One of the best music books of last year was Joseph Auner’s Schoenberg Reader, a beautifully edited selection of Mr. Atonality's essays, rants, prose poems, letters, and aphorisms. I say this as something other than a diehard Schoenbot; I found objectionable ideas on almost every page. Yet I was mesmerized as always by the power of the man's personality. Auner's book reminded me that Schoenberg was, among other things, ja, pretty funny. Some samples:
“Many who liked my earlier works dislike my current ones. They simply have not understood the earlier ones properly.”
“Compositional child prodigies are those who already in their earliest youth compose as badly as others do only in ripe old age.”
“Years ago I became always very angry about the nasty words critics applied to me. Since then I have found out that a sewer does not stink in order to annoy me. Though, when I pass, it stinks at me, it is not its intention to annoy me. It stinks because it can only stink.”
Note the resemblance of the last thought to Edna Pietsch's aphorism below. In other Schoenberg news, I've been skulking around the Vienna-based Schoenberg Center, which is featured on my "music links" page. This may be the most luxuriously appointed website devoted to a single composer: much of the vast Schoenberg archive has been digitized, with more being added each month. Be sure to check out Schoenberg WebRadio, where you can listen to music and voice recordings. Some of the links seem to be broken, so go instead to "Schoenberg talks," where you can hear a moving tribute to George Gershwin and a dense analysis of the Variations for Orchestra (delivered on Frankfurt Radio in 1931). The opening section is classic A-SCH, exposing his essential hostility to modern democratic culture — I am "essential," they are "superfluous" — yet still inviting sympathy with a plea for equal time. In the dearly departed, never-to- be-repeated Weimar Republic, he got it.
I find myself in a minority, facing not only those who prefer light music, but also those who prefer serious music. It would be inconceivable to attack the heroes who make daring flights over the ocean or to the North Pole, for their achievement is obvious to everyone. But although experience has shown that many a pioneer trod his path while absolute certainty at a time when he was still held to be wandering half-demented, most people invariably turn against those who strike out into unknown regions of the spirit. Here in the radio the majority are given their due. At all hours of the day and night their ears are pampered with titbits [sic] which they seem to need in order to survive. So if they ever have to do without them they are utterly aghast. Against this delirium of entertainment I want to assert the rights of a minority; the essential should have a place as well as the superfluous. We accept the activities of potholers, polar explorers, and pilots as essential. So, if I say so in all modesty, are the activities of those who try to achieve something comparable in the spiritual and artistic fields. They, too, have rights: they, too, have a claim to the radio.
If you want an introduction to what Schoenberg and his school were about, I'd recommend this Simon Rattle CD, which will set you back seven dollars. You have nothing to lose but your mind.