Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern: A Companion to the Second Viennese School.
Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern: A Companion to the Second Viennese School is a treasure trove of information. Editor Bryan R. Simms describes the book as "a broad ... study of the works of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, the artistic milieu that produced them, the influence they exerted upon musical culture ... and their enduring importance to serious music to the present day" (pp. ix-x). Simms, David Schroeder, and Anne C. Shreffler offer, respectively, biographical-musical essays on Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. Margaret Notley and Dagmar Barnouw focus on major artistic and intellectual figures and general political and societal values of fin de siecle Vienna. Joseph Auner and Jonathan W. Bernard deal with aspects of the Second Viennese legacy. The excellent bibliography includes a particularly valuable interdisciplinary section, "General Studies on Music, the Arts, and Science at the Turn of the Twentieth Century" (pp. 394-97).
The lead article, Auner's "The Second Viennese School as an Historical Concept," elucidates the meaning of "Second Viennese School" with regard to Schoenberg as a teacher and in light of the reception of the school's techniques, "namely, the emancipation of the dissonance and twelve-tone composition" (p. 5). Auner's first-rate essay acts as an effective catalyst for cross-references throughout the whole. For example, focusing on the psychological realm, Auner points out Schoenberg's concern that Webern "immediately uses everything I do, plan, or say" (p. 10). Shreffler's expert essay on Webern describes this as the result of Schoenberg's demands for excessive allegiances. "All of Schoenberg's students were expected to display devotion and subservience to a degree that seems excessive today" (p. 263). Ultimately such "unhealthy emotional dependence" (ibid.) resulted in Webern's seeking psychoanalytic treatment from Alfred Adler (p. 266).
David Schroeder's engaging, beautifully written essay on Berg brings up the notion of Berg's "ambivalent" (p. 186) attitudes toward his teacher. Schoenberg's criticisms of Berg's dress and behavior, his lack of support for Berg after a horrific critical attack on the Altenberg Lieder in 1913, and his jealousy of Wozzeck's triumph all led to a subtle but powerful retaliation by the younger composer. In his Chamber Concerto, Berg makes subtle allusions to the 1907 affair of Schoenberg's wife with the painter Richard Gerstl--an event humiliating to Schoenberg. Simms's excellent biography of Schoenberg also recounts the Gerstl affair but emphasizes its musical rather than psychological consequences: the Second String Quartet, op. 10, and an unset Requiem text from 1920-21.
Though Auner's essay deals with historicity, it does not readily complement Bernard's "The Legacy of the Second Viennese School." Auner discusses the "Trinity's" historical impact in light of their theoretical writings and the critical reception of their nontonal works. Bernard rejects the idea that the theoretical works, "emancipation of the dissonance," or atonality are the primary aspects of the legacy of the Second Viennese School. Instead, he emphasizes the twelve-tone compositional lineage in Western Europe and America that originated with Schoenberg and his pupils.
Bernard's essay is impressive in scope, the most detailed comparison to date of theoretical approaches to twelve-tone music. Rejecting Auner's concept of "school," Bernard focuses on a comparison of twelve-tone structures in works of Wallingford Riegger, Ernst Krenek, Walter Piston, Aaron Copland, Milton Babbitt, Luciano Berio, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Dallapiccola, Luigi Nono, Henri Pousseur, Roger Sessions, and others. He raises major theoretical issues such as the row as an abstract precompositional entity, the problem of vertical row construction, the serialization of rhythm and dynamics, and rotational procedures.
Bernard's work is philosophically positivist in the tradition of Babbitt. Thus, unlike Auner, he creates intellectual dissonance between himself and the philosophical idealists Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. For example, he echoes Babbitt's description of Sessions as "very anti-Schoenberg" (p. 348), a notion based on Sessions's failure to accept initially the compositional validity of the twelve-tone method. Such views of Sessions fail to take into account the letter Schoenberg sent to him in 1944 accompanying the gift of his twelve-tone draft of Die Jakobsteiter. Here Schoenberg makes clear that he admires Sessions's opinions of his music-early or otherwise--explaining that the twelve-tone method is merely a tool of presentation, not the ultimate musical idea of a piece: "[Y]ou say [in your article] one must listen to [my music] in the same manner as to every other kind of music, forget the theories, the twelve-tone method, the dissonances etc....I have said a similar thing ... 'A Chinese poet speaks Chinese , but what is it that he says?'...That I write in this or that style or method is my private affair and is no concern to any listener--but I want my message to be understood and accepted" (Schoenberg, Letters, ed. Erwin Stein, trans. Eithnie Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965], 223).
The sources of Schoenberg's own compositional values are connected to political and societal concerns in Notley's stunning article, "Musical Culture in Vienna at the Turn of the Century." Notley pairs the values of "Absolute Music" with the Brahmsian school and the liberals, and the programmatic values of the Wagnerian school with the anti-Semitic Pan-Germans, Christian Socials, and Social Democrats. She shows that the performance and music journalism societies of Vienna also fell into these camps: the critics Eduard Hanslick, Max Kalbeck, and Richard Heuberger as well as Gustav Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky, Heinrich Schenker, Artur Schnabel, and Schoenberg joined the Tonkunstlerverein (Society of Musicians); Maximilian Muntz, Georg von Schonerer, and Anton Bruckner joined the Wagner-Verein (Wagner Society). Since Jews and the "virtual Jew" Brahms (p. 43) formed the majority in the Society of Musicians, the idealist values of "Absolute Music"--motivic development and formal logic as presentation of musical id eas--became associated with Jewish thought and, for the anti-Semites, "decadent music" (p. 47). By raising such important points, Notley leads the reader to understand other excerpts of the book in a new light; for example, she provides a historical context for Adolph Weissmann's 1925 anti-Semitic commentaries (p. 20) and for the aesthetic diatribes against Schoenberg's works found in Schenker's diary (p. 135).
Compared with Notley's work, Barnouw's article is a disappointment because her thoughts, though engaging in themselves, are not integrated sufficiently into the study of music. Her essay begins, for example, as an argument against the ideas of Steven Beller, a cultural historian, who sees the progressive sides of Viennese society as the creation of its Jewish community. For the reader coming from a musical background, it is not apparent why Barnouw vehemently critiques Beller as opposed to other historians with similar views.
After her discourse on Beller, Barnouw moves to a description of the artistic and intellectual contributions of Adolph Loos, Karl Kraus, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernst Mach, and Robert Musil. She highlights Loos's famous antipathy to ornament but fails to mention any connection to the Second Viennese School, yet here the relation is tantalizing. The most famous chapter of Schoenberg's Harmonielehre (1911) constitutes an argument against the traditional view of nonharmonic tones, which Schoenberg equates with "decoration with ornaments, 'tattooing,' as Adolf Loos says" (Schoenberg, Theory of Harnony, trans. Roy E. Carter [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978], 340). Was Schoenberg inspired to write against nonharmonic tones by Loos's thought? This article particularly makes the reader wish for a lengthy introduction to this volume. Without it, the book's interdisciplinary promise remains somewhat unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the intellectual value of the work is incontestable.