For the first program in our Haydn-Schoenberg series it seems fitting to have the composers speak for themselves. As we read their words, we will remember that these two innovators, so alike in the eternally surprising freshness of their work, unrivalled in their influence on music that came after them, couldn’t have been more different as personalities.
Haydn seemed almost determined not to be eccentric – he was balanced, generous spirited, God-fearing, and, at least seemingly, normal.
Did music ever harbor a more colorful character than Schoenberg? He composed very quickly and spontaneously, filling long music hiatuses with writing, teaching, and painting, disciplines he pursued seriously and with great skill. He was warm-hearted and vindictive, nurturing and paranoid, a celebrator of fantasy and intuition fascinated by structure. The French would call him “un monstre sacré.”
Let’s hear them speak.
The warmest wishes of my heart are fulfilled: to be considered a not wholly unworthy priest of this sacred art by every nation where my works are known. You reassure me that I am often the enviable means by which you, and so many other families sensible of heartfelt emotion, derive, in their homely circle, their pleasure – their enjoyment. How reassuring this thought is to me! – Often, when struggling against the obstacles of every sort which oppose my labours: often, when the powers of mind and body weakened, and it was difficult for me to continue in the course I had entered on: -- a secret voice whispered to me: “There are so few happy and contented peoples here below; grief and sorrow are always their lot; perhaps your labours will once be a source from which the care-worn, or the man burdened with affairs, can derive a few moments’ rest and refreshment.” This was indeed a powerful motive to press onwards, and this is why I now look back with cheerful satisfaction on the labours expended on this art, to which I have devoted so many long years of uninterrupted effort and exertion.
September 1802, to the members of the Musikverein, on the Island of Rügen, North Germany
Music is a simultaneous and successive-ness of tones and tone-combinations, which are so organized that its impression on the ear is agreeable, and its impression on the intelligence is comprehensible, and that these impressions have the power to influence occult parts of our soul and of our sentimental spheres and that this influence makes us live in a dreamland of fulfilled desires, or in a dreamed hell of . . . etc., etc., . . .
What is water?
H2O; and we can drink it; and can wash us by it; and it is transparent; and has no Colour; and we can use it to swim and to ship; and it drives mills . .
April 1934 to Walter Koons at NBC, written in English, during Schoenberg’s first months in Boston, answering the question, “What is your definition of music?”
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen,
I am proud about the formulation under which this award has been given to me. That all I have endeavored to accomplish during this fifty years is now elevated as an achievement, seems in some respects to be an overestimation.
At least not before I could sum up – that is: while it still looked like a pell-mell of incoherent details – at least then did I fail to understand it as a direction leading towards an accomplishment. Personally I had the feeling as if I had fallen into an ocean of boiling water, and not knowing how to swim or to get out in another manner, I tried with my legs and arms as best as I could.
I did not know what saved me; why I was not drowned or cooked alive . . .
I have perhaps only one merit: I never gave up.
But how could I give up in the middle of an ocean?
May 1947 to the National Institute of Arts and Letters