Gould, Menuhin, and Schoenberg

Here is a great 2 part youtube video.

The second part is a performance of Schoenberg’s Fantasie Op.47 :

Part one features a great discussion between Glen Gould and Yehudi Menuhin about Schoenberg’s Fantasie Op.47 for violin and piano. Gould speaks about Schoenberg’s love of instruments and tone color, but Menuhin points out that although timbre and special violin techniques are important for this piece. the actual sequence of notes is mostly determined by Schoenberg’s reliance on a twelve tone row and not on the way the notes “fall” on the violin. Menuhin describes the violin writing as “curiously clumsy”.

They point out that Schoenberg wrote the violin melody first and the piano interpolations were added later.

They discuss the importance of silences in the piece. Menuhin points out that 12 tone music has a certain monotony due to the lack of clear harmonic language. The contrasts created by dissonance and resolution and movement between tonalities are missing from this linear, percussive music so Schoenberg must use silences, extreme range in the melody, and extreme dynamic contrast as a way of creating contrasting parts of a whole and as a way for the listener to be oriented in the piece. This is the gist of Menuhin’s argument, althought I’m putting some words in his mouth.

Gould flat out asks Menuhin why he doesn’t like Schoenberg and Menuhin doesn’t contradict that fact but replies that he is comfortable playing the piece because of Gould’s expertise.

Menuhin states his major objection to Schoenberg: the music is all gesture without content-as if watching a Shakespeare play without any meaningful language but with a sequence of movements and gestures that would be normally associated with the content, actually inseparably fused with the drama, but these gestures are severed and nothing is left of the language but meaningless syllables. Menuhin sees Schoenberg’s music as an artistic “cleanser”, its only purpose is to rid the field of Wagnerian excess and provide a clean slate for the music of the future.

But Gould senses something real in this music, something of the Old Testament Father God which inhabited the being of Schoenberg.

(My opinion)-Perhaps this music does work better as accompaniment to drama- where the drama can replace the old harmonic language as a means to carry the listener through a succession of sound events. Without a text, the listener must bring a completion and a form to this music through her/his own inner conceptions. In its very austerity, this music serves to awaken new capabilities if we strive to bring new thinking and listening to the experience and not rely on all of the experience of music that we have had in the past.

Here’s the discussion:

I find this piece and performance utterly fantastic. The key to listening is to follow the melody-there is a coherent thought in the melody. I believe the difficulty of this piece arises from its content not its incomprehensibility-the piece verges on the unbearable because it is a freaking nightmare, not because it cannot be understood. It explores the most frightening aspects of human existence.


3 Responses to “Gould, Menuhin, and Schoenberg”

  1. Little Hill of Horrors « countercritic Says:

    […] some perspective, here’s a link to a sweet-ass post on Moon Chalice (is that right?) , with some You-Tube of Glen Gould and Yehudi Menuhin playing […]

  2. Arnold Schoenberg and Mozart « Klogger Says:

    […] Also, I think the influence of sonata and Mozart makes this piece of Schoenberg much more comprehensible and potentially popular than the Fantasy Opus 47 (discussed below). […]

  3. ken d Says:

    From the author of the post:

    I still love this piece one year later despite its morbidity but what I find really cool is that Gould plays this from memory as if it was the most natural music in the world.

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