THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC
Reflections of a Music Publisher
by ERNST ROTH
3. THE VIENNESE SCHOOL
When I entered music-publishing in Vienna in 1922 music, like everything
else, including the minds of people, was in an unbelievable state of confusion.
With the exception of the Hungarians all the other nations of the old monarchy
had something to celebrate: independence for the Czechs, Poles and Yugoslavs;
return to their motherland for the Italians. But the Austrians themselves
did not quite know what to make of it. They did not feel liberated, the new
democracy meant little to them, for they had loved the splendour and the
thought of old Franz Josef aimlessly reading his papers and reports. Vienna
in particular, the old imperial city, had fallen low beyond belief. It was
difficult to realize that the landlords of the Hofburg and Schonbrunn would
never return and that anyone could now loiter in the state apart-ments on
payment of a modest entrance-fee. Much had been lost and no compensating
gain was in sight cxcept music.
Vienna had a well-founded musical reputation of long standing, from the Emperor
Leopold I, who saw the Turks at the gates of his capital and was himself
a composer of more than average gifts, up to Brahms, two hundred years later.
There could be no doubt that the interest of the Imperial House in serious
music made Vienna a metropolis of the art and attracted the best Austrian
(though non-Viennese) composers such as Gluck, Mozart and Haydn, and foreigners
such as Beethoven and Brahms, not to mention the ubiquitous Italians from
Niccolo Porpora to Antonio Salieri. The Hapsburgs may have had many unpleasant
charac-teristics but they were genuine music-lovers--and not of the cheap
This created a climate in which musicians felt at home in spite of
disappointments. If one runs through the list of Beethoven's dedicatees,
from the Archduke Rudolph (why, by the way, 'Emperor' Concerto, a nickname
unknown in Austria? Archduke Rudolph was the twelfth son of Emperor Leopold
II and never had any chance--nor, presumably, any desire--to become emperor)
to such impecunious generals as Count Browne, one of many catholic Irish
refugees in Austrian service, one can see how the example from above inspired
and encouraged society. Some historians have doubted this, seeing architecture
and painting as the real hobbies of the Austrian nobility. Hobbies they certainly
were, and expensive ones at that. But music, and especially new music, was
cultivated with great enthusiasm both in the imperial palace and in humbler
dwellings, and up to the last days of the Empire the royal boxes at the Opera
and in the Musikverein were never empty.
This desire-or curiosity-for new music was finally saturated with Brahms.
The Vienna Court Opera did not care for the first performance of Tristan
and let Gustav Mahler go, while concertgoers did not like Bruckner. The famous
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra viewed new composers with suspicion and hostility.
The taste of the public was uniquely subtle and discerning. 'We cannot even
play Beethoven's Fourth,' the secretary of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde
told me, when I wondered at the almost complete absence of all new music
from the programmes-Richard Strauss's symphonic poems were the only notable
exceptions. Every public has the music it deserves. And the Viennese who,
despite food-rationing, shortages and inflation, congregated on Sunday mornings
at the Musikverein did not come out of curiosity or with the intention of
gaining new experience. They came to forget their troubles, to be lifted
briefly out of their everyday misery, and they found new music quite unsuitable
for this purpose.
Before the war, in the midst of imperial opulence, and afterwards, in the
midst of republican poverty, one could hear in Vienna the best performances
of all the uncontested masterpieces. The palace on the Opernring had been
degraded (or so the older subscribers felt) from a Court to a State Opera;
its annexe, the Redoutensaal, previously inaccessible to ordinary mortals
and still hung with precious tapestries, was used for 'chamber operas' such
as Pergolesi's Serva padrona or Boieldieu's Jean de Paris. The Opera clung
to the old custom on its bills and posters of calling the singers Herr
Kammersdnger or Frau Kammersangerin, as if nothing had happened.
In the pit sat the same Philharmonic Orchestra, which gave its concerts on
those memorable Sunday mornings, a worthy assembly of ageing professors who
knew all about their craft and refused to learn what they did not already
know. Younger, less experienced conductors were really given a rough passage
by those grey-bearded experts. 'What is he going to conduct?' somebody asked
when a new conductor was to make his first appearance.
'I do not know,' replied Professor Ruzitska, the first viola, 'I do not know
what he is going to conduct. We are going to play the Seventh.' But when
Felix von Weingartner, impeccably elegant, stood in front of them and slowly
and deliberately opened the door from the Scherzo to the Finale of the Fifth
the listeners felt that there was no other place on earth where one could
hear it so perfectly played, and the performers knew that there was no other
place where it was more appreciated or savoured with more delight by greater
It was in this same Vienna that an entirely new music was hatched, and a
school for it founded. Seldom can a school of revolutionary ideas have received
so little encouragement from its environment or have existed in unfriendlier
surroundings. The genius loci favoured it with no more than a disapproving
grimace. The public, critics and writers ignored it. This was not like postwar
Berlin, where political and economic collapse had brought all tradition into
disrepute and created a hot-bed for everything that had not been done before,
good and bad, decent and obscene. This was Vienna, which looked to the past
for consolation. Indeed, the fact that the new school was founded in Vienna
was nothing but a geographical coincidence. Heralded in 1922, the manifesto
of the 'composition with twelve notes' appeared in 1904. It was a strange
and, in its own way, courageous document, which offered a new and respectable
home to atonality. Arnold Schoenberg brought the new teaching to composers,
as Moses brought the tablets of the law to the Israelites; initially he had
no better success.
I do not know whether Schoenberg and his disciples would have welcomed quick
and easy victory. It may have been the inimical atmosphere surrounding the
school which moulded its character. For this was not like Raphael's 'School
of Athens' where wisdom was freely offered, where believers were fortified
in their belief and the incredulous persuaded by reasoned argument. That
was a closed shop, a sect which cared nothing for proselytes and demanded
unquestioning devotion to both the teacher and his teachings. It was proud
of being a small number of the chosen in the heart of general Philistia.
My own temperament has always kept me away from factions and cliques, political
or otherwise. Also, I was afraid of the unavoidable conflict between duty
and conviction. My relations with the members of the school therefore remained
generally friendly but superficial.
I did not meet Arnold Schoenberg very often, but whenever I did he was full
of sarcastic witticisms and biting remarks about others: composers, critics,
writers, performers and publishers. He despised Richard Strauss and hated
Stravinsky no less than the great masters of the past, with very few and
curious exceptions. Even minor figures were not too small to be attacked.
His resentments were monumental and perhaps deprived his own work of
monumentality. He was always in opposition, sensed opposition everywhere,
revelled in the idea of stirring up the whole world against himself and then
hurling all his disdain in its face. This kept him always ready to pounce
on something or somebody and constantly sharpened his razor-edged intellect.
Schoenberg was certainly far from being the ideal Olympian. He was worried
and bothered by many things and many people, by the very existence and success
of others. He could be breathtakingly overbearing, and I could never be sure
whether his superciliousness was his real nature or a protective wall around
him. He must also have had his happier moments, which I could not discover
myself. Among his disciples he walked like a prophet. They believed in him
as in the Revelation; they were even prepared to bear the cross of poverty,
for which the Master himself had no liking. I believe he was a good friend
to them, and when National Socialism scattered those stalwarts of the school
still in Vienna he diligently wrote letters of recommendation to help them
find new homes and work. I have read one of those letters in which he praised
all the merits of his protege but remembered also to mention his shortcomings,
which, in such a desperate situation, seemed superfluous.
So the source from which the new teaching sprang was not as pure as one might
have wished. But the harbinger of new music mellowed with age, and in the
end his work was able to achieve its true stature.
The other two members of the 'trinity' were, each in his own way, very different
from their master.
Alban Berg, tall, handsome, perhaps a little effeminate, was always polite,
lovable, open-minded, with no display of fanaticism. In the somewhat sinister
clique which surrounded the school he looked like a good boy from a good
family who had fallen into bad company. He had no resentments and probably
no personal enemies. He did not enjoy the hissing and whistling which accompanied
every performance of any of his works, and the furore surrounding Wozzeck
particularly grieved him. Indeed, when Wozzeck was first performed at the
State Opera in Vienna it looked like a popular uprising, with police on foot
and on horseback surrounding the whole area, ready for battle.
Berg regretted that people did not like his music; he would much rather have
pleased them, but he could not betray the principles which he felt were right.
Nor would he allow his own judgement of what he believed to be good music
to be corrupted by the prejudices of the school, which accorded full honours
to Bach and Brahms, tolerated Mozart and dismissed all the rest as worthless.
His analysis of Schumann's 'Traumerei' is a little masterpiece.
In many quarters Berg's music is now considered to be decadent, the end rather
than the beginning of an epoch. Unassuming men are more easily taken for
decadent than fire-eating rowdies. It was said that Berg wanted to 'break
the spell of twelve-note music' by preserving the human element and making
his music an expression of feelings. But Schoenberg himself would not have
disputed that, insisting that twelve-note, like any other music of the preceding
two hundred years, was melodious and expressive. This may later have been
the starting-point of further development and change. With all his unswerving
devotion to his master, Berg was never dogmatic. Neither his 'Lyrische Suite'
nor bYozzeck nor the Violin Concerto nor Lulu slavishly follow the official
recipe. But in his time he was the most successful member of the school and
Wozzeck was its 'prize song'. It was a pity that Berg did not set to music
Gerhart Hauptmann's Und Pippa tanzf, a play full of poetry, fancy and colour.
Gerhart Hauptmann was the greatest living German poet and Berg was advised
that Hauptmann's demand for half the income from the opera was unacceptable.
So this quiet man chose the outmoded sexual atrocities of Wedekind, and Lulu
has never achieved the fame of Wozzeck.
I saw Berg for the last time a few days before Christmas 1935, at the first
performance in Vienna of the symphonic pieces from Lulu. He looked pale and
complained about pains in his leg-'toothache in the wrong place', he called
it. The next morning we went away for a few days in the snow. On Christmas
Day I received a telephone call: Alban Berg is dead. The friendliest light
of the school was gone. Some weeks later Berg's wife, Helene, came to talk
about the work he had left. 'Tonight Alban told me . . .' she began firmly.
The third star was Anton von Webern-he did not care for his particle of nobility,
which dated from the sixteenth century.
Webern was neither eruptive like Schoenberg, nor amiable like Berg, but obdurate,
merciless, unbending, the man who drove the new theory to its most extreme
limits. His works were short and soft, often short and soft to the point
of absurdity, a mere dissonant breath which provided ammunition for all the
wags. At the first performance of his Symphony, Opus 21, under Otto Klemperer
a wave of uncontrollable laughter seized the audience and ambulances had
to be called. But Webern bore it as St Francis bore the stigmata. He never
made any concession. The opportunism of the prophet Schoenberg himself, who
made his entry into the United States with the harmlessly tonal Second Chamber
Symphony, was entirely foreign to him. But despite this rigid orthodoxy he
also lacked the venomous spirit of opposition which distinguished his master.
Webern was a martyr at a time when martyrs were urgently needed but martyrdom
was out of date, a martyr without mercy and without hate, with no consideration
for himself or for others. One could not help feeling some restrained admiration
Webern did not expect any material gain from his compositions and did not,
like his master, ask for large advance payments, although he was certain
that his time would come. He conducted a workmen's choir and workmen's symphony
concerts and gave lessons, to earn the modest living without which, in those
hard times, one could not even be a fanatic. It seemed impossible to find
a proper place for him in this world.
Webern's disregard for his environment was bound to collide fatally with
the world of reality and to result in tragedy. He survived all the adversities
of the time: the occupation of Austria, the war of annihilation against all
new art and finally the shooting war itself And at the very moment when life
seemed to smile on him and when all the obstacles which had hurt him most
of his life were about to disappear a senseless, casual death took him away.
He could hardly have guessed that he would one day be regarded as the purest
spirit of new music.
The Viennese School claimed to be the supreme arbiter of all things musical.
It held the key to the new music, and decreed what was still acceptable of
the old. But, looking back, it is strange that the three great creative men
were surrounded by men of such little significance. In fact, not one of the
original disciples has made any mark on contemporary music.
Among the composers only Hanns Eisler had more than an average talent, but
he was too much distracted by his rabid communism
to create a work of convincing importance and size. Others such as Apostel
or Schloss have never been able to attract any attention and have long since
disappeared. It seemed that they all owed their acceptance by the school
to their devotion and pugnacity rather than to any real merit. And the unanointed
were repelled by the atrociously overbearing behaviour of the guardians or
doorkeepers of the school. Ernst Krenek would have liked to be admitted after
having voluntarily accepted the new teaching-or, as the school would have
put it, having appropriated it without authorization. By doing so he had
disappointed all those who had greeted him as the Mozart of the twentieth
century. It had escaped his many friends that Krenek was a speculative and
philosophical individual who gained little satisfaction from the facility
with which he reeled off his earlier works. His twelve-note opera Karl V,
the second ever written, did not have the blessing of the school. Its failure
could not atone for the cheap world success of his Jonny spielt auf and he
was left to fight and to think for himself.
Likewise Joseph Matthias Hauer was ignored, mainly, I imagine, because he
claimed to have originated twelve-note composition. He was a tragicomic figure
at the periphery of new music, a teacher at a primary school in the Austrian
provinces and a self-taught composer. His simplicity of mind was of Brucknerian
proportions and this made the complexity of his writings and the ugliness
of his music quite inexplicable. But he lacked the quick, sharp wit of Schoenberg
and the guardians of the school, and so he was doomed in advance. Although
Schoenberg himself paid him a half-sarcastic compliment in his treatise on
harmony, the guardians of the school treated him with disdain and derision.
In his own way he was a martyr, too, who knew how to forego the pleasures
of this world and serve his strange god. For the last picture I saw of him
after the war he had grown a beard and looked like a saint on a Greek icon,
unaware of the world around him but sure of his solitary heaven.
The school seemed more efficient in rejecting than in attracting young talent.
One of the best of his generation, Luigi Dallapiccola, had to find his way
to twelve-note music alone and considerably later.
But if the school lacked a younger generation of creative talent which could
make its way in the world, at least it was well provided with publicists.
They were an aggressive, vociferous and arrogant band, proclaiming the
infallibiliiy of the doctrine and the utter worthlessness of every other
way of composing, manning the guns and bolting the doors and creating, quite
unnecessarily, the general atmosphere of a beleaguered camp. I believe it
was their busy theorists and writers who, more than anything or anybody else,
turned the school into a clique.
Erwin Stein held the position of official panegyrist and publicist. His 1924
article on 'New Formal Principles' had among the initiates almost the same
standing as Albert Einstein's first few pages about relativity in physics.
After he emigrated Erwin Stein could not maintain his exclusive loyalty,
and had to find another idol in Benjamin Britten, applying the same exclusivity
which made the unwavering old champions of the school regard him as a renegade.
But at the first performance of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron he suffered
a severe relapse and came back from Zurich convinced that Schoenberg's was
the outstanding work of the century.
In those pre-war days one preferred to turn to writers who lived outside
the inner circle, like H. H. Stuckenschmidt or Rene Leibowitz, who seemed
more reliable and independent and, perhaps, less single-minded.
Music, however new, must be performed-and the school needed performers. And
again it had good, competent performers although none of them were outstanding.
There was the left-handed violinist Rudolf Kolisch and his string quartet.
As far as technical accomplishment and beauty of tone was concerned the Kolisch
Quartet could not compete with the famous quartets of the time, the Rose,
Brussels or Czech quartets and therefore did not have the same appeal to
a wider public. But it was astounding how these four men not only knew the
whole classical and romantic repertoire by heart but also played the music
of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern as if it was the easiest thing on earth.
Similarly the pianist Eduard Steuermann was no more than a competent performer
and thorough musician with no spark of brilliance. He, too, played Schoenberg's
piano music with an amazing matter-of-factness but could seldom convince
his listeners. When he edited Brahms's piano works for me I could see how
his excessively strict theoretical schooling had tended to suppress all
spontaneity and had created problems which unfettered musical instinct solves
without even being aware of them. But competence rather than brilliance was
the watchword of the school, even though it was lost on the public. A combination
of the two such as was demonstrated by the pianist Artur Schnabel, who composed
twelve-note'music in his leisure time but preferred to play Beethoven in
public, was within neither the reach nor the intention of the performers
of the school.
Among conductors Hermann Scherchen was a member of the inner circle. (It
must be realized that in the 1920s it was the conductor who needed courage,
rather than the composer or even a pianist or chamber ensemble playing to
small and rather select audiences. There was still a spark of fire left which
could produce memorable musical battles, and the conductor at the head of
his troops had to bear the brunt of public anger. The three great men of
the school were not very prolific composers and performances were few, but
each time there were brawls and demonstrations. In Vienna, there was one
fair-haired lawyer who made every performance of a work by Schoenberg, Berg
or Webern a dangerous occasion for the rest of the audience because he was
always ready to assault physically anyone who raised so much as an eyebrow
in disagreement.) Hermann Scherchen had both courage and skill, though like
all other performers of the school he was more competent than brilliant In
his later years he seemed to believe less strongly in the ideals of his youth.
When we last met in London he surprised me with a long, derogatory lecture
about the music he had once admired.
Otto Klemperer, though not an inner-circle man, was certainly the most brilliant
interpreter of the new music. I owe to him my first encounter with Mozart's
Don Giovanni in the Old Theatre in Prague, where the first performance of
the work had taken place, and to this day I am grateful to him for that
unforgettable experience. As director and first conductor of the Kroll Opera
in Berlin he was a very important man and a great asset to the school, though
he was widely suspected of performing the new music rather to cause a sensation
than because he believed in it. But it was most impressive to see how, at
that memorable premiere of Webern's Symphony, he conjured up the sparse sounds
from the orchestra with his overlong arms and powerful gestures, unperturbed
by the commotion behind him. Today old age and illness have extinguished
the memories of his youthful adventures, and he has retraced his steps to
But the enduring fame rests, I believe, with Erich Kleiber for his first
performance of Wozzeck in Berlin in 1925, which proved that the work was
both performable-which many people, and especially the coaches at the State
Opera in Berlin, would not believe-and effective in every operatic sense.
Kleiber did not belong to the Viennese School like Scherchen or to any other,
nor did he care for Klemperer's extravagances. He was, therefore, more
trustworthy than the other two, and one had the reassuring feeling that he
conducted the new music not because of its novelty but because he honestly
believed in its excellence. One does not talk of Kleiber in the same breath
as Toscanini or Furtwängler; his performances may not have had the tension
which the other two created when they stepped on to the rostrum. But his
performances, whether of Berg or Mozart, Wagner or Strauss, were both brilliant
and impeccable. He was one of the comparatively few who left Germany without
being forced to do so; the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires and indeed the whole
of South American musical life benefited greatly from his emigration. When
we met again after the war he was reluctant to accept a permanent position,
'At my age I should be free to conduct where and what I like,' he said. But
a sudden death took him away.
After Schoenberg's departure and Berg's death the school was left deserted.
No new light appeared, and when the ranks were decimated by emigration and
the new powers of anti-modernism took possession of what was left they found
little enough to destroy.
Those interested in the theory and technique of twelve-note composition as
invented (or discovered) and practised by Schoenberg can read all about it
in the sizeable literature on the subject. It is difficult reading for the
most part and cannot be usefully undertaken without a good knowledge of the
classical or traditional theory of harmony, counterpoint and musical form.
It will teach the reader how to write music but not how to hear it. In fact
unless he is himself a composer the knowledge of the new compositional technique
will be as useful or useless to him as the study of traditional technique
is for the appreciation of the music of Bach or Beethoven.
For our purpose here it is sufficient to say that, in the first place,
twelve-note music is atonal, having no tonal centre or key. But while atonal
music pure and simple dispensed with all restrictions the rules of twelve-note
music are rigidly strict: stricter than the rules of classical or romantic
music, stricter even than the rules of the polyphonic music of past centuries.
But so it happens often enough in life: revolutions which set out to overthrow
a tyrant have often ended in a new and harsher tyranny. After the Bourbons
came the Terror; after the Tsars came Stalin. Similarly music, after a short
spell of wild freedom, found itself in the straitjacket of an iron discipline.
Once the 'row' of twelve notes-none of which must be repeated-is found or
invented there is a much smaller area of freedom left than composers had
in the nineteenth century when, for instance, Beethoven could write a sonata
movement with five different main subjects or Wagner a continuous 'symphony'
of nearly two hours' duration.
Within the small area of freedom, however, the degree of skill required is
unprecedented in music. Every note and every interval is governed by the
rule of the first 'row', its inversion, its mirror and the inversion of the
The mere listener, however, is seldom aware of the great art which goes into
the writing of what is usually a short piece. Even if the row has a clear
melodic profile, such as the ten-note fugal theme of the twelfth of Bach's
'Forty-Eight', often quoted by the school as a precursor of its own theories,
the lines of this horizontal vertical music soon become confused to the ear.
Theoretically, the progress of a dodecaphonic piece is more Iogical and more
compelling than any sonata movement, but the listener will not easily gain
that impression. For him the piece will usually start hesitantly, continue
without any clear aim and end abruptly. The old notion of a coda rounding
off a piece of music has to be forgotten. Only the careful reader will discover
the complicated formal principles, and it may be said that this discrepancy
between the technical achievement and the acoustic result emphasizes the
distance between composer and listener which, from Schoenberg onwards, becomes
a feature of 'new' music.
The contrast within a single piece which was the great achievement of classical
music, somewhat uncertain in Haydn but fully developed by Mozart and Beethoven,
is also abandoned. On the other hand the listener can hardly fail to hear
the wide intervals and jumps characteristic of this new music. This is not
altogether new. Such wide intervals are found in Fiordiligi's 'Com' un scoglio'
where, some people believe, they are meant as a form of parody, and in Richard
Strauss (for example, in the final section of Don Quixote) where they are
written quite deliberately. But while they are not characteristic of any
composer before Schoenberg they have become another unmistakable property
of his music and of music after him.
It is also remarkable that certain conventional and fundamental requirements
of traditional music have at least been obscured in twelve-note music, in
practice if not in theory.
Every piece of music normally receives its basic character from the speed
or tempo. Of all the uncertainties which surround older music the uncertainty
of the tempo is the most painful. It extends to the music of J. S. Bach.
Dodecaphonic music, strangely, knows only an indeterminate tempo which cannot
easily be described as fast, slow or moderate. Even if the tempo indication
reads 'fast' the flow of audible music is punctuated by so many rests that,
apart from isolated fast phrases or passages, the overall acoustic result
is a moderately slow or moderately fast pace, however fast the beat may be
Besides the speed the rhythm is usually, or traditionally, regarded as the
living pulse of every piece of music. But a healthy pulse, whether in the
musical or the medical sense, requires regularity; it is not simply a sequence
of long and short noises or notes but the repetition of a certain pattern
of long and short noises or notes. There is nothing in the theory of twelve-note
music to prohibit such a regular pulse, but the general ban on repetition
may have led to the avoidance of regular rhythmic patterns. The result is
not rhythmic in the customary sense.
All this is not meant as a criticism of twelve-note music. Its purpose is
to indicate the difference between 'old' and 'new' listening, the fact that
this new music is not merely conveying the traditional meaning by new means.
But the following is an example of what can happen.
When Schoenberg's Violin Concerto had its first European performance in Venice-in
1948, I believe-I did not arrive until the afternoon before the concert.
I sat that evening next to the critic of Stampa, the leading Turin newspaper,
an extremely experienced man with a profound knowledge of every kind of
contemporary music. There was no printed score available, but my friend had
attended three rehearsals while I had come quite unprepared. In the middle
of the performance he whispered to me, 'Do you know, they haven't played
the second movement!' After the performance I asked the conductor, Arthur
Rodzinski, why the movement had not been played, but he assured me that not
one single bar had been cut. True, the three movements of the Concerto are
linked together without a break and the second is, perhaps optimistically,
marked andante grazioso. But a mistake such as occurred with my experienced
friend indicates the difficulties of the listener when confronted with an
apparent uniformity of tempo and rhythm. Later, when I was able to study
the printed score, I discovered a certain march-like character in the last
movement, but I must confess that I could not hear it in the actual performance.
I have said that twelve-note music does not convey old meanings by new means,
but this cannot be so easily applied to the music of Schoenberg and Alban
Berg. Schoenberg, the teacher and guiding light of the school, insisted on
the old function and purpose of music-that it should be an expression of
feeling, laugh or weep, be tranquil or excited, in fact have all the properties
which music had acquired in the preceding two hundred and fifty years. This
was somewhat contradictory. Was it possible, with a new way of musical thinking,
to preserve the essential character of traditional music? Schoenberg certainly
revolutionized music, and revolutions usually have new objectives and no
rules, but Schonberg's revolution had new rules but no new objective. Only
Webern had the courage to face all the consequences of the new teaching.
There is no remnant of the 'traditional' in his music or in its intention.
His music does not mean what music before him meant.
But the 'meaning' of music is and always was a mystery. Professional criticism
could do little with the anarchy of atonality. It could accept or reject
it; like all anarchy, it was a matter of blind belief or blind objection.
Schoenberg offered a thoroughly considered code of new laws that could readily
be debated. Criticism then centred round the argument that diatonic music
and its degenerate offspring enharmonic music had a psychological foundation
in human nature. With greater assiduity than ever before music was not only
compared with language but was even defined as one, one which developed according
to its own laws; Schoenberg was reproached with having invented a musical
Esperanto which could never replace the 'natural' musical language.
But music and language are two different things, and a comparison, let alone
an analogy, between them must fail. Music lacks the most elementary requirement
of any language: vocabulary. Though it is true that within a certain style
and period certain turns have the same effect on the listener, such effects
have changed almost before our eyes. The minor mode, for instance, was unknown
to modal music and had no specific 'meaning' in that of J. S. Bach. But in
classical and, still more, romantic music it became the expression of grief,
despair, pain, sadness, although even this 'meaning' is not as inflexible
as the meaning of words. Such sad pieces as Orpheus's lament over the loss
of Eurydice or Constanza's 'Ach, ich liebte' in Mozart's Entfuhrung are in
major mode. Twelve-note music has done away with major and minor modes and,
therefore, with whatever meaning they had. But it has firm rules, and if
one pursues the comparison with a language one arrives only at the absurd
conclusion that music is a language with a grammar but no vocabulary.
The reproach of artificiality was not therefore well founded. Twelve-note
music is no more arbitrary or unnatural than any other musical form. The
old forms of sonata, rondo or song, too, were invented rather than revealed.
But the new fundamental element of this new music, and one which strikes
the unbiased listener, is the avoidance of consonance and the merciless
insistence on dissonance. All that the more modest music-lover needs to realize
is that new and categorical rules have utterly destroyed all consonance and
created a system of dissonance in keeping with the spirit of the times.
Consonance being thus prohibited, with a kind of religious fanaticism, dissonance
assumes a legitimate place in music and in life. It no longer serves as a
contrast or warning, as it did with Beethoven or even with Richard Strauss
and Debussy. Freed from anarchy as well as from bad conscience, it is the
ruling principle of new music and modern life. This has been the purpose
of every musical theory since its very beginning; and theory has always been
as liberal or as authoritarian as the time that produces it. There is nothing
in twelve-note theory which violates the pattern of the past. However one
may like or dislike its practical results, the principle was unquestionably
right. It was wrong only when it claimed that the 'tonal' system was exhausted.
It was not the old system that was exhausted but the mind. The public could
still enjoy the 'beautiful' music of a lingering past but composers could
no longer supply it.