From a conversation

The great war has silenced the battle around Arnold Schönberg – actually, the battle between Schönberg and the masses about art, which he and they so often regard with fundamentally different approaches.

That is, other terminology has become available; the return is to the smooth, trouble-free and long-familiar; the technique of waging war for or against art is forgotten; repose is sought where once where once was invigorating dispute. . .golden days! Was it not always fine, what the conflict of opinions about Schönberg used to evoke? Scandals and court actions, too! And a fine legal dispute it was – a battle about the right of a bold innovator of music, who achieved enough credibility to oblige others to hear him long enough until time had decided for or against him – well, it used to be impossible to understand him at once.

And yet – now the times are truly unsuitable for listeners’ artistic development. Composure and quiet are required, fertile soil for artistic progress. But of course the present also belongs to one such as Schönberg, the teacher and theory innovator, since such a one needs reason above all. And the more reasonable one is now, the better. But the teacher Schönberg is so reasonable, so clearly forward-looking and, with all creative strength, so easily formative that one cannot sense at all the genius of his innovation in a powerful effort of one’s own perceptivity.

And it was to this teacher that I devoted my latest visit. “So you do not wish to remain a teacher and master as you’ve been till now,” went my initial question, “and you wish to found an entire, real school?”

“Well, I have to – gradually,” he said. “As a teacher, I follow my own plans, a new, very special method – and it must go out into the world. You see; I want to avoid teaching and learning from an old book. Reading it chapter by chapter is worthless, for pupils and teachers alike. For the most part, a rigid syllabus only tells the pupils what they don’t want to know. So I have based my courses, which I call seminars in composition, on an entirely new, liberal system, like this:

“A certain part of the day belongs to all my pupils together. Every pupil comes when he wants to learn, when he is curious to know about this or that. The subjects of the lessons are not fixed, they are subject to what the pupils want – that is, never according to a neatly ordered procedure – theory of harmony, counterpoint, orchestration. . .everything proceeds according to free choice.

“In detail, the lessons go like this; my pupils and I meet casually together in a classroom. One of them asks this or that question, and I answer according to the scope of the question, perhaps going beyond that, depending on whether I think it is good for the pupil or not. Perhaps I won’t answer at all, because I’m not inclined to that aspect at the moment  - and now and again I might simply send the pupil home because I’m just not disposed toward teaching that day and so I could only teach him a little or absolutely nothing. But if I have answered a question, then comes the next one and, if possible, it will link up with the previous one as closely as possible, and so forth. Of course, this system will not be so – unsystematic as that short description might lead one to assume. Shackles are placed on every liberty, to maintain order.”

Schönberg looked at me closely, probing to see whether I had understood correctly. I had to agree with him, since he was in the process of finding the right method for the development of true artists, development which comes forth entirely from within. It would be ideal for artistic teaching if Schönberg’s school found something positive to juxtapose to the negative aspect of individual eagerness to learn.

“I also associate this idea with a reform of a social nature,” he continued. “I recommended it back when I received the appointment to the Academy – but I was ultimately obliged to live with its rejection. I was told that the state could not adopt such a reform, to which  can only reply, ‘If not the state, then who?’ That is, this reformation consists in determining the fees according to the students’ own self-evaluation. To the extent that I have this process in mind as a state-run measure, I imagine the teaching funding based on tax rates. . .but of course, as a private party, I cannot take that approach. I cannot presume to demand an official document so I can check the funds available to a pupil or to whomever is bearing his financial burdens. That is why I say that everyone should pay as much as is reasonable in his circumstances. . .I really do not see why a rich person should pay just as much as a poor one. If tuition fees are the same for everyone, the rich usually don’t even notice the outlay, whereby the penurious often have to scrimp and save to pay for them.

As much as I was obliged to admit that Schönberg was right, I should have liked to voice some doubts about his reform of tuition fees – without the tax rates. Could one really count on people’s complete honesty? And, on the other hand – wouldn’t innumerable pupils flock to him, pupils whom one honors too much by half by calling them semi-talents? But I abandoned such thoughts, preferring to bask in the this marvelous man’s idealism.

Then Schönberg told me about some of his new compositions and those yet unplayed; two theater works were on his shelf, awaiting perfromance. After that came a number of orchestra Lieder and an oratorio on a massive scale, Die Jakobsleiter; its profound, freely religious text was almost completely set to music. Schönberg told me about the technical improvements in those last works – the “choral woodwinds” which he introduced to achieve wind-instrument effects of uniform color, both in the form of multiple-note chords and for a powerful forte in the basses. It will be up to practical realization to prove the amount of actual effect they have as opposed to the number of orchestra players – Schönberg calls for eight contrabassoons, for example.

There was another reform needing approval in its relatively progressiveness – Schönberg’s revamping of full scores. Ignoring all attempts at compromise previously undertaken in this regard, Schönberg has given his newest scores a form that might well be called similar to a piano reduction; all the parts are [written] in the treble and bass clefs, everything notated in the treble clef is shown on the upper half of the page, and everything written in the bass clef is given below that: likewise the main and secondary parts. None of the parts played by several instruments is notated for each instrument individually; the part is written out once and bears the names of the instruments concerned; all transpositions are eliminated.

There is no question but that this innovation will meet with resistance from many conductors used to the superfluous and often oh so outdated difficulties of conventional scoring they have learned. But though they may find Schönberg’s unfamiliar form complicated, that will be offset by the dissimilarly facilitated overview of the entirety

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. “For conductors, every way of writing in my scores amounts to the same thing,” Schönberg remarked incidentally.

Having broached the subject of orchestration, we discussed it further. Thoughts are exchanged rapidly in the company of a newly arrived musician, and before one knows it, one has again learned something new – one admires Schönberg the teacher. Yet he, too, is facing a new issue; he is 43 and it remains to be seen whether he can combine both doing his service as a lance corporal with a one-year volunteer medal in the militia and fulfilling his obligation as an artist and teacher.

Neues Wiener Journal (September 18, 1917)


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