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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Die Prinzessin and Afrika – Children’s stories - written and spoken by Arnold Schoenberg
With spoken memories of Schoenberg’s children: Nuria, Ronald and Lawrence.
Music by Arnold Schoenberg in historical and new recordings.
Speakers: Arnold Schoenberg, Nono Schoenberg, Nuria Schoenberg, Ronald Schoenberg, Lawrence Schoenberg, Mirjam Wiesemann, Tara Weismann, Romeo Merz, Lorenzo Liebetanz
New recordings
Verklärte Nacht op. 4 (1899); Streichquartett Nr.3 op. 30 (1927); Die Eiserne Brigade (1916); Nullele Pullele variationen (1934):
DoelenKwartet; Anne Huser (viola II), Floris Mijnders (cello II), Maarten van Veen (piano)
Kammersinfonie Nr.1 op. 9: members of the Philharmonisches Orchester der Hansestadt Lübeck/Roman Brogli-Sacher
Historic Recordings
Suite op. 25 (1921/23): Niels Viggo Bentzon (piano)
Suite op. 29 (1925): Gustave Plaquet (clarinet), Marcel Jean (clarinet), Andre Dupont (bass clarinet), Henri Bronschwak (violin), André Focheux (viola), Jacques Neilz (cello), Jean Manchon-Theis (piano), Max Deutsch (conductor)
Streichquartett Nr.3 op. 30: Kolisch String quartet
Trio op. 45 (1946): Koldofsky Trio

Experience Classicsonline

As a release directed towards children this is quite a serious prospect, even for those over the age of 12 as indicated, and for those whom German is their mother tongue. Entirely in spoken German, and with booklet notes and texts also entirely in German, this release would seem to have a limited interest for a wider market. This would be something of an injustice however, as there is a good deal of fascinating and historically vital material included, and some superb performances of Schoenberg’s music. Indeed, recognition for the qualities of this release have already been obtained via the Leopold ‘Gute Musik für Kinder’ Media Award 2009/2010 from the Association of German Music Schools, and the Echo Deutscher Musikpreis Klassik 2009.
Cybele’s audio books go right to the source, and this disc contains rare recorded material from the Schoenberg family’s own collection. There is the original voice of Arnold Schoenberg reading both main texts, coming across a little roughly through the low-tech but effective means of a Webster wire recorder illustrated in the booklet. There are also spoken memories of his children Nuria, Ronald and Lawrence made by Cybele in 2007, and music by Arnold Schoenberg in both historic and new recordings. My German isn’t up to following everything in detail, but Schoenberg reads his fairy tale Die Prinzessin with plenty of expression and dramatic content. On the evidence of this it sounds as if he would have been quite fun as a father. For those who would prefer a more modern recording, the story is also dramatised with well acted childrens’ voices, and bits of Schoenberg’s music interlaced to come up with something akin to a sort of mini ‘Peter and the Wolf’, with a sort of wolf, but without the explicit leitmotifs. The story is that of a bad-tempered princess and her scatter-brained servant Wolf. One afternoon the princess is playing tennis with the countess and hurts her knee. Having taken to her bed, she asks Wolf to fetch a hot water bottle. Wolf takes forever and when he finally returns there’s no bottle because he couldn’t decide whether to bring the blue or the brown one. Will the princess ever recover?
Ronald or Ronny Schoenberg’s German is spoken with a hefty American accent, and to a lesser extent this also applies to Lawrence. This is something which, once acquired, one never loses as I know from Americans and Canadians who have become naturalised in The Netherlands, but still speak the language with a distinctive and instantly recognisable twang. The other significant text is Afrika, also delivered by Schoenberg and again followed by a more up to date version with children’s voices in full SACD glory.
Of the musical extracts, the opening pre-1950 recording of the piano Suite Op.25 is particularly impressive, showing Niels Viggo Bentzon’s prowess as a powerful performer as well as a stunningly inventive composer. Another fascinating moment is the world premiere recording of Schoenberg’s string quartet fragment Nullele Pullele from 1934, a jolly and romantic little number which has no perceptible connection with 12-tone composition. The memories of Schoenberg’s three children make for intriguing listening, and as with all of these audio books such extra information gives us a much rounder picture of the composer as a real person rather than a set of facts and historically significant anecdotes in a book. The memories cover the inevitably sometimes mundane and often humorous recollections of past events from a remarkable family: learning musical instruments, travels, school, cars, death. The reminiscences are interspersed with commentaries which put some of the family members’ words into context, and once you’ve tuned in to the pattern of the programme the whole thing has a well considered and effectively paced structure.
As ever with this kind of Cybele production, the whole is very much equal to the sum of its parts, and its parts are essential listening for true Schoenberg scholars. It’s certainly not ‘too good for children’, but I can imagine some being initially a bit put off by the ‘horror’ feel of some of the old recordings - a disembodied and distorted voice coming at you from the past. This isn’t a CD you would particularly buy for the musical content, as the pieces are very much present in the service of the texts and aren’t rendered uninterrupted. As yet another fascinating narrative document and historical artefact however this is indeed a reference library essential, and a handy little lesson in the German language at the same time.
Dominy Clements



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