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The Viennese School - Teachers and Followers: Alban Berg
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Sonata, Op. 1 (1907/9) [12:28]
Variations from ‘Lulu’ (arr. piano 4 hands, Hans Erich Apostel) (1935) [3:03]*
Hans Erich APOSTEL (1901-1972)
Kubiniana - Ten Pieces after Drawings by Alfred Kubin, Op. 13 (1946) [15:17]
Fritz Heinrich KLEIN (pseudonym Heautontimorumenus) (1892-1972)
Die Maschine – Eine extonale Selbsatire, Op. 1 (1921) [11:28]*
Andante rubato (1929) [4:59]
Zehn extonale Klavierstücke, Op.4 (1922) [17:05]
Theodor ADORNO (1903-1969)
Three Short Piano Pieces (1934-45) [3:00]
Piano Piece (1921) [4:47]
Steffen Schleiermacher (piano); * with Markus Zugehör
rec. 15-16 November 2006, Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen. DDD
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 613 1475-2 [73:14]
Experience Classicsonline


In an MDG series devoted to music by Schoenberg and pupils, and Webern and pupils respectively, this disc continues the sequence linking Second Viennese School composers and their disciples. The one accepted masterwork here, Berg’s Sonata, is given a strong, muscular performance. Mitsuko Uchida, among my personal favourites, finds more subtlety, nuance and beauty. By comparison, Schleiermacher occasionally sounds a little percussive or clangorous. Maria Yudina’s Melodiya recording – to select another comparison – could hardly be described as beautiful, but her extraordinary performance, bold, turbulent and highly individual, definitely belongs in the “essential” category. Nevertheless, Schleiermacher, a 20th-century specialist, sounds completely at home in this repertoire.
 
The remaining composers on the disc are all peripheral figures, never likely to enjoy the belated elevation in status accorded to Schreker, Korngold and Zemlinsky.
 
Few of the major composers have also proved to be great teachers - Schoenberg and Messiaen spring to mind – and many of them taught merely to help earn a living. So, one might well (ungenerously) ask why Dabringhaus und Grimm did not restrict themselves to the vastly influential Schoenberg. Perhaps the principal justification for extending the theme to Berg’s pupils is the historical importance of Fritz Heinrich Klein, three of whose compositions are included on this disc. 
 
Apostel studied with Schoenberg before becoming Berg’s pupil in 1925. His Kubiniana grew from an original collection of sixty miniatures based on pencil drawings published in 1943 by his close friend, the artist Alfred Kubin. These miniatures remained unpublished, but from this reservoir of musical material Apostel produced the ten pieces grouped as Op. 13. Direct connections with specific drawings no longer exist, but nevertheless these aphoristic miniatures – including simple or grotesque marches and strange musings - do conjure up images. They range from 33 seconds to 2:35 in duration. I am not convinced that less means more in every case, some pieces being diffuse rather than concentrated.
 
For me it is Klein, who became a Berg pupil after a year with Schoenberg, who provides the most interesting music here after the Berg Sonata. Yet, according to Schleiermacher, virtually nothing of Klein’s “extensive musical oeuvre” has been published, performed or recorded. Klein prepared piano reductions of both Wozzeck and Berg’s Chamber Concerto. He also experimented with twelve-tone rows and twelve-tone chords and in 1923 presented to Berg his Mutterakkord, containing all twelve tones but also every possible interval. Berg himself based parts of four of his works on this chord, a borrowing which he freely acknowledged. Klein himself had already used the Mutterakkord in the four-hand piece Die Maschine. Its original version for chamber ensemble was rejected by Schoenberg for his Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen. Klein himself paid for publication of the four-hand piece – under the pseudonym Heautontimorumenus (Self-Tormentor) - in 1923, making this the very first twelve-note composition to be printed. Apparently, Klein was a little uncomfortable with this historical fact and hid behind satire, writing on the score “Is this sublime or ridiculous?” Schleiermacher suggests that the piece could represent either self-parody, or gentle mocking of Schoenberg’s overbearing manner. Towards the end of the piece, which is obsessive and really quite fun in a mad sort of way, I was reminded – implausibly - of Shostakovich. Most of the Ten extonal Piano Pieces of 1922 - Klein preferred “extonal” to atonal - seem to me a little deeper than Apostel’s miniatures, clearly more fascinating and evocative. 
 
Adorno, best known as sociologist, philosopher and musicologist (strongly anti-Stravinsky), wrote analyses or introductory notes to many of Berg’s works. Even Schleiermacher, in his very informative notes, is quick to play down his compositional achievements, accusing him of epigonism. Of the Three Short Piano Pieces, not grouped as such by the composer, the last, of 24 seconds’ duration, is easily the most powerful and memorable. The Piano Piece of 1921 – omitted from the listing on the CD box – is dull. However, collectors keen to acquire what little Adorno is available - some works for string quartet have appeared on CPO – will probably snap up this token offering.
 
To sum up, I would expect this disc to appeal to avid collectors of the Second Viennese School and all its offshoots. The more general purchaser with adventurous taste will not find neglected masterpieces here, but 15 minutes of Berg + 35 minutes of Klein may amount to just enough of a temptation.
 
Philip Borg-Wheeler
 



 


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