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DURATION: ca. 15 Min.

VERSIONS:
Fassung für Streichquartett, Klavier und Sprecher (1942);
Fassung für Streichorchester, Klavier und Sprecher (1942)

PUBLISHER:
Belmont Music Publishers (Partitur, Fassung für Kammerbesetzung)
G. Schirmer (Music Sales Classical - Leihmaterial Orchesterfassung)

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The impetus for this composition was twofold: 8 December 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Schönberg heard President Roosevelt’s “day of infamy” radio address; and in January 1942 Schönberg received a commission from the League of Composers for a short chamber work. The League celebrated its 20th anniversary by commissioning several 10- to 20-minute works. Schönberg accepted the commission and composed the work between 12 March and 12 June 1942. However, it seems that Schönberg was not satisfied that his work would receive an adequate performance at the League of Composers’ concert, and he declined to send them the piece. He and his students searched for suitable performers and venues, but the “Ode” was not premiered publicly until 23 November 1944. Schönberg exercised great care in choosing the text; he wanted to compose something on a text by Lord Byron, for the poet’s support of Greece’s struggle for independence mirrored Schönberg’s allegiances to the Europe struggling against Hitler. Of his decision to compose the piece, Schönberg wrote: “I knew it was the moral duty of intelligentsia to take a stand against tyranny.” He combined the “Marseillaise” and the motive from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the moment when the speaker declaims, “the earthquake voice of victory.” In a letter of 8 September 1943 to his former pupil Heinrich Jalowetz, who had prepared the piece for a recording with a singer, Schönberg insisted that the singer must have “the number of shades, essential to express one hundred and seventy kinds of derision, sarcasm, hatred, ridicule, contempt, condemnation, etc., which I tried to portray in my music.” He further contrasts the performance of this work to his intentions in “Pierrot lunaire” (another work for small ensemble and ‘Sprechstimme’): “The recitation in ‘Pierrot lunaire’ is so as if the voice would be an instrument like the other five. But in contrast to that, here the recitation must be as realistically natural as if there were no music at all.” Schönberg heard the piece live only in a rehearsal that took place before the concert in honor of his 75th birthday (the performance at which his Phantasy received its premiere). Leonard Stein, who witnessed this occasion, remembered, “The speaker was William Schallert, I was the pianist, and the quartet was led by Adolph Koldofsky. In a special coaching session with the speaker, Schoenberg, his dark eyes flashing expressively while he recited lines from the work, emphasized, above all, their dramatic and expressive values. The inflections of pitch, marked so carefully in the score, were treated in a secondary manner. The main impression of the ‘Ode’ was, and remains, one of powerful dramatic expression.”

Camille Crittenden
© Arnold Schönberg Center