As is the case with many world-famous men, Arnold Schoenberg, who is a visitor at Chautauqua this summer, gives one the impression of being a sincere, direct person and a clear thinker. He sees no reason for the world to treat his theories as though he were a radical, and when he puts his musical ideas into words, he does it with such simplicity and conviction that one wonders why he has ever been regarded as a heaven storming musical iconoclast.
His is a powerful and arresting personality. His eyes have the penetrating concentration of a seer, but also the soft friendly expression of one who has fought a good fight and can be generous in his attitude. That is, he can be generous to those who are sincere, whether they are for or against his musical point of view. But I can imagine that he would make short shift of the charlatan or the sensation-seeker who would trade on his theories.
I saw Schoenberg in New York when he was ill and suffering from the rigors of one of the most severe winters the East had experienced. It was his introduction to America. He does not look like the same person after these four weeks in Chautauqua, living in the sunshine and feeling himself a part of a friendly community.
"Chautauqua gives me an entirely new impression of America," he said last Monday, "It is surprising and gratifying to find a center where so many people are interested in intellectual pursuits. I had not realized this desire on the part of the people for mental culture. It is very agreeable to be here where so many are in search of the same thing I am, rest, amusement and mental stimulation."
"I have had many American pupils," he continued, "So I knew something of what to expect in America, and besides we find the same types everywhere, materialists and idealists. But I am constantly being surprised, because I cannot establish in my mind a distinctive type. I cannot say 'This or that is America,' because my impression changes with each one I meet, each is a new impression. For example, I might say, all Japanese are similar, as long as I do not know them personally, but I cannot unify the Americans, they are all different."
Of course, I could not resist the question concerning his recent pupils in America. "Have you found interesting talents?" His answer was very definite and constructive. "I have found much talent and especially much originality, but less technical perfection, because most of them do not give enough time to study. Adolph Weiss, for example, is an exception, for after studying in this country, he worked with me for four years. The average student has often not enough knowledge of the old masters. For instance, in Vienna, at the Conservatory, the present teachers were under the influence of Brahms who insisted on a profound study of Bach and Beethoven. They do the same, the students there know their Bach, Beethoven and Brahms more thoroly [!] than do the American students in general."
And then he made a statement which is self-evident, but few would credit Schoenberg with the belief: "It is impossible to write an entirely new thing without a knowledge of the past masters."
This is an answer to those who regard Schoenberg as the kind of an innovator who has burned his musical bridges behind him. He said that he had not made a clean break with the past as many have supposed. The change in his style has been gradual, but his works have always been a battle-ground, and each one in turn has raised a storm of controversy.
The first battle occurred when one of his friends, a charming singer, sang a group of Schoenberg songs, Opus 1, in order to give the public a chance to hear the work of this talented young composer. These songs which today seem to continue the tradition of the German Lied (Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, and Strauss) sounded to that audience as ultra as his later works have to more recent listeners, and created a near-riot

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. This occurred after Schoenberg had had a great success with a string quartet which was played in public but which has remained in manuscript.
A demonstration took place at the premiere of "Verklaerte Nacht," the sextet which was played by the Chautauqua Chamber Music Association August 9, and Schoenberg told of an experience Mahler had at a performance of one of his compositions. Mahler, the celebrated Viennese conductor and composer, was applauding the work, and a man whistled, a disagreeable European manner of registering displeasure, which we indulge in only on rare occasions. Mahler remonstrated with the man saying that he had no business to hiss. The man replied hat he had as much right to hiss a thing he did not like, as Mahler had to applaud it, and the two came to blows. Mahler was restrained by Schoenberg and other by-standers, and the man disappeared with the threat that he would hiss the next symphony by Mahler that he heard!
"People could understand the new music if they would only believe in it!" Schoenberg declared, " For faith is the first condition for understanding."
"We choose things to express which have ideas that are not so popular, but we put them into a condensed manner that is not easy to understand." Condensation is one of the keynotes of the Schoenbergian style. "My progress has been along the line to put aside everything that is not necessary. I have not changed in a matter of dynamics, but I ask clearness of sonority - every note must be heard, but not blurred."
Schoenberg says that he "fell into a new way," and he feels that the "new way" was established in his "Kammersymphonie" (Chamber Symphony) Op. 9. He started a second Chamber Symphony which is only half finished but he wants to complete it because as he expressed it, "It is good music and was the style in which I wished to create at the time."
He has so often been accused of being anti-emotional, so I dared to ask him whether he had tried to get away from emotion in music. His answer was, "But I write operas! How can one get away from emotion when one is dealing with emotion?" He haw written three operas – "Erwartung" (Waiting) a monogram [!] for one singer; "Die Glucklische [!] Hand" (The Hand of Fate) and "Von Heute auf Morgen" (From Day to Day). He is at work on another opera for which he has written the libretto, two acts of which are musically complete. Its subject is "Moses and Aaron."
My last question was concerning romanticism. It followed logically on the heels of Schoenberg's statement about emotionalism. "I am against personal romanticism, that is dramatizing one's own personality in music, but I am not against musical romanticism. For sometime I have not been against program music. Mahler was against program music, but I feel that it is impossible for anything to come out of a composer that is not within that composer, and in that way there is a place for romanticism and the program."
"I am not a scientist," he said in closing, "only a musician. I have never thought as a technician only in terms of music!"

The Chautauqua Daily (17 August 9134), 6

 

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