In the April 1940 issue of California Arts and Architecture came a colorful and prophetic contribution by a Professor at UCLA, one Arnold Schoenberg -- “Art and the Moving Pictures.” In this essay, still available in his collection Style and Idea, and representative of both his crusty personality and his imaginative mind, Schoenberg juxtaposes two possible directions for film, Industry, and Art. He dejectedly asserts that the possibilities for the latter, which had so excited him ten years before (at the time of his Accompaniment for a Film Scene), seemed to have been thrown away. Commerce is triumphant, he concludes.
He acknowledges and was a fan of satisfying achievements in entertainment -- Mickey Mouse, Chaplin, the Marx brothers, comparing these to Offenbach, Foster, and Gershwin. But he imagined film treatments of Faust, Parsifal, spiritual explorations akin to Bach masses, Swedenborg’s mysticism, or Ibsen’s social problems. He envisions change only in the distant future, with a film-art constituency that would produce, for an educated public, a type of film needing high quality classical music. He sees the film industry being forced into such an enterprise by competition from television (remember, he is writing this in 1940!)
Schoenberg does not mention in this brief essay that he had written a piece, ten years before, called Accompaniment to a Film Scene, which embodies his hope for a vigorous, adventurous kind of movie music. Written in the first flush of his enthusiasm for the possibilities of music for film, this vivid score accompanies a succession of imaginary moving images going on only in Schoenberg’s head. He gives us this unspecific subtitle: Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe. The listeners (or perhaps subsequent film makers) might well be tempted to imagine their own narrative.
The ten-minute span unfolds in brief episodes of less than a minute in length (the weighty Epilogue is longer), defined by changes in tempo (mainly faster) and instrumental color. The eventual Catastrophe is firmly marked by a tympani stroke and brass dissolve. Some of the episodes have compact melodic ideas, like the one introduced early by solo oboe. Some are almost pure ostinato, that is, short repeating juxtaposed fragments, which build tension through insistence. This device is especially prominent in Schoenberg’s theater-operatic scores.
This piece was written very quickly, as often with this composer, and has a hot, impulsive character, which seems to discourage curiosity about its twelve-tone compositional method. It marks a challenge, from a silent film enthusiast at the dawn of the talkie era, to marry moving pictures to the most adventurous musical idioms.
On our previous orchestral concert we performed Schoenberg’s other address to the film-world, his Prelude Opus 44 (Genesis). By then, living in Los Angeles, teaching a large percentage of the new generation of American motion picture composers, the composer was aware of the going trends in music for the big screen. The Prelude is both a corrective, and a technicolor retort to what he had been hearing in the theaters of Hollywood and Brentwood.
Joseph Haydn didn’t write many concertos. But his symphonies frequently have telling obbligato passages woven into the fabric, cello in No. 88 and No. 95, violin in No. 96 and No. 98, numerous eloquent wind solos, especially for oboe and bassoon. During his second London visit Haydn chose these four favorite instruments as soloists for his Concertante (1792). Composed simultaneously with his 97th and 98th symphonies, this is one of his warmest, most inviting pieces, a true gathering of friends.
We first notice the way the soloists begin to be heard before their official entrance. This reminds us that they originate in the orchestra. These soloists will be deployed in every permutation but very seldom alone (striking exception then is the solo violin recitative in the last movement, a tongue-in-cheek operatic gesture that Beethoven makes serious in his 9th Symphony).
At many points in this concerto Haydn makes use of one of his favorite late-style strategies – an emphatic preparation for a statement of one of his main tunes is followed by that tune but in the wrong key. Of course the wrong key is very right and surprising, but it is also a syntactical joke which depends on very attentive hearing. How much does the enjoyment of Haydn’s music depend on a physical aural response to his grammatical twists? This is a question that should intrigue, worry, and engage today’s concert music performers?
There are two orchestral pieces from early in the 20th century that still appear to be the ignition keys for what followed in the world of music (and not just concert music). The later of the two was The Rite of Spring (1911) by Igor Stravinsky. Preceding it by two years -- Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra (1909). Both composers had the good sense and good conscience not to try to repeat them in any concerted way. This marks both of them as major composers. Stravinsky, to the mystification of both critics and followers, pretty much leaves the essence of the Rite alone, although small shards from it provide him with a lot of material for his shifts of direction. Other composers try and fail to recreate the Rite’s seismic impact. And Schoenberg never really revisits movements 1, 3 and 5 of the Five Pieces, the most radical. Other composers have taken over the job for him, making vigorous careers as specialists in stratified surfaces (movement 1), process music (movement 3), or colorfield orchestration (movement 5).
In his first movement Schoenberg begins by presenting, with pauses, certain short contrasted ideas. He then proceeds to a kind of filmic montage in which all these ideas hurtle past on a bed of hammered motoric rhythm. It is a strange, hallucinatory experience -- these fragments have no knowledge of each other, but are like meteors spinning through space. Perhaps Schoenberg never came back here because he did it, once, so startlingly well. The third movement presents another strange but by now more familiar notion, the appearance of near stasis, the sound of light changing slowly with only the slightest flicks of specific detail. The fact that this musical non-event (the true wellspring of the mid-20th century minimalist movement) is constructed from a fancy linear canon is the kind of paradox composers love. The piece remains a unicorn, or unicum, in the annals of Arnold Schoenberg. Finally the last piece proposes a melody free of all registeral restraint, free to go anywhere high or low that the instruments of the ensemble can take it. It is accompanied by a dense texture of other lines, and the melody is seldom more than a few notes with any instrument. This sort of approach to scoring, hinted at in late Wagner, became important to certain Schoenberg pupils, and to a large array of post-World War II composers. The performer who makes a piano score showing all the notes in this piece conjectures that its composer must be a madman or a genius to think this concept realisable, since so often the secondary voices outweigh, and even out-profile the very elusive principal voice.
The other two movements are mainstream Schoenberg. The second movement represents his musical past, the fourth his future, the dramatic, free chromatic style he would pursue in Erwartung, Die Glückliche Hand, and Die Jakobsleiter.
Schoenberg’s first version of Five Pieces had two strikes against it -- it was for a huge orchestra and very difficult. Actually, a third strike -- its non-tonal idiom was baffling to most who encountered it (Richard Strauss said it was the first score sent to him that he absolutely could not read). Schoenberg first made a reduced orchestral version, and then later, to get chances to hear the music, made a chamber version (1920). This one was long believed to be by his student Felix Greissle, and the score is in Greissle’s hand. But in the late 1980s while the Schoenberg Institute was still in Los Angeles, it was possible to examine there a copy of the full score with complete annotations by Schoenberg indicating every detail of the chamber version.
An accidental casualty of the success of the Historical Performance Movement has been the disappearance from symphony orchestra programs of Haydn symphonies. This is a loss to audiences at those concerts, and to the players, as is the disappearance from such programs of music by Bach and Handel (excepting a few big standards). We could say that such large organizations are not the ones to properly present these pieces, but this assumes that their audiences explore the whole musical landscape, when in fact it appears that audiences are increasingly segmented. And the post-18th century pieces played by big symphonies also need the companionship of Haydn, their never-bettered fountainhead, as a source of refreshment.
So here is an occasion, rare even in a Haydn year, when we can present a Haydn symphony to an audience that may have heard very few (if they attend mainly Boston Symphony it would be a two or three this year compared to ten or twelve fifty years ago). How to choose one from among the sixty or so you love the most?
Well, you narrow down to ten or so, then you have the pleasure of visiting with them all, then you lament that they cannot all be on the program, then finally come the specifics of the Emmanuel series, and then one day a gravitation toward the 70s and 1770s and their laconic contrapuntal severity, their rhythmic asymmetries, then suddenly the emerging No. 70, not a piece famous or discussed, but a piece seemingly good for the day, the band, and for companionship with Schoenberg.
Among the pleasures, the play of displaced accents on the little two-note motive that dominates the first movement. The sobriety and linear formality of the second movement, sheltering something vaguely sinister. The lovely bones of the Trio midway through the third movement minuet, strangely the expressive heart of the symphony. The Chaplinesque shyness of the opening of the finale, then finally the jack-in-the-box contrapuntal outburst, breathless, tumbling forward only to shuffle away with a sideways wave.
One of a hundred - some. It tells in its own way why this composer’s fertility endures both in his own work and in so much music that grew from his work. Denise Levertov, an Emmanuel parishioner, caught one aspect of Haydn’s remarkable gifts in her poem The Mystery of Deep Candor:
open and major as you like,
a child could keep --
only Haydn dared
make magic from such
roadside gold, each dandelion
dipped in his elixir,
the secret depths of candor.