05 July 2010

Return to Arnold

Some years ago, I totally chanced upon the Craft/Schoenberg series on Koch, remaindered at BRO. (Chanced, because I actually only surf their site irregularly.) I fetched them in greedily . . . not that I was such an enthusiast for Schoenberg at the time. In fact, at that point I had been rather cool to Schoenberg for some years. But I had reached a point where I was curious at least to hear many of the pieces which I still knew only by name; and the fact remains that I was besotted with (to name but two examples) Pierrot Lunaire when I was first exposed to it as an undergraduate, and with the Serenade Opus 24 when I chanced on a CD with it, while I was in Buffalo. Mentally, I knew that my then-coolness might well be a whimsical phase (no matter how long a period it had chilled), and I allowed myself to recall viscerally that there was a time when I was unqualifiedly enthusiastic about the music.

Now, if I had waited a short-ish time, I probably could have fetched all (or, most of) these recordings as Naxos re-issues. I haven't done the math — I might or might not have saved a smallish bit of money by waiting. But (what I could not necessarily have foreseen) I benefited from the Koch reel-in, because (and the same fact applies to the Craft/Stravinsky Koch remainders which similarly I fetched from BRO) Craft’s liner notes are extensive, to a degree which tests the physical capacity of the jewel-cases: Vol III of The Music of Arnold Schoenberg (released in 1999) has a booklet which is 36 pages, not including cover.

Before discussion of the pieces on Vol III themselves, Craft writes a preface, Remembering Schoenberg. I reproduce just two paragraphs from this:

To this day I wonder why I did not attempt to arrange a meeting between the two titans of modern music, but it can only be that I realized that Stravinsky was not ready for it. With the exception of Verklärte Nacht, in its ballet form as Pillar of Fire [! ~kh], he began to learn Schoenberg’s music only after the older man's death. How different the situation would have been a year and a half later, when Stravinsky would have gone to him, addressed him as “Meister,” reminisced with him about Berlin in 1912, and thanked him for presenting the original instrumental versions of Pribaoutki and Berceuses du Chat, and the 4-hand and string quartet pieces, in his Vienna Society For Private Performances in 1919.

In truth, the thought that a meeting could have been effected between the two men, who had lived only a few miles for eleven years but never communicated, still disturbs me. Schoenberg’s biographer, H. H. Stuckenschmidt, describes Stravinsky during a visit to him in April 1949 “warmly” asking about “the great old man,” and it was known then that Schoenberg had protested against the abuse of Stravinsky by RenĂ© Leibowitz and Theodor Adorno. In the autumn of 1949 Stravinsky was in the Los Angeles audience that heard Schoenberg deliver an ironic acceptance speech to the Austrian Consul-General for bestowing the “Freedom of the City of Vienna” on him. I was in New York at the time, and when I returned Stravinsky sympathetically described the occasion to me, of Schoenberg, whose eyesight had begun to fail, reading from a clutch of papers, each containing only a few words written in large letters.

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