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Good evening. Tonight we have reached in this chronological series tracing the development of contemporary music. That point at which we encounter the 12 tone system of Arnold Schoenberg. My regular listeners will be aware of the fact that we have not heard any sure and read music on this series for many months. This obviously for the twofold reason that Schoenberg's last work before the Opus 23 we shall hear tonight and the unrecorded Opus 22 was composed in 1912. The work being that worth being people in there and therefore in my chronological approach to this program. The 11 year gap between the two works took me many months to cover. What was Schanberg doing doing during those 11 years. Well among other things he became very active in teaching both in Berlin and Vienna. He also served two years in the Austrian army. But more significantly a good part of those years especially the latter part was spent in trying to evolve a method
by which order and systematic logic could be restored to a music which was seriously in danger of losing these qualities by virtue of the destruction of the triadic tonal functions which had govern music since the 17th century. The result of Schoenberg search was the 12 tone system or as he called it the 12 tone method of composing. And it was first applied in a rudimentary way in his five piano pieces of his 23 which we shall hear shortly. Sometimes in recent years I have had optimistic moments where I've felt that the inane controversy over the 12 tone system by the majority of established musical authorities that the contentious juxtaposition of Stravinsky insurer and Berg was finally being laid to rest for ever. But I am now convinced that my optimism was premature. For I see that the old battles are still being fought albeit in somewhat more muted and cautious
terms. Two hosts of people who consider themselves musically enlightened the term 12th home system still has all sorts of connoting implications as if a method or a system could by itself provide qualitative standards. No system either guarantees a priori the greatness of a work of art nor does it inherently prevents such greatness. I will say now categorically that a 12 tone system does not differ from other systems in this respect. Be that good pieces are written with this method in exactly the same proportion to bad pieces as in any other system style or school. Both past and present certain exceptionally rich historical periods notwithstanding. And see that any composer who is a slave to the 12 tone system or any other system for that matter who is not its master in a creative way is not worth discussing in any case. Now certain people
will immediately say Well sure he's 12 tone composers So naturally he's got to defend the faith. Maybe so. I would however in all modesty point to the catalyst of approach to this program. To what I consider to be at least a sincere attempt successful or not is for others to judge to give as all inclusive and objective and appraisal of contemporary music as is possible at the very least. I like to think that a man who can get and soused about a scribe in Piano Sonata Stravinsky neo classic work like the octet. We see a masterpiece a loosely organized work the early pieces of metal and so many of the other non add tonal works I have featured consistently on this series. Such a man cannot be whatever else he may be a rabid £12 propagandist. If I speak about the 12 tone system tonight and on later programs with enthusiasm and sympathy it is not
to sell anybody the 12 tone system. It is simply to try for the emptiness time to dispel some of the ridiculous misunderstandings that are still current regarding this compositional approach. And thereby perhaps reveal to someone in my listening audience some of the validity if you will. Some of the musical beauties contained in the best 12 tone music. I could put it another way. I wish to serve. I do not wish to promote ourselves something good music has never needed much promotion in that sense and bad music I'm afraid cannot be promoted. Not for long anyway. It is also apparent that if a piece of music by itself cannot convince a listener. Certainly words about that music can accomplish even less. Well all of that by way of introducing the old bugaboo himself the 12 tone system. What is it. What is this musical concept that strikes terror in the hearts of most American
audiences. Well it is simply a means of organizing the 12 notes of our Western chromatic tempered scale into a certain linear pattern or series or set which pattern then governs all pitch relationships in the projected piece. Much the same way that the implied order of a key center and the resultant strict hierarchy of tonal relationships governed earlier music. With these technical means the composer who uses the 12 tone system is still trying to do the same things that any other composer has ever trying to do to express himself by organizing these musical materials in a logical and expressive way. If that sounds familiar it was meant to do so. And if the listener who rejects a certain contemporary work before he understands it or rejects it because it is 12 tone. The problem is strictly with himself and not the composer. Well if this is all that the 12 tone
system means and if this is all it attempts to achieve that is no more and no less than that which any other composer might attempt. Why is there such a resistance to music conceived by these means. Well there are obviously a great number of answers to that question. But perhaps the two most important ones although least discussed ones might be one that if X doesn't like the 12 tone music of y I would be willing to bet that X would also dislike y as music if he did not write in the 12 tone system to state it another way. When people say as they do so often they don't mind. There is music but they simply hate sure and rigs. They are really saying something about the human and musical personalities of these two men not about the techniques they used and such stylistic differences which show up no matter what system the composers chose to compose with. The second reason is that 12 tone music by its very nature is tonal.
And this is logical for it's sure and great discover the 12 tone system in order to specifically bring order into the new at tonal language. It seems ridiculous to attempt the creation of tonal art triadic music with a 12 tone system for which obviously the old methods are much more valid. However that being the case I find that what many people dislike about 12 tone music is not its 12 tone and this after all what do most people know about the real nature of this technique or even if a piece is 12 tone or not. Rather it is the fact that the music is at tonal and in all likelihood rhythmically comparatively fragmented. In point of fact Trenberth music is difficult not because it is 12 tone but because it is the creative effort of a man whose mind saw music as a complex series of multiple relationships. The fact that very early tonal music is also not understood by the same people who rant against
12 tone attests to this fact rather conclusively. I would think the speed and unexpectedness with which musical events and relationships of all sorts occur and the Schanberg work are the elements that give the listener especially an unwilling listener problems not just at an outing. For that reason a word like the first string quartet is just as difficult for most listeners even though it is a tonal work. It demands great concentration from a listener to follow the course of events in a work tonal or Anton. But in a kind of blind self-defense most people are quite willing to make the 12 tone system the villain in the piece. My point therefore is that it is not the top down method which people should blame. And perhaps the five piano pieces Opus 23 are the perfect example to demonstrate my point. For only one of the pieces is 12 tone. The
rest are not. And I'm sure that people who would automatically dislike the 1 12 tone movement will also dislike the other for they will not make much of a difference. In other words they will not by mere listening be able to tell whether the 1 is 12 tone or not. And if this is so it would be ridiculous on such a flimsy basis to place a value judgement on the 12 tone system. I mean it is a kind of laughable approach that would not be tolerated in any other field such as the sciences or in business but in music it seems anything goes. Anyone who has listened to this program consistently must be aware by now with what inexorable logic music developed over the first twenty years of this century to the point where we are now discussing the 12 tone system. Whether we speak of Debussy's works Stravinsky's vagrants Bartok's Sternberg's or even the works of lesser figures like me little Nielsen and so on. We have seen that in
this gradual evolutionary process whether we like it or not the old tonal order was breaking up. The power of attraction that one single tone had over six others or eleven others was being increasingly undermined. The democratization of tones was inevitable. And once this was seen to be the case a system such as the 12 tone system which was to bring rational order into a fundamentally anarchic situation was only a final consequence death. But I know that although my remarks may be logical they will not convince anyone who doesn't want to be convinced. So I will leave the matter in the hands of the listener's emotional and intellectual capacity to accept this music. One thing I am certain of. The main requisite and perhaps this is then also the main obstacle the main requisite in listening to at tonal music of the 12 tone variety or not is that one be
able to accept each note in a given piece as not timeless musical acoustical event unique unto itself understandable and appreciable has such if the listener for one reason or another must relate each tone to a hierarchical relationship within a tonal system governed by some other primary tones. He hasn't got a chance with this music. Now let's look at the five pieces five piano pieces I was 23 one by one. Perhaps they will not seem quite so forgiving after all. The first of the five pieces is none too often however its particular kind of semantic variation represents the final step just before the full 12 tone concept came to be realized. The first melodic line consists of a motive of seven notes. About 15 bars later it reappears in this shape.
You see the names of the notes are the same and sharp the flat the F etc.. But by transposing those notes into active positions other than those of the original phrase Schoenberg creates a variant of the phrase whose shape is totally different. Here are the two phrases again. Now you might say well why such a big step such big skips in the melodic line that sounds silly. Well I could point to 100 similar
examples in the so-called classical period especially in the piano concertos and arias of Mozart for instance. As for example in this inspired moment in Mozart's 20th piano concerto. So Scheinberg only used a very old musical principle or device and applied his new pitch relationships to it. Later the seven notes motif appears in still different shapes including a
backward and retrograded version. It reappears also as in the come the mental figure for example. In short almost all the material in the piece whether harmonic and melodic or accompany mental in nature derives from this phrase nucleus that we hear at the beginning. Which again is a principle we accept readily enough in the works of Bach Beethoven Brahms or whoever but in the works we attach an implication of artistic restriction and Sterility to the same principle. Let us now listen to the entire first piece. Oh.
The second piece is based on another idea namely that of using the same pitch material for
both melodic and chordal ideas that is melodies are turned on end to become vertical simultaneity s or conversely chords are horizontal ised to make a melodic line. Again everything is based on a motivic fountain head. This motive is at a later point doubled up into thirds as follows. And when played fast results in the kind of passage one can find with another choice of notes of course in dozens of Liszt and Chopin pieces. In the final measure of the second piece as a kind of quiet cadence the same notes are distilled into two simple
contrapuntal lines as follows. What. Chords. Which first appeared last. I stretched out into a melodic bass line many octaves lower. Conversely a melodic figure such as this. Later appears in this harmonic guise. I think that's it's advised to indicate the kind of organizational process Schoenberg used here and how the next step could only be if I may repeat myself. The 12 tone method. When the
third piece is one of Schoenberg's most remarkable creations in terms of thematic unity at the service of expressive content in this piece almost everything evolves from a five note motive stated at the beginning. Such is friend Beggs ingenuity that he frequently uses several variants of this motive simultaneously. For example these three. Combine to make the following total effect. For these four.
Produce this lovely cadence making a country puzzle complex of great flexibility and expressiveness. I am sure that you will be able to pick out many other unifying relationships as you listen to the entire third piece. Why.
You're. The fourth piece is similar to the second in that it again implies
alternating only both melodic and harmonic variants of the opening motivic material which consists entirely of the strongly consonant intervals thirds and sixths. And here we have an example of how these consonant intervals have lost their consonant function and are used instead as autonomous self-sufficient musical elements. The word. We're.
The fifth and last piece is the one weekend in retrospect called the first full fledged 12 tone piece for in this piece everything that takes place emanates not from a five or seven note theme but a four bar phrase which consists of a particular arrangement by the composer of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. The left hand the come from and. It's also taken from the row using the last seven tones of the row first and the remaining five last. In other words switching the row around almost backwards. The total effect is as follows. This piece incidentally is intitled watts at one point. Schoenberg
really brings this waltz like character out. He distills from the row the following melody. Now these notes are the first sixth eleventh and twelfth tones of the row. The remaining notes are used as accompaniment. Johann Strauss might have accompanied the melody thus far. But by the time Schoenberg wrote the work the language of music had developed to such a point in total chromaticism that he wrote it as follows. Now the entire fifth piece of.
You just heard the five piano pieces Opus 23 by Arnold Schoenberg.
The pianist was Schoenberg's lifelong friend and interpreter of his piano works at lunchtime on the other work and the final work for the year nine hundred twenty three in this series is also by Schonberg. It is his opus 24 serenade for seven instruments. It is for seven instruments and it is in seven movements. The instruments are a clarinet bass clarinet mandolin guitar a violin viola and cello. And the seven movements are first in March then a minuet followed by variations. The first movement is a sonnet by the Italian poet Petrarch and this is for the addition of voice the bass voice. The next movement is the dance scene. One after that song without words and finally another
march this time also subtitled finale. In this work the sonnet by Petrarch was the second work of Schoenberg's to use a twelve tone series. I believe I've talked enough tonight and anything I could say about the Serenade would be pretty much in the same vein as what I said about the piano pieces. Therefore Suffice it to say that the instrumental texture is in my opinion a marvelously clear one by virtue of the three instrumental tambour groups the two clarinets plucked and rather nasal sounding mandolin and guitar. And then of course the three other string instruments of the same kind of tambour separation Incidentally we encountered in works like Stravinsky and the octet. I have my personal doubts in the Serenade about some of the dated and square rhythms especially in the first and final movement of the marches but in any case they would seem to be minor flaws
in an otherwise extremely important work. The Serenade for seven instruments up is 24 by Arnold Schoenberg with a bass voice in one of the movements. Let.
Me. Get. To. It and. Didn't ask. Where. You are. The threat.
To. Her and. Her.
You're. Right.
I am. Aiming.
Yeah. Yeah yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. The news.
I am. I am. I am. I am. And then. There at.
The end. You're.
You're. The same as 24. Sandberg performed by an ensemble conducted by Robert Craft rather good performance I think. Well that's all for tonight. Just come to shoulder in here good night and inviting you to join me again next week for another in the series.
Contemporary Music in Evolution
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Contemporary Music in Evolution is a radio program hosted by Gunther Schuller, which traces the evolution of Western classical music from 1899 to 1961. Each episode focuses on a specific year and chronicles some of the significant works, schools, and composers of the time. Schuller introduces several performance recordings in each episode, and gives commentary and analysis that also touch on previous episodes.
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Host: Schuller, Gunther
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 64-36-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 01:04:00
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Chicago: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 11; 1923,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 19, 2024,
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APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 11; 1923. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from