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DURATION: ca. 44 Min.

PUBLISHER:
Universal Edition
Belmont Music Publishers (USA, Kanada, Mexico)

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The main subject of Schönberg’s work as a composer in 1904 and 1905 was the D-minor String Quartet. The first sketches were made in the summer of 1904 and in the following year he developed the work during his summer holidays in Gmunden on Lake Traun. The premiere in the Viennese Bösendorfer Hall by the Rosé Quartet on 5 February 1907 ended in a tumult, as reported by Paul Stefan, an early chronicler of the circle around Schönberg: “Many found the work impossible, and left the hall during the performance, one particularly humorously through the emergency exit. As the hissing continued afterwards Gustav Mahler, who was present, approached one of the unsatisfied and said, wonderfully emotionally and at the same time in defence of art deprived of its rights : ‘You should not hiss!’ – The anonymous person, proudly in the face of great intellectuals (faced by the doorman at his house he would have collapsed): ‘I also hiss at your symphonies!’ – Mahler was blamed for this scene.” In a sketch-book of Schönberg’s from 1904 some programmatic notes have been preserved, probably referring to the music of the first quartet: they range from “rejection, defiance” and “desperation” to “enthusiastic strength to fight, development of fantasy, energy” and “greatest intoxication of the senses,” to “quiet happiness and the return of peace and harmony.” Unequivocally, Schönberg made it very clear in later years, that although he had laid down such a “programme,” it was however of a completely private nature and belonged to the genesis of the work, and not to its aesthetic substance. Instead, he always pointed out, not without pride, the constructive achievement of this generously dimensioned work, imprinted with wide-spanning melodies as well as with differentiated rhythms and counterpoint. Here, Schönberg combines the individual elements of the sonata cycle (first movement, scherzo with trio, adagio and rondo-finale) in the movements of one single “double function form,” which has at its centre a broad development section. He intended Beethoven’s Third Symphony to be recognised as the form model for his composition: “Alexander von Zemlinsky told me that Brahms had said that every time he faced difficult problems he would consult a significant work of Bach and one of Beethoven, both of which he always used to keep near his standing desk. [...] In the same manner I learned, from the “Eroica,” solutions to my problems: How to avoid monotony and emptiness, how to create variety out of unity, how to create new forms out of basic material, how much can be achieved by slight modifications if not by developing variation out of often rather insignificant little formulations. Of this masterpiece I learned also of the creation of harmonic contrasts and their application.” (“Notes to my Four String Quartets”) With this, Schönberg naturally did not want to recommend “mechanical copying,” but to point out that that the procedure referred to the “essence” of the model. Elsewhere, he once used a vivid metaphor to express the same thought: “....in one respect, the works in every style are as different as are all wines: (When you pour them into old bottles, then the essences of old wines are still in the bottles). Together (and that is the old bottle), is only our way of thinking.” What was regarded at that time as disturbing and “impossible” in Schönberg’s compositions was due at the same time to historical responsibilities and to the demand for their radical development in the present.

Matthias Schmidt
© Arnold Schönberg Center