Bad blogger! Bad! NO!
Let the pressure of semester's final-third catch up with me, and slip into lazy-blogging (reactions, photos, or online quizzes) take the place of substantive posts. Digging out here today.
Yesterday in the undergrad class was Expressionism, Pierrot Lunaire, and setting up the great Schoenberg hiatus of c1917-1923, when the pressure of WWI poverty, brief spells as a draftee into the Austrian army, ill health, and (maybe) a bit of an artistic cul-de-sac led him to compose almost no new music. The simplified--but I think reasonably accurate--way we convey it to the kids is to suggest that this hiatus is a logical response on Schoenberg's part to the artistic dilemma of how to organize compositions in a post-tonal world. Over the entire course of the 19th century (and most especially in the second half), German Romantic composed had dominated the world stage with large-scale compositions whose subjective and/or programmatic intentions were conveyed through the essential narrative method of tonality: musical material begins in a "home" harmonic space, is subjected to travel to distant harmonic spaces, and then returns to that original "home" harmonic space again--but is heard anew as a result of the journey it has undergone. This essential romantic (roman-esque) and narrative model holds for most 19th-century German symphonies just as much as it does for operas--or novels, for that matter.
So you frame Schoenberg by talking about the 19th century's gradual expansion of chromaticism as an expressive and coloristic tool: Weber to Berlioz to Wagner to Liszt to Strauss, and the concomitant erosion of tonality as a structural tool. And within this you place Schoenberg's personality and sense of himself (historicist, conscious of the German tradition, desire for comprehensive and rigorous solutions), and then you present serialism--"a method of composing for 12 tones related only to one another", in other words not to either a conventional tonal organization, or even a tonal center--and you say "the remarkable thing about this guy is that not only did he diagnose the problem; e.g., 'how far can you erode tonality via chromaticism until it's totally saturated..and then what are you going to employ for organizing works in place of tonality?', and then, having diagnosed the problem, he actually found a solution. Whether you like the sound of the music that resulted from the method doesn't really matter. What's remarkable is that not only did the guy diagnose the 'total saturation' end-game and the need for an alternative solution--he actually found one."
Makes them listen to the Opus 25 pretty differently.
Below the jump: Sunset.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Bad blogger! Bad! NO!