Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
I’m currently musing over the two works that precede Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. After reading the Blaue Reiter Almanac and Sixten Ringbom’s excellent study of Kandinsky (1970), I’m finding that an understanding of 1911 – 1913 is impossible without some sense of Theosophy, Anarchism, and the Freudian subconscious. Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke Op. 19 and Herzgewächse Op. 20 appear to be two attempts to write without self-censorship; these brittle and microcosmic works succeed so well because their initial material – their innere klang, following Kandinsky and Goethe – really does govern the procession of the work itself. The syntactical relationships between what seem like pianistic shapes in Op. 19 succeed one another in a free-associative manner, much like Freud’s unconscious image making. Op. 20 itself seems concerned with perpetuating a small number of metaphorically-chosen intervals, spinning them out centrifigually and impossibly away from the logical beginning point to a place beyond understanding.
These works seem to me to prepare Op. 21 quite carefully, in that the dream-like collage so carefully begun in the George Lieder now feels natural and less derivative. The whole of Op. 21 has the feeling of a medieval summa – a retelling of the world in a compendium that relates all knowledge of the author about the subject. Thus, the overlapping cycles of operatic scenes, baroque set pieces, and character pieces jostle against one another again in a Freudian dream world. Only the brevity of each movement and the centripedal aspects of the piece (Sprechstimme, instrumentation, brevity, and sometimes, limited pitch material) seems to pin each movement in place. The whole is so fragile and airy that any false move by the composer would seem to threaten the work’s integrity.
What amazes me as a listener, composer, and perfromer, is how TRUE Schoenberg’s choices are in these works. To my ear, his intuition rarely makes a false move. While the structures are dissonant and the sounds often jarring, they are the “right” sounds. The reasons for my opinion are probably as subjective as those for those who hate these works, I wager, but Schoenberg’s inner vibrations continually set mine in motion, to paraphrase Kandinsky in der blaue Reiter.
If only he had written these songs for a countertenor!