Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Concerto Guide: Schoenberg, Violin Concerto, op 36

One year after the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg, his erstwhile teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, wrote his one and only violin concerto in 1936. Schoenberg was living in Los Angeles by this point, forced to flee Nazi Germany due to his Jewish ancestry. He and Berg had been in frequent contact by mail, of course, though it is unlikely Schoenberg had heard Berg's concerto, or even seen the score. Berg passed away in December of 1935, soon after completing his concerto. The Violin Concerto by Schoenberg was premiered in December 1940 by Louis Krasner, the same violinist who commissioned and premiered the Berg concerto.

Instead of redoing my discussion of this piece, I am going to send you to a fairly lengthy post I did on it last year:

I have a feeling that this series will not be able to continue too much longer, simply because, due to copyright restrictions, I do not have easy access to the scores and without those, my comments would tend to the superficial. Some pieces I would like to cover are the Ebony Concerto by Stravinsky, the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich, the Clarinet Concerto by Copland and so on. But I don't have access to those scores. So I might do a few posts just touching on a few concertos and leave it at that. I would like to comment on the concertos by Philip Glass, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Thomas Ad├Ęs, for example, but without the scores, I can't delve too deeply. I might do a post on guitar concertos as I have played quite a few of them. But this lengthy series of posts is coming to an end, so if you have any suggestions as to a good theme for a new series, just leave them in the comments.

In the post I linked above, the clip is of Hilary Hahn playing the Schoenberg concerto, which is a really wonderful performance. Here is an interesting little clip where Arnold Schoenberg's grandson asks Hilary Hahn the same questions that his grandfather asked Louis Krasner when he was performing it.


Rickard Dahl said...

Well, the first movement is not so enjoyable but I think the second movement is pretty good. The third movement is the best movement since it taps into the rhythmic aspect to a higher degree.

Interesting to see Arnold Schoenberg's grandson. He looks quite similar to Arnold actually. Also nice initiative by Hahn to talk with Randy.

It's interesting to see what happens to children (and grandchildren) of famous composers. It seems that most often they don't live up to the standards set by their fathers (or grandfathers). Of course J.S. Bach's sons (the famous ones) became great composers (although not as great as J.S. Bach himself). Of course there's the case of Leopold Mozart. His son became the far superior composer. W.A. Mozart himself had two kids that lived to adulthood. Karl Thomas Mozart became a gifted pianist but never composed anything, instead he ended up working as "an official in the service of the Austrian financial administration and the governmental accounting department in Milan." Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart on the other hand did compose but nowhere close in number as his father. One interesting thing to note is that "He constantly underrated his talent and feared that whatever he produced would be compared with what his father had done." That may be one of the reasons why children to great people often don't accomplish anything as great, their accomplishments would always be compared to their parent/s and they would hav a lot to live up to.

In the case of Arnold Schoenberg: His son Georg Schoenberg actually did compose to some extent. This Word document briefly describes Georg Schoenberg's life: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB4QFjAAahUKEwiyhuCilaTHAhUlk3IKHVFcBWk&url=http%3A%2F%2Fschoenbergseuropeanfamily.org%2FAS3_Assets%2FDownloads%2FGS_LifeInBrief.doc&ei=XY_LVfLjLKWmygPRuJXIBg&usg=AFQjCNHHqemLuODw6x2LGgchLPddU2-Vgg&sig2=B3TAMinhXD7aA02GybxuRA&bvm=bv.99804247,d.bGQ&cad=rja And as for Randy Schoenberg: He's a lawyer with a legal career of recovering art works that were stolen by the Nazis. A recent (2015) movie called Woman in Gold was made depicting one of his legal cases, specifically: "Schoenberg is widely known as one of the central figures of the 2015 film, Woman in Gold, which depicted the case of Maria Altmann against the government of Austria. Schoenberg is portrayed by Ryan Reynolds." Well, it's a great thing that he's doing but he's not composing. An interesting example outside of music is that Albert Einstein had three children, two of which lived to adulthood. Neither of them accomplished anything remotely close to what Albert achieved (although did become an engineer and is somewhat known (in the right circles I suppose) for his research on sediment transport).

Rickard Dahl said...

The point is that children is not the best guaranteed legacy. After there are many great composers for instance that never had children but their names are (well) known to this day. The achievements of great people tend to be their legacies. Another interesting thing to note is that the best genetics are not always transferred anyways. For instance none of Bach's famous sons (while great composers themselves) reached the same level as J.S. Bach. Maybe it's a good idea to preserve the genetics of geniuses despite that. It will be interesting to see what the advancements in genetic research will lead us to. Of course there's environmental factors to account for too. The children of great people are overshadowed by the achievements of their parent/s (as mentioned above). They have a lot to live up to. Maybe the circumstances aren't right for the proper education but I believe that in most cases it's better circumstances than the parent/s had. But the question is how the excellence of the parent/s can be instilled in the children. It's an interesting question since it seems to fail most times. If I remember correctly there was a Greek philosopher that pointed out this problem (i.e. that excellence is rarely passed on). Another interesting aspect to take into account is that in the past (before modern medicine) many children died (very) early. What if the children that died actually had the best genetics for music for instance? What if for instance one of J.S. Bach's sons who died early on actually had the potential to become as great as J.S. Bach?

Too bad you can't really continue the concerto series much further. As for suggestions: - Great/interesting pieces for plucked string instruments such as lute, mandolin and guitar. It's your area of expertise after all. - Another idea is that you cover one dance genre per week starting with the old forms such as Basse Danse or Branle and provide brief descriptions of the genres (what makes them unique) and some examples to listen to/score examples. - Of course a big genre to cover are string quartets. The drawback (if it can be called that) is that it only covers the classical period onwards but of course there are still a lot of string quartets that can be part of the series.

Rickard Dahl said...

The first sentence of the second comment should be: "The point is that children are not always the best guaranteed legacy."

Rickard Dahl said...

Another error I made, it should be like this with regards to Hans Albert Einstein: "Neither of them accomplished anything remotely close to what Albert achieved (although Hans Albert Einstein did become an engineer and is somewhat known (in the right circles I suppose) for his research on sediment transport).

Bryan Townsend said...

Fascinating comments on the idea of one's legacy. It is sometimes proposed that genetics are responsible for 50% of one's capacity and environment for the other 50%--the "nature vs nurture" controversy. Looking at history, it seems that it is unfortunate to either have parents who have no stature artistically, because in that case you will have little or no nurture in the arts, or to have a parent that is of too great a stature like Bach, because you will always be overshadowed by them. But great, or even outstanding, composers are so rare that the statistics are probably meaningless. The Bach family, going back many generations, is probably the greatest musical dynasty in all of history. There are no other composers, for example, who had three sons who were all also prominent composers (if not of their father's stature).

Thanks for those ideas about themes for future posts. I'm sure I will use some of them. A series on plucked instruments would be good and one on instrumental genres and forms as well.