The culture of the art song, of the Lied, represents much more than a genre among others in the German-speaking world. It was a practice rather than a genre; a cultural habit which united different social classes at various times (throughout the nineteenth century and in the first decades of the twentieth), and which encompassed the sublime and the kitsch, the unsurpassable heights of some masterpieces and the comical or the sentimental (or the sentimentally comical). Lied-singing could take place on the concert scene, particularly thanks to some iconic figures of the German-speaking area, but also in the homes; whereas in the former case a higher degree of perfection could be expected, in the latter the informal, confidential and intimate nature of the Lied was ideally rendered.
And while many individual songs were set to music, some of the most ambitious masterpieces of the genre constitute cycles, which may imply a composer’s setting of a poet’s complete cycle, a setting of excerpts from a larger poetic sylloge, or a cycle unified by the composer’s style and musical idea, but comprising lyrics by different authors. The idea of a cycle of sung poetry might therefore narrate a story, in more or less open terms, or suggest a mood, or depict a series of verbal/musical images constituting a mosaic of meaning. Virtually all of these possibilities are found in the greatest song cycles of the German Romanticism, and Arnold Schoenberg was keenly aware of the options at hand. Moreover, and different from opera, the vocal style of the Lied was more tightly bound to the natural inflection and pronunciation of the verbal text; it both admitted and required a more shaded declamation, and normally aimed less at displaying the singer’s vocal qualities than his or her deep understanding of the text and of its implications.
The itinerary narrated in a song cycle frequently mirrors themes and moods which are close to a composer’s heart. In the case of Arnold Schoenberg, the selection of three song cycles presented in this Da Vinci Classics album literally traces the “story” of Schoenberg’s own development as an artist, and of his crafting of his musical language.
After his first compositions in this genre, Schoenberg’s op. 2 represents his first attempt to establish his personality in the field of the art song. The turning point was represented by his encounter with the poetry of Richard Dehmel (1863-1920), a modernist poet whose multifaceted style drew inspiration from a variety of styles. Over the years, Schoenberg would turn his attention to Dehmel on numerous occasions, and even one of his greatest masterpieces, Verklärte Nacht, is inspired by the poetry of this author. The moving power of Dehmel’s lyrics was clearly acknowledged by Schoenberg himself, who wrote to the poet: “Your poems have had a decisive influence on my development as a composer. They were what first made me try to find a new tone in the lyrical mode. Or rather, I found it without even looking, simply by reflecting in music what your poems stirred up in me”. In particular, Dehmel was attracted by synesthetic juxtapositions, and abundantly drew from the fields of visual arts and music for his images and metaphors. This is very evident in Erwartung, the first Lied in this cycle, where Dehmel employs many references to colours (particularly primary colours and in binary oppositions), whose effect is mirrored by Schoenberg through the use of “coloured” harmonies. Even though the musical language is still recognizably tonal, Schoenberg introduced several unexpected harmonic solutions, possibly encouraged precisely by the “visual” imagery suggested by the artist: when harmony started to lose some of its functional value, it progressively ceased to narrate a story in a consequential fashion, and instead began to represent a series of impressions whose meaning is revealed by their combination.
For this song cycle (which was actually not conceived as such from the outset), Schoenberg drew from Dehmel’s Weib und Welt, and he significantly dedicated his op. 2 to Alexander von Zemlinsky, his mentor (and later his brother-in-law), the one “to whom I owe most of my knowledge of the technique and the problems of composing”, as Schoenberg would later affirm. The poetry is intensely evocative, with a deep and intense eroticism, but it also reveals, through the image of human love, a more spiritual longing, which possibly expresses the questions, problems and sufferings of the fin-de-siècle years.
If in this cycle the days of tonal language, in Schoenberg’s hands, were ostensibly numbered, the other two cycles recorded here display respectively the eventual crumbling of this reassuring language and the eventual adoption of atonality.
The Eight Songs op. 6 were written between 1903 and 1905, and their gestation occurred in parallel with that of the First Quartet, op. 7. A string quartet, just as an a cappella choral work, is one of the genres where composers may display their contrapuntal and polyphonic skills at their highest, and Schoenberg made no exception to the rule. At the same time, the polyphonic idiom allows the compresence of much harsher dissonances than those permitted in (or deemed agreeable within) the language of traditional harmony.
One of the most impressive songs of the cycle is No. 4, Verlassen (“Forsaken”), where the voice utters this same word “moaning”: the abandonment felt by the protagonist, who seems out of place within the surrounding splendour of nature, is very similar to the abandonment of the “comfort zone” of traditional tonality, whose territory was being left by Schoenberg (and by many others after him).
Here too Schoenberg employs polyphony to unhinge the dogmas of tonal harmony, while also structuring the discourse through the systematic use of motifs: these micro segments of tunes have mostly lost the fascination of melody, but have been transformed into the foundational bricks of the musical form.
This process is so strong and powerful that Schoenberg was able to renounce the unity afforded by the use of texts from a single poetic work, and to juxtapose a series of lyrics with different provenances without losing the internal consistence of the musical speech.
In the following two years, Schoenberg did not compose other similarly groundbreaking song cycles, but, in 1907, the musician was deeply affected by the poetry of Stefan George. This charismatic figure, with mystical traits and with a very individual style, had gathered a number of followers and admirers who revered him with an almost religious zeal, and his style was veined by symbolism but also marked by the beginnings of the expressionism. In 1908, Schoenberg began setting to music some of George’s poems, selecting fifteen of them excerpted from The Book of the Hanging Gardens. George’s collection recounts the birth and destruction of an idyll of love, set within the luxuriant and exotic atmosphere of a Babylonian garden. The flowering and thriving vegetation, observed in its various moments, symbolizes the growth and ripening of a feeling of love tinged by eroticism; similarly, however, the end of the young protagonist’s experience is marked by the looming desolation of the garden.
If Schoenberg’s choice of this set of poems may have partly been determined by the particular moment of life he was experiencing (his wife had in fact left him, though eventually the two spouses would be reunited again), the symbolism of the garden is much more strictly connected to the musical language. The tonal language, this ordered and properly cultivated garden which had domesticated the art of sounds, now seems to be overgrown; it is definitively abandoned and left behind, as a fond memory but also, possibly, as an illusion.
In this itinerary, Schoenberg was inspired and supported by the poetry he had chosen. In his own words, “surprisingly, without any expectation on my part, these songs showed a style quite different from what I had written before… New sounds were produced, a new kind of melody appeared, a new approach to expression of moods and characters was discovered”. When the cycle was published, Schoenberg boldly reaffirmed his experience and itinerary by making it explicit in the preface to the published edition: “I am conscious of having broken through every restriction of a bygone aesthetic. I am being forced in this direction not because my invention or technique is inadequate, nor because I am uninformed about all the other things the prevailing aesthetics demand, but because I am obeying an inner compulsion, which is stronger than any up-bringing: I am obeying the formative process which, being the one natural to me, is stronger than my artistic education”.
In other words, the natural forces propelling the garden to blossom, grow and flourish are the same which will ultimately destroy it as a garden, though without destroying the life it contains. Ultimately, the strength of life will overcome the boundaries of a “civilized” cultivation; in musical terms, the dissonances will break through the limits imposed to them by the harmonic language. But even though the “garden” of tonality will seem to be a prey of disorder and chaos, this will only prove the vitality of music itself.
Through these Lieder, therefore, we are able to follow Schoenberg’s steps, leading him to the discovery of his own, unique language; the language of words proved inspirational in driving him to the creation of atonality and to the establishment of a new aesthetics – that of modernity.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Born in Seoul, Joo Cho graduated at the “Verdi” Conservatory in Milan and she continued her studies with Peter Schreier and Helmut Deutsch. She has won several International competitions: among them, the “Giulio Neri” Singing Competition in Torrita di Siena (Italy) and the “Haverhill Sinfonia Soloist Competition” (UK). She has performed operas, oratorios and sacred music in venues such as: Opera House in Seoul, Tiroler Festspiele Erl, Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, Teatro Comunale in Modena, Auditorium della Conciliazione in Rome, Teatro degli Arcimboldi in Milan, Sala Verdi at the Milan Conservatory, Teatro Sociale in Rovigo, Milan Cathedral, Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Messina, Teatro Regio in Parma. She has sung under Gustav Kuhn, Donato Renzetti, Flavio Emilio Scogna, Romano Gandolfi, John Anderson, Christopher Fifield, Carlo Frajese. Among her performances: La Traviata by Verdi, La Bohème by Puccini, Così fan tutte and Die Zauberflöte by Mozart, Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal by Wagner, Messa da Requiem by Verdi, Exsultate, jubilate by Mozart, 4th Symphony by Mahler, Requiem by Mozart, Les Illuminations by Britten, Betulia liberata by Mozart, Stabat mater by Rossini, Mirjams Siegesgesang by Schubert.
Joo Cho is very interested in Lied repertoire and she has sung Lied Concerts in Palacio Marqués de Salamanca in Madrid, Musée Debussy in Paris, Musée Würth in Strasbourg, Festival MiTo in Milan, Salone del Conservatorio in Turin, Großer Saal der Musikhochschule in Lübeck, Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, Charterhouse in Godalming, Hayward Theatre in Ely, Sala della musica in Lugano, Museum of Art National University in Seoul. She has often sung twentieth century and contemporary music: she performed world premieres by Giacomo Manzoni, Adriano Guarnieri, Vladimir Rannev, Luca Francesconi, Yotam Haber, Stefano Gervasoni, Alessandro Solbiati, Nicola Sani and many others. She sang the posthumous world premiere of Sette by Niccolò Castiglioni (Passionspielhaus in Erl, under Tito Ceccherini) and the Japanese premiere of Il rumore del tempo by Manzoni (Suntory Hall in Tokyo, with members of the Ensemble Intercontemporain). In 2015 she performed La fabbrica illuminata by Luigi Nono in Milan (Musica/Realtà), on the 25th death anniversary of the composer.
She has recorded for labels Bongiovanni, Col legno, Limen, Classica Viva.
Italian pianist Marino Nahon graduated at the “Verdi” Conservatory in Milan; he continued his studies with Piero Rattalino, Michele Fedrigotti and Pietro Soraci, and he attended masterclasses with Paul Badura-Skoda, Dalton Baldwin, Bruno Canino, Phillip Moll, Antonio Ballista, Irwin Gage, Alexander Lonquich.
He has performed as a soloist, as a chamber musician and as a Lied accompanist in various concert halls in Italy (Turin: Sala 500 del Lingotto, Salone del Conservatorio; Rome: Sala Baldini, Villa Torlonia; Parma: Casa della Musica; Genoa: Palazzo Ducale; Orvieto: Teatro Mancinelli; Modena: GMI; Naples: Fondazione Humaniter; Venice: Palazzo Albrizzi; Alessandria: Auditorium Pittaluga; Milan: Sala Verdi and Sala Puccini of the Conservatory, Festival MiTo, Società dei Concerti, Milano Classica, Musica/Realtà), in France (Paris: “Atelier Concerts”, Musée Debussy; Aix-en-Provence: “Concerts d'Aix”; Nice: Auditorium Nucéra), in Switzerland (Geneva: Concerts d’été en Vieille-Ville), in UK (Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare Institute; Godalming: Charterhouse; Ely: Hayward Theatre; Colchester: University of Essex), in USA (San Francisco: Italian Cultural Institute), in Japan (Kyoto: Fumin Hall ALTI; Kumagaya: Sakuramate Theatre), in South Korea (Seoul: Museum of Art National University), in Taiwan (Taipei: National Theatre), in Turkey (Ankara: Hacettepe University Concert Hall). In 2018 he gave a solo recital at the Museo Teatrale alla Scala in Milan, on the piano once owned by Franz Liszt.
He is also an active performer of twentieth century and contemporary music, and he played, in first performances, works by Vladimir Rannev, Yotam Haber, Adriano Guarnieri, Stefano Gervasoni, Dario Maggi, Osvaldo Coluccino, Corrado Rojac, Alessandra Ciccaglioni, Alessandro Melchiorre, Giovanni Damiani, Gabriele Cosmi, Rocco Abate, Luca Cori, Sonia Bo, Gabriele Manca, Giuliano Zosi, Nicola Sani and others.
He has studied composition with Bruno Zanolini at the Milan Conservatory and musicology with Emilio Sala at the Università degli studi of Milan, where he graduated: he is the author of several musicological essays, which appeared in magazines such as «Musica e Storia» and «Musicalia – Annuario internazionale di studi musicologici».
Arnold Schoenberg: His father Samuel (1838–89) was born in Szécsény, his mother (née Nachod, 1848–1921) in Prague. They came to Vienna from Pressburg (Bratislava). Schoenberg accordingly inherited Hungarian nationality, which was converted to Czech on the formation of the state of Czechoslovakia in 1918. He became an American citizen in 1941. The family was Jewish, and the three children, Arnold, Ottilie and Heinrich, were brought up in the orthodox faith. Neither parent was particularly musical; Schoenberg remembered his uncle Fritz Nachod, who wrote poetry and taught him French, as the main cultural influence of his childhood. But his sister and brother showed musical talent, and the latter, like their cousin Hans Nachod, became a professional singer. Schoenberg’s musical education began when he was eight with violin lessons, and he very soon began composing by the light of nature, imitating the violin duets by such composers as Pleyel and Viotti that he was given to learn, and arranging anything that came his way – operatic melodies or military band music – for the same combination. Somewhat later, having met a schoolfellow who played the viola, he was able to spread his wings to the point of writing trios for two violins and viola.
The family was not well off. In the year after the death of his father, who had kept a shoe shop, Schoenberg was obliged to leave school and take employment as a clerk in a small private bank, where he remained for about five years. Meanwhile he pursued music, literature and philosophy in the evenings, his interest fired by two friends of his own age, David Josef Bach and Oskar Adler. According to his own account Bach taught him the courage to keep his artistic ideals high. Adler was in effect his first music teacher. He was a good violinist, and Schoenberg taught himself the cello, at first using a large viola adapted with zither strings, and then a proper cello which he began by playing with violin fingering. Together they formed an amateur ensemble which permitted Schoenberg to explore the Classical chamber music repertory from the inside and to compose quartets. Adler helped him to educate his ear through playing, and taught him some elementary harmony. For the musical forms he turned to articles in a popular encyclopedia.
Schoenberg and his friends heard very little music except what they could play themselves. Concerts were beyond their means, though they would sometimes stand outside café enclosures to eavesdrop on the band. While he was still working in the bank Schoenberg joined an amateur orchestra, really no more than a handful of string players, conducted by Alexander von Zemlinsky, and the two soon became firm friends. Zemlinsky, the elder by three years, had attended the Vienna Conservatory, where he had distinguished himself. His compositions had attracted Brahms’s notice. He was therefore in a position to help Schoenberg with the formal instruction that he had so far missed. Although Schoenberg received encouragement from Josef Labor, to whom he submitted a movement from a string quartet in C in about 1894, and from Richard Heuberger, Zemlinsky was the only regular teacher he ever had. The importance of Zemlinsky’s influence is hard to assess. In later life Schoenberg ascribed to him most of his knowledge of the problems and techniques of composing, whereas Zemlinsky merely said that they had shown each other their works. It is difficult to believe that Schoenberg ever needed to be prompted twice about a general principle of composition, but he certainly respected Zemlinsky’s advice, and the pattern of their early relationship persisted. At a time when misunderstanding had taught him to hold himself aloof, he still treated Zemlinsky as an equal both as man and musician.
In the autumn of 1897 Schoenberg wrote a string quartet in D major, making various changes in the course of composition in response to Zemlinsky’s criticisms. When it was done both felt that it marked a new stage in his work, and Zemlinsky, who was on the committee of the Wiener Tonkünstlerverein, proposed it for performance. It was accepted, played at a concert for members only the following March, and well enough received to be repeated in the next season. It was many years before a new work of Schoenberg’s was to meet with comparable success. The Verein turned down his string sextet Verklärte Nacht in 1899, and there were protests when songs from opp.1–3 were sung in public in December 1900. From that time on, in his own words, the scandal never stopped. In these early works he had already taken the first steps in the development of chromaticism that was to lead him to abandon triadic harmony and tonality itself by 1908, and each stage in his progress aroused fresh hostility. For the moment, however, little was heard of him. He kept the wolf from the door by conducting workers’ choral societies associated with the Social Democratic Party and orchestrating operettas, and managed between March 1900 and April 1901 to compose the vast Gurre-Lieder.
In October 1901 Schoenberg married Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde (1877–1923). There were two children of the marriage: Gertrud (1902–47), who married Schoenberg’s pupil Felix Greissle in 1921 and emigrated to the USA in 1938, and Georg (1906–74). In December the young couple moved to Berlin, where Schoenberg had got a job on the musical side of Überbrettl, a kind of cabaret that formed part of Ernst von Wolzogen’s Buntes Theater. The idea behind Überbrettl was to use the popular mode to serious ends. Various well-known men of letters, such as Wedekind, Morgenstern and Dehmel, were interested in it. In the summer Schoenberg had tried his hand at setting verses of the Überbrettl type, and at least one song, Nachtwandler, was subsequently performed in Berlin, though only once. Schoenberg’s employment there lasted only until the following summer, after which he was obliged to interrupt the orchestration of the Gurre-Lieder in order to score operettas. He was saved from further drudgery of this kind by Richard Strauss, to whom he had shown parts of the Gurre-Lieder and his new symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande. Strauss was impressed, and used his influence to obtain for him the Liszt Stipendium and a post as composition teacher at the Stern Conservatory. So he stayed on in Berlin for another year and returned to Vienna in July 1903 with the completed score of Pelleas.
That autumn various musical classes were organized in rooms made available at a girls’ school founded by Dr Eugenie Schwarzwald. Schoenberg taught harmony and counterpoint there for a single season, and Zemlinsky, in whose house he was living at the time, taught form and orchestration. When Schoenberg gave up his class some of its members continued to study composition and theory with him privately, among them a number of students of music history under Mahler’s friend Guido Adler at the University of Vienna. In the autumn of 1904 this nucleus was joined by two new recruits, Webern (an Adler pupil) and Berg, who were to fulfil their promise as composers through acceptance and individual reinterpretation of the successive steps in their master’s development, and bring him the support of their lifelong personal and artistic loyalty.
If private teaching was scarcely lucrative for Schoenberg – he taught Berg free for the first year because his family was not in a position to pay fees – composition was still less so. The Viennese public was conservative in its tastes and reluctant to support new work in any of the arts. Special societies attempted to remedy this situation. To one of them, the Ansorge Verein, Schoenberg owed various early performances, starting with some of his songs early in 1904. At this time he and Zemlinsky were already planning a society of their own, which they launched successfully under the title Vereinigung Schaffender Tonkünstler. For their honorary president they managed to secure Mahler, whose brother-in-law Arnold Rosé had invited him to rehearsals of Verklärte Nacht the previous year when Rosé was preparing the quartet that he led for a performance of it. Mahler was deeply impressed and became a staunch supporter of Schoenberg, even though he did not always see eye to eye with him over artistic matters. The new society survived only for the season 1904–5 but succeeded in putting on sizable works by Mahler, Strauss, Zemlinsky and others, and in January the first performance of Pelleas und Melisande, conducted by the composer. The orchestra was ill at ease and the reception cool.
The pattern of Schoenberg’s life for the next few years was now set. A heavy teaching programme did not save him and his family from material hardship; as late as 1910 he was obliged to borrow from Mahler to pay the rent, and the following year Berg launched an appeal on his behalf, though without his knowledge. The style of his music, which he composed largely in the slacker summer months, became increasingly dissonant; each new work raised a storm. The Rosé quartet gave the first performances of the first quartet and Kammersymphonie early in 1907. Mahler stood up for both works in public, and although he privately confessed that he could not fully understand Schoenberg’s development he never lost faith in him. His removal from Vienna that spring deprived Schoenberg of a valuable ally, though in the four years that remained to him his concern for Schoenberg’s well-being and interest in his work never faltered. Uproar predictably greeted Rosé’s first performance of the Second Quartet in December 1908, and when the first freely dissonant works, Das Buch der hängenden Gärten and the op.11 piano pieces, were presented in January 1910 they met with almost universal incomprehension.
These were years of crisis not only for Schoenberg’s musical style but in his domestic life. He had made the acquaintance of the Viennese painters Oskar Kokoschka and Richard Gerstl, and in 1908 took up painting seriously. Gerstl, who had become a family friend, gave lessons to both him and his wife. During that summer he discovered that she was having an affair with Gerstl, with whom she then went to live. Later she was persuaded to return for the sake of the children; in November Gerstl committed suicide.
In October 1910 Schoenberg mounted a one-man exhibition. The following January he received a letter from the expressionist painter Kandinsky, whose sympathy for his work extended beyond his painting to his music and ideas. This initiated a lasting friendship. Schoenberg exhibited with the group Der Blaue Reiter founded by Kandinsky, and contributed an essay and a facsimile of Herzgewächse to the first and only number of the periodical that bore its name. He showed pictures elsewhere, but, although he continued to paint and draw occasionally in later years, visual means of expression quickly lost the importance that they had briefly held for him.
For some years Schoenberg had kept up a fairly steady output of music, culminating in the extraordinary works of 1909: the op.11 piano pieces, the Fünf Orchesterstücke op.16 and Erwartung. But now the pace slackened. His spare time in the years 1910–11 was largely devoted to writing the Harmonielehre and completing the long-delayed orchestration of the Gurre-Lieder. In 1910 he offered his services to the Kaiserliche-Königliche Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst as an external lecturer in theory and composition. His application was successful, but his hopes that this might lead to a professorship were thwarted. A question was asked in parliament, and he was subjected to virulent attacks on racial grounds. By the end of the academic year his circumstances had so far deteriorated that he decided to try his luck once again in Berlin, and moved there with his family in the autumn of 1911.
His arrival was greeted with some extremely unpleasant comment in the press, and his winter lectures at the Stern Conservatory were poorly attended. Nevertheless his fortunes at last began to improve a little. His name at least was now internationally familiar, audiences were beginning to find his earlier music more accessible, and his later work was arousing curiosity. Pierrot lunaire, composed in the summer of 1912, was given with considerable success under the composer’s direction in October, and then went on tour to 11 German and Austrian cities. Sir Henry Wood had given the first performance of the op.16 orchestral pieces in London the previous month, and that of the Gurre-Lieder took place in Vienna the following February under Schreker. This was an overwhelming success, but the composer, smarting under years of very different treatment from the Viennese public, refused to acknowledge its applause. Five weeks later it took its revenge by bringing a concert of music by Schoenberg and his associates to a halt. Meanwhile Schoenberg, relieved of immediate financial worries by the generosity of a rich patron, determined to make a secondary career as a conductor. He lacked experience, but Zemlinsky arranged for him to conduct, early in 1912, a concert including Pelleas und Melisande. This set him on the road. By the outbreak of war he had conducted Pelleas, the Gurre-Lieder and the Fünf Orchesterstücke in a number of European cities.