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DURATION: ca. 8 Min.

Fassung für Chor und Orchester (Stützstimmen für den Chor) von Arnold Schönberg (1911)


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“Have you even heard your chorus at all? In that case, do you know yourself how beautiful it is? Unprecedented! What a sound! Thoroughly exciting” (Anton Webern to Arnold Schönberg, November 1928). According to a report from Egon Wellesz (that cannot be verified, however), Schönberg had in fact composed his a capella choral work “Friede auf Erden” and the two ballades op. 12 for a competition. Drafts of op. 13 are found in SketchbookIII between the dates 14 August 1906 and 9 March 1907 (completion of the choral movement and the first sketches for the Second String Quartet). The annotation found on a fair copy – that the work “is to be performed whenever possible without accompaniment (a capella); only in such case as the purity of intonation fails is the organ to be added as accompaniment” –, is probably to be understood in connection with the rehearsals of the Singverein in 1908 (under Franz Schalk) that were ultimately cancelled because of insurmountable difficulties. “Friede auf Erden” was finally premiered in Vienna on 9 December 1911 under the direction of Franz Schreker. Even before the start of the first rehearsals Schreker suggested using “a string orchestra for support.” Schönberg, who since the summer of 1911 had divided his time between Lake Starnberg and Berlin, finished his orchestral score (for both strings and winds) on 6 October 1911. Emil Hertzka, director of Universal Edition, had negotiated since August for publication of the initial a capella version, and because of the costs had expressed reservations about a supplemental orchestral accompaniment. Schönberg replied that he had drafted the orchestral version only for the premiere, “because without it Schreker cannot risk it with his young choir. It is an accompaniment that makes secure intonation possible but is not to be regarded as a compositionally necessary part of the work!” The premiere in the ‘Großer Musikvereinssaal’ with 120 women and 80 men from the combined resources of the ‘Philharmonischer Chor’ and the ‘Wiener Lehrergesangsverein’ was “an uncontested success” – thus a report from Franz Schreker, who had “muted” the ‘Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester’ “until virtually imperceptible.” For the text of his choral work Schönberg drew upon a Christmas poem written by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer in October 1886 (Meyer’s novella “The Seduction of Pescara” / “Die Versuchung des Pescara” dates from the same year) for the Christmas issue of “Schorer’s Family Newsletter” (“Schorers Familienblatt”). The Swiss poet would later allow Bertha von Suttner, to whose peace movement he was allied, to reprint “Friede auf Erden” in her newspaper “Lay Down Your Arms” (“Die Waffen nieder”). The first verse of Meyer’s poem begins with the tidings of peace from the Christmas story; the second and third verses essay the history of the world after the birth of Christ as a time of war, in which, however, the belief in justice and the hope for peace continue to be upheld: a peace which in future generations becomes reality (fourth verse). Conrad Ferdinand Meyer’s concept of peace unites the perspectives Real and Ideal against a thoroughly secular backdrop, which in Schönberg’s setting (formally divided into ten sections) more clearly approximates the Religious. The use of consonance and dissonance, the differentiation of homophonic and polyphonic techniques corresponds to an allegorical view of the Ideal Peace/Actual Discord that derives from the fundamental metaphysical idea that peace is the work of God. The contrast between heaven and earth is sacredly interpreted by means of a major/minor polarity that is occasionally tempered by the church modes. In a letter to the conductor Hermann Scherchen on 23 June 1923, Schönberg wrote about this last work he composed in a tonal style, that it “is an illusion for mixed choir, an illusion, as I know today, having believed, in 1906 (?), when I composed it, that this pure harmony among human beings was conceivable.” In May 1928 Schönberg penned an essay (together with Richard Strauss, Julius Bittner and Felix Weingartner) for the “8 o’clock Evening Paper” (“8-Uhr-Abendblatt”) on the theme “Does the world lack a hymn of peace?” (“Fehlt der Welt eine Friedenshymne?”) In his draft of the article, Schönberg’s aloof attitude towards the influence of the arts on political events becomes clear: “It is perhaps correct that one must be religious in order to compose church music, or in love in order to compose love songs […], but still one must certainly not be wounded in order to portray a wounded person or dying in order to portray a dying person. And so it would certainly be possible to compose a peace hymn without believing in an eternal peace.”

Therese Muxeneder
© Arnold Schönberg Center