More from the Schoenberg Reader, which I can't stop reading — it's like Krispy Kremes for modern-music addicts. One of the most riveting documents is "Notes Toward a Biography," from 1949. This was evidently written either for Schoenberg's own use or for some trusted literary executor. It begins with early memories: "vaccination certificate, grade cards from school, milkman downstairs, his first love: a horse, water outside only, bathtub on Saturday evenings, playing funerals with a violin case." An ordinary Viennese childhood, in other words. The troublemaking started early: "Fighting: 1) hole in the knees of his pants a sign of victory 2) winning a fight 3) drinking his coffee with the spoon in it." What's that last one about? Is it like wearing a red hoodie on a Cripp block?
Things get tense when Mathilde Zemlinsky, the composer's first wife, enters the picture. "Schoenberg married Zemlinsky's sister, who said she would kill herself if he would not marry her." In the end, it was Mathilde's lover Richard Gerstl who committed suicide, hanging himself naked in front of a full-length mirror in December 1908. What really got my attention was the following entry: "Later [after the Gerstl fiasco] at Berg's house Schoenberg's wife had an affair with someone else." Skandal! It seems unthinkable that Mathilde had an affair with Alban Berg himself, but Berg must at least have known about it. In his Chamber Concerto, Berg created a clandestine depiction of Mathilde's decline and death, and listening to that music one senses that his sympathies lie with the woman and not with the man. Subjects for further investigation.