Arnold Schoenberg and Mozart

The difficulty in relating Schoenberg and Sibelius is small in comparison with the interesting task of finding the roots of Schoenberg in the music of Mozart. Luckily, The Arnold Schoenberg Center has a film that attempts to do just that:

Much of this is based on Schoenberg’s own words. The video states that Schoenberg was most influenced by Mozart in his quartet writing. Also Schoenberg’s decision to compose without an instrument was inspired by Mozart’s same ability.

The video shows Schoenberg’s draft of his 4th String Quartet. Apparently he would write a “tonal guide” at the top of the score. This guide was a linear sequence of notes, perhaps an elaborated row, which would determine the four parts of the quartet. The video uses a piano to demonstrate the linear guide and then plays parts of the quartet to show what Schoenberg derived from this linear guide.

Without an instrument, the question arises whether Schoenberg heard this music in his head or whether he was composing totally by satisfying the abstract principles of his technique? Was his ear ever his guide? Sometimes music that seems perfect on paper and utterly logical turns out not satisfy the ear. Perhaps Schoenberg thought that his ear would bypass the intellectual dictates of his technique. The ear can be prejudiced. It may have a more favorable opinion of music that reminds us of something that we previously heard.

This may be why the listener has to work hard to find the conceptual apparatus to comprehend this music. With “emancipation of dissonance” all moments of the piece register at extreme intensity. All is climax in a way. Its interesting how Schoenberg tries to impose dramatic forms back upon this extreme intensity by working with the symphonic sonata forms of Mozart. He seemed to be fascinated with false recapitulations, but how can one impose a form which was derived from tonality, derived from tonal material, upon material that is atonal? Shouldn’t the atonal material generate its own forms?

I believe most would agree that Schoenberg met his own 2 criteria for composition:

  1. A sense of balance
  2. A belief in the logic of his composition.

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).


One Response to “Arnold Schoenberg and Mozart”

  1. john gibbons Says:

    Schoenberg, like any composer worthy of the name, absolutely heard his music in his head. That’s not necessarily a big accomplishment for a trained musician, but given the complexity of Schoenberg’s music, it is indeed pretty impressive.

    As you know, Schoenberg went to great effort to justify his music in terms laid down by the classical and romantic masters. Mozart, but especially Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler. As for his music being ‘intellectual” in orientation, I refer the reader to his magnificent essay “Heart and Brain in Music”.

    Right you are when you say that atonal music should generate its own forms. It certainly does in “Erwartung”, “Five Pieces for Orchestra” and others. The dodecaphonic discovery was an attempt to accommodate atonal music with classic forms; forms which Schoenberg was convinced were necessary to create large structures. On another topic, I’d like to suggest that Schoenberg was more of a contrapuntalist than a harmonist, believe it or not. I’m very glad, Ken, that you’re paying attention to this great, great composer. Too few nowadays recognize, not just his importance, but his deeply emotionally satisfying greatness.

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