The Seven Early Songs (1905-1908, orchestrated in 1928) still have the feel of a grand outpouring of emotion, the intensity heightened by a sense of tense restraint, rich in colour, especially in the version for voice and orchestra. The influential one movement Piano Sonata op.1 (1907-1908), a model for later composers making a similar break with tonality, is built on the transformation of a few seminal ideas. This concise and fascinating work has a sense of transition, from the echoes of late Romanticism in the melodic cast and the feeling of broken chords, to a more astringent, angular idiom in which the emotional content has become compressed. Any tonal associations are almost lost apart from clear moments of restful resolution, like a snake in the process of sloughing off its skin. The last of the Four Songs op.2 (?1909-1910), is totally atonal without any key signature, and it was followed by the original and inventive String Quartet (1910). Developing concepts initiated in the Piano Sonata, Berg used themes and ideas without any tonal implications, but constructed in such a way that they act as points of reference analogous to traditional tonal development, thus providing the listener with a clear aural map. Again, these devices have been subject to countless analyses, but the potential listener should not be put off by these, informative as they can be.

Berg's next work is a masterpiece that remained virtually unknown until given its first complete performance by the Swiss conductor Ansermet in 1952. The Fünf Orchesterlieder nach Ansichtkartentexten von Peter Altenberg (1912) for soprano and orchestra, usually known as the Five Altenberg Songs, have been described as `aphoristic', a misleading catch-phrase that has been to the detriment of the wider dissemination of this song-cycle. The songs are based on Expressionist postcard texts by Altenberg (which are indeed aphoristic), and Berg takes the huge apparatus of the Mahlerian orchestral song-cycle and compresses it into five short songs (whose brevity led to the aphoristic tag), extending the harmonic ideas into spare and alienated regions. Quite apart from the multiplicity of fascinating technical devices that create an extraordinary cohesion in their web of inter-related ideas, the emotional intensity and variety of these songs are knife-edged and tortured, expressing the intense introversion, psychological turmoil, and alienation of the age. Yet this is overlaid with an extraordinary sense of the vastness of the nature in which this vision is placed, augmented by the huge orchestra, simple bright colours (such as the celesta) at its centre, by the magical and mysterious ostinato opening (prefiguring more recent musical developments, with no two patterns the same), by the climatic Mahlerian outburst in the last song, and by the latent lyricism. In this song-cycle Berg expressed an aspect of the troubled human experience, verging on the neurotic and the despairing but pulling back from the brink, that has come to everyone, if momentarily. He does so in a fashion that has rarely, if ever, been exceeded by any other composer. The Five Altenberg Songs are one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.

Schoenberg was scathing of the Altenberg Songs, and Berg's response was to attempt in the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, op.5 (1913) the kind of genuine aphorisms that his teacher and Webern had explored. The pieces are exceedingly short (12,9,18, and 20 bars). The technical brilliance is undoubted (the pieces correspond to a four-movement classical sonata) but the results are completely sterile, especially when set alongside Webern's similar works. They are primarily interesting as a musical example of psychological dependence. Berg's own musical reaction to this bit of musical masochism was a controlled explosion of emotional intensity: the Three Orchestral Pieces (1914-1915, revised 1929). This wonderful work bridges the sultry turbulence of late-Romanticism and the asceticism of the new music Webern and Schoenberg were bent on achieving. With the benefit of hindsight, the Three Orchestral Pieces are unmistakably a development of the idiom of late Mahler, most obviously in the use of a ländler and a march, more covertly in the conjunction of fragmentary ideas of eclectic emotions swirling around a central core of progression, in the quick fusion of climax, in the orchestral colours, in the use of timpani and trilling woodwind phrases. The development lies in the adoption of the kind of thematic structures and atonal harmonic idioms Schoenberg and Webern were putting to different uses, and in the more pointed strands of isolated instrumental colour. The genesis of thematic material is contained in the opening `Präludium', to be unravelled in threads in the subsequent movements. Above all, the impact is emotional, not intellectual - the passion of the Altenberg Songs revisited - from the opening, like a hollow groan, to the sense of strands of resolution that precede the dissonant close.

The Altenberg Songs also act as a kind of prelude to the works for which Berg is now perhaps best known, the operas Wozzeck (1917-1922) and Lulu (1929-1935). At the heart of these operas is a similar emotional intensity, combined with the study of the human psyche on the edge of neurosis, circumscribed by the dysfunctions of the world around. Wozzeck is a seminal work, as central to 20th-century opera as Wagner's Tristan und Isolde had been to the music of the late 19th century. Its place as the first atonal operatic masterpiece has often been attested, being seen either as a break with the Romantic tradition of grand opera or as the culmination of opera itself. Less often remarked is the revolution created by its plot (though Schoenberg was quick to recognize it), based on Büchner's incomplete 1837 play (in its turn based on a true story), which had received its first stage performance only in 1913. Wozzeck is the first truly proletarian opera, its main characters coming from the seamy underside of social life, presented without a trace of sentimentality, romantic hue, or patronizing. The characters that might traditionally have been presented as examples of a higher social order - the Doctor, the Captain - are equally starkly drawn, their social position doubtful. In this, Wozzeck destroyed the conventions of large-scale opera, attacked - and continues to attack - the complacency of opera audiences, demanded their compassion, and questioned the normality of social order. Wozzeck, an ordinary private soldier, is naive, trusting, but entirely human. His gullibility is preyed upon by the neurotic Captain and by the obsessive Doctor, who performs experiments on him. His essentially passive nature is incapable of satisfying the more wanton dreams of his young wife, Marie, who is wooed by a visiting Drum Major. Goaded on by those around him, tormented by his bewilderment at the evil world in which he finds himself and by the inexorable progression of events, Wozzeck builds up angry passion until he is overwhelmed by paranoia and murders Marie. The opera ends with the voices of children, playing with Wozzeck's daughter and running off to see her dead mother.

Berg was aided in his setting by the fragmentary nature of the incomplete play, in which the scenes, and thus the plot, were complete but untrammelled by any 19th-century linkage. This entirely suited his musical conception, which again made a break with operatic tradition. The work is divided into three acts, further divided to follow the scenes of the play. The five scenes of Act II are the psychological centrepiece; Act I sets the background, and Act III expounds the inevitable consequences of those five scenes. For the musical realization of this structure, Berg used forms that were associated with abstract music, and not with opera. The opening five scenes are self-contained musical units (`character sketches'), including a suite and a passacaglia. The second act constitutes a five-movement symphony, and is constructed as such. In Act III each of the five scenes is an `invention': on a theme, on a sound, on a rhythm, a tone, and a perpetuum mobile, the interlude being an invention on a key. Musical motifs and their manipulations and variations bind this structure together, and each act ends with a cadence on the same chord. The danger of such a scheme is that adherence to the formal musical requirements will override the suitability for the dramatic action. This Berg brilliantly avoids in an astonishing synthesis of form and content, the structural elements providing a musical symbolism for the characterization. His formal innovations have since been widely emulated.

However, such technical considerations should not disguise the purely expressive intent of this powerful opera, as Berg himself was at pains to point out. Indeed, it is not necessary to be even aware of them for the work to have extraordinary impact, though they add layers of depth when one becomes more familiar with the opera. The atonal language with its varied vocal lines, from wide leaps to Sprechgesang (half-speech, half-song), is completely suited to the nature of the psychological torment of the work, and many who have found such a musical language otherwise difficult have found it perfectly acceptable when heard in such a dramatic context. The score abounds in marvellous moments, when Berg, who generally uses the orchestra on a chamber scale, matches the musical content to the dramatic situation: a march, a lullaby, the juxtaposition of innocence and terrible knowledge at the close. Above all, he avoids musical judgement, presenting the characters, their good or their evil sides, for what they are, with compassion and understanding. Recordings provide a marvellous opportunity to follow and understand the formal constructs of Wozzeck; but they can only hint at the emotional impact a good production of this most important of 20th-century operas can have.

Berg's next work, the Chamber Concerto (1923-1925) for piano, violin and 13 wind instruments, is, after the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, the second odd work in his canon. Given its dedicatory purpose for the occasion of Schoenberg's 50th birthday, it is tempting to see it as another attempt to please the master rather than follow his own compositional instincts. With its abstract formal designs and lean instrumental textures, it has more than a hint of a neo-classical hue, overlaid by harmonic procedures that, while using 12-tone formal techniques, had not yet arrived at a fully organized system. The results sound curiously stilted for such an emotionally fluid composer. Berg used the full 12-tone system first in a song, Schliesse mir die Augen beude (1925; he had set the same song tonally in 1905), and then, using for the first movement the same 12-note series as the song, in the Lyric Suite (1925-1926) for string quartet. However, Berg does not follow the strict constraints of the 12-tone technique that were self-imposed by Schoenberg and Webern. Instead, he evolved a less rigid (but intellectually equally well-ordered) use of the main elements of 12-tone technique, better suited to his expressive purpose. For the strict adherence to the 12-tone rules, while it answered the aesthetic of Webern, ill-suited the expressive nature of Berg's idiom, with its roots in a late-Romantic expression and its latent sense of extra-musical inspiration. The problem (as Schoenberg himself, as well as many later composers, discovered) was that while such strict adherence did provide a structural base for musical expression that removed it from outmoded Romantic tonal or chromatic formulae, in so doing it imposed too many constraints to act as a vehicle for the wider expression Berg was seeking. Berg's solution was create a structural base largely outside the controls of the 12-tone system. He used smaller scale integrated structures, usually echoing classical models, building up a series of these units to create an overall form (often using symmetry or palindromes): this is a primary technical break with the Mahlerian late-Romantic tradition, which had preferred sonata-first movement symphonic structure. Onto this formal scaffolding he grafted the 12-tone techniques to extend the harmonic language.

He had used such a construction with an atonal harmonic language in Wozzeck; in the six-movement Lyric Suite the 12-tone elements are used to build the material that is placed within that structure, and to unify the individual units (Lulu has similar structural priorities). Thus only the first, third (less its trio) and the sixth movements are built entirely on 12-tone principles; the first movement has three 12-note series, rather than the single one preferred by Schoenberg (echoing, in the new context, Mahler's use of a number of principal themes in the first movements of his symphonies). There are 12-note ideas in the second and fifth movements that prefigure those of the following movements, and themes and longer sections are shared by more than one otherwise autonomous movement. All these give an overall cohesion to the work, and the return of ideas or material is aurally recognizable; but the temperamental and structural aesthetic is very different from that of Webern, where the structural base and the 12-tone usage are inextricably interwoven. From this crucial difference stem two of the main trends of post-1945 composition, the serialists following the lead of Webern, and, as it has turned out, a larger and more influential number of composers following Berg in integrating 12-tone elements into languages and structures that are derived from, or inspired by, other sources.

That the Lyric Suite has primarily an expressive intent is confirmed by its secret programme: the basic cell (B-F-A-B flat, in German H-F-A-B) is based on Berg's own initials and those of the object of his passion, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, the wife of an industrialist. It is also an intense and dramatic work, as if the quartet were together telling some dramatic tale, and this drama is reflected in the titles of the movement, each of which has a description (giovale, amoroso, misterioso, appassionato, delirando, desolato) which themselves describe the emotional progression. Berg himself suggested that the changes to the initial 12-tone series that occur through the work represented a `submission to fate'. It is also a technically dramatic work, stretching the expressive range of the string instruments by a plethora of techniques and sonic effects, most obvious in the fragmentary, hallucinatory effects of the `Allegro misterioso', with its use of harmonics. In 1928 Berg orchestrated three of the movements (the `Andante amoroso', the `Allegro misterioso' and the `Adagio appassionato') to form an orchestral suite. This is probably more often encountered than the full suite for string quartet; unfortunately it is usually billed as the Lyric Suite rather than its full title of Three Pieces from the `Lyric Suite', which can cause some confusion.

Berg's next vocal work, Der Wein (1929) for soprano and orchestra, is an extended dramatic aria to three poems by Baudelaire (in German), equating wine with its power over world-weariness. It anticipates some of the concepts used in Lulu, notably the use of a saxophone and piano in the orchestration. Berg uses a 12-note row freely, as a source of thematic material and without following the strict permutations. A connection with a tonal language is maintained, anticipating the Violin Concerto, in that the row chosen has in its constituents the possibility of tonal chordal implications. The work thus still has its origins in an extension of a late-Romantic idiom, particularly in the orchestral flow and the flowing vocal line, with echoes of Mahler in the climaxes and the falling orchestral swoops. Against these, the angular nature of the intervals in the vocal line and the juxtaposition of thematic ideas create a nervous energy and a disassociated, unsettled atmosphere that takes the work far beyond a purely Romantic aesthetic; the absence of a closing finality suggests the insubstantial place at which the musical ambience has arrived.

The opera Lulu (1925-1935) extends the musical and dramatic world of Wozzeck. For many years it was given in a truncated two-act form, as Berg did not finish the orchestration or short sections of the final act. This was completed by Friedrich Cerha, and first given in 1979 (Cerha had secretly completed it some years earlier, but had to wait until the death of Berg's widow before publishing it). Such is the formal and emotional importance of that third act that any two-act version is best avoided. The central theme of the opera, distilled from two controversial plays by Frank Wedekind, is of the sexual obsession of men, with the associated themes of power and death. Through the often lurid scenes weaves the object of that obsession, Lulu, at one and the same time a victim and an instigator of her liaisons. Again, Berg makes no moral judgement on her or on her surroundings, and in modern terms Lulu might be described as a study of a series of co-dependent relationships. The entire opera is built in an arch. The first act describes Lulu's rise, the death of her husband when he discovers her making love to a painter, her marriage to the painter, his suicide when he discovers that she has a patron, and her manipulation of that patron to cast aside his fiancée. The second act is her triumph, with marriage to her patron, and a bevy of admirers and lovers of both sexes. She murders her husband and is jailed, but her Countess lesbian lover takes her place, allowing her to escape. The third act is her fall. Living with the son of her murdered patron, she is blackmailed in an attempt to sell her into white slavery, but again she escapes. In the final scene she has been reduced to living as a prostitute in London. She is visited by the Countess, but, offstage, she is murdered by one of her clients, Jack the Ripper, who then kills the Countess.

Such a plot could easily emerge as melodramatic. That it does not is due first to a host of structural devices that Berg employs, including an introduction by a circus-master, expressing the nihilism of this aspect of the human condition, the duplication of Lulu's three admirers in the opening of the opera by her three clients at the end (with the same singers, and musical associations), and a kind of substitute father figure from Lulu's past who stalks through the work unscathed. Second the depth of characterization is considerable, complete with the contradictory torments that such obsessions imply: Berg spins an extraordinary expressive atmosphere, creating a world in which such crazy behaviour seems the norm. Again Berg takes advantage of relatively short, self-contained scenes, that allow a series of snap-shots of the long time-span of the story. The symmetry of the plot is emphasized, with a three-minute film designated for the central point of the opera, showing Lulu's trial and imprisonment, and its retrograde, her escape from prison. A major change from the earlier opera is that Berg now employs the 12-tone system developed since Wozzeck by Schoenberg. Berg's use of material derived from 12-note series and other core cells binds the work together by association with ideas and characters, whether they are recognized as such or subconsciously assimilated. The actual analysis of that usage has prompted endless argument and discussion, which although fascinating, is about as relevant to Lulu as a work of operatic art as a discussion of the structural stresses and mechanical physics of the architecture of Chartres is to its purpose as a cathedral. More important to those who wish to experience this opera rather than dissect it, is the overall scheme. Each act has a central musical structure (a sonata-allegro in Act I, a rondo in Act II, a theme and variations in Act III), used less rigidly than in Wozzeck, as they are surrounded and interrupted by other self-contained musical events. These shorter units hark back to earlier, classical conceptions: ariettas, canzonettas, duets, interludes, and the like. The vocal writing is wide-ranging (Berg himself identified six degrees of vocal style used in the score); jazz is employed (in the theatre scene) though for purely dramatic purposes, as a distant backdrop to the foreground action and music (which is, in the opening to this scene, extremely lyrical, the orchestral start of the scene and the more extended vocal writing recalling the Altenberg Songs).

All these devices serve one single purpose: the realization for expressive ends of the drama and the characters, of the slice of the human dilemma, presented in a close marriage of music and word. Of all the operas yet written, Lulu perhaps comes closest to the fast interplay of human speech, of dialogue, interruption, argument. This is partly due to the consummate dialogue of the libretto, partly to the flexibility of the vocal lines, again wide-ranging in technique, but most of all to the extraordinary elasticity of Berg's musical setting. The instrumental language, kept for the most part to chamber proportions, wraps itself around the vocal lines like an outer skin, acting as a kind of musical body-language to our encounter with the characters and their emotions, pointing up here, colouring there, making associations there; certain instruments are associated with particular characters. The genius of Berg's setting is that these constant fluctuations flow so naturally into each other, a flow founded on the thematic and formal techniques already discussed. The ending of the opera, with the Countess crying out for Lulu, has the musical ambience of, and quotes directly from, the final Altenberg Song, which itself describes the emptiness of oblivion. This magnificent opera, more wide-ranging, clearer, musically more lucid and ultimately more harrowing than Wozzeck, clearly had autobiographical associations for Berg. Wedekind's character Alwa is altered by Berg to a composer (and at one point a quote from the opening of Wozzeck cements the association), there are connections with the lives of his own family, and there are echoes of Berg's passion for Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. The suite of five symphonic pieces from Lulu (Symphonische Stücke aus der Oper `Lulu', 1934, for soprano and orchestra) is probably more often encountered than the actual opera. It utilizes the music from the orchestral interludes (including those from Act III), Lulu's Lied from Act II, and the Countess' final words from the end of the opera.

Berg's final completed work, the Violin Concerto (1935) is subtitled To The Memory of an Angel, and was written following the death from polio of the daughter of Mahler's widow and her second husband, the architect Walter Gropius. Berg incorporates a quote from the opening of the Bach chorale Es ist genug! ("It is enough!") and a Carpathian folksong. However, there is also a second, secret autobiographical programme, contained in the numerology of the bar numbers, in some of the markings, and in the (unprinted) actual words to the Carpathian folksong. This programme reflects Berg's first major love affair, with a servant-woman that led to the birth of his illegitimate child, and his last, with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. Musically, the concerto is founded on a 12-tone row, which has strong tonal associations, as it unfolds two major and two minor triads, and at its end the whole-tone scale, while its penultimate three notes form the motif of the Bach chorale. The subsequent material interlaces tonal and 12-tone elements, and much ink has been spilled on the separation of these elements. However, in essence Berg's harmonic language had arrived at a position where the synthesis had reached a unity of its own. It exists in itself, for expressive intent, and the 12-tone and tonal elements are simply building blocks of that language, like using a combination of brick and stone in a building. The strict framework of the overall structure, as in most of Berg's works, provided him with the base for expressive and harmonic freedom. The four movements are divided into two pairs, with the only silent break coming between the second and third. The internal structures of these movements are aurally clear, and founded on classical example. Following the public programme, the first pair of movements portray Berg's dead young friend, the second (which reverses the traditional order, putting the slow movement at the end), the tragedy, death and transfiguration, returning us to the principal philosophical theme of late-Romanticism. The rocking opening of the concerto, leading to the first recognition of the Bach chorale, is steeped in the warmth of affection, and the work progresses through the development of that mood, a lyrical sense of reminiscence, echoes of the Viennese ländler, tense threat, and the chorale-variations final movement, with its feeling of acceptance and reconciliation. The solo line provides a continuous thread among these changes of emotional expression, and is not merely fluid, but has something of the freedom of flight, like a swallow or a swift spontaneously darting and soaring over a pond, keeping to the boundaries of its knowledge, buoyed up by the eddies and gullies and thunderstorms of the orchestral air in which it moves, eventually gliding in the calm of sunset.

Now that over half a century has passed since Berg's death, it is becoming clear that Berg's ties to Schoenberg and Webern existed primarily on two levels. The first was psychological: a strange triangle of dominance and submission, with Schoenberg as the tyrannical father-figure, who seems to have answered some psychological need in both his pupils. The second, stemming from this, is the common exploration of certain new techniques, generated by Schoenberg and developed to their own ends by Berg and Webern. But, as the experience of the development of music since then has made clearer, in the crucial area of the musical results, the actual sounds received by an audience, there is little other than technical means to link the mature works of the three composers, and Berg in particular. It is high time that the music of Berg was divorced from such tight associations; then a wider audience might begin to appreciate Berg not for what he is reputed to be, but for what he is: the composer of some of the most emotionally intense and psychologically compelling music written in this century, propelled, not dominated, by a formidable intellect.

There is an International Alban Berg Society, which has published since 1968 a newsletter devoted to Berg studies.


works include:

- violin concerto; Chamber Concerto for piano, violin and 13 wind instruments; Lyric Suite (from suite for string quartet) and Three Pieces for orch.;

- 4 Pieces for clarinet and piano; Adagio from Chamber Concerto for violin, clarinet and piano; string quartet; Lyric Suite for string quartet

- piano sonata

- Five Symphonic Pieces from Lulu, Four Altenberg Songs, Three Fragments from Wozzeck and Der Wein for voice and orch.; Seven Early Songs (also orchestrated version), Four Songs, two settings of Schliesse mir die Augen beide and many early songs for voice and piano

- operas Wozzeck and Lulu


recommended works:

All Berg's mature output is recommended. For those new to Berg, it is suggested that they start with the Altenberg Songs, the Three Pieces for Orchestra, and the Violin Concerto, and continue with Wozzeck and Lulu. Specialists may care to note that there is a recording of Webern conducting the Violin Concerto and the Lyric Suite.



T. Adorno Alban Berg, Vienna, 1978 (revised edition)

D.Jarman The Music of Alban Berg, London, 1979

W.Reich Alban Berg: the Man and his Music (Eng.trans.), Vienna, 1957

A short but detailed survey of Berg's life and works by G.Perle will be found in The New Grove Second Viennese School, (London 1980) which includes an extensive bibliography.


EINEM Gottfried von

born 24th January 1918 at Bern (Switzerland)

died 12th July 1996 at Oberdürnbach


Von Einem is best known as a composer of operas that have enjoyed especial success in Austria and Germany, and some limited exposure elsewhere. The most celebrated of these is probably Dantons Tod op. 6 (Danton's Death, 1944-1946), his first opera, to a libretto by his teacher Boris Blacher. Based on the 1835 play by Georg Büchner set in Revolutionary France, the music of this rather earnest work does not match the interest of the dramatic libretto. Its colours are dark and monochromatic, only occasionally relieved by the touch of a contrasting brightness. Its generally diatonic harmonic language is leavened with dramatically appropriate dissonances. Musical action is heavily reliant on rhythmic action, creating rather obvious, two-dimensional musical events. However, the large choral spectacular of the second half is theatrically exciting, and the work has had many passionate advocates since its original success at the 1947 Salzburg Festival. But for more satisfying musical and psychological settings of Büchner (whose small number of works have so ideally served the 20th-century aesthetic) readers are advised to turn first to works by Berg or Wolfgang Rihm.

Einem's next opera, Der Prozess op.14 (The Trial, 1950-1952) was based on Kafka, and its expressionist and jazz elements hark back to the inter-war German cabaret operas (the subject was appropriate as he had been jailed by the Gestapo for four months without explanation). Der Zerrissene op.31 (The Man Torn by Conflicts, 1961-1964) was a comedy based on Nestroy, and in contrast to the earlier Expressionist dramas follows the Viennese Mozart tradition of tuneful delight, and has more in common with Einem's neo-classical orchestral works. His fourth opera, Der Besuch der alten Dame op.35 (The Old Lady's Visit, 1970) is less extreme in its dark language than the first two, though it still has the sense of `heightened emotions'. It is based on a play by one of the most formidable of contemporary German playwrights, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, who himself adapted the play for the libretto. Its subject is a blistering, black comment on the universality of materialistic greed. The old woman of the title, brilliantly characterised (her name, Zachanassian, is a compound of Zacharoff, Onassis and Gulbenkian), has returned as a billionairess to her home town, now in deep economic depression. She had left it penniless and pregnant, and it turns out that she has been responsible for its current state. She will give the town a billion if they kill the grocer, Ill, who was responsible for her original state. The town (Güllen, Swiss for 'liquid manure') at first refuses, but eventually works out a judicial sacrificial murder of the grocer, and the woman leaves. Musically, the opera is not innovatory, but the drama is effectively drawn together by short linking orchestral interludes (the first is scored for percussion alone, and then gradually instruments are added and percussion withdrawn during the subsequent interludes) and by harmonic motifs, including one from Bach's St. Matthew Passion (the disciples' question "Is it I?"). The strength of the opera lies in its close marriage of musical characterisation and plot; as such it is probably more effective on stage than on recording (the opening and closing scenes are set in the railway station, express train included), but it is a fine example of a mid-century opera with a strong social message. Of his later operas, Kabale unde Liebe op.44 (Intrigue and Love, 1975) is based on a 'domestic tragedy' by Schiller, while Jesu Hochzeit (Jesus' Wedding, 1979), is a 'mystery opera'.

Of his non-operatic works, the Piano Concerto No.1 op.20 (1955) turns to the neo-Romanticism of Rachmaninov for its overall cast, at least in the piano writing, with a grand solo opening pitted against spartan orchestration. The contrast of soloist and orchestra sets up a strange tension, in an alluring work whose material constantly seems to parody or echo snatches of famous piano concertos, without being either directly identifiable or upsetting the generally lyrical flow. The Philadelphia Symphony op. 28 (1960) is a short work in spite of its title, and unimpressive in its nondescript neo-classicism. The lyrical Violin Concerto op.33 (1961-1967) also has a generally Romantic hue blended into a neo-classical sense of the forces, with two slower movements framing two faster ones. The importance of the solo line is underlined by the long solo cadenza that opens the work, and the spirit of the dance hovers over much of the concerto (with bongos set against the solo violin in the third movement), but it is more interesting in individual moments and in its clear orchestration than in overall effect, like a novel with some interesting characterisation but a weak plot.

From 1946 to 1951 von Einem was on the board of the Salzburg Festival (becoming

chairperson of the Kunstrat, 1954), and from 1960 to 1964 he was director of the Vienna Festival. He taught at the Vienna Musikhochschule (1965-1973).


works include:

- 3 unnumbered symphonies including Philadelphia Symphony and Weiner Symphony

- concerto for orch.; 2 piano concertos; violin concerto

- Capriccio, Meditationen (Meditations), Orchestermusik, Symphonic Scenes and other works for orch.; Serenade for double string orchestra

- sonata for solo violin; violin sonata; 5 string quartets; wind quintet and other chamber works

- 2 piano sonatinas; Four Piano Pieces for piano

- 4 lieder cycles for voice and instruments; 8 lieder cycles for voice and piano

- cantata To the Posthumous for mezzo soprano, chorus and orch.; Hymn for alto, choir and orch.; Rosa mystica for baritone and orch.; Song of Hours for chorus and orch.; Das Studenlied for chorus

- ballets Glück, Tod und Traum, Medusa, Pas de Coeur, Prinzessin Turandot, Rondo vom goldenen Kalb

- operas Der Besuch der alten Dame, Dantons Tod, Jesu Hochzeit, Kabale unde Liebe, Der Prozess, Der Zerrissene


recommended works:

opera Der Besuch der alten Dame op. 35 (1970)

opera Dantons Tod op. 6 (1947)



KORNGOLD Erich Wolfgang

born 29th May 1897 at Brno

died 29th November 1957 at Hollywood


Korngold was one of the most admired of film composers during the heyday of Hollywood, winning two Academy Awards, and it is for his film music that he is still best remembered. However, before moving to the U.S.A. in 1934, he had already had a startling compositional career first as a child prodigy, and then as a young composer of late-Romantic, Expressionist operas that attracted attention world-wide. Korngold was to a certain extent the victim of fashion, for whereas his early works were considered the height of modernity, their large-scale, voluptuous idiom was quickly eclipsed in the 1920s and 1930s by the very different trends towards jazz-inspired works and neo-classicism. In 1947, after completing 21 major film scores, he gave up the silver screen and attempted to regain some of his previous prestige as a composer for the concert platform. Unfortunately, the Romantic idiom he then cultivated, heavily influenced by the style of the Hollywood epic and romantic film music he had himself helped create, was completely out of touch with developments in concert music, and old-fashioned even by the standards of his own early works. He made one return to the studios in 1955, to work on a film biography of Wagner.

His earliest published work, the Piano Trio op.1 (1909-1910) is an astonishingly assured work for a child of twelve, and never suggests the age of its composer. In idiom it is an harmonically more daring extension of Brahms, chiefly of historical interest in that its lyrical, angular themes, with wide leaps, are recognisably from the same milieu as those of Webern's early chamber music. The luscious String Sextet op.10 (1917) is again influenced by Brahms, pleasant and passionate but less remarkable than the earlier work. However it was Violanta (1916) that immediately signalled an opera composer of considerable talents. Korngold had already written a ballet-pantomime Der Schneeman (1910), and the lengthy one-Act Violanta was originally given in a double billing with Korngold's Der Ring des Polykrates (1916). The melodramatic story, set in Venice in Carnival time during the Renaissance, equates love and death: the heroine cannot give herself fully to her husband until the roué who seduced her is murdered. The score is an amalgam of Wagner and Strauss, with a lyricism derived from Puccini, although the very opening has an Impressionist feel that is more French than German. Sensuous, heady and passionate, its sometimes clumsy transitions betray Korngold's inexperience. But it has the turbulent passion of a teenager, and the rich idiom makes it an opera worth hearing.

None of that inexperience lingered in Korngold's masterpiece, written when he was 23. Die tote Stadt (The Dead City, 1920) is built around a powerful and succinct libretto by Korngold and his father, based on George Rodenbach's dark Symbolist novel 'Bruges la Morte'. The story, set in Bruges, the 'city of the dead' of the title, is very much of its time and influenced by Edgar Allen Poe. However, its major theme - the excessive love of widower for his dead wife, to the detriment of his subsequent life - goes beyond the constraints of the period. The reduction of the story is dramatic, psychologically interesting, and completely suited to the medium: the widower Paul woos a lively young dancer because she looks just like his dead wife. It also has a considerable and effective theatrical twist, as Paul murders the replacement (so she, too, will be dead), only to find her walking in: the entire story has been a mirage, Paul is cured of his necrofatuation, and the ending is one of personal reconciliation. This vivid psychological exploration, seen entirely through the eyes of the hero, is clothed in a heady score of sumptuous richness, handled with a sure touch for the dramatic, for atmospheric tone-painting (notably the marvellous orchestral portrait of the dead city that opens Act II), and with an understanding of characters in anguish. The major influence is Strauss, but Korngold often uses his very large orchestra on a more restrained scale, with some of the intimacy of Mahler. Unlike Strauss, he also had an instinct for the big tune in the Italian style (there are two here, persuasively integrated into the flow so that they remain a component of the dramatic action). The vivacity of orchestral imagination is compelling, sometimes twisting into the grotesque, as in the waltz that ends Act I. With its concise drama and hedonistic atmosphere, this remains a major 20th-century opera, in spite of its many detractors. What prevents any frequent performance are the huge forces required (including a battery of percussion and keyboard instruments) and the very high writing for the soloists, which, while expressing the psychological situations, places great demands on the cast. However, with its sumptuous writing and clear story, it is fortunately well suited to listening to on recording.

But by the completion of his next opera, Das Wunder der Heliane op.20 (1927), Korngold's late-Romantic idiom was already considered out of date, while Die Katherin op.28 (1937) was banned in Austria. Meanwhile, Korngold had scored considerable success with re-workings of arrangements of operettas, and unfortunately the spark of music-dramatic genius that had produced Die tote Stadt was not again rekindled. His major orchestral work of the period, the Concerto for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra op.17 (1923), is in the tradition of the big Romantic virtuoso concerto, and lacking the rich, heady sonorities of his operatic writing, is of lesser interest.

The best known of Korngold's works written after he had ceased writing for films is the rather sickly-sweet Violin Concerto op.35 (1946), an unashamedly Romantic work based on the music of four of his film scores. The Cello Concerto op.37 (1946) is taken from the film Deception, where it formed part of the plot. The four-movement Symphonic Serenade op.39 (1947) is interesting for its very beautiful Brucknerian slow movement. This pleasant, completely anachronistic, and beautifully wrought large-scale work is perhaps the best of Korngold's later music, with a pizzicato scherzo and an energetic purposeful finale, all without a trace of Hollywood sentimentality. The Symphony in F-Sharp op.40 (1950) also has Brucknerian overtones, especially in the slow movement, allied to Hollywood gesture. It has some arresting moments, but overall little to say. Of his three string quartets, the String Quartet No.3 op.34 (1945) rather unsuccessfully incorporates two film tunes. More interesting is the String Quartet No.1 op.16 (1924), with a patchwork of influences, notably Mahler, and the rich lushness of the period.

Korngold's importance to the Hollywood film industry lay in his contribution at the Warner studios to the establishment of the grand Romantic style, with `big' tunes, rich orchestration, and vivid colours, which has remained the Hollywood norm. The first of his 22 scores consisted of arrangements of Mendelssohn; the rest were original, apart from the late Magic Fire (1955), which arranges music by Wagner. The best of the music is probably to be found in the scores for The Sea Hawk (1940) and Kings Row (1942), both of which will satisfy urges for a Romantic wallow.


works include:

- symphony, sinfonietta

- cello concerto, piano concerto (for left hand), violin concerto

- Schauspiel Overture and Theme and Variations for orch.; Symphonic Serenade for


- violin sonata; piano trio; 3 string quartets

- 3 piano sonatas and other works for piano

- Songs of the Clown, Four Shakespeare Songs; Sonett für Wein (Sonnet for Vienna) and other songs; Prayer for tenor, chorus and orch.

- operas Die Kathrin, Der Ring des Polykrates, Die tote Stadt, Violanta, Das Wunder der Heliane; musical The Great Waltz; film operetta Give Us This Night

- incidental music; 22 film scores including The Adventures of Robin Hood, Anthony Adverse, Captain Blood, Deception, Kings Row, Of Human Bondage, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk and The Sea Wolf


recommended works:

film score Kings Row (1942)

Symphonic Serenade op.39 (1947)

opera Die tote Stadt op.12 (1920)



L.Korngold Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Vienna, 1967



born 23rd August 1900 at Vienna

died 23rd December 1992 at Palm Springs (California)


Ernst Krenek's compositional career spanned most of the 20th century, and so varied was his style, and so large his output, that many aware of his activities in Vienna of the 1920s and 1930s are unaware that the same composer continued his compositional career for five decades after the Second World War in the U.S.A., where he lived from 1937. His most conspicuous success remains the opera Jonny spielt auf (1926), but even that is better known by reputation than by acquaintance.

His early music represents an attempt to move beyond the late-Romanticism of contemporary Vienna, without making a major break with that style (as his contemporaries grouped around Schoenberg were doing). This led to extending chromaticism into atonality (notably in the opera Orpheus und Eurydike op.21, 1923, to a libretto by the famous painter Kokoschka). He then became influenced by jazz, and it is the works of this period that are probably of the most immediate interest. Following a period in Paris, he was influenced by Stravinsky's neo-classicism, and then in 1933 turned to 12-note methods (one of the first composers outside Schoenberg's immediate circle to do so), and he continued to develop a serial style after his move to the U.S.A.. Throughout, he showed a predilection for polyphonic writing, and sometimes for two-part structures, which occur in some of his operas (mostly composed to his own librettos), and in other works, such as the Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1946).

The first phase of this career is represented by Krenek's first three symphonies, written in the space of two years. They were an attempt to develop the form beyond the point at which Mahler had arrived, extending the chromaticism into atonal areas. The Symphony No.1 (1921) is a rather uneasy combination of a late-Romantic impulse, aiming at the large sounds of a Mahlerian orchestra, more concise orchestration, and motoric rhythms and ideas. This rather fragmentary sense is heightened by the structure, one movement divided into nine sections with diverse material, though the aim is partly achieved in the large-scale and imposing fugue towards the end. The Symphony No.2 (1922) is in a more conventional three-movement structure. The Symphony No.3 includes a dance-like section that has some of the irony of Mahler with more steely colours. All these three symphonies have moments of interest, often of a technical nature, but none of them suggest a particularly convincing overall idiom or a strong individual character. The first three string quartets (String Quartet No.1 op.6 1921, String Quartet No.2 op.9 1921, String Quartet No.3 op.20 1923) inhabit much the same dour world. They are, however, more interesting than these early symphonies, the mild atonalism having a genuine bite within the tighter constraints of the form, and the overall impulse a stronger drive, influenced by Bartók, especially in the propulsive, droning, dissonant opening of the third quartet. The rather diffuse seven-movement String Quartet No.4 op.23 (1923) is in a lyrical, formal idiom, with shades of neo-classicism. Krenek himself pointed to the influence of jazz in this work, but any such influence is not aurally obvious. The fifth movement has intentional echoes of Spanish music, while its final eighth movement has remained missing.

The influence of jazz transformed Krenek's idiom. This was immediately evident in the fine Symphony for Wind Instruments and Percussion (1924-1925), his fourth symphony but not numbered as such. Its jazzy feel, more an integrated influence than an overt style, leans towards the kind of insistent vertical rigidity of rhythm that Stravinsky had developed. Distinct colours, short, apparently inconsequential phrases, and little overlap of those phrases, give that contemporary Berlin sense of mechanical marionettes. The following year Krenek completed the opera Jonny spielt auf (Johnny Strikes Up), to his own libretto, which catapulted him into international fame, being performed right across Europe, in the U.S.S.R., and in the U.S.A.. The story is an ironic satire, in which jazz conquers the world led by its hero, the high-living black jazz player Jonny. Its central theme is the freedom of the artist, with the symbolic contrasts of the jazz player, a virtuoso violinist, a composer, and a beautiful soprano opera singer among the main characters. Again the jazz elements are more of an influence on the general idiom, rather than comprising a genuine jazz opera. The music combines lyrical opera and a Berlin cabaret jazz (rather than the more fiery American jazz), which appears when the scene changes to a bar in a Paris hotel, and then accompanies the protagonists through the work. The story is a mixture of realism, fantasy and farce; its significance is that its setting could only have taken place at the time the opera was written, and it presented a new view of opera, in contrast to the historical or mythological plots usually associated with the genre. One brilliant touch is when the composer, high on a mountain-side (in an anti-nature message), hears one of his own arias coming from a radio far down in the valley. Prophetically, the opera ends with the main characters taking a train to the U.S.A. Besides being an important historical document, Jonny spielt auf, though certainly flawed - the combination of idioms is unconvincing - is also entertaining, with its swift-moving and skilful story-line, its bursts of light-hearted jazz, and its moments that look forward to the idiom of music-theatre. The opera Leben der Orest (The Life of Orestes, 1929) has a similar jazzy feel.

Just before turning to 12-tone techniques, Krenek moved away from jazz-inspired works to a kind of neo-Romanticism, rooted in Schubert, which included the song cycle Reisebuch aus den Österreichischen Alpen (Travel Book from the Austrian Alps) op.62 (1935), modelled on Schubert's Winterreise, and the lovely Schubertian and mostly tonal String Quartet No.5 op.65 (1930), whose first movement has a song-like intensity and lyricism, while the second movement is a theme and variations, and the third (which quotes from Monteverdi) a `Phantasie' adagio, with at times a strong feel of the blues.

Krenek's use of 12-tone technique was initiated in the opera Karl V op.73 (Charles V, 1930-1933) which inevitably incurred the wrath of the authorities when first performed in 1938. The String Quartet No.6 op.78 (1936) is the most severe of the 12-tone works; following this period, Krenek's use of 12-tone techniques is free, often breaking down the rows into smaller groups, which are themselves used as the basis for thematic material, regularly introducing ideas not connected with the original 12-tone idea, either with some suggestion of a tonal base, or, particularly in later works, in an atonal harmonic idiom. Often the actual row is hidden, so it is only infrequently heard. These techniques give an elasticity to his idiom, making it less severe than some of his later contemporaries working within a serial framework.

A major work composed during the war years is the long and austere Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae op.93 (Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, 1941) for unaccompanied choir. With the influence of Gregorian chant, a unifying 12-note row, slow-moving textures, and unrelieved atmosphere of gloom, it is perhaps best left to specialists who might be interested in some of its anticipations of later serial and avant-garde choral writing. The String Quartet No.7 (1944) is in five linked movements, the thematic material of the opening being developed in later movements, and using a 12-tone row that is usually divided into smaller series of notes for development and manipulation. The central movement is a fugue. The work is not as daunting as such a description might suggest: the drive is created by the counterpoint, and the harmonies have a suggestion of a tonal base. The second movement is an expressive and dark adagio.

Krenek's works after the Second World War covered a wide range of genre, and are mostly in his developed, free serial style, with some exceptions (such as the Piano Concerto No.3, 1946). Works such as Aus drei mach sieben (From Three Make Seven, 1961) for orchestra show the fragmentary orchestral serial style, building up patterns from a succession of note-pointings by individual instruments or instrumental blocks that is typical of the serial scores of the time. The avant-garde concepts of chance were used in Sestina for voice and ten players, while in some scores elements are left to the performers' choice, as in the orchestral work that gave Krenek the title for his autobiography, Horizon Circled (1967), and there are a number of works with tape. A slightly impish humour also appeared, and many of these elements are found in Kithauraulos op.213 (1971), which exists in two versions, one for oboe, harp and orchestra, and one for oboe, harp and tape (op.213a). The humour appears in the tape section, with whistling sounds, bleeps and blops, that comment on the instrumental lines. His later operas ranged widely - Pallas Athene weint (1955) comments on the eclipse of Greek democracy, with obvious parallels, Der goldene Bock op.186 (1963) is an absurdist treatment of the story of the Argonauts, while Der Zauberspiegel (1966), written for television, has sci-fi elements, and ranges from 13th-century China to modern times. There are also a number of concertante works, of which the Capriccio for Cello and Orchestra (1955) shows the integration of the various elements of Krenek's idiom, with a lyrical, conversational line for the cello, a 12-note structure, brief moments suggesting a jazz rhythm and concise and clear orchestration. The String Quartet No.8 op.233 (1980) represented a return to the medium after an absence of 36 years. In one movement divided into ten loose sections, it has at its base a 12-tone row, but this is used only sporadically, material moving away from it, or being added, before returning to the manipulated row. The result is a deliberately episodic work, with a variety of mood, as if the dialogue is regularly taking new directions before being turned back.

Throughout his career, Krenek wrote songs and song-cycles, following the different styles of his output, and his sensitivity to the medium is often rewarding. However, for those wishing to explore this multi-faced composer, the Symphony for Wind Instruments and Percussion and the opera Jonny spielt auf provide an immediate and attractive introduction to the jazz-influenced works. But it is the string quartets, covering the whole range of Krenek's stylistic changes, which provide a perhaps unexpected overview of his achievement. They are often fascinating in their technical means (especially in their sense of unity), and consistently compelling in their musical impact. Even so, they only hint at the extraordinarily wide compass of this composer's musical multiple personality, which never quite seems to achieve a striking musical individuality, but whose music is consistently interesting.

Krenek was also active as a writer, critic, poet and playwright. Among his many books are those on Mahler (with the conductor Bruno Walter), Ockeghem, and modal counterpoint in the 16th century. Among his many pupils were Henry Mancini, the big-band arranger and film-score composer, and the American composer and musicologist George Perle.


works include: (selected from very large output)

- 5 numbered symphonies; symphony for wind instruments and percussion; Little Symphony; symphony Pallas Athene

- 2 cello concertos; concerto for harp and small orch.; concerto for organ and strings; 4 piano concertos; concerto for two pianos and orch.; concerto for violin, piano and small orch.; Kithauraulos for oboe, harp and small orchestra (or tape); concertino for flute, violin, harpsichord or piano and strings; 2 violin concertos

- Concerto Grosso; Brazilian Sinfonietta, overture Campo Marzio, Fivefold Enfoldment, from Three Make Seven, Horizon Circled, I Wonder as I Wander; Kette, Kreis und Spiegel; Perspectives, Quaestio temporis, Six Profiles, Statisch und ekstatisch, Theme and Thirteen Variations, Von Vorn Herein and other works for orch.; Hexaedron for chamber orch.

- Symphonic Elegy, Symphonic Piece for strings; Suite for clarinet and strings

- sonata for solo viola; viola sonata; 2 sonatas for solo violin; 2 violin sonatas; trio for clarinet, violin and piano; piano trio; Trio-Fantasy for piano trio; string trio; 8 string quartets; wind quintet; Pentagram for wind quintet and many other chamber works

- 7 piano sonatas; Hurricane Variations and many other works for piano

- organ sonata and other works for organ; Orga-nastro for organ and tape; Opus 231 for violin and organ

- many songs and song cycles, including Reisebuch aus den österreichischen; Deutsche Messe for chorus and instruments; Feirstage-Kantate for mezzo, baritone, speaker, chorus and orch.; Kantate von der Vergängkichkeit for soprano, chorus and piano; Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae for unaccompanied choir; and many other choral works

- scenic cantata Zwingburg

- operas The Bell Tower, Cefalo e Procri, Der Diktator, Das geheime Königreich, Der goldene Bock, Karl V, Jonny spielt auf, Leben des Orest, Orpheus und Eurydike, Pallas Athene weint, Sardakai, Schwergewicht, Oder Die Ehre der Nation, Der Sprung über den Schatten; chamber opera What Price Confidence?; television operas Ausgerechnet und verspielt and Der Zauberspiegel; drama with music Tarquin

- Quintona and San Fernando Sequence for tape


recommended works:

opera Jonny spielt auf (1926)

String Quartet No.1 (1921)

String Quartet No.2 (1921)

String Quartet No.3 (1923)

String Quartet No.5 (1930)

String Quartet No.6

String Quartet No.7 (1943-1944)

String Quartet No.8 (1980)

Symphony for Wind Instruments and Percussion (1924-1925)



E. Krenek Horizons Circled: Reflections on my Music Berkeley, California, 1974



born 7th July 1860 at Kalischt (Bohemia)

died 18th May 1911 at Vienna


Debussy and Mahler are the two major figures that span the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, and each had a profound influence on the subsequent development of 20th-century music. Debussy's music has been widely heard throughout the century, but the works of Mahler were little known to a wider public, as opposed to a few champions, composers and music specialists, until the 1960s. Since then, aided by the establishment of recordings in stereo which allowed music-lovers to learn his music in a medium that illuminated the scale and detail of his works, Mahler has taken his rightful place as one of the major composers of any century.

Mahler appears a colossus, the composer of huge symphonies on a vast scale, taking the musical inflation of the 19th-century to its limits. But he was also the composer of myriad details of an intimate and far from epic nature. It was Mahler's genius to recognize that a grand scale and chamber-like intimacy were but two aspects of the same whole, and to reconcile them in his music. Behind this musical reconciliation lay a temperamental and artistic aim: the expression in music of the most profound philosophical questions, humankind's place in nature and the cosmos, and the contradictory human experiences that illuminate that place: tragedy, joy, turbulence, redemption. From these spring the necessity for the grand scale and the involvement of intimacy. There is also an implied and inherent contradiction, between the gaiety of the world and its suffering. One method of coping with such a contradiction is irony, which is a recurring component in Mahler's work, alongside the beatific vision and the tormented tragedy. Another implication is religious, and there is a strong spiritual element in Mahler's music (most direct in the Symphony No.8), that reflects the symbolic and spiritual attractions of Catholicism, to which Mahler converted. He himself stated that he was merely the vessel through which the music emerged.

Such a philosophical quest or reflection propels all his music; consequently, his output embraces only two genres, apart from an early unfinished piano quintet. The first is that of the song and the song-cycle, especially the orchestral song-cycle, where the actual words can impel the musical expression of philosophic content. The words Mahler chose to set almost always allow an entry into a wider, more abstract, spiritual experience. Although himself an opera conductor, he never attempted a stage work (apart from one early aborted attempt, and the completion of a Weber opera), for the nature of opera is essentially concerned with more concrete, direct human interactions (whatever the wider implications), in contrast to the kind of material Mahler preferred. The second genre is that of the symphony, which had been since the time of Haydn the chief musical vehicle for philosophical comment or abstraction. Moreover, four of Mahler's ten symphonies use words, one has a vocal format throughout, and material from Mahler's earlier or contemporaneous song-cycles continually informs the symphonies. In addition, Mahler's symphonies all started with programmatic and largely philosophical conceptions, which remained latent or overt in the finished works, however far the direct musical realisation subsequently departed for the original programme. This aspect of Mahler's symphonies has provoked much discussion, but it is clear that the generating impulse was invariably extra-musical. Mahler's later suppression of such programmes, which mainly exist in early drafts or in letters, was in part a response to an age which was beginning to frown on such programmatic music, in part a need to avoid confusion for audiences when the actual music had developed beyond the original impulse, and contained only a programmatic essence rather than substance.

Combined with this impulse is a singular consistency of voice. Although his idiom developed and expanded in emotional range, every single Mahler work is instantly recognisable as coming from his pen and no other, and the hallmarks of his idiom remained consistent. His main melodic lines are founded on song, whether in vocal works or in symphonies, and are characterised in particular by the interval of the falling fourth, and by the technique of starting a melody with a prefigure of a series of short rising notes (again, often encompassing a fourth) before slowing the actual melody down in longer note-values (a technique derived from Bruckner), creating a sensation of expectation and then expansion. The progression of the melody often includes large interval leaps, heightening the expressive power. His idiom is founded on counterpoint, and often more than one melody will intertwine and unravel simultaneously. A second major characteristic is an aural eclecticism, drawing material from sources that hitherto had not been included in serious works in such an overt form. Chief among these are bird-calls and bird-song, created by woodwind; march themes, often instrumented more like a band than the customary symphonic orchestral treatment; and the lilting Viennese ländler. To these are added such devices as the chorale and the funeral march, but also less expected borrowings, such as echoes of, or quotations from, Beethoven, submerged into the general idiom. All these, fully integrated into his own voice, create a music of association, where the extra-musical associations elicited by the echoes of the eclectic original material are transferred, perhaps unconsciously, by the listener to the context of Mahler's creation. This process emphasises and reinforces the philosophical content.

It is Mahler's use of orchestral colour that probably most contributes to the instant recognition of his music. Far from using his huge forces en masse, as Wagner and Bruckner had been inclined to do, Mahler divided them into what amounts to a number of chamber-sized forces, reserving the full orchestra for moments of special impact. This division allows a progression of varied combinations of simple colours (emphasised by his use of the extreme registers of instruments, often contrasting with each other), and sudden changes in the texture. It also creates the sense of intimacy and lucidity for which Mahler was so often striving. All this has expressive intent, and is furthered by the addition of instruments not traditionally found in a symphony orchestra: cowbells, piano, guitar or mandolin, even the harmonium. These add to the range of colour and texture available. They also contribute to the eclecticism and association already created by the use of aural sources outlined above.

Mahler's harmony remained rooted in the traditional tonal system, but is regularly on the edge of subversion by extreme chromaticism: he took tonality to the brink of its elastic limits. A favourite device is to end a movement in a different key to that in which it began; although this broke the traditional rules of symphonic harmonic progression, it was a perfectly logical extension of the tonal system, creating a goal at which the harmony aims with an expressive as well as a technical purpose.

The earliest Mahler work likely to be encountered is the youthful ballad-cantata Das klagende Lied (1880) for soloists, chorus and orchestra. The first half tells the tale of a minstrel whose new flute describes a fratricide; the second, set in a mythical castle, describes the consequences of that knowledge, as the murderer is about to marry the queen. Mahler's atmospheric and graphically effective setting of this Gothic tale bestrides two traditions: it is permeated by stylistic traits from the late-Romantic heritage (notably that of Bruckner) while containing many foretastes of Mahler's own later idiom (notably the use of off-stage brass). In the period after Das klagende Lied, the literary impulse behind much of Mahler's work came from a famous collection of German folk poetry, Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). The texts of this collection recount and praise the lives of ordinary folk, usually in simple situational tales, looking back with a certain amount of nostalgia to former, golden days when lives were simpler.

The dates of Mahler's earliest settings of this material are uncertain, but the gentle and ingenuous Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of the Wayfarer, c.1884-1885) for voice and orchestra or piano, sets four texts by Mahler whose origins were in the Wunderhorn collection, while direct settings appear in volumes II and III of Lieder und Gesänge (before c.1890) for voice and piano. Mahler reached a maturity in the handling of such material in the thirteen songs that form Das Knaben Wunderhorn (1892-1901) for soloists and orchestra, where the colouristic possibilities of the orchestra expand the range of expression. Mahler resisted any Romantic temptation to pander to the nostalgic or folksy elements inherent in the texts. Instead, he sliced to the kernel of the tales, taking them at their face value, recognizing that the elemental truths they contained were still valid, and eliciting the dramatic potential of the situations. His settings are therefore realistic, matching the emotions, vivid and direct in their orchestral accompaniment. That orchestration is lucid, preferring small groups of instruments or solos to the mass use of the orchestra, giving a chamber-like clarity and swift changes in the predominant colours. The songs fall into three stylistic groups: those containing elements of the march (often with percussion prominent); humorous songs (where Mahler's wit comes into play); and purely lyrical songs. These stylistic types were to recur throughout Mahler's works, while the orchestration of the cycle provided the origins of Mahler's later orchestral idiom, and the vocal lines the foundation of his later lyrical melodies. There is also a close connection with the first four symphonies, as two of the songs are used directly in those symphonies (one with the words, one without), three other songs in the symphonies are setting of Wunderhorn texts, and other movements are clearly inspired by the songs. One result is that Das Knaben Wunderhorn is usually heard as a cycle of twelve songs, leaving Urlicht in its place as the fourth movement of the second symphony. The two songs of the cycle that were written last probably have a reverse inspiration, being affected by Mahler's experience in writing the fifth and sixth symphonies.

Mahler's next song-cycle is perhaps his most poignant. Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children, 1901-1904) for voice and orchestra or piano, sets five poems by Rückert describing the anguished feelings and tragic moments of a parent who has lost a child. Mahler identifies entirely with these emotions (his own daughter was to die shortly after he composed the cycle). The idiom is more sophisticated than that of the earlier cycles, with the paradoxical effect of a simplified, rarefied expression. The predominant emotion is of a resigned anguish, until the angrier, more turbulent last song, although that, too, ends in a kind of acceptance. The harmonic language is more chromatic, the counterpoint and the rhythmic effects more interwoven, the vivid orchestral poster-paint colours now mixed with more subtle pastels, the passions more intimate and introvert. Four other Rückert songs provide the texts for the Rückert-Lieder (1901-1902), similar in both musical and literary tone.

Kindertotenlieder was Mahler's last song-cycle, apart from the quasi-symphony Das Lied von der Erde, discussed below with the symphonies. He then concentrated entirely on the form of the symphony. However, it is worth noting that his song-cycles, with their themes of love and departure, of grief and resignation, with the ever-present threat of the funeral march but without the Expressionist angst that infected may of his fellow contemporary composers, anticipated the moods and themes of a number of later 20th-century song-cycles. The influence is direct in the works of Shostakovich and Britten, but also has a the literary kinship with the many English settings of A.E.Housman, which expresses moods and emotions similar to those of the Wunderhorn collection - an ethos perhaps more properly understood after the experience of the First World War.

There has long been discussion as to whether Mahler's symphonies are primarily abstract (apart from No.8) or primarily programmatic. The simple reality (as so often in such cases) is that they are both. The symphonies can be listened to, enjoyed, and admired purely as abstract music, for their formal construction as symphonies, and for their solutions to the problems and development of the form. The use of vocal forces in the first four symphonies does not detract from this approach, as the vocal lines are closely integrated into the orchestral writing as part of the orchestral texture. Equally, they can be enjoyed without any knowledge of those formal processes, as music of evocation with programmatic or descriptive content, where some knowledge of Mahler's original extra-musical conception is useful, but not essential.

The symphonies fall into three major groups: the first four symphonies (with 2,3, and 4 known as the `Wunderhorn' symphonies), where the fourth symphony, with its increased musical command, stands as a bridge to the second group; the fifth, sixth and seventh symphonies, which omit vocal forces; and the quasi-symphony Das Lied von der Erde, the ninth and the incomplete tenth forming the final group. The eighth symphony stands on its own, as a kind of shout of triumph, though it has connections with the preceding group of three symphonies. Moreover, each group, besides having musical connections or stylistic resemblances, also has a philosophical unity. The pattern in each group is (crudely) the struggles of life, the mystery and horror of death, and the puzzle of the after-life. Each group presents these seminal questions in a different fashion, reflecting Mahler's increasing understanding.

The Symphony No.1 (1886-1888, revised 1893-1896), which has close thematic links with the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, is a largely happy work that reflects Mahler's joy in nature. Sometimes titled `The Titan', Mahler conceived it as having a Hero, but the impulse of the first movement is a reflection of the landscape Mahler loved, with a hushed opening of birdcalls, horn cries and offstage brass, followed by a typically lyrical, flowing dance that comes, so to speak, with the dawn. The scherzo has a strong rustic feel, while the marvellous slow movement, haunted by a late 19th-century sense of the macabre, introduces irony with a distortion into an eerie funeral march of the famous round `Frère Jacques'. The more turbulent finale is the least successful movement. The symphony originally had five movements, but after the first performance Mahler withdrew the second movement, and this beautiful but rather sentimental adagio (known as Blumine) is now sometimes heard on its own, and very occasionally restored into the symphony.

The Symphony No.2 (1888-1894, revised 1903) for soprano, contralto, chorus and orchestra, expands the scale of musical and philosophical content. Often subtitled `Resurrection' because of the words of the final movement (based on Klopstock's Resurrection Hymn), it opens with an extended funeral march that covers a wide range of mood (Mahler himself described it as the funeral of the hero of his first symphony). Built in sonata form, it is remarkable for the power of its opening, with an emphatic, broken, rising line from the cellos that bursts onto the silence at the start of a performance, for its multiplicity of themes and sub-themes derived from the major ideas, and for the compression of the development section in what is a long movement. The progression of the symphony is towards the goal of the final two (linked) movements: the gentle beauty of the Wunderhorn song Urlicht in the fourth, and the monumental cry of the Day of Judgement and the subsequent Resurrection in the fifth. The intervening movements act as a kind of reflection on the life that led to this journey, with a lilting Beethovenesque andante, and a swirling scherzo based (without the words) on one of the Wunderhorn songs, touched with a satirical humour and infected with the macabre, like some witches' dance.

The Symphony No.3 (1893-1896, revised 1906) for contralto, woman's chorus, boy's chorus, and orchestra, extends the number of movements to six (Mahler dropped a seventh, later using it as the finale of the fourth symphony). This is more obviously a nature symphony, combining pictorial representation with the emotions roused by the natural world around the composer - he once called it `A Summer Morning Dream'. In the sonata-form first movement the range of power is extended, from the driving force of its opening (and the regular maintenance of a titanic rhythmic urge throughout the movement) to the strong contrasts of idea, largely founded on military marches but encompassing counter-passages of descriptive beauty. The build-up of turbulence is given more potency towards the end of the development by the superimposition of themes, creating a series of almost independent lines. This first movement and the last of the second symphony are the longest that Mahler wrote, each lasting half-an-hour. Here this monumental construct is immediately contrasted by a touching little minuet, classical in feel and orchestration, that forms the basis of the second movement. The scherzo also has the general feel of an interlude, until a final progression to a climactic outburst, like a summer day leading to a thunderstorm where Mahler explores the atmospheric possibilities of off-stage brass. The following two movements are paired: a slow-moving song for contralto (to words by Nietzsche expressing the eternity of night), and a Wunderhorn song for the soloists and chorus, expressing heavenly joy, which has the overtones of a sophisticated choral folk-song. The finale was the first of Mahler's large-scale adagios, dominated by string-lines and using the whole of its considerable span to expand emotionally to the eventual climax of sublime achievement, rather than triumph. Although the individual movements contain finer music and a more developed idiom than those of the second symphony, this is the one Mahler symphony where the accusation of inflation has some validity, not through the sheer size but due to the overall disparity of its parts. The second symphony emerges as more unified, and has generally been more popular with audiences.

However, it is the Symphony No.4 (1899-1900, revised 1901-1910) for soprano and orchestra that remains the most popular of his symphonies, and which is perhaps the best introduction to his work in general. Although still 50 minutes long, it is more concise than all but the first symphony: the movements are cut to four, the forces are smaller, and the sense of huge climax is absent. It is also the most radiantly happy of his symphonies, a more direct, less philosophical evocation after the terrors and triumphs of the second and the drive and sublimity of the third. The other-worldly still hovers at its edge - the Devil's macabre dance in the second movement, to a violin tuned a whole tone higher, the suggestions of heavenly joys in the Wunderhorn words of the finale - but these are subservient to the more direct expression, nature experienced for what it is rather than for what it might lead to.

Mahler then embarked on what amounted to a trilogy of purely instrumental symphonies. The Symphony No.5 (1901-1902, later revised) again opens with a funeral march, but it is one of new confidence, breadth and poise, broken into by the tumultuous and the macabre. There is a clear grouping into three in the five-movement layout: the opening two movements, the hinge of the scherzo, and the adagio introducing the finale. The harmonic progression of the key of each movement in itself describes a large-scale modal cadence, justifying the movement from C♯ minor at the opening to D major at the ending. Throughout, the linear weave is thicker (this is the most obviously contrapuntal of Mahler's symphonies). The isolated bird-calls and cries are absent, or submerged into the general fabric. There are pre-echoes of Kurt Weill in one treatment of the funeral march, brass over a dotted rhythm, and in the opening of the second movement, which itself has a new, self-confident tone in a little woodwind figure repeated over the main string melody. The long scherzo, more robust and less tortured than those of the earlier symphonies, is imbued with the swirl of the dance. The fourth movement is the famous `adagietto', often played on its own, but carrying considerably more weight when heard in context. Scored only for strings and harp, it is extraordinarily beautiful, and the poignancy of the main theme, nostalgic and hauntingly regretful, shades of things past against a limpid background, is all the more marked when heard after the emphatic ending of the scherzo. That main melodic line seems to reach into the present in its impassioned cry, and in doing so leads into the horn call of action that opens the finale. This cheerful movement (which has thematic connections with the adagietto) reaffirms the overall tone of the symphony: the joy present in the kernel of life, even when, as in the adagietto, that depth of intense feeling is recalled rather than presently lived. The Symphony No.5 is the most fluent of all Mahler's symphonies, and (perhaps because audiences have come to expect more tortured expression from Mahler) is probably paid the least attention apart from its lovely slow movement.

The Symphony No.6 (1903-1904, revised 1906) is sometimes subtitled `The Tragic' (following Mahler's own lead), which describes its overall mood, the obverse (or perhaps the penalty) of the more luminous emotions laid out in the fifth. The opening movement is mostly tense and turbulent, founded on march rhythms, the complex thematic development derived from two conglomerations of themes. Mahler specifies a repeat of the exposition, and that repetition takes on a different hue after the intervening experience of the martial rhythm on the timpani - a prime example of Mahler's understanding of the emotional impact of his technical procedures. The movement attempts a blaze of glory at its end, but is countered by the wide-ranging, fragmentary moods of the scherzo (matched by strong differentiation in the orchestration), from the menace of the march to the chamber-like grace of the trio, with a suggestion of Wagner's Ring cycle along the way (Alberich's transformation music). The sometimes hollow laughter of the scherzo gives way to another beautiful slow movement, less regretful than its predecessor, the flow of strings alloyed by woodwind. The inherent threat of tragedy, lying in wait in the first three movements, is unleashed in the huge finale. It opens with an Impressionistic swirl, countered by a theme from the first movement. Then it moves swiftly through ominous calls, a funereal miasma in dark orchestral colours, the lift of a dance, and the sense of a haunted, fog-bound landscape, and arrives at a sudden explosion, where, to the stroke of the drum, a small figure from the first movement suddenly takes on ominous import. From these beginnings the movement, one of Mahler's finest creations, gains in linear purpose, passing through strange haunted interludes of distant bells and horn calls, building in passionate intensity, and eventually leading to what seems a song of joyful triumph. But that triumph disintegrates, and the apparently quiet brass close is shattered by the return of that ominous stroke, carrying the whole weight of the previous movements on its shoulders. So pictorially vivid is this movement, with its cowbells, its timpani strokes of mortality, its snatches of angry percussion, a moment of Turkish exoticism, its harp swirls, its fanning into passionate flames, that it is difficult to conceive that this music did not have a programmatic base. If it did, Mahler did not admit to it. It should be noted that Mahler made a late revision to the symphony, cutting the final great stroke and reversing the order of the middle movements. Both versions may be encountered.

The Symphony No.7 (1904-1905, later revised) turns the tragedy of its predecessor into a kind of cynical counter-display. The structure pairs the outer movements, and then the second and fourth movements (both nocturnes), with a central scherzo. The first movement has the grand scale of its predecessor, the haunting sound of the tenor horn prominent, but also a sense of the enigmatic, especially in its conclusion. There are moments within the Mahlerian idiom that recall Bruckner and Strauss, and at one point an idea that could have come directly from Sibelius before it dissolves into a quotation from the sixth symphony that itself returns in the second movement. After the enigmatic nature of this opening, the symphony slithers into the first of the nocturnes, a sinuous movement scored with extraordinary lucidity and economy. It is announced by a series of disillusioned fanfares, and the subsequent march-like themes seem to carry the disillusionment of soldiers returning to the wars, carrying with them the faded recall of dances behind the lines. The scherzo declares its tone with broken, disjointed opening rhythms and the raucous extremes and swoops of the instrumentation. There is a suggestion of more than mere satire in this movement, with its distortions of the ländler and the waltz: evil seems to stalk somewhere in the background, `shadowy' as Mahler instructs in the score. The second nocturne is still somewhat unsettled, without much of the stillness of the night that its title might imply, until the peaceful close. The mandolin makes an unexpected appearance, and the movement suggests a miniature story of a love-affair. The large finale combines elements of sonata and variation form, and includes parodies of a theme from Wagner's Meistersinger and the waltz from Lehár's The Merry Widow. There is a parallel in this movement with Elgar in his more turbulent, triumphant mood, but just as in Elgar there can be an underlying sense of uncertainty that undermines any triumphal conviction, so in the finale to this work. The whole symphony invokes something of the spirit of Lucifer the fallen angel, hand-in-hand with death, cynically stalking a corrupt world, but still with many flashes, often distorted, of the former beauty among the angels. Seen in this light, the unusual form (often criticised) makes episodic sense; but of all Mahler's symphonies, this is the one that most benefits from some knowledge of the symphonies that preceded and succeeded it, when its strange atmosphere can then be placed in context.

From this strange symphonic world Mahler moved to his expression of faith and praise, the mighty Symphony No.8 (1906-1907). The huge forces - two sopranos, two contraltos, tenor, baritone, bass, two large choirs and boys' choir, orchestra and organ - have led to its name of the `Symphony of a Thousand', though that is something of an exaggeration, and ensured that every performance is still a major event. The work is divided into two parts. The first is a setting of the 9th-century Whitsuntide Vesper hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Holy Ghost), attributed to Hrabanus Maurus, and acts as a sonata-Allegro first movement. It is the affirmation of the traditional Catholic faith in God's love. The second, much longer section, combines a slow movement, a scherzo, and finale in a setting of the final scene from Goethe's Faust Part II, which ponders, in Romantic and humanist fashion, the same contemplation of that love, finally concluding in affirmation. The first part is a triumphant, optimistic and astonishing web of vocal strands, often repeating lines and words out of the linear flow of the hymn. A section for the soloists near the beginning seems to invoke the spirit of Beethoven's ninth symphony, dissolved by a typical rising Mahler string line, and the vocal density is fleetingly dispelled by short instrumental passages, notably a magical moment when the chorus fall away like the collapse of a wave into the rising tension of the orchestra, complete with a tolling bell. The second part starts entirely orchestrally, a dark, rocky aural landscape; eventually a half-whispering chorus, representing anchorites, joins the orchestra. A series of solo and choral ecstasies of various kinds (some of them troubled and disturbed) follows, but all point to the climax of the ending, the sublime and triumphant `mystical choir', echoing, in Goethe's words, the expression of the hymn that opened the work. Throughout, Mahler binds the symphony with a weave of thematic reference and idea, and not the least achievement of this symphony is the marvellously clear vocal and choral textures achieved with such massive forces, something that eluded almost every other late Romantic composer of choral works. It should also be pointed out that for many of those who love Mahler's music (this writer included), the symphony is also problematic in the context of Mahler's complete output. Magnificent though it is, there is the uncomfortable feeling of something absent: perhaps it lies in the constant texture of voices (especially in the bulk of the second part), as opposed to their appearance in a single movement, that limits Mahler's mastery of symphonic colour, and lacks the kind of imagic detail and inspiration that the poetry of the song cycles supplied. Brian's Gothic Symphony, also inspired by Goethe and setting a Latin spiritual text, perhaps better achieves what Mahler would seem to be striving for (and requires even larger forces).

No such doubts can be attached to Mahler's next work, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth, 1908-1909) for tenor, contralto or baritone, and orchestra. Its six movements are symphonic in construction, and the only reason that Mahler did not call it his ninth symphony was his superstition over writing nine symphonies (the number that Beethoven completed). It forms, with the ninth and the incomplete tenth, the final trilogy of symphonies, coloured by the knowledge, learnt just after the completion of the eighth symphony, that he had a fatal heart disease. A setting of German versions by Hans Bethge of Chinese poems whose main theme is the quick passing of youth and happiness, it is a passionate combination of regretful resignation and an insistent joy and celebration of the beauties of nature and life. Every moment is steeped in the fierce depth of Mahler's feeling, and this is one of the most powerfully emotive works of any period. A major theme in the violins near the opening provides unification throughout the work: its exotic (pentatonic) hue has a suggestion of the oriental, and it is later found in various guises, including its inversion (upside-down) and retrograde (backwards) forms.

The mixture of the sorrowful and the affirmative opens the four movement Symphony No.9 (1908-1909), the most breathtakingly inspired of all Mahler's symphonic movements, completely immured in the beauty of nature, as if Mahler was surveying all that he loved around him. Even when impending death seems to break in with ominous timpani strokes, Mahler insists on leading it out into a more glorious light. Throughout there is an underlying pulse, mostly given to the lower strings, that suggests not only the pulse of Mahler's heart but the pulse of time itself. This movement has rightly been compared in its depth of illumination to Beethoven's late works. The second movement is a dance, an earthy ländler that gradually whirls, through a waltz, into darker and more obscure harmonic regions, distorting tonality and swinging the mood from rustic pleasure into something far more disturbing, ending in a terrifying, empty frenzy before a close of faded dance echoes. The rondo-burlesque third movement is one of the angriest Mahler wrote, combined with moments of gallows humour, sometimes bitingly satirical, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. In the middle of this comes a beautifully sublime passage, countering the anger, until the raucous, somewhat tempered, has the last word. All this is assuaged by the last movement, a luminous redemption whose main theme recalls the opening of Beethoven's Les Adieux piano sonata. A vein of uncertainty still weaves half-submerged through this movement, until the visionary final pages, ranging from a climax of assurance to the sublime.

Mahler's idiom continued to evolve through this symphony, the polyphonic textures getting more complex and convoluted, and the harmonies at times more dissonant, both impelled by the expressive intent, but both heralding later 20th-century developments. In the Symphony No.10 (1910) the exploration goes still further, into regions of extreme chromaticism that stand on the very threshold of the collapse of traditional harmony. For it would be quite wrong to see the ninth symphony as Mahler's swan song. Although the Symphony No.10 remained unfinished apart from the adagio (often played on its own), enough was completed to give a comprehensive idea of the whole work. There have been a number of attempts to complete the symphony (largely the orchestration), but one in particular stands out, the `realization' (and that it what it is) by Deryck Cooke (1960-1964, revised 1976). So successful is this, that his version now stands alongside the other symphonies to complete the canon. Those who have objected to the very idea seem more concerned with propriety than music, for the experience of the tenth symphony immediately places the ninth in its proper context as the central work in a trilogy, whose overall trend only becomes apparent through the last work of the triptych. The symphony returns to a five-movement structure, with an opening adagio whose first bars, for strings alone, probe and wander until reaching the adagio proper, which in a less sublime fashion picks up the mood of the end of the ninth symphony. Its inexorable build-up towards a climax is shattered by the unexpected arrival of that climax, bursting in in a different key, allowing the movement finally to embrace the sublimity that had marked the end of its predecessor. The second movement is remarkable chiefly for its abruptly altering tempi, the third (`Purgatorio') for its clashes of key and its tortured, dance-like feel. The fourth movement makes allusions to the previous movements, Das Lied von der Erde and the ninth symphony, as well as quoting one of the themes of Dvořák's ninth symphony (`The New World`), which cannot be a coincidence - Mahler wrote this symphony in New York, and the ending of this movement was inspired by a funeral seen from his New York hotel; one wonders whether the complete movement describes his feelings and experience in the U.S.A.. This movement is also turbulent, but multi-faceted, and that funeral memory is evoked by a march, ending with a great drum stroke. That sound of the drum dominates the last movement, starting it and returning in the middle. This finale is the most remarkable section of the symphony, ending with a sense of joy and a kind of bliss absent in the earlier works: it is this conclusion, full of more than just acceptance, that puts the ninth symphony in a different perspective.

It is undeniable that not everyone responds to Mahler's idiom, to its large scale and deep and extensive emotions: but few remain indifferent to his music. His impact on succeeding composers has been in three disparate directions. First, he stood behind the movement of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg from the late-Romantic idiom into completely new harmonic directions, his own solutions to the breaking-point of tonality acting as the springboard for their developments. Second, a number of composers, notably Zemlinsky, continued the large-scale late-Romantic aural landscapes Mahler had epitomized. Third, he had a direct influence on a number of subsequent composers who attempted to continue the symphonic idiom and the humanist ethic without recourse to the new 12-tone harmonies, or the dense late-Romantic Expressionist idiom. Most notable among these are Shostakovich and Pettersson. His music has also haunted a number of later scores, notably works by Berio, Del Tredici and Schnebel.

Mahler was a distinguished conductor, considered by many to be the greatest of his times, and his period as director of the Vienna Court Opera (1897-1907) revolutionized opera in the city, and is still considered a golden period of Viennese opera presentation. He had earlier worked at opera houses in Prague (1885-1886), Leipzig (1886-1888), Budapest (1888-1891) and Hamburg (1891-1897), and subsequently became conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera (1908-1910) and the New York Philharmonic (1909-1911).


works include:

- 10 symphonies (No.2 Resurrection for soprano, alto, chorus and orch.; No.3 for alto, chorus, woman's chorus, boys' chorus and orch.; No.4 for soprano and orch.; No.8 for soloists, chorus, boys' chorus, orch. and organ; No.10 incomplete, performing versions by Wheeler, Carpenter, and Cooke)

- song collection with orch. Das Knaben Wunderhorn; song cycles with orch. Kindertotenlieder, Das klagende Lied (for soloists, chorus and orch.), Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Das Lied von der Erde (for two soloists and orch.); Five Rückert Lieder; songs with piano Lieder and two vols. of Lieder und Gesänge


recommended works:

Such is the consistency of Mahler's limited output that all the works listed above are recommended.



M.Kennedy Mahler, London, 1974

D.Mitchell Gustav Mahler, 3 vols., 1958 rep. 1975, 1980



born 22nd December 1874 at Bratislava

died 11th February 1939 at Vienna


Not to be confused with his contemporary, the French composer Florent Schmitt, or with the American composer William Schmidt (born 1926), Franz Schmidt studied under Bruckner, and was cellist under Mahler with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (1896-1911). He belongs to that group of composers who maintained the large-scale 19th-century ethos during the first half of the 20th century, and which includes Pfitzner and Zemlinsky. While not as interesting as either of these composers, he may well appeal to those who enjoy such late-Romanticism. There is a Franz Schmidt Society, based in the Archives of the Society of Viennese Music-Lovers.

His music is an amalgam of a number of late 19th-century Germanic traditions: Strauss and Wagner in some of the thematic ideas and in the orchestration (such as the use of brass), Bruckner in the long breadth of melodic construction, Brahms and Reger in the use of variation forms and of the fugue. Magyar folk music sometimes influences his work, and the Hungarian influence is prominent in the Variations on a Hussar Song (1930-1931) for orchestra. Unusually for an Austrian composer of the period, lieder are absent from his output.

His Symphony No.1 (1896-1899) is a bold and vivacious work, showing the influence of Strauss and Beethoven. Although an assured score for a young composer, it is overlong (especially in the finale), with a long-windedness emphasized by the lush orchestration, that also mars the two succeeding symphonies, relegating them to the status of an occasional curiosity. The Symphony No.2 (1911-1913) is richer and smoother in its textures, again indebted to Strauss and Wagner. Its chief interest lies in the second of the three movements, cast in the form of variations and without the tone of the slow movement one would normally expect in such a work. The variations have a neo-classical opening before reverting to a lush Romantic idiom, and include a Dvořák-like Czech waltz. The highly chromatic opening to the finale is also of interest, but again the movement outstays its welcome. The rather dull Symphony No.3 (1928) was written for a Schubert competition in the U.S.A. (won by Atterberg). In keeping with the Schubertian inspiration, the orchestra is smaller, the textures dense and sinuous, the melodic lines long. All these three symphonies are essentially joyous; it is the injection of tragedy that makes his Symphony No.4 in C major (1933-1934), written as the requiem for his daughter, stand out. The orchestral sound is still Romantic, extremely conservative for its date, but the heart-felt tragedy lifts the work beyond anachronism. The form, too, is unusual. The symphony is cast in one movement, divided into three sections built around a central funereal adagio, and integrating variation principle and sonata form (as other composers of the period were attempting to do). The tone is set by the mournful elegiac opening, and throughout there is a breadth of line, a slow unfolding of material reminiscent of Bruckner, and a predominance of the string colours of the orchestra. It is a moving work.

The other work for which he still known is the vast oratorio on the Book of Revelations, Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals, 1938). It carries the great weight of the German-Austrian oratorio tradition on its shoulders while anticipating the apocalypse that was about to engulf Europe. Its opening suggests the long-winded Romantic, but this belies the later development of the work. At times it harks back to the model, and sometimes the sounds, of Haydn, and includes Bachian and highly chromatic fugues. Interludes are given by the organ, as an independent element, and the orchestra accompanies the vocal writing in a highly dramatic style, sometimes painting a musical picture. The orchestral colours are generally rich and heavy, but gradually evolve into an individual sound world with unusual touches, such as an extraordinary clinking percussion and pizzicato strings against dark low brass. Anachronistic though much of the work may be, it is utterly intense and genuine, a profound work whose dramatic subject is matched by its music.

The intermezzo from his opera Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris, 1904-1906, often incorrectly given as 1902-1904, based on Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame) is sometimes played (it was written before the rest of the opera). The opera itself suffers from an absurd libretto, and musically is often constructed on symphonic lines. It does, however, have a lyrically attractive idiom, usually slow-moving, and a restraint in the orchestration allows clarity to the long-flowing vocal lines. For those exploring the bywaters of post-Wagnerian opera it is worth the acquaintance. Its successor Fredigundis (1916-1921), set beside the Seine of the 6th century with 19th-century sensibilities, is less interesting. Schmidt used its fanfare leitmotif as the basis of a set of organ variations Fredigundis. Of his other works, much of Schmidt's writing for piano was composed for the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, including a piano concerto (1934), three piano quintets (1926,1932,1938), and a Toccata (1938) for solo piano. His output also includes a number of organ compositions.

Schmidt taught at the Vienna Academy (1914-1937), where he was successively professor of piano, composition, and the director (1925-1927), and Rector of the Musikhochschule (1927-1931).


works include:

- 4 symphonies

- piano concerto (for piano, left hand, and orch.); Concertante Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for piano, left hand, and orch.

- Variations on a Hussar Song for orch.; Fuga solemnis for wind, organ and timpani

- 2 string quartets; 3 piano quintets, all for piano left hand (Nos.2 and 3 for clarinet, strings and piano)

- Toccata for piano left hand and other piano music

- number of works for organ

- oratorio Das Buch mit Seiben Siegeln

- operas Fredigundis and Notre Dame


recommended works:

oratorio Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln (1935-1937)

Symphony No.4 (1932-1933)



SCHOENBERG, Arnold Franz Walter (also spelt Schönberg)

born September 13th 1874 at Vienna

died July 14th 1951 at Los Angeles


Schoenberg is one of those unfortunate composers whose name is better known than his music. Indubitably and irrevocably he changed the course of classical music, for no subsequent composer could be unaffected by the existence, if not the practice, of first the purely atonal works and then the 12-tone system of harmonic usage that he developed, once they had become more widely known. Yet the music of composers who built on those developments is still more likely to be encountered than that of the instigator. In addition, the very name of Schoenberg still sends a chill down the musical backbone of many a potential listener, a prejudice (for that is what it is) all the more remarkable when one considers that his earlier music is in the rich, sumptuous fin-de-siècle idiom now so widely appreciated; that his late works, even if intellectually complex, are filled with markers the averagely musically literate will recognize; and that even the most difficult of his 12-tone works (a mere handful) now sound tame compared with Webern, let alone more recent developments. It is perhaps ironic, and a comment on the gulf between musicology and musical practice, that there can scarcely be a composer more written about, and whose music has been more minutely analyzed, in the last 50 years. An entry such as this can hope to do no more than touch upon Schoenberg's technical accomplishments and ideas, of crucial importance to the music of our century, and readers who wish to explore his technical accomplishments and ideas in more detail will find no shortage of sources.

Aside from his very earliest works, Schoenberg's output falls into four general periods. However, his overall development was consistent, and the changes represent a rapid evolution rather than the abrupt departures of some of his contemporaries, in spite of attempts to suggest otherwise. In his earliest mature works, sometimes employing the huge forces of the period for effects of colour and drama, he took traditional harmony to its limits (often with a favourite key of D minor as the basis). The emotional tensions, and the corresponding harmonic relationship between expectation and resolution, became virtually unsustainable. The next logical stage (in emotional terms) would have been the depiction of emotional breakdown, and (in harmonic terms) such a total chromaticism that musical anarchy would occur. In fact, the end of this period was a retrenchment into smaller forces and tauter forms, and a relaxation of the emotional tension in the first steps towards an alternative solution to this problem. The second period can be dated from 1908. In it he took the logical and deliberate step of divorcing dissonance from resolution, abandoning any key structure, and then sought ways of integrating what had traditionally been thought of as dissonance as an active principal participant. This is the period of the atonal works. At the same time, and equally logically, he also explored in Expressionist stage works the possibilities of using the resultant dissonant language to reflect states of mind that had actually gone beyond the brink, entering a world of the dream or of neurosis.

Shortly after the end of World War One Schoenberg abandoned the attempts on which he was then engaged to utilize the atonal language in large-scale late-Romantic works. The problem of freeing a musical language from traditional harmony, and thus the structures it symbiotically supported, was to find an order, both structural and harmonic, to contain the freed sounds within the boundaries that music requires. Two concepts had provided containment during the atonal period: that of continual variations, in which ideas evolve into other ideas in a continuous process, and the written text, which imposes its own particular structural demands. The problem with the first (though Schoenberg did not totally abandon it) is that it restricted the development of a particular idea through the course of a piece, rather than its transmutation. The problem with the second is that it did not provide solutions to the structures of abstract music. As he moved away from Expressionism to more strict control of material, Schoenberg's solution was to return to classical and baroque forms, and to create a self-imposed discipline of construction using all 12 notes of the chromatic scale: the 12-tone system. In this the basic material is a melody (a `row' or a `set') composed of all 12 notes, in a pre-determined order, in which no note may be repeated. This row can also be used in its inversion (upside-down), retrograde (back-to-front) and retrograde-inversion, thus giving four basic rows. Each of these can be transposed. The basic material can apply to a whole work, a movement, or indeed part of a movement. Such a manipulation of melodic material was endemic to Classical and pre-Classical composers; the enormous difference was that they were working within a tonal harmonic system, underlying the melodies, while Schoenberg was using a system in which the melody of all 12 notes, its permutations, and the resultant combinations create the harmonic interplay without recourse to a traditional, externally imposed, harmonic scheme. There is clearly a parallel with the contemporary neo-classical movement; however, the neo-classical composers also returned to the Classical harmonic system, and to a sense of the ethic of Classical music, absent in Schoenberg's works. In addition, Schoenberg became increasingly concerned to integrate the vertical possibilities arising from the material contained in the rows with the horizontal flow of those rows, and it is this interaction, an alternative system to the tonal harmonic structure, that marks his music and that of his followers.

The works that explore and consolidate the new technique occupied the period 1923-1936, and include all genres from the string quartet to opera, with the exception of the symphony. By the latter date he was resident in the United States, having as a Jew fled Nazi domination, and the final phase of Schoenberg's output suggests at least a partial reconciliation with tonality, as if the composer, having grappled with, formulated, and developed an alternative, could then afford to relax and explore the possibilities of interactive elements. Thus Schoenberg no longer paid strict observance to his own rules, and rows were sometimes chosen to suggest the possibility of tonal resonances. The very fact that Schoenberg had so consistently adapted Classical and Baroque forms to contain the new 12-tone system perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, made it inevitable that he would then explore the interactive possibilities those forms might suggest. This fascinating period of Schoenberg's music is perhaps the least known.

Schoenberg's output is relatively large, and some of the works are more interesting for the light they shed on Schoenberg's development than for general listening (particularly the choral works). Therefore, in the discussion of his output that follows, only the major works are emphasized. All these will reward the listener, be they new to Schoenberg's music, or generally familiar with it.

Schoenberg's earliest works, only some of which survive, culminated in the fluent but Brahmsian String Quartet in D major (1897). He then embarked on a series of programmatic works influenced by Wagner and by the example of Strauss, which if he had written nothing else would have placed him firmly as a major fin-de-siècle late-Romantic composer. They depict heightened human emotions and experience in a musical language that matches the emotional tension by stretching tonal harmonies to their brink, and, for three of the works, employing huge orchestral forces that allow dense textures and vivid colours. The first, the string sextet Verklärte Nacht op.4 (Transfigured Night, 1899) is based on poetry by Dehmel, recounting a man's conversation with his lover, who is pregnant by another man; its five movements correspond to the five sections of the poem. Headily sensual, dripping with nostalgia, regret, passion, and a transfiguring reconciliation, as if the emotional humidity had reached saturation point, it is with Pierrot lunaire (see below) the Schoenberg work most likely to be encountered, either in its original form or in the arrangement Schoenberg made for string orchestra (1917, revised 1943), in which the intimacy of the original scoring is lessened, but the emotional drama developed in the massed string sonorities. The oratorio Gurrelieder (1900-1901, orchestration completed 1911) is for enormous forces, five soloists, a speaker, large chorus, and huge orchestra, and is a setting of a long ballad poem by the Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen. Its subject, conveyed through a mythical Danish story in which the detail of the nature imagery is more potent than the actual tale, is the equation of love and death, and the rebellion against God represented by the passions, though it ends with summer light. Schoenberg's response is a work of expansive power and range, one of the finest pieces of its type and period. The long tone-poem Pelleas und Melisande (based on Maeterlinck, 1902-1903) is less successful (in relative terms), its length unable to sustain the material without the structure of a text.

In these last two works Schoenberg had been developing his contrapuntal mastery, and his structural ideas were taken a stage further in the String Quartet No.1 in D minor op.7 (1904-1905), which is in a single movement in a kind of sonata form into which are inserted a scherzo, a rondo, and a slow section (which, to illustrate the integration, acts as a second subject). The Chamber Symphony No.1 op.9 (1906) uses a similar structure, and its opening includes a falling theme, reminiscent of Verklärte Nacht, that would seem to herald a continuation of the late-Romantic expression. Instead, there is a new-found concentration, a drastic reduction of orchestral forces, and a further, but not complete, dissolution of the traditional harmonic structure in which dissonances begin not to resolve, but themselves become part of the harmonic idiom. The vertical structure is being freed from the melodic line, and at the same time becomes more interrelated with it (by using vertical chord structures that have lineal relationship to a melodic theme). The result is a bouncing, confident work, with a lovely, delicately textured slow movement; one can feel Schoenberg revelling in the new-found structural freedom.

The String Quartet No.2 op.10 (1907-1908) is both a personal work and transitionally experimental: it includes a popular melody that had reference to his personal life, and settings of two Stefan George poems for soprano and string quartet that again trace transfiguration from worldly toils. The four-movement quartet begins tonally (in F# minor); but its final movement, notable for the dark abandon of its opening, the delicacy of the vocal setting, and the luminosity of the ending, abandons tonality for much of its span, and there is no key signature. This movement towards the abandonment of the traditional harmonic structure was completed in the Three Piano Pieces op.11 (1909), and the song-cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten op.15 (The Book of the Hanging Gardens, 1908-1909), again to poems by Stefan George. The first piano piece explores the possibilities of generating material from motivic cells; the song-cycle, for the most part pale and ghostly in atmosphere and slow and fragmentary in rhythmic impulse, regularly avoids any sense of tonal resolution. The expressive setting of the texts, shifting and distilling the emotions of the poetry, allows this lack of resolution to appear natural. The effect is to distance, to alienate the listener in a manner entirely suited to the subject-matter. In the Five Pieces for Orchestra op.16 (1909, revised 1922, version for reduced orchestra, 1949) the emotive passion of the early works is toned down, honed into a new emerging language, but it is certainly present, and this, one of Schoenberg's most satisfying works, can be heard with perfect understanding for its purely evocative qualities, without any knowledge of its technical fascination and advances. Each piece has a descriptive title, and in each the material is derived from the opening in the principle of continuous variation. In spite of the atonal idiom there are ghosts of a half-lost key (D minor) throughout. Especially effective is the central slow Farben (`chord colours'), a kind of German Impressionism using a technique known as klangfarben, referring to an underpinning chord which is sustained, or imperceptibly changed. Schoenberg's 1949 title for this piece, `Morning by a Lake', exactly describes it, complete with a jumping fish motive.

The monodrama Erwartung op.17 (1909), based on a libretto by I.M.Papenheim, also uses perpetual variation technique. But much more striking in this extraordinary work is the use of the extremes of Expressionist tension, reinforced by the atonality, to express the nightmare story of murder and necrophilia expressed by a woman entering a forest to find her lover: this is one of the first operas influenced by Freud, a masterpiece of the expression of extreme neurosis. The text is an intense study of breakdown caused by extreme emotion; the music matches and amplifies it, apparently spontaneous in its rapid illustrations of the woman's anguish.

It was followed by an even more extraordinary work, Pierrot lunaire op.21 (1912), for speaker/singer and five instrumentalists (playing eight instruments), and intended for stage performance. Based on 21 expressionistic poems by Albert Giraud that in inspiration look back to comedia dell' arte, its protagonist is the Pierrot of the title, whose abstract foil is the moon. The short poems encompass a gamut of human emotions, in a style sometimes bordering on the surrealistic, and the overall atmosphere is one of extremes, entering that no-man's land between what is normally considered sane and that which is touched with madness, akin to the surface illogicality of dreams. Divided into three parts, the first largely presents the Pierrot as lover and poet; the second is suffused with images of guilt and punishment; while in the third the Pierrot reaches back to the lost world of the commedia, the moon threading in and out of the Pierrot's fantasies. The soloist employs Sprechgesang (`song-speech'), fully notated but given with a speech-like freedom of declamation, while the instrumental writing often opposes the vocal line, with considerable independence. An extraordinary variety of colour and idea is achieved in the various songs, partly by a continuous change of instrumental combinations, the entire group coming together only in the final song. Parody and humour are also an important component in the panoply of the fantastical atmosphere. A wide variety of structural devices are employed, from development out of generating cells of ideas to complex fugues. None of this conveys the impact of the unique atmosphere of this work, which has never left an audience indifferent. Schoenberg establishes a musical world between sleeping and waking, close to substantiality yet insubstantial, fantastical but half-real, a region where emotions and fantasies, kept semi-submerged, are allowed a brief reign, threatening or fascinating depending on the listener. The effect of the Sprechgesang, half-spoken, half-sung, only heightens the sense of a momentary limbo, a temporary suspension of the normal parameters and boundaries of expression. Pierrot lunaire is a seminal work of the 20th century, first for opening up this nether region of the psyche, second for showing the musical means for doing so, and third for creating a form of small-scale yet highly potent dramatic means, music-theatre five years before Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale.

The dramatic stage elements of Pierrot lunaire were considerably extended in Die Glückliche Hand op.18 (The Skilled Hand, 1910-1913), a heavily symbolic drama for one singer, mime-artists, and orchestra. Techniques similar to film are employed (swift cutting, rapid changes of scene, careful consideration of visual angles), and the layer of action largely belongs to the mime-artists, the emotional expression to the singer and the orchestra. The story (by Schoenberg) is partly surrealistic, partly composed of myth and dream elements, and has an obvious autobiographical content in the symbolic allegory of the artist. The Expressionist idiom opens and closes with chorus and includes distortions of popular music, but the overall effect is heavily dependent on the detailed stage and visual requirements, especially symbolic lighting. At the time of composition, these must have seemed both extreme and impossible, but recent multi-media theatrical developments have made this a much more viable piece, perhaps best suited to a television treatment.

Schoenberg then planned and started a gigantic symphony, which in design would have followed the Mahlerian pattern, and in idiom extended the late-Romantic breaking-point of tonality into the atonal sphere within the huge Mahlerian structure. Some of the material for this abandoned project was then incorporated into the equally huge oratorio Jacobsleiter (Jacob's Ladder, 1917-1922), which originally envisaged forces of 720 (including 20 flutes). Schoenberg abandoned this, too, partly because he was interrupted by the war, and when he returned to it he was already moving onwards to the concept of the 12-tone system. But the first half of the fragmentary score has been rendered into a usable form by Winfried Zilling, and is interesting because it shows firmly the continuity from the late Mahlerian idiom to the 12-tone system (a row is actually included in the work), and because it is an expression of Schoenberg's religious dilemma: the dichotomy between the need for and the internal leaning towards faith, and an external world increasingly materialist and atheist, with organized religions that become dogmatic.

With the abandonment of Jacobsleiter Schoenberg turned to smaller-scale structures, in the development already outlined. The Five Piano Pieces op.23 (1920 and 1923), the Serenade op.24 (1920-1923) for seven instruments and bass voice, and the Piano Suite op.24 (1921 and 1923) signal this change and the development of the 12-tone system. Four of the Five Piano Pieces, for example, use the principles of 12-tone procedures, while the fifth, a waltz, uses a strict row in a fairly simple manner. The Piano Suite is composed of dances whose forms echo the late-Baroque, complete with repeats, and every one of the dances is composed from the same 12-note series, which includes the retrograde of the notes (in German notation) B-A-C-H (B flat-A-C-B), deliberately asserting the continuity of German music in the new system. The tone of both sets of piano pieces is of an introverted exploration of the new constraints, while the seven movement Serenade, also utilising dance forms, has as its central movement a 12-note vocal setting of a Petrarch sonnet; as the Petrarch lines have eleven syllables, the row-use sets up asymmetrical effects. Its instrumentation, reflecting the desire for particular and new sonorities, includes the mandolin. There is a jauntiness to the Serenade, a sinuousness to the woodwind sonorities, that perhaps makes it an easier introduction to this important period in Schoenberg's development than the more austere piano pieces.

In the works that followed, Schoenberg consolidated and developed his understanding of the system that he had evolved within classical forms. The first movement of the Wind Quintet op.26 (1923-1924) is in sonata form, the last a rondo, and with its short-phased, light textures, its purely abstract exploration, it is far removed from the emotional Expressionism of earlier works. In tone, if not in harmonic structure, it has strong affinities to the works of contemporary neo-classical composers. The Suite op.29 (1925-1926) for piccolo clarinet, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano, also uses Baroque forms, but is more flowing, more obviously lyrical, the emphasis on the effects of colour, with a sense of spontaneous flow that belies the technical complexities. Its final gigue, with its atmospheric colours, may well appeal to those who might expect this period of Schoenberg's output to be too demanding or austere. The rather dour but fluently integrated String Quartet No.3 op.30 (1927) is modelled on Schubert's A minor quartet, its four movements being a sonata, a set of variations, a scherzo, and a rondo. In the powerful Variations for Orchestra op.31 (1926, 1928), written in part at the request of the conductor Furtwängler, Schoenberg combined the techniques of the immediately preceding works with something of the grandeur and emotional expression of his earlier music. Scored for a large orchestra, including celesta and mandolin, it is in the form of an introduction, nine variations, and finale, with a solo cello presenting the 12-note row theme, subsequently manipulated in all the mirror versions as well as in transposition. With its wide range of mood, from a suggestion of the abstract playfulness of the wind quintet to moments of high drama, it is capable of a wide range of interpretation, from the sumptuous, emphasizing the expressive, to the more abstract, emphasizing technique and construction, depending on the conductor involved.

The relative paucity of works in the early thirties is partly a reflection of the political and social atmosphere of the time, but also of a return to the stage, first with the small, and largely forgotten, one-act domestic comedy of manners, Von heute auf morgen (op.32 (1928-1929), to a libretto by Schoenberg's wife in which the woman shows that she can match her husband's propensity for another woman, and then with Schoenberg's only full-scale opera, Moses und Aron (1930-1932). This major work is rarely performed, partly because he never wrote the third act (eventually authorizing a purely dramatic performance of the end of the libretto), although the previous two acts feel complete in themselves. More daunting is the nature of the libretto itself: based on the biblical story of Moses and Aaron, it is in part Schoenberg's profession of faith. Central to the opera is the contrast and conflict between the two brothers, Moses exhorting the people to understand an abstract God, Aaron requiring concrete images (faith against materialism). The libretto is earnest, the moral severe and unbending (as is the character of Moses), and on the level of libretto and drama it seems to have been thought out rather than felt. On the one hand it fails to exploit the possibilities of the audience's involvement and recognition of the potential psychological struggles, and on the other it removes the story completely from the potential resonances of myth. Dramatic elements are created by powerful visual effects (sacrifices, burnt offerings, orgies of destruction), but that fails to disguise the uncomfortable feeling that the opera stage is the wrong arena for this particular statement. This is unfortunate, for Schoenberg invested the score with some of his finest music, drawing on all his experience of the previous decade. Moses and Aaron are contrasted in voice, the former, a bass, almost always employing Sprechgesang, the latter a lyrical tenor. Technically the opera is based on a single 12-note row, with a complex evolution of the possible permutations of that row; expressively, the music is wide ranging and powerful, with an extraordinary range of emotion, and especially effective choral writing that ranges from the ethereal (pre-echoing Ligeti) to the savage and destructive. It is difficult not to see a parallel between Moses and Schoenberg's own artistic position, or between the stern father-figure of Moses and the psychological hold that Schoenberg had over Berg and Webern.

In 1934 Schoenberg left for the United States, and his first work in his new country, the Violin Concerto op.36 (1934-1936), continued the consolidation of the 12-tone technique in the new format of the concerto, laid out in a traditional (but internally unconventional) three-movement scheme. The opening, with the row first divided between violin and orchestra, and then played by the soloist, announces the nature of the solo writing, technically virtuoso, but imbued with the traditional rich and soaring character of the instrument. Dense, gritty, uncompromising, but with a sense of freedom and flight in the extremely difficult solo writing, this concerto is not for the casual listener, but it is an engrossing work that should be better known. It was followed by Schoenberg's last string quartet, the four-movement String Quartet No.4 op.37 (1936). As with the violin concerto, the classical layout is not followed strictly, and in this closely constructed, austere, but lyrical work Schoenberg achieved a fluid linear melodic flow using the parameters of the 12-tone system, the culmination of this period of his output.

Already, in 1938, he had written a rather bitty, over-emphatic, and undistinguished Kol nidre op.39 for speaker, chorus and orchestra, which is unmistakably tonal, even if the main chant theme is open to the kinds of manipulation Schoenberg had used in his 12-tone rows. He also, in 1939, reworked the unfinished Chamber Symphony No.2 op.38 (1906-1916 and 1939), thus returning to his own pre-atonal period. In the strange Ode to Napoleon op.41 (1942), for reciter, piano and string quartet or string orchestra (a setting of Byron's poem), Schoenberg returned to elements of Sprechgesang, but without the associated sumptuous Expressionism. The instrumental accompaniment is often emotive, but in a more dry, incisive and ironic manner, occasionally recalling the parody of Pierrot lunaire, using a 12-tone series in a very free fashion, and eventually ending in E flat. This process of a partial backward glance while progressing forward is continued in the Piano Concerto op.42 (1942), where Schoenberg continued his preoccupation with compressing material into a one-movement form: here there are four distinct sections with the general cast of a four movement plan, while corresponding to sonata form. There is again the feel of a tonal base, largely created by the sense of cadence and resolution that material arising from the original row allows, rather than from an actual tonal usage. The character of this demanding but rewarding concerto is again incisive: each incident emerges with a calculated precision, and at times the concerto debate seems to be as much between the desire for linear flow and this accurate determinacy of detail as between solo and orchestra.

In 1946 Schoenberg recovered from a serious heart-attack, and the experience was reflected in one of his most completely satisfying works, the String Trio op.45 (1946). In many ways it is a summary of his work. The overall shape is a distant derivation of Schoenberg's compression of classical forms, with one long movement shaped into three sections, of which the last reflects the first, redistributed among the instruments and using an inversion of the opening idea. More important, he achieved a synthesis of the vivid Expressionist emotional content and swift-paced expressive episodes of the much earlier works with the terser, angular style of the 12-tone period, and in a manner that sounds spontaneous and fresh; the experience of the immediately preceding works allows (through the triad implications of the tone-row) a sense of tonal atmosphere without any tonal procedures. This dense and concentrated work is by no means easy to grasp overall, although many of its moments have immediate impact or attraction; but it has something of the visionary quality given to some composers at the end of their lives, doubtless due to Schoenberg's immediate experience, and, with its ending disappearing into the ether, deserves in its own fashion to stand alongside Strauss' Four Last Songs or Janáček's late string quartets. The idea of a dramatic narration returned in the short (six-minute) Survivor from Warsaw op.46 (1946-1947) for narrator, chorus and orchestra, Schoenberg's protest against the Nazi experience, to his own text. The dense, expressive, harrowing score, full of instrumental effects, entirely matches the intensity of the text, and ends with "Shema Yisroel" sung in Hebrew by the chorus to an original melody, the orchestra being used in full for the first time.

It may turn out that Schoenberg's current position, more honoured in the breach than in the observance, his music more written about than heard, will prove lasting. For, aesthetically, there really does seem to be some essential element missing in his music. He does not have the single minded fascination and focus of Webern, the vision of Berg, the passion of Bartók, or even the humanism of Shostakovich. For much of his music, one gets the sense that he erected a wall between his own psyche and its expression in music, seeking solutions through the pure application - the iron will - of intellect. It is perhaps this, rather than any fear of the `difficulty', that is responsible for the relative paucity of performance, for his idiom has long been easily encompassed by musicians. Schoenberg comes closest to letting down that guard in the passions of the earliest works, when he can let it tangentially slip past through Expressionism or, in Pierrot lunaire, through an ironic slant (in both cases exploring the edge of madness, the flip side to the coin of iron control), and in works such as the Five Pieces for Orchestra or the String Trio where the means merge with the ends. It is perhaps no coincidence that in one of his own paintings (for he was an accomplished painter) he depicts himself with his back to the viewer. The mighty flaws and the strengths of Moses und Aron stand as an allegory for the composer himself, quite apart from the overt autobiographical symbolism. Either way, anyone with even the most cursory interest in 20th-century music should try to gain some understanding of the rudiments of his ideas, and at least sample his music.

Schoenberg was active in promoting new music, founding the Society for the Private Performance of Music in Vienna in 1917. He was also an important teacher, first as a private tutor, then as Professor at the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts (1924-1933), and finally teaching at the University of California (1934-1944). He published five pedagogical books on composition. Many subsequently distinguished composers were among his pupils, of whom the best known are Webern and Berg. He himself was the brother-in-law of the composer Zemlinsky by his first marriage, and father-in-law to Nono through his second. There is an Arnold Schoenberg Institute that since 1976 has regularly published a Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute with scholarly articles on the composer and his works.


works include:

- 2 chamber symphonies; piano concerto; violin concerto

- Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene, Five Pieces, Pelleas und Melisande and Variations for orch.

- Phantasy for violin with piano accompaniment; string trio; 5 string quartets (4 numbered); wind quintet; string sextet Verklärte Nacht (also version for string orch.); Serenade for septet

- piano music including Five Piano Pieces, Suite for Piano, and Three Piano Pieces.

- Variations on a Recitative for organ

- staged song-cycle Pierrot lunaire; many song cycles including Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten, Four Orchestral Songs, Herzgewächse and Six Orchestral Songs; Ode to Napoleon for reciter and orch.; many other works for solo voice or for chorus

- oratorios Gurre-lieder and Die Jakobsleiter (incomplete); A Survivor from Warsaw for reciter, chorus and orch.

- operas Erwartung, Die Glückliche Hand, Moses und Aron, and Von heute auf morgen

- arrangements and re-workings of works by earlier composers, notably of Monn's Cello Concerto


recommended works:

`monodrama' Erwartung op.17 (1909)

Five Pieces op.16 (1909) for orchestra

oratorio Gurrelieder (1900-1911)

opera Moses und Aron (1930-1932)

Ode to Napoleon op. 41 (1942) for reciter and orchestra

Pelleas und Melisande op.5 (1902-1903) for orchestra

Piano Concerto op.42 (1942)

staged song-cycle Pierrot lunaire op.21 (1912)

Serenade op.24 (1920-1923) for septet

String Quartet No.1 op.7 (1904-1905)

String Quartet No.2 op.10 (1907-1908)

String Quartet No.3 op.30 (1927)

String Quartet No.4 op.37 (1936)

String Trio op.45 (1946)

A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46 (1947) for reciter, chorus and orch.

Variations op.31 (1926-1928) for orchestra

Violin Concerto op.36 (1935-1936)

Verklärte Nacht op.4 for string sextet (1899) or string orchestra (1917, rev. 1943)

Wind Quintet op.26 (1925-1926)


selected bibliography:

A.Schoenberg Letters (ed. E.Stein), English trans., 1964

 Style and Idea (ed. L.Stein), 1975 (104 essays)

W.Reich Arnold Schoenberg: A Critical Biography, trans. L.Black, 1971

C.Rosen Schoenberg, 1976

H.H. Stückenschmidt

 Arnold Schoenberg trans. H.Searle and E.Temple-Roberts, 1959

A short but detailed survey of Schoenberg's life and works by O.Neighbour will be found in The New Grove Second Viennese School (1980), which includes an extensive bibliography.



born 23rd March 1878 at Monaco

died 21st March 1934 at Berlin


An important and successful opera composer in the first two decades of the century, Schreker is now better remembered for his Chamber Symphony of 1916 than for his stage works, although in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the latter. His musical idiom is late-Romantic, following the inheritance of Wagnerian Germanic opera; the format is that of music-drama, with a continuous flow of idea and action rather than obvious divisions into arias.

Of particular interest is his luxuriant orchestral style, influenced by Strauss but also by Mahler, and in turn influencing Berg. Using very large forces, the orchestration is rich in detail, and often employs passages of chamber-proportions in colour and detail, sometimes fragmenting the instruments in an almost pointillistic style. He also extended the use of percussion, with large batteries of instruments, especially the tuned percussion, joined by the colours of the harp and the celesta. His plots (most of which he wrote himself) extend the Wagnerian inheritance. Although they are mostly folk-tale subjects, they are treated with an interest in the extremes of internal human motivation and in human sexuality, daring at the time, but somewhat tame in retrospect. The emphasis is on individual characterization, rather than the archetypal qualities of the protagonists.

His first success was with his second opera, Der ferne Klang (The Distant Sound, c.1901-1910), which makes striking use of extra orchestras both onstage and offstage (the hero of the opera is a composer of operas), and is full of subtleties of orchestral detail. Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin (1909-1912) is a 'mystery play' in one act, set in the Middle Ages. It has a marvellous seamless flow, touches of Mahler in the orchestration, and typical moments when Schreker produces passages of magical orchestral timbre, around a story that ends with the soul of a dead violinist being laid to rest, and the Princess and the Apprentice starting a new life. But its very luxuriance becomes wearing, unrelieved by contrast of incident or idiom. Die Gezeichneten (The Marked Men, 1913-1915) is marred by its complicated plot (concerning the orgies of a Genoese nobleman), but the best of its music is found in the orchestral suite Vorspiel zu einem Drama (Prelude to a Drama). Its successor, Der Schatzgräber (The Treasure Digger, 1915-1918), is his major work, and received 385 performances in 50 locations in the period of the German Weimar Republic. The story (again with a fairy-tale medieval setting) is a combination of elements of the tales of Lady Macbeth and of Orpheus, its central characters being an over-sensual murderess and a minstrel with semi-magical powers, and there is an intended metaphor of the power and limitations of the arts. Again there is a wealth of fascinating orchestral detail, but also a considerable variety of mood and dramatic situation and location, and a strong Straussian influence (reminiscent of the contemporary Die Frau öhne Schatten, which has some parallels in its basic plot). Ultimately, the vocal writing and the plot do not match the interest of the orchestral sound, but those who enjoy a late-Romantic idiom in the manner of Pfitzner or Zemlinsky will find the work of interest.

However, by the 1920s the heyday of the large-scale late-Romantic opera was over, and in his later operas Schreker turned to a more neo-classical idiom. None of these was a success, partly because their sexual liberality (and Schreker's Jewishness) came under increasing criticism from the emerging Nazi movement. Apart from some songs, occasionally heard, and a handful of chamber works where Schreker drew on his atmospheric sense of scoring, notably in the pleasant Der Wind (1908-1909) for violin, cello, clarinet, horn, and piano that shows the influence of the French Impressionists, it is the Chamber Symphony (1916) for 23 instruments that has prevented Schreker's music from falling into obscurity. Again, the delight in the changing textures and instrumental combinations (including piano, harp and harmonium) are greater than the overall effect, but it is full of charm and subtle pleasure. Of his songs, the song-cycle Fünf Gesänge für tiefe Stimme (Five Cantos for Low Voice, 1909), setting one tale from the Arabian Nights and three poems by Edith Ronsperger, is especially beautiful, luminous, quietly passionate and intense, and notably effective in Schreker's 1920 orchestration, where washes of orchestral colour, sometimes languid, sometimes with subtle detail, often dark, support a sensuous vocal line devoid of Expressionist extremes of emotion.

Schreker was active as a conductor, founding the Vienna Philharmonic Choir in 1902, and conducting it until 1920, including the first performance of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder. He had a considerable influence as a teacher at the Vienna Academy of Music (from 1917) and at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, although his teaching was cut short by the rise to power of the Nazis. Among his pupils was Hába, while Berg, who prepared the piano reduction of Der ferne Klang, was influenced by his orchestration and the sensual nature of his operatic subject-matter. As a composer, Schreker's position is an ambiguous one: although a friend of the circle of Schoenberg, and involved in new musical activities, he did not succeed in breaking out of the mantle of late-Romanticism, with its rich chromatic palette, into new harmonic conceptions. His operatic plots now seem dated, and the luxuriance too continuously rich for the musical stomach. But the prowess of his orchestral skills will appeal to those who enjoy such idioms, and will interest students of orchestration and of that fertile decadent period of Vienna's musical history.


works include:

- Chamber Symphony for 23 instruments

- Dance Suite, overture Ekkehard, Fantastic Overture and Romantic Suite for orch.

- Der Wind for violin, cello, clarinet horn, and piano

- songs including song-cycle Fünf Gesänge für tiefe Stimme; Psalm cxvi and other works for chorus and orch.

- operas Christophorus, Der ferne Klang, Die Gezeichneten, Irrelohe, Der Schatzgräber, Der Schmied von Gente, Der singende Teufel, and Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin


recommended works:

Chamber Symphony (1916)

song cycle Fünf Gesänge für tiefe Stimme (1909, orchestrated 1920)

opera Der Schatzgräber (1915-1918)

opera Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin (1909-1912)


WEBERN Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm von)

born 3rd December 1883 at Vienna

died 15th September 1945 at Mittersill


The art of Anton Webern is the most elusive of any 20th-century composer. It profoundly influenced the generation of composers who emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, and through them it resounds today. It has baffled the majority of audiences, totally unequipped for its means and techniques, for its concept, and for its purpose of expression; yet it weaves a fascination over those who have learned to enter its strange world.

Webern was the supreme composer of the miniature. Yet he is not a miniaturist, which implies taking some small aspect of the world and honing an exquisite glimpse of that facet. Rather he is an imploder, attempting to take the enormity and wonder of the world and convert that wonder into the smallest possible distillation, a tiny facet that in itself contains the enormity. There is an appropriate analogy: faced with one of the expansive mountain landscapes that he loved, he describes musically not the profundity of the vast scene, but rather a single mountain flower, showing how the mountain flower is in itself a perfect microcosm of that landscape, the distillation of the glory of God. Such an analogy is pertinent to Webern's aesthetic: in 1926 he found a poet, Hildegard Jone, who expressed just such a vision, and many of his later works are settings of her poetry.

This art emerges as much less a break from the late Romantic tradition than is popularly supposed: rather it is simply the inversion of that tradition, the Mahlerian world turned inside out, an aesthetic and emotional involvement that Webern's followers have almost universally ignored. New thinking in art often parallels new thinking in other human fields, and Webern's musical discoveries are analogous to contemporary developments in physics, particularly atomic and sub-atomic physics, where in place of the huge conception of the universe, the basis of the entire physical world has been shown to be encapsulated in a miniscule structure. The implosion in Webern's music accounts for the brevity of his works, and the desire for perfection their relative paucity: Webern's entire output can be heard in a little over four hours.

The elements of Webern's music are not easy to assimilate, but much easier to understand when the overall principle, the purpose, is grasped. The major problem of such a distillation into the miniature is that every aspect of that miniature must be perfect, without a single element that could be substituted by another; a different miniature can be created, but within the individual work the purposefulness of form and content must be complete. Webern's entire mature output can be seen, on this level, as an attempt to find forms that would most completely fulfil this vision in its different aspects; unfortunately, most of the attention has been given to those formal elements, to the detriment of the expressive content, since in the final analysis it is easier to discuss the building blocks than the building.

Webern found the catalysts of those forms in the ideas of his teacher Schoenberg, and throughout Webern's career Schoenberg developed new formal ideas that Webern was able to embrace and evolve for his own purposes. A second, sometimes latent, influence on Webern's formal structures was his knowledge of the Renaissance polyphonists (his PhD was on Isaac), who in their own sphere had similar problems to overcome. Webern's output can be divided into four periods: the earliest works that represent the final breakdown of late-Romantic tonality; the move to atonality, and increasing brevity; the earliest 12-tone works; and the maturation of Webern's use of the 12-tone system. Within this development, his main output is of chamber music and song, both solo and choral, and five orchestral works, and is perhaps most easily grasped by dividing it into those groups.

His first mature work was the Passacaglia for Orchestra op.1 (1908). Its techniques are derived from those of Brahms, its sensuous atmosphere, held in tense check until bursting out in climax, and its heady orchestral colours from late-Romantic tone-poems, and in particular Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. The tonal basis is bursting at the seams (creating much of the tense energy), and its form of the passacaglia, and its use of Schoenberg's technique of continuous variations (see Schoenberg) give it a formal ruggedness that marks the work out from its late-Romantic antecedents. It is also an exceptional beautiful work, that if it were by a less controversial composer would be widely known. The Six Pieces op.6 (1909) for orchestra are also for Mahlerian-sized forces, but they are put to quite different uses. The elements that might have formed a late-Romantic work are here presented in fleeting wisps, with constant change of colours, often with unusual effects. Nothing is repeated; ideas slip and clash; the emotional expression changes from moment to moment, from the sweetest lyricism to raucous expression, with the extreme of instrumental range and rapid redeployment of instrumental groups. Although there is a feel of tonal undercurrent, the harmonic language is atonal, and there is a powerful sense in these pieces of the collapse of the late-Romantic idiom, as if we are hearing the pieces of the musical landscape actually imploding as a prelude to the later miniature examination - it is quite easy to take out any one snatch of these pieces, and in the aural imagination develop it into the context of a late-Romantic idiom, but quite impossible with their entirety. By the Five Pieces op.10 (1911-1913) for orchestra, this connection with the late-Romantic idiom has been almost entirely broken. What is left are the wisps of fragments, reduced to their utmost brevity, introducing in the opening the device of `pointillism' in which each note is assigned a to different instrument, and elsewhere employing the minimum of instrumentation, so that individual orchestral colours appear and die away. No.4 lasts only seven bars, and uses all 12 notes in the opening. Newcomers to Webern (or for those sceptical of his expressive power) might like to try listening to these three orchestral works in succession, in the order in which they were written; the power and beauty of the language of the Five Pieces is then naturally evident, whereas a plunge into them can be bewildering.

By the Symphony op.21 (1928), scored for clarinet, bass clarinet, two horns, harps, and strings, Webern had adopted and developed strict 12-tone principles, especially the use of mirror reflections of 12-note rows, and symmetrical relationships between rows. The symphony is in two short movements (Webern planned a third, but abandoned it), and in the basic row the second half is a mirror of the first. The intervals are often very widely spaced (with, for example, an octave shift of any given note of the row), pointillism is much in evidence, and silences between these individual notes are an integral device. The second movement is especially tightly constructed. Cast as a theme with seven short variations and a coda, it uses complex interrelationships of the theme, so that, for example, the fourth variation uses mirror images, and the rest of the piece is a mirror image of the preceding theme and variations, while the initial presentation of the theme is accompanied by its retrograde. The complexity of this formal scheme is impossible to follow without a score (and indeed, a prior analysis of that score), but what the interrelationships seem to achieve in the listener is a subconscious sense of order, of cohesion in what might otherwise, on the aural surface, be totally isolated points of music. The effect is of a meditative eeriness, with one faded echo of a waltz in the second movement, a sense of having experienced something much deeper than the surface reception would have suggested. It is this expressive effect that Webern would appear to have been striving for, aside from the sheer technical achievement: a complex, interrelated, and largely hidden formal design than would allow the rarefied expression to emerge. The Orchestral Variations op.30 (1940) represent Webern's final paring down of material in orchestral form. The theme and six variations are played without a break, and last around six minutes. The theme, a four-note phrase, is handed around the different components of the orchestra (making it in itself a variation through timbre and colour), and in the variations the rhythmic pattern of the theme is subject to careful modification, as well as other parameters, thus making the work approach the total serialism that was to be adopted in a more systematic and controlled fashion by Webern's followers. The orchestration is especially lucid in this most rarefied of Webern's orchestral works, and the chordal effects give it a strong lineal impetus. One other orchestral work may be encountered, the Five Movements for strings; it is an arrangement made in 1928 of op.5 for string quartet.

It was with those crepuscular Five Movements op.5 (1909) for string quartet that Webern started to apply his own aesthetic to the chamber medium. In the earlier String Quartet (1905) he had attempted to bind differing tonalities and speeds within a single movement, but the sound world is indebted to Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht; the equally attractive Piano Quintet (1907) is Brahmsian. In the Five Movements, with the use of unusual string sounds, the range of timbre is extended in an expressive work in which every detail carries weight, like pinpoints of light in a mist. The slow movements have an other-worldly cast, with echoes of Mahler in the scherzo; the haunting mood is created by the mostly slow tempi and by the string techniques (especially the use of harmonics). The Six Bagatelles op.9 (1913) for string quartet use similar extended timbres, and are built on two or three note motifs, completely chromatic in using all 12 notes. The six pieces have a common use of ostinati, and the sense of reduction (in both the musical technique and the expression) is overt, notably in the extraordinary nothingness of the fifth bagatelle, just impressions of sound in an otherwise empty vision, and in the ending that seems to sigh away. The atonal experimentation is even more marked in the Four Pieces op.7 (1910) for violin and piano. These very short and bare Expressionist pieces, like dying shards of sound, are characterized by wide leaps and extreme changes of dynamics. The limits of such compression are reached in the two-and-a-quarter-minute Three Little Pieces op.11 (1914) for cello and piano, where every note carries a different weight of dynamic and attack, silences become of integral importance, and the last piece consists of just twenty notes.

By the String Trio op.20 (1926-1927), Webern had adopted 12-tone techniques, and the characteristic 7ths and minor 9ths are prominent. It is perhaps the most difficult of Webern's works to grasp (the cellist of the first London performance gave up in disgust), and the two movements are based on a classical Rondo and sonata form (including a straight repeat), although these may appear quite inaudible. The most jagged of all Webern's works, it is technically full of mirror reflections. Analytically fascinating, the music will almost certainly seem incomprehensible on first acquaintance. But if followed with a score, the visual aid to the aural perception allows the recognition and reception of Webern's patterns. The structural power of this work and its subtle coordination of miniature ideas - like examining a snowflake through a microscope - suddenly emerge. The abstract intensity, once experienced, is difficult to forget. The Quartet op.22 (1930) is for clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano and violin, and is as rarefied, though both the two movements have a gentle, swaying nature that is appealing. The Concerto op.24 (1931-1934) is for chamber forces, a nonet of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, piano, violin and viola. The reduction to single points of instrumental colour is almost complete: they are dispersed widely on the vertical scale, silence moving in as the linear progression shifts to another vertical mark, emphasized by the differentiations of the instruments involved. Shaped in three movements, it rather unexpectedly arrives at an almost humorous, rumbustious, swinging feel in the last movement, as if Webern was both showing that his idiom was capable of such a mood, and delighting in turning his own technique emotionally on its head. In the String Quartet op.28 (1936-1938) the technique is again formidable, the series based on the four notes (in German notation) of B-A-C-H (B Flat-A-C-B), and brilliantly using sections within its row to reflect that motif in multiple forms (which has made it a model for later serial composers). It is more flowing and opaque than the String Trio, but at the same time it does feel more sterile, the whole subordinated to the demands of the 12-tone writing without the internal wonder of the earlier work. Apart from some early music, Webern wrote only one work for piano, the late Piano Variations op.27 (1935-1936). `Variations' is a little misleading, unless it refers to the mirror imaging of the first of three movements, and the development of ideas in the last: Webern himself referred to it as a kind of suite. The second movement is particularly notable for its strong pointillistic contrasts, constant tension and resolution created by alternating dynamics.

The largest body of music by Webern, which most clearly shows his development and his aesthetic, is for the voice, yet these are the works least likely to be encountered. Historically, one of the reasons is their sheer difficulty, although Webern always uses the voice melodically, without Sprechgesang or other extended techniques. The solo lines, in particular, are extremely taxing, in spite of modern developments in vocal technique. A more important failing, given the concentration on words that Webern's later style imposes, is that the texts he chose after 1926 are all by Hildegard Jone, wordy in their combination of Christian and pantheistic mysticism, and of dubious quality. A third reason may be a simple if illogical one of psychological salesmanship. Webern did not give these works descriptive titles: "Four Songs" (which could be one of three different Webern works) carries much less resonance than, say, Das Lied von der Erde.

The first published songs are (like those of Schoenberg) settings of Stefan George. The wispy and short Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen op.2 (1908) for chorus introduces Webern's love of four-part canon, still with elements of tonality (and bitonality) and with prominent 3rds and 6ths. With the Five Lieder op.3 (1908) and Five Lieder op.4 (1908-1909) he moved to pure atonality. There is a gossamer feel to these works, the rhythmic sense broken down, with wide leaps of intervals, the use of 7ths and minor 9ths that became so characteristic of Webern's writing, and with apparently inconclusive endings. The op.3 songs are strictly linear; the op.4 songs are more dramatic, with a chordal feel at points, but Expressionism is the dominant aesthetic, the anti-Romantic music stripping the poetry of its more romantic elements.

As soon as Webern replaces the piano with instrumentation, his settings literally take on a different dimension. In the Two Songs op.8 (1910) for voice and eight instruments, to verses by Rilke, the solo line is again full of wide leaps, but now woven through a fragmented instrumentation, whose points of timbre and individual colour so effectively and pointillistically meet the soloist. The Four Songs op.12 (1915-1917) are rather more full and flowing, but the Four Songs op.13 (1914-1918) for soprano and small orchestra are one of the summits of Webern's output. The instruments create the atmosphere behind the vocal line rather than amplifying it or commenting on it. The use of the celesta and harp add unexpected delicacies of colour in settings whose extreme economy of means is paradoxically so rich in weight of detail that there is a strong impression of the vocal line being one of those actual instruments. The Six Songs op.14 (1917-1921) for soprano, two clarinets, and two strings (to verses by Trakl) are more existentialist, with sometimes little direct sense of the music fitting the words. The vocal line is more extreme, the colours darker, and the dynamics of each individual note more marked, as is the importance of constantly changing dynamics (emphasizing, for example, the saxophone in song II). The solo part is extremely taxing; the overall effect is of allusions rather than emotions.

The next two groups of songs are on sacred texts, and in them Webern returned to the use of canon as a major structural device. A double canon ends the Fünf Geistliche Lieder op.15 (Five Sacred Songs, 1917-1922) for voice and five instruments, which demand high purity from the soloist, whose line is more obviously continuous while retaining the wide leaps. The Five Canons on Latin Texts op.16 (1923-1924) for soprano, clarinet and bass clarinet are another highpoint in Webern's vocal output. These little canons are like some set of smooth chips hewn off a block of runic stone, the strange ending disappearing, almost inconsequentially, into the blank rock. The strict canonic structures, stark in their instrumental simplicity, bind the group, but there is a wonderful simplicity and flow to the immensely difficult and high vocal line, which darts up and back in a very wide leaps at fairly fast speeds, the graph of its flow another consistency in the group. The Three Traditional Rhymes op.17 (1924-1925) for soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet and violin doubling viola were Webern's first 12-tone pieces, and continue the use of canonic techniques. The continuity from op.16 is obvious, but the effect is more jagged and angular. In the Three Songs op.18 (1925) for soprano, E flat clarinet, and guitar, the connection between music and the folk-texts has almost totally disappeared, and they are chiefly interesting for the use of the guitar in such an unexpected context. Webern ended this series of vocal works with a work for chorus, violin, two clarinets, celesta and guitar, the Two Songs op.19 (1926), which set two short Goethe texts. Both songs use the same 12-note row, the orchestral accompaniment is detailed and pointillistic, the canonic choral writing densely stranded, and there is a closer connection between words and music (in the rhythms of the instrumental opening to the second song, evoking the sheep leaving the meadow of the verse).

Webern's return to vocal writing in 1933 reflected his discovery of Hildegard Jone's writing: all his remaining vocal works are settings of her words. In keeping with the Nature-soulfulness of the texts, the Three Songs from `Viae inviae' op.23 (1933-1934) for voice and piano are less extreme and less compressed in both form and content than the preceding vocal works, with a more obviously tuneful flow to the vocal writing, in spite of the wide leaps. More successful are the Three Songs op.25 (1934) for voice and piano, partly because the words are more succinct, one single-image verse to each song rather than the extended sentiments of op.23. Whether the actual musical process is here more important than the word-setting is debatable; certainly the correlation between words and music veers by now between the extremely tenuous (the opening of the first song) and the clearly apposite (the butterfly movement of the piano of the second song). The 12-note row is used with considerable freedom, shared by voice and piano, each supplying the missing notes of the other. Webern's final three vocal works are all for chorus. The intense four-and-a-half minutes of Das Augenlicht op.26 (1935) for chorus and orchestra combine drama, especially in the brass, with delicate events created by the orchestration, with a marked contrast between the chordal density of the chorus, with canonic writing vying with chordal sounds passed between voices, and the particularism of the instruments. The impressive three-movement Cantata No.1 op.29 (1938-1939) for soprano, chorus and orchestra, is more extended, with an explosive choral opening to its first movement, after a quiet instrumental introduction. There is a pulse to this opening movement, created by the alternation of quiet meditation and emphatic outburst, while the solo lines of the second canonic movement return to the lifting and falling flow of the Five Canons. The form is a compression, a fusion of a number of forms, fugue, scherzo and variations, and again is dramatic, building in a step-like manner to a central climax in which the soloist suddenly enters on a high B flat, when it gradually falls to an ending of tranquillity. The larger Cantata No.2 op.31 (1941-1943) for soprano, bass, chorus and orchestra is in six short movements, the vocal line of the bass solo more flowing, but pitted against instrumental writing that constantly shifts in its time-values. The atmosphere is more mystical, apart from the angular drama of the third section, and the sound of a bell adding a suggestion of rite. The cantata is summarized by two of the lines: "The hives of bees are like constellations / so full of drops of light that creation brings."

Webern's importance to the succeeding generation of composer is considerable. The carefully constructed rhythmic irregularities and the detailed changes of dynamics in the later works led the way for serialism (or, as it is sometimes called `total serialism') in which these aspects of the construction of a piece were subject to a systematisation similar to that of the harmonic structure. But few of those successors have had such an deep aesthetic instinct as Webern (Kurtág is a notable exception), or created such a particular and individual sound-world.

Those new to that sound-world are advised to ignore the accumulation of musicological analysis of his work (insofar as it is possible), and initially approach it purely for that aesthetic experience. Contemplated as one might contemplate an Alpine flower, for its miniature perfection of detail, each tiny item contributing to the whole, rather than the grandeur of the mountain landscape, and the expressive magic emerges. Those with the temperament are then in a position to explore the equally fascinating appreciation of the cerebral rigours, the actual construction of the music (which is anyway a different intellectual exercise). Those familiar with Webern may well consider a similar approach: it is all too easy to get so involved with those structures and techniques that one forgets that the music expresses both the composer and the world as he saw it.

Webern was active as a conductor, working at Prague's Deutsches Theater (1917-1918) and with Austrian radio (1927-1938). He directed a number of groups, notably the Vienna Workers' Symphony Concerts (1922-1934) and the Vienna Workers' Chorus (1923-1934), where he brought new (and old) music-making to a social strata not usually associated with the contemporary musical life of Vienna. He taught musical theory at the Jewish Cultural Institute for the Blind from 1926, and his private pupils included Hartmann. His death was tragic, since he was shot in error by an American soldier.


works include:

- symphony; concerto for nine instruments

- Passacaglia, Five Pieces, Six Pieces, and Variations for orch.

- Three Little Pieces for cello and piano; Four Pieces for violin and piano; string trio; Five Movements, Rondo, and Six Bagatelles for string quartet; quartet for violin, clarinet, saxophone and piano; quintet for strings and piano

- Piano Variations

- 18 song cycles for solo voice and piano or instrumental ensemble and other solo vocal settings; choral works including 2 Cantatas


recommended works:

All Webern's mature output is recommended, and has been quite widely recorded. Those new to Webern might consider first listening to the sequence of orchestral works outlined above.



H.Moldenhauer Anton von Webern: Chronicle of his Life and Works, 1978

A short but detailed survey of Webern's life and works by Paul Griffiths will be found in The New Grove Second Viennese School, which includes an extensive bibliography.


ZEMLINSKY, Alexander von

born 14th October 1871 at Vienna

died 15th March 1942 at Larchmont (New York)


For many years Zemlinsky was best known as Schoenberg's teacher (for a brief period) and brother-in-law, and as the composer of a single work, the Lyrische Symphonie (Lyric Symphony, 1922). He emerged into musical maturity just as the late-Romantic style was about to be eclipsed by the new developments of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, and his neglect is partly due to his continuation of that late-Romantic idiom, including the use of large forces, and partly to his limited output, curtailed by his considerable activities as an opera conductor. But recently, as the comparative conservatism of his idiom has been mellowed by the distance of time, he has emerged as one of the few composers continuing in the late-Romantic vein with an individual and sometimes striking voice, especially as the symbolist and psychologically allegorical content of his operas are once again more generally accepted.

In his mature music, until in his last works he adopted a more neo-classical style, Zemlinsky's idiom might be described as being somewhere between Mahler and Strauss, without the immediacy or instant genius of either. However, his distinctiveness and individuality comes from a different impetus: using his sumptuous sense of orchestration, backed by marvellous orchestral craftsmanship, and keeping his music in constant flux to a much greater extent than either Mahler or Strauss, he created unfolding kaleidoscopes of sound that are perhaps akin to the constant visual shifting and complications of dreams, the restless chromatic harmonies verging on the breakdown of tonality without ever crossing the boundary. His opera subjects reflect this psychological aspect, and in almost all his operas there are marvellous moments when the dream world suddenly opens out into a broader and more ordered musical landscape, often utilizing themes that had been entangled in the thickets of the earlier journey. This is a subtle art, belied by the very luxuriance of his orchestral usage, and not always an immediate one, in which the impetus (in the operas, the actual text) is of importance; it is easy to overlook the potency that this can generate when first encountering what seems to be an over-sumptuous and derivative idiom. However, he perhaps reflects the hothouse intellectual atmosphere and internal self-questioning of his contemporary Vienna better than any of the better-known composers.

The early Clarinet Trio op.3 (1895) is assured but derivative, and not of especial interest. The big and expressive Symphony in B flat (Symphony No.2, 1897) better shows his youthful influence, with a few Wagnerian and Brucknerian and many Brahmsian touches, but also the springing rhythmic vitality and melodic organization of Dvořák. Like most Zemlinsky works it has a markedly atmospheric opening. With its big slow movement and energetic finale, its general vitality makes it more than just a curiosity. The first signs of his mature style emerged in the sumptuous tone-poem Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid, c.1903), whose programme is based on the Anderson fairy-tale. Requiring an enormous orchestra, this rich and often beautiful work is well worth the discovery.

But it is in his vocal works that Zemlinsky's idiom found its ideal genre. His operas are more closely allied to text than many: with his very fluid and dense orchestral style, the orchestral matrix constantly shifting to match the moment, the librettos need initially to be followed closely for the operas to have their full impact. His third opera, Der Traumgörge (1904-1906) coincides with the maturing of his musical style; to a libretto by Leo Feld, its subject is a mill-owner who writes fairy-tales, seeking to apply them to real life: story and fairy-tale, reality and dream, become intertwined. With its passionate, swirling, long high vocal lines, and a more obvious division into aria-like passages than the later operas, it has echoes of the Czech pastoral woven through the lyrical flow, sometimes an almost Scandinavian sense of light and colour, and passages of considerable beauty. His next opera, Kleider machen Leute (Clothes Make the Man, c.1908, revised 1922), also to a libretto by Feld, is based on the comic story by Gottfried Keller, and has been overshadowed by Joseph Suder's opera on the same subject. The next two operas (and two of Zemlinsky's most effective works) are based on the writings of Oscar Wilde, which, with their willingness to admit to - and unleash - the darker psychological motivations, echoed the self-tormenting tone of Freudian Vienna. Eine florentinische Tragödie op.16 (A Florentine Tragedy, 1914-1915), is a powerful and compact one-act work, Expressionist in its violent story. It is based on Oscar Wilde's decadent play of a love triangle in Renaissance Florence, uniting sex and power and with a ending disturbing in its parody of the `happy ending': through the murder of the lover by the husband, the husband recognizes his wife's beauty, and his wife her husband's strength and her own sexual reaction to the violence. The music is swift-moving and sumptuous, closely matching the psychological undercurrents and developments of the plot, and the turbulent portrayal of the main characters. Its build-up of passions, power, and anger, is subtle, gradual, and inexorable, and when the climax does arrive, it is to music of impact and conviction, the thematic network becoming recognizable and cogent. In the same vein, and finer still, is Zemlinsky's sixth opera, The Birthday of the Infanta op.17 (1920-1921), as it now seems to be generally titled, although the original title was Der Zwerg (The Dwarf). Short and succinct, it is based on the Oscar Wilde story of the English title, in which a misshapen dwarf is carried off as a birthday present for an Infanta. In the palace, he sees a mirror for the first time, and realizing his ugliness dies, while the Infanta continues her birthday, unmoved by what the dwarf has in the meantime shown her: the power of the imagination and of creativity. It was his most successful opera during his own lifetime.

Zemlinsky's last completed opera, Der Kreidekreis (The Chalk Circle, 1931-1932) was based on the wildly successful play by `Klabund' (Alfred Henschke), itself based on an old Chinese drama (later made famous by Brecht). In the first Act, the heroine, Haitang, is sold to a `tea-house' by her mother (against the wishes of her brother), following the suicide of her father outside the house of the rapacious tax collector, Ma. The Prince Pao falls in love with her, but Ma appears, is attracted to the woman, and outbids the prince to take her away as his wife. In the second Act, Haitang has had a child; Ma's first wife, who has a lover, Chow, realizes she will not inherit if she remains childless. Ma wishes to divorce her, and asks Chow to make the arrangements. Haitang unwittingly gives Ma a cup of tea poisoned by his first wife, and is arrested for his murder. In the final act, Ma's first wife bribes the judge and numerous witnesses into confirming that Haitang's child is actually hers. She is sentenced to death, and her now revolutionary brother is sentenced for contempt of court. An announcement arrives that the Emperor has died, and a general commutation of sentences by the new Emperor saves them; they are taken to the Emperor - who is the former prince Pao - along with Ma's first wife, and though the device of the chalk circle, the truth of Haitang's tale is shown. The child is actually Pao's (he had made love to her while she was sleeping in the tea house), and the story ends happily. The treatment of this powerful drama is a combination of symbolist tale and social and political comment; with the exception of the heroine, the character are largely archetypes. Zemlinsky responded with a setting that moves with considerable fluidity between a tough, more direct style (including shades of Weill) and passages of his rich, expressive idiom. The marriage between music and words is close - this is not an opera easily excerpted, and has no big `tunes' - and he makes considerable use of speaking sections (associated with wrong-doing); it makes for compelling music-drama, and an interesting development of Zemlinsky's operatic skills. Der König Kandaules (c.1935-1942) was based on Gide, but its orchestration remained incomplete.

The Lyrische Symphonie op.18 (Lyric Symphony, 1922) for soprano, baritone and orchestra is Zemlinsky's masterpiece, and if by the time of its composition its style was already outdated it nonetheless inspired Berg, whose Lyric Suite was dedicated to Zemlinsky, and quotes from the symphony. Zemlinsky himself suggested the work was in the tradition of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, but if the general tone is similar, with many echoes of Mahler, the layout and the emotion is its own. The structure combines that of a one-movement symphony with that of a song cycle, with the seven songs separated by orchestral interludes. The songs themselves are to poems by the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, of love and of dreams, and especially of the distance between dreams and dreaming desires and reality. They have little of the self-searching angst that had so informed earlier, similar Viennese song-cycles: rather their tone is ecstatic, whether the ecstasy of sadness or joy, and Zemlinsky responded with an ecstatic score. Its passion is announced in the emphatic orchestral opening and in the sense of loneliness and longing in the song that follows, with its uneasy harmonies and restless orchestral movement. That orchestration, as rich and evolved as a complex Oriental carpet, turns easily from huge orchestral swellings to delicate underpinnings, illustrating and amplifying the ecstatic vocal lines, characteristically long-flowing and with wide opening leaps. The constantly shifting orchestra echoes the technique of the operas, though with cleaner textures and a delight in the delicate. This exceptionally beautiful work will be too rich for many, but those who respond to Strauss or to Mahler's song cycles will find it a discovery to be treasured. The most important of his songs are the cycle Six Songs to Poems of Maurice Maeterlinck op.13 (1910-1913) for mezzo or baritone and orchestra, Straussian in feel, beautifully crafted, their subject women and death; the later Sinfonietta uses a melody from the last song.

Zemlinsky wrote four string quartets, which reflect the different periods of his musical development. They are less interesting than his vocal music and the operas, but have enough qualities to appeal to those with an affinity for the period. The String Quartet No.1 op.4 (c.1895) reflects his formative influences, but the Expressionistic String Quartet No.2 op.15 (1914) will interest students of Schoenberg, its inspiration coming from the latter's op.7. The String Quartet No.3 op.19 (c.1923), with its beautiful slow movement and a sense of emotional withdrawal, is perhaps the most immediate for the general listener, while the String Quartet No.4 (1936) is in the shape of a Classical suite in six movements, with echoes of early Webern in the rapidly changing string effects of the driving second movement. The only mature piano work is the Fantasien über gedichte von Richard Dehmel op.9 (c.1900) for piano, inspired by verses by the poet who inspired Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, in which chromaticism is extended to a point where any sense of tonality is almost dissolved in the dark exploration.

Of the handful of later works, the effective Sinfonietta (1934) is a combination of the neo-classical with a sense of tone-painting, with moments of Mahlerian lilt. The slow movement has phrases reminiscent of Webern's Passacaglia, and the overall effect is like looking back over Viennese musical life through the medium of a sometimes troubled dream. The fine Psalm 13 op.24 (1935) for chorus and orchestra remained unperformed until 1971, and has thematic correspondences to Zemlinsky's two earlier psalm settings (Psalm 83, 1900, Psalm 23, c.1910). As in the Sinfonietta, the idiom is less Romantically luxuriant, the harmonies more tart.

Zemlinsky was a conductor of opera in Vienna (1899-1911), Prague (1911-1927), and Berlin (1927-1930), and taught in Prague (1920-1927) and at the Berlin Musikhochschule (1927-1933). His reputation as a conductor, especially of new works, many of which were stylistically far more advanced than his own idiom, was considerable, and with Schoenberg he founded the Vereinigung Schaffender Tonkünstler in Vienna in 1904 to promote new music. To escape the Nazi regime, he left Berlin for Vienna, and then fled to the U.S.A. in 1938.


works include:

- 3 symphonies; sinfonietta; ; Lyrische Symphonie for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra

- Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) for orch.

- trio for clarinet or viola, cello and piano; 4 string quartets; string quintet

- Fantasien über gedichte von Richard Dehmel and Ländliche Tänze for piano

- Six Maeterlinck Songs for mezzo or baritone and orch; Psalm 13, Psalm 23, Psalm 83 for chorus and orch. and other vocal works including many songs

- ballets Das gläserne Herz and Der Triumph der Zeit

- operas Es war einmal, Eine florentinische Tragödie, Kleider machen Leute, Der König Kandaules (orchestration incomplete), Der Kreiderkreis, Sarema, Der Traumgörge and Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), often known as The Birthday of the Infanta


recommended works:

opera The Birthday of the Infanta (Der Zwerg, 1920-21)

opera Eine florentinische Tragödie (1914-1915)

opera Der Kreiderkreis (1931-1933)

Lyrische Symphonie (1922)

tone-poem Die Seejungfrau (c.1903)

Sinfonietta (1934)

Six Songs to Poems of Maurice Maeterlinck (1910-1913)

opera Der Traumgörge (1904-1906)




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