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Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht; Pelleas Und Melisande

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Genre: Classical - Orchestral / Audio CD released 1998-03-16 at Universal Classics

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      19.02.2001 07:12
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      At the beginning of the twentieth century composers were faced with a problem. Composers like Strauss and Wagner had stretched the limits of conventional tonality to the limit, increasing chromaticm to an almost continuous level. Basically everything had been done before. So many composers were looking for new ideas, some like Stravinsky, turned to Neo-Clacissism (The Rake's Progress), others, Bartok, turned to folk music (Miraculous Mandarin), and others just kept on churning out what they had done before (Strauss - Der RosenKavalier). Schoenberg, however, decided to set classical music on a path that nearly led to its own self destruction. Schoenberg opened the gates to atonality, or, as he calls it, pantonality (meaning several keys at once.) Yet he found writing this music to be emotionally exhausting, only able to write short works as he could only bare his sole for limited periods of time. So he set about formulating a theory - as if an equation could produce good music. What he finally developed he named 12-note music (not the mistaken american translation of 12-tone which is not possible within the twelve conventional notes of Western music). This was basically a methodology to replace the conventional harmony system, developed over hundreds of years, that Schoenberg and his fellows seemed to consider obsolete. It involves taking a set twelve not row (in which the no note in the row is repeated so all of the twelve different chromatics are used) and juxtapositing this with inversions and retrogrades as you randomly saw fit. THe twelve tone row was really an abstract from the music, existing only as a building block which he formed the piece from. The theory is very interesting, thought by many to be utterly irrelevant, and the outcome can make you want to kill yourself or makes some people feel intellectual about themselves.

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        13.10.2000 18:56
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        Schoenberg is commonly dismissed, by musicians who know nothing about the matter, as a writer of mechanical, mathematical music. This is because of his invention of serial, twelve-tone music, in which all the music of a piece is derived from a fixed ordering of the twelve semitones called The Row. Musicians who have given the matter no thought at all pompously claim that this Row somehow writes the music for you, and that composers without any ability can use it to churn out music. In fact quite the opposite is true. The tone-row is an extremely difficult tool to use, and takes none of the decision making out of composition. Besides which, Schoenberg started life writing tonal music, and, in only a few works, had surpassed Mahler and Wagner in the ease with which he handled the language. And when someone of that ability says that the language needs to change you can't simply dismiss them as though you know more. It's a little like those who claim that Picasso invented Cubism because he couldn't draw, until they are presented with his sketches which look like photographs. Schoenberg's basic argument was that the language of tonality had collapsed under its own weight. Classical music had been based on the Tonic note, ie a home note central to a piece. This note only felt central so long as you stuck to using the seven notes of its major or minor scale. If the other five notes of the chromatic scale are introduced then the grip of the tonic is weakened, and this was the key to Classical forms. Most forms were based on the idea of beginning with a stable tonic, weakening the hold of that tonic, then re-establishing it - ie creating tension and resolving it. Romantic harmony introduced chromatic chords which didn't sit happily in any key, thus making passages much more ambiguous and weakening the tonic right from the outset of a piece. Thus the basis of Classical form began to crumble already. Wagner's 'Tristan and
        Isolde Overture' demonstrated that it was perfectly feasible to avoid establishing a tonic at all, for great lengths of time, leaving listeners disorientated and bewildered by its ambiguity. At this point Tonality had reached its natural death. Most musicians didn't even notice, but Schoenberg was well aware that nothing new could be said with the language. Thus the step into complete atonality became necessary, rather than pansying about pretending to right tonal music but bending it beyond reason. It was a step that Schoenberg didn't want to take, as a natural Romantic, but he would have been just an ordinary pedler of extremely well crafted music if he hadn't. Next he reasoned that if the Tonic was to be abandonned then some new organising principle was needed to provide coherence - enter the tone row. An ordering of all twelve semitones which the composer must always use fixedly in that order, although he can transpose the row to a new starting note, invert it, play it backwards, play several of its notes at once. Basically the row was only to ensure a familiarity in a work, by presenting the same series of intervals repeatedly. Whether it actually does provide this coherence is another matter. Certainly Schoenberg's music is powerfully imaginative - in the hands of a lesser composer you can see why musicians are opposed to the whole idea. If you want to expand your horizons, and are becoming tired of endless sludgy Romantic music, then listen to some of Schoenberg's Serial compositions. I would recommend the Orchestral Variations Op.31, or his piano concerto. If you are a little more conservative then listen to his Verklaerte Nacht, either for string sextet or string orchestra, which is one of the most sublime ultra-Romantic pieces ever written. Personally I love his serial music, but you will not end up whistling it around the house.

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      • Product Details

        Disc #1 Tracklisting
        1 1. Grave
        2 2. Molto rallentando
        3 3. Pesante - Grave
        4 4. Adagio
        5 5. Adagio
        6 Die Achtel ein wenig bewegt - zögernd
        7 Heftig
        8 Ciff. 9: Lebhaft
        9 Ciff. 16: Sehr rasch
        10 Ciff. 33: Ein wenig bewegt
        11 Ciff. 36: Langsam
        12 Ciff. 43: Ein wenig bewegter
        13 Ciff. 50: Sehr langsam
        14 Ciff. 55: Etwas bewegt
        15 Ciff. 59: In gehender Bewegung
        16 Ciff. 62: Breit