Contemporary Music in Evolution; 22; 1951
Moses and Aaron by Arnold Schoenberg is the work to be featured on this program. Do some of you it may seem odd to have this work appear on a program devoted to music created in 1951. It would have been perhaps more accurate to play this opera for the year 1930 to the year sure and were completed two of the three projected acts of the work. The text of the third act was ready and your unbroken hope to finish the opera in the ensuing years. But what with the necessity of having to leave Germany shortly thereafter. And then later in this country the need to fulfill other commissions partially to bring in some income. Somehow Schoenberg didn't get back to actual work on the opera until the late 40s. In various letters in the years one thousand forty nine and fifty he optimistically predicted that he could finish the third act in a few months. The opera however was not completed and was left unfinished at the time of Schoenberg's death in 1051 while the music of the two existent acts
dates from 1931 and thirty two it is perhaps fitting to play the work as a posthumous work and send it since it is one of Schoenberg's mightiest creations. It can serve as a fitting tribute and farewell to this remarkable musician and musical thinker on this series. We shall hear excerpts from Act 2. Actually a good part of act too. The opera draws for its dramatic content upon events in the Book of Exodus and from this source material Schoenberg fashioned a text which is a most remarkable document. It is first of all a very strong powerful and evocative poetic conception especially in view of the fact that Schoenberg unlike Wagner in no way claimed to be a poet or a literary man. The language is used in a highly stylized manner conceptually very close to the major trends of the German advance theatre of the 20s and earliest 30s. For me
personally it has a touch of dated Innes about it but really only a touch of it. And this is more than counterbalanced by the forcefulness simplicity and ideational content of the text. Secondly the subject matter of this text is treated by Sternberg in such a way as to permit on a higher level some rather profound and personally felt philosophical abstractions for Schoenberg. Moses and Aaron were symbols of freedom and subjugation respectively a vision of innovation on the one hand and lack of vision and conservatism on the other. Moses sees the world in its ideology and sees it in that in literal pragmatic everyday terms. And the text of the final scene of Act to which we shall hear later can have many larger interpretations including one pertaining to artistic and creative integrity.
The third way in which the libretto is remarkable is as Allan Ford has shown in the notes accompanying the Columbia recording the manner in which significant words in the text are related and juxtaposed in relation to their sonic characteristics and how these characteristics in turn reveal a close kinship to the musical ideas and procedures in which they are couched. So that there is a musical oneness in text and music in this opera that is not only quite unique in itself but provides much food for thought for us younger composers today and is in a certain way an embryonic step forward towards a serial concept of textual uses. Anyone interested in this aspect of the work would do well to refer to the just mentioned notes and to the vocal score of the opera. I will not go into this matter here any more because it involves the copious quotation of German words. And after all an American radio station is
not exactly the place for that. There are incidentally also brilliant notes in this album I'm sure and very specific use of the 12 tone system in Moses and Aaron notes written by the composer Milton Babbitt and notes which are a model of clarity and precision on a subject where we need lots of clarity and precision and a subject which no doubt is difficult for the average layman. These notes of necessity only touch the surface of the subject but they do cover the essential points. For once without the usual line and not hyperbole and for once without errors and musical fact we shall begin our sampling of Moses and Aaron with a short interlude which occurs between Acts 1 and 2. This into the last only two and a half minutes and is one of those not so rare displays of compositional and orchestration of ritual Asadi that many people fail to associate with Strandberg because of the cliche
image of Schoenberg as the serious wrinkled brow the theoretician and pedant who took all the fun out of music and image which unfortunately so many people still hold in their mind's eye. This interlude is a kind of scared soul a real swish and spear with emphasis on the words being performed by a small chorus in front of the stage curtain partly some partly spoken and partly whispered but in all three modes of expression projection it is delivered pianissimo throughout the choral writing is as might be expected rigorously economic in its six part polyphony. It is easily as wondrous to behold and to hear if it's done in a great performance as any similar work by Bach and like the latter it has a similar combination of complexity and simplicity. This particular performance tends to be somewhat muddy and cloudy and rhythmically unclear which of course greatly undermines the effectiveness of this brief
piece. The interlude between Act 1 and 2. You're right.
Hit. It hit it. Whoa whoa whoa.
That was the interlude between Act 1 and 2 as Moses and Aaron. We follow now with the first two and a half scenes of act two. Moses still on the mountain and the Israel lights are waiting impatiently for his return. They have been waiting 40 days as a matter of fact. And the people are becoming rebellious Aaron in desperation finally accedes to their unanimous wish to return to their previous worship of many gods with sacrificial rituals as opposed to the worship of one God. The belief in which Moses has tried to instill in them. Aaron brings out the golden calf in Scene 3 and a wild orgy of sacrificial rituals and dance dances and sues. It seems to me that the further share ember got into the opera the more his imagination seemed to be aroused. With increasing virtuosity and control of his musical materials Schoenberg shapes the various scenes and sections of
scenes into a tightly knit formal units without having recourse to the traditional forms as Baird did in buttock for example. A constant array of startling sounds emanate from the orchestra. Much of this will remind the more sophisticated listener perhaps of Schoenberg's variations for orchestra which predate Moses and Aaron by a few years. The whole compositional continuity and texture are but an extension of the techniques innovated in that piece only here applied to the whole opera. Which in itself was a unique achievement. And of course the first time the 12 tone system had survived the baptismal fire of being tested in a full length opera. Occasionally the sameness and squareness of the rhythms a matter I have complained about before and Schonberg music becomes wearying. But this weakness seems less apparent in the second act of the work as compared to the first act. The continuity is broken often enough and the variety of rhythm within. Very
often the same tempos is considerable. The chorus is again are all models of 20th century polyphony not only in the choice of musical settings but in the use of the text scenes one to and part of three from act to Moses and an. OLD MAN. Yeah.
He. Was a. Man.
Eat eat. Eat.
Yeah. Oh right.
Eat eat eat eat eat. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Yes yes. OK OK. Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah yeah.
Yeah. Yeah I am. I and. Yeah. Yeah yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. Was.
Maybe. We continue now. Still in the scene three three trombones back stage announce the arrival of a free and a number of
tribal leaders who promptly join in the pagan rituals. As the wild orgiastic scene develops taking us through a waltz poorly and on waltz like performed here unfortunately. And then a march and then the sacrifice of four virgins to the altar of the golden calf. And finally the extraordinary dance around the golden calf with its harsh dissected splintered rhythms through all this brings imagination seems increasingly inspired. The orchestral imagery and dramatic impact reach an almost unbearably intense peak. Before the scene ends are over the ordeal reaches its climax and suddenly everything subsides and collapses. The whole scene has a remarkably has a remarkably close allusions in terms of its timing and continuity to the act of sexual intercourse. I might add not altogether inappropriately so I will go now from the entrance of the trombones back stage to the end of scene 3.
I am. Such. A And I am the night. Oh yeah. Ah the. Was. The. Sound of the man I am.
I am. I am yeah. I am. I am. It. Was. Ill. Yes. Yes yes.
Yeah but. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah but.
The band. Yeah but ya but. The band. You. Know what. Yes. Oh I was weak.
You eat. Yes. I. Loathe that land. Yeah. Oh yeah yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. The owner or.
Her. Her. Yeah. The load.
To eat. The. Food. Thank. You.
On. An. Oblique. Was. It. You. Cut.
The ear can you. Do what you. Gave Eat Eat right. Oh. Please. Elaborate. One thing. A little.
And. The one thing.
A scene for our followers know it lasts only a minute and is again remarkable in the variety of shapes and contours friend Reg is able to conjure out of this orchestra. The scene serves as a transition to the final scene which follows without pause. And it's a long discussion between Moses and Aaron in the first part of the scene five Schonberg comes fairly close to the traditional operatic recitative. Naturally on his own terms the music from here to the end also contains a maximum of contrast contrast of all kinds of textual dynamic registerable orchestration the harmonic melodic rhythmic what have you most as reprimands Aaron for his weakness in succumbing to the old sacrificial pagan worship. Aaron confident of his integrity and righteousness counters Moses arguments with deft denials and
rationalizations. At the end of the scene Moses gives up in despair and collapses and hears Schoenberg achieves the final miracle of contrast in dramatic tension. The final twenty seven measures about the last half a minute or so I guess. Moses half spoken words are accompanied not by the full orchestra but by single broad lines mostly in the violins. And these in turn are accompanied by softly ringing suspended symbols in its utter simplicity and mama like transfiguration the scene has an absolutely extraordinary impact. Let's listen now to the final two scenes of the second act of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron.
Oh. God. Oh
yeah. Home. Sweet.
Oh. This. Week. Was a hit. Think it.
Was in my. Mind I was on the news. Was he. Not. One of the. Money. We.
Owe. It was. Cold.
He. Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah yeah. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Yeah I am. Yeah. Bitch. Yeah yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. What. Would be. Nice if.
I. Was on. The East Coast. The East. Oh.
You oh. Hot. Dogs. You just heard the final two scenes of what exists of John Briggs opera Moses and Aaron in the cast we heard as Moses which is a spoken role Huns have a feedlot as Aaron and tenor Hamlet could UPS if baritone was him on the beat and that was the man in SCENE THREE with the bird
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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: 64-36-22 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 22; 1951,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 16, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-h12v848c.
- MLA: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 22; 1951.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 16, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-h12v848c>.
- APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 22; 1951. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-h12v848c