February 2014

How is Arnold Schoenberg connected to Santa Fe Pro Musica’s presentation of Debussy, Mahler & Shostakovich?

A Blip in Time: Schoenberg’s Verein

Photo of Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, believed to be taken in 1948 (Photo by  Florence Homolka)

Photo of Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, believed to be taken in 1948 (Photo by Florence Homolka)

Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) is probably best known for his twelve-tone serial style of composition. Although this is an interesting (and controversial) point in the history of composition and music theory, it wasn’t the only accomplishment of Schoenberg’s musical career. In his time, Schoenberg was a champion of new music. Today, we hardly consider the works of Debussy and Mahler to be “new music”, but in Schoenberg’s time, they found a safe haven in Schoenberg’s creation The Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen).

In 1918, Schoenberg and a circle of his students and friends founded the Society for Private Musical Performances with the intention of carefully rehearsing and performing modern music for the “genuinely interested” music public. Only those who had joined the organization were admitted to the events: the purpose was to exclude “sensation-seeking” members of the Viennese public (who would attend concerts with the express goal of whistling derisively at modern works) as well as keep out hostile critics who would attack such music in their publications. A sign on the door read, “Kritikern ist der Eintritt verboten” (Critics are forbidden entry), and applause was not permitted after the performance of any work on the program. Music needing more than one hearing to be understood was repeated in the same or at subsequent concerts (or perhaps at an “open rehearsal”).

In its brief life span (1918-1921), the Society gave 353 performances in 117 concerts presenting 154 works, closing its doors as a result of Austrian hyperinflation.

The Legacy of the Society

Before recording technologies made access to music limitless, experiencing music was limited to live performance. A true challenge was regularly enjoying large-scaled modern works for orchestra. Considering that the 19th century trend in symphonic music required large numbers of musicians, the Society transcribed its musical offerings for a small ensemble, thereby cutting costs and increasing flexibility.

Today, many of the Society’s arrangements are still performed. The Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra, Thomas O’Connor, conductor, will be performing Erwin Stein’s arrangement of Debussy’s iconic Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer (joined by the lovely Deborah Domanski, mezzo-soprano) in its March concert set Debussy, Mahler & Shostakovich. We invite you to experience these musical and historical gems while, perhaps, imagining yourself to be among Vienna’s music-loving elite.

Wasserpark im Überschwemmungsgebiet der Donau in Floridsdorf in Wien, um 1920 (Vienna c.1920, souce: Wikimedia Commons)

Wasserpark im Überschwemmungsgebiet der Donau in Floridsdorf in Wien, um 1920 (Vienna c.1920, souce: Wikimedia Commons)

Tickets: 505.988.1234, 505.988.4640, www.santafepromusica.com

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Sources

Wikipedia:

Walter Szmolyan, ‘Schönbergs Wiener Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen’; Ivan Vojtech, ‘Der Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen in Prag’ – both in Ernst Hilmar, ed. Arnold Schönberg Gedenkausstellung (Vienna, 1974)

Schönbergs Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen. Musik-Konzepte 36 (Munich 1984)

More Reading

https://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/education/schoenberg.html

https://www.classical-music.com/topic/arnold-schoenberg

© Santa Fe Pro Musica 2014

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