Latest news

Avior Byron will present a paper 'Huberman as Beethoven' in the 2010 Israel Musicology Conference.   

Subscribe to

Enter your email and press the 'Subscribe' button to receive blog posts via email:


Subscribe via RSS

What is RSS?

Follow @avior on Twitter

People reading Bymusic now

We have 2 guests online

Translate this page now

Who is Behind

Avior Byron

My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

What next?

 Subscribe to the Blog

Click here to add site to your favorites

What I'm doing just now


What is THE best way to find scholarships?

Huberman Communicating with Bach: reviews from Australia

H. Brewster Jones of The Advertiser, Adelaide, Australia wrote on 4 August 1937: ‘Huberman seemed detached, aloof, in his playing of the Bach ‘Chaconne’. His beauty of tone and phrasing was something to revere at a distance rather then enter into. It had a classical purity and spiritual exaltation. It was as if Huberman was communicating with, in intimate fashion, the very innermost thoughts and feelings of the great composer, Bach; without making any concession whatsoever to what might be termed popular appeal.’ 

The Daily News from Perth, Australia wrote on 12 August 1937 an article on Huberman. They dedicated almost half of it to a concert incident were he had to stop the concert due to noise of motor cars that came from the street. He complained that there was only one set of doors that separated the concert hall from the street. A subtitle in the article was entitled: ‘Beware of the Gods’. At this part Huberman told the reporter about a similar incident in Kursaal Theater in Cairo. He claimed that although the Egyptian Government tried to take care of the problem, the theater was burned down. "So beware of the wrath of the Gods of music!" said Huberman to the reporter. Perhaps Huberman was half joking. Nevertheless, his demand for silence during performance (including his complementing the audience for not coughing during the concert) and his reference to ‘the Gods of music’ is telling.
Howard Ashton of The Sunday Sun and Guardian Magazine (Australia) wrote on 4 July 1937 that Huberman said that ‘Art… is the philosophy of the soul.’ To make music like Beethoven, Huberman argued, it is not sufficient to have talent; ‘A man must devote himself, must sacrifice himself. To be a musician one must be a prophet.’ He suggested that ‘great music’ lasted from Bach to Brahms’ and that ‘An age which is suspicious of emotion and romance and sacrifice is not an age fertile in great art. Plenty of clever art, but little great. But I think that there are signs that the people are beginning to get tired of it, and wish to go back to something that springs more from the heart and soul.’ Then Huberman reveals to which target he pointed his arrows: ‘Machine made art can never really satisfy.’
            Ashton wrote that Huberman approaches music ‘as Gerardi once told me he approached the Haydn ‘Cello Concerto, "with fasting and prayer." His bow is a sward in the eternal crusade for that which is true and beautiful, his violin an instrument for voicing the thoughts and emotions of the great men who have created beauty for his expression. He dedicates his artistic powers to something more austere and more moving than dazzling effects and specious appeals to wonder and admiration.

Interview with David Shemer - The Performance of Early Music - Part II

Interview with David Shemer - The Performance of Early Music - Part II

This is the second part of the interview with David Shemer. Click here in order to read the first part of the interview with David Shemer on the performance of early music.

Could you please tell us about some of the difficulties of forming the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra?  

How much cyberspace do you have? The difficulties were prodigious, and I only wish I could say that they are all overcome by now. Twenty years ago, when I decided to start a baroque orchestra, it was not much more than an adventure - let’s try and see what happens. There was practically no infrastructure for a baroque orchestra: hardly any period instruments, very few trained baroque performers, and no money whatsoever to buy the former, to train the latter, to rent rehearsal spaces, to buy or rent orchestra material - let alone to pay anybody any kind of fee. There was a good will of a small group of people who were involved in the orchestra’s first steps, and that good will proved to be sufficient to pull through the incredibly difficult starting period, to solve at least some of the problems that seemed insurmountable. The development was slow, but promising. My hope was that if we’d manage to survive the initial stage and to prove our viability, the continuation would be easier: there will be plenty of people who would want to help. After all, a baroque orchestra is something that this country’s musical culture really needs, right? Well, lots of people seemed to agree, in principal, but there was preciously little practical help other than friendly “way-to-go!” pats on my shoulder. I think that this reflected an ambiguous attitude of the Israeli musical establishment to the very idea of historical performance and to musical authenticity. Things did change somewhat in more resent years, but for a long time - much longer than in most places in Europe - HIP [Historical Musical Performance, A.B.] was considered here as something for "freaks" only. Typically, many people, both individuals and representatives of the musical establishment, found it a lot more convenient "to sit on the fence" [not to take any stance, A.B.] and to observe our desperate efforts without committing themselves too much - perhaps, even musing, how long it would take us to give up… In the due course we joined the very crowded list of orchestras supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and to this day this is our main source of income, other than selling tickets to concerts. We wouldn’t survive without this subsidy, and yet, it doesn’t amount to much more than mere survival.

How would you define the current artistic and economic situation of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra (JBO)? 

When I think 20 years back, I feel both a very big pride and an equally big frustration. We started, as I already told you, practically from zero. And now it is an orchestra of a substantial public standing, with subscription series in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, with constantly growing audience, with successful appearances abroad and invitations for further tours (including the prestigious Bach Festival in Annsbach, Germany, in 2011). We have a very impressive list of guest conductors and soloists - starting with our Honorary conductor, Maestro Andrew Parrott, and including such world leading figures in the early music field as James Bowman, Peter Harvey, Emily van Evera, Walter Reiter, John Holloway, Maggie Faultless, Catherine Mackintosh, Roberto Gini, Michael Schneider, Alberto and Paolo Grazzi and many others. So many of them are happy to be invited back, in spite of the fact that the financial remuneration we can offer them is long way below their standard. But most importantly, I am proud that among our players are now some of this country’s finest musicians. Quite a few talented young string players have been attracted to the orchestra as the best option for them to get exposed to the period playing, and we are constantly training and preparing new "baroquenics" who eventually join the orchestra’s ranks.

Why, then, big frustration? Because to some extent it still is as a nearly impossible uphill struggle as it has been from the outset. All this growing and pretty sophisticated operation called JBO, with all these many wonderful programs (and I truly think that our programs really are wonderful), is managed by a tiny team of people working crazy hours for fees that barely cover our expenses, and without even a little office or telephone line to its name; I, personally, have to spend totally disproportional amounts of time on administration issues, rather than on being, actually, the orchestra’s musical director. The best of our players can only commit themselves to JBO’s projects when there are no conflicting offers from elsewhere. And as they really are great players, there often are conflicting offers, and JBO’s fees are not really competitive. Thus, nothing can be taken for granted, and every project often feels as if the orchestra has to be reinvented from scratch… We have a fantastic field record of training next generations of Baroque players who then find themselves in key positions of the early music scene in the world - most notably, Kati Debretzeni, one of the central HIP names in Europe, who did her first steps in period playing with JBO in the early 1990s… I certainly do not blame them: the early music field in Israel cannot offer them enough opportunity of professional development – or, indeed, of financially supporting themselves. By the way, most of these people stay in close touch with JBO, which they consider as kind of their Alma Mater, and come here to perform with us on every possible opportunity.

To sum it all up, as I said before - a baroque orchestra is something that this country’s musical culture really needs, right? I, actually, do strongly believe in it, and not only me; so do my colleagues at JBO. So, we go on…

Taruskin had argued that much of the early music performance practice was highly influenced by the performance practice of Stravinsky. Do you agree with this claim? Taruskin and others argue against the concept of ‘authenticity’ in performance of early music. What is your opinion concerning the issue of ’authenticity’?

I think that Taruskin’s claim is absolutely right, insofar as HIP and Stravinsky’s performance practice having common roots. But what Taruskin makes of it has nothing to do with what early music today stands for. Remarkably, if you read Taruskin carefully, you cannot but notice that he is aware of that, too! Taruskin is a towering figure in the field of musicology and musical criticism, and yet, he fails to avoid the same very trap that many much lesser critics and musicologists fall into. Time and again, one reads in reviews of an early music performance phrases like "performances on historical instruments often sound dry, detached and "correct", but in this concert there was nothing of it: N’s playing was vivid and highly emotional", etc. And one cannot help wondering - where did critics hear all these "dry and detached" performances? And if they did, how could they know that "dryness and detachment" stem from use of period instruments and performance practices? Of course, some historical performances are more interesting and exciting than the others. Surprise, surprise: so are "mainstream" performances! But did anyone ever say that X’s playing was emotionally charged, even though he/she played on a Steinway? Sure enough, HIP people usually aspire to know what they are doing - but why should that rule out their emotional involvement? Indeed, it doesn’t; Taruskin never tries to hide his admiration for performers like Bylsma, Leonhardt (hardly fringe figures of the early music movement!) and quite a few others. So, the question might be, isn’t this a case of putting theory before practice? Here is the theory: HIP is a load of "do" and "do not", it is all full of rules which must infringe on performers’ intuition, rendering their playing or singing dry and cerebral. And if so many actual performances do not, in fact, sound at all dry and cerebral - well, too bad. These must be exceptions - and thus Taruskin turns Leonhardt and Bylsma into such exceptions, and every time a music critic (in spite himself?) likes an HIP concert, he labels it "an exception". Mind you, a really good concert, just as a really good work of any art, IS an exception, but this has nothing to do with the above mentioned theory…

How, then, are HIP and Stravinsky connected? Stravinsky often expressed his views on musical performance in an extreme and provocative way, but they boil down to one basic thing: a performer is not alone in the process of music making. He or she is the part - albeit an important part - of a process that begins with the composer and ends with the listener. One of the prominent characteristics of late Romanticism (which, to a certain extent, is still with us today) is the cult of artistic freedom, which included also a practically unlimited freedom of the musical performer. Why otherwise would composers mark their scores so scrupulously? Monteverdi and Bach didn’t need to resort to such detailed markings: they had no reason to assume that their performers would try to do anything other than realize, in the best possible way, the composers’ intentions. And, as the performers lived, generally, just around the corner, these intentions were for them not really anything mysterious. Stravinsky’s attitude, shared in various ways by quite a few musicians of the early 20th century, is marked by his unwillingness to accept the mentioned above total freedom. For centuries, there was little or no difference between the composer and the performer. Both made music (often it was one and the same person), and their activity was interdependent, symbiotic. Stravinsky - the Neo-Classicist! - felt nostalgia for this symbiosis. So does HIP. However, HIP does not need to go Neo-Classic. Its subject-matter is the kind of music that has this symbiosis in it, and one of HIPs’ goals is discovering this symbiosis and bringing it back to life and to musical practice…

"Authenticity" seems to be another example of shooting first and then marking the goal. It is easy to say that playing music today exactly like it was played 300 or 400 years ago would barely be possible, and even if, in the unlikely eventuality, we succeeded it this endeavor, how would we know that we did? Ergo, Taruskin is right in his objection to authenticity in the performance of early music? Well, only if the claim of authenticity is based on "doing exactly as They did" - and nobody ever seriously made this claim! Authenticity, to quote Bruce Haynes’ wonderful recent book The End of Early Music, is "a statement of intent". Haynes argues that "what produces interesting results is the attempt to be historically accurate, that is, authentic".

Personally, I don’t use the word "authenticity" much - partly, because of its bad PR, to which Taruskin’s writings contributed quite a bit. But I certainly don’t object to it - particularly, if it is used in its "Haynesian" context of pursuing historical accuracy, to the best of our ability. I think, though, that HIP - Historically Informed (or better still - to quote Bruce Haynes again, Historically Inspired) Performance - better reflects what we do in early music.

Related posts

First part of the interview with David Shemer on the performance of early music.

Telemann, Hogwood and the listener/composer/performer relationship

Further reading

Richard Taruskin: Text and Act

Igor Stravinsky: The Poetics of Music

Bruce Haynes: The End of Early Music

An Interview with David Shemer: The Performance of Early Music - Part I

David Shemer: The Performance of Early Music - Part I

David Shemer is one of the most importrant figuers in the Israeli early music scene. He graduated in theory, conducting and harpsichord at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. He holds a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) from the State University of New York at Stony Brook . He plays the Harpsichord and conducts. He is the founder of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. Shemer is a teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music.

I would like to thank David Shemer for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. Note that you will find here only the first part of the interview (which is still in progress). So if you wish to ask David Shemer questions, you may add them as comments (in the form below), and they might be included in this interview. I have included here several videos that might help the reader understand and appreciate whom Shemer is speaking about.

Avior Byron: When did you first hear early music? What do you remember from that experience? 
David Shemer: This is something that I remember very clearly. Can almost put a date on it. What is surprising is how late it happened in my life! I have been playing harpsichord for some years, graduated from the Jerusalem Academy, and then got an Artist diploma form the Tel Aviv academy - both as a harpsichordist and as a choral and orchestral conductor. After that, I got a British Council scholarship, to study harpsichord and conducting in London, and yet, I didn’t have any clear idea what I was going to do there. I loved Baroque music for as long as I can remember myself, but knew next to nothing about period instruments or HIP (historically informed performance). In Israel, in the late 70s, there was hardly a chance to properly hear it. At that time, one could occasionally hear a harpsichord (mostly, a non-historical version of it), here and there some recorders, but that was it. I was 28 when I came to London. It was September 1980. One morning, at the very beginning of my career as a student of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I woke up and switched on the radio. What I heard was unbelievably beautiful. It wasn’t difficult to recognize the music, the 2nd movement of Bach 5th Brandenburg concerto. But never before have I heard this music played with such a profound expression and such flexibility. It was sublime! I kept on listening to the rest of the piece, eager to know who these magicians were. The magicians were The English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock (who also played harpsichord solo, of course), with Steven Preston on traverso and Simon Standage on Baroque violin.

Emmanuel Pahud & Trevor Pinnock & Jonathan Manson Recording Scene



Byron: What made you decide to devote yourself to working with early music?
Shemer: Right there and then. The music sounded on this recording like nothing I have heard before. It spoke to me so directly, so overwhelmingly, that I knew immediately that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. A risky statement, I know, but so far, nearly 30 years later, it proved to be correct. For the next two years, while I was living in England, I tried not to miss any reasonably important performance of early music on period instruments - and there were millions of these in London - and the more I heard, the more I got convinced that this is how this music wants to sound.
Byron: It is very interesting that your first significant experience of hearing a HIP performance was that of hearing a recording and not a live concert. Do you think that there is any significant difference between how HIP performances sound on recordings and how they sound in live concerts? 
Shemer: I don’t think the difference is any bigger than with any other kind of music. It might be the most "modern" thing about HIP: in the older times, there were no recordings… But as far as HIP being, as I strongly believe, a modern musical activity, recorded sound is very much a part of it. 
Byron: How long did you stay in London? Did you hear during that time also HIP performances in other places? Was there any difference? What were the significant performers and ensembles that you heard during that period? Did you make any important contacts that you wish to mention? 
Shemer: I stayed in London for just over two years. In those days (as also today, I believe), there was no need to go to other places, in order to hear non-British Baroque groups. Many came to England. Thus, I heard Musica Antiqua Köln, Gustav Leonhardt, Paul O’Dette, Bob van Asperen, Franz Brüggen and his (at that time) ensemble and many others. And then, of course, I’ve heard all the most important British Baroque musicians: The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock (tried not to have missed any of their concerts; later, I also studied with Trevor and remained on friendly terms with him); Academy of Ancient Music, with Christopher Hogwood; Consort of Musick; The New London Consort with Philip Picket (whom I also studied with), and others. The person, whom I consider the most important person in my development as a harpsichordist is Jill Severs; she hasn’t been active as a performer, but is a fenomenal teacher. Through Jill, I’ve met many of my generation’s leading English harpsichordist - most notably, Maggie Cole, with whom we became very close friends.

The best dance scenes from "Le Roi Danse." Music by Lully, Cond. Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Köln

Dieterich Buxtehude, g minor prelude, Gustav Leonhardt plays


Lute Virtuoso Paul Odette - 1984 SOUNDBOARD TV Series DVD


Händel - Messiah "But who may abide", Emma Kirkby, Christopher Hogwood: Cond., The Academy of Ancient Music


Byron: Concerning you sentence ‘the more I heard, the more I got convinced that this is how this music wants to sound.’: do you still feel this way? Did HIP performance change since the 1980s with relation to how is sounds? 


Shemer: I most certainly do. Of course, HIP has changed. This is part of its beauty. After all, HIP means "historically informed" - and we always become better informed than before. But it is much more than that. The HIP movement becomes more mature, more "at ease" with what it is doing, not afraid of making mistakes. The sound of the best HIP ensembles is nowadays mellower, warmer, richer than it used to be in the 70s and 80s, when early musicians were as much interested in the historical truth, in their HIP ideology, as in sounding different than mainstream. Also, HIP musicians’ technical proficiency improved dramatically, over these years. Nobody in their right mind would say any longer that one only plays Baroque violin because one wasn’t good enough in the modern one! Not after we have heard Andrew Manze, Monica Hugget, Maggie Faultless, Simon Standage or our own Kati Debretzeni. This change of attitude is not necessarily always good news, though. By becoming part of the mainstream itself (and it has, in many places; although, so far not in Israel!), HIP is in a constant danger of loosing some of its own integrity, some of its, as Anthony Rooley put it, cutting edge. Finding the right proportion between a fanatical proselitism and a too-comfortable being a part of musical establishment isn’t always easy.


Byron: Could you say a few words about Jill Severs? What made her such a good teacher and such an important figure in your life?
Shemer: Jill was the first person in my life as a harpsichordist, not just to talk about the importance of touch in playing the harpsichord, but actually to show me how it is done. People often refer to the harpsichord as an instrument that plonks away, without any difference as to how it is played. Without mentioning any names, I have heard several highly respectable musicians saying things like "there is no possibility of interpretation on the harpsichord", or "it has no soul", or "if Bach only knew the grand piano!…", etc. I’m sure that other harpsichordists had similar experiences. This is funny, of course, bearing in mind the huge popularity of this instrument with some of the best musicians of all times, such as Bach, Scarlatti, Handel, Rameau, Couperin - to name but a few. Incidentally, the highly influential little book by F. Couperin is called "L’Art de toucher le clavecin" - and Couperin certainly wouldn’t bother to write a book on a non-existent subject. To put it shortly, Jill Severs taught us what Couperin’s title (and the book itself) suggests: the art of touch upon the harpsichord. I’ve always liked this instrument, but never so passionately until I had the good fortune of studying with Jill. She opened the soul of the instrument for me. To a very great extent, she shaped what I have been thinking and persuing about playing and teaching the harpsichord to this very day.
Byron: If you would have to recommend only 5 CDs of early performances, which would you choose? Could you recommend another list of 5 CDs for starting listeners of early music? 
Shemer: Oh, dear, not one of these desert island questions! Frankly, I don’t listen to very many CD’s, always preferring live performances. And when I do listen to CD’s, my preferences shift too often, to give a serious answer to this question. As for the second part of your question, I would suggest to starting listeners to EM to strive for a widest possible variety of listening experience. Listen to good opera recordings (with Les Arts Florissants, for instance), to good orchestras - there are many, and choosing a few won’t be fair to the others; Gustav Leonhardt, a fabulous harpsichordist, comes across his recordings in a less favorable way than in his unforgettable live concerts, but still he’d be my No 1 choice; probably, Andrew Manze on the violin - but what about Monica Hugget and, again, many others? The same would go for other instruments/ensembles. Sorry for not being too helpful here… Perhaps one more useful suggestion might be - pay close attention to the Italians: Alessandrini, Bernardini, Gini, the Grazzi brothers…

Rameau - Motet, In convertendo, William Christie, Les Arts Florissants

Byron: Where are the biggest centers of early music in the world? Are there any important websites that are a must for early music lovers? 
Shemer: Just as 20-30 years before, Amsterdam (Holland, in general) and London are still hugely important. To that, one must add France and - as I already mentioned in the previous answer - Italy. But, of course, Germany mustn’t be discarded - what with Musica Antiqua Köln, the Freiberg orchestra, Academy of ancient music Berlin… In general, interesting things happen in many places, but these seem to be the most important centers. As for websites - yes, I’m sure there are, but - again, I must confess, I’m quite cybernetically challenged, and don’t use the net much. If there is a bit of free time, I prefer to practice or do something completely different, not necessarily (early) music-related…
Byron: I agree that HIP is a modern activity, yet this might sound strange to some people. After all the ideal, might seem at first sight, is to go back to the past. What makes HIP a modern activity in your eyes? 
Shemer: This is a very serious issue. Of course, HIP is also about going to the past. The thing is, the very act of going to the past - certainly, on such a massive scale - is something that has never been done in the past. This is what is so utterly modern. When people in the 18th century London established "the Academy of Ancient Music" (after which a very well known Baroque orchestra was named in the 1970s), they were talking about performance of music of 1-2 generations ago. There was precious little interest in music that was REALLY early. But this is not at all about music only. How much your average 18th century English gentleman really cared about, say, Indian culture? (Never mind the fact that India might be part of the British Empire!). Or Chinese? Or African? Listen to Mozart’s "Turkish" music - can you find a Turk that would embrace it as his own? Of course not, and Mozart never intended it to be - in fact, he couldn’t care less about the real Turkish music. Looking straight into the eyes of any "foreign" culture - whether geographically or historically removed from the spectator - is a profoundly modern phenomenon. The point of HIP, unlike the musical mainstream (although the mainstream has also changed a great deal, in this respect, during the last few decades) is not approaching the early music with the condescending: "they wrote some really nice tunes, but we, of course, can play them much better". Rather, HIP strives to be informed and inspired by this foreign culture - and it is a foreign culture to us - in all its aspects: composition, performance, instrument making, acoustics… Inasmuch as consciously cultivating respect for the Other culture is a modern (postmodern, as some might say) thing, HIP is very definitely modern.

Here the interview continues: Interview with David Shemer - The Performance of Early Music - Part II


Related posts

Telemann, Hogwood and the listener/composer/performer relationship

You may consider subscribing to this blog

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children

June – August 2008

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children

By Avior Byron 

There are very few people living today who knew Arnold Schoenberg during his life. While doing my PhD I tried to contact Leonard Stein in order to interview him on how Schoenberg conducted his own music. Unfortunately, Stein died several days after I have sent him an email so the interview did not take place. I was lucky to Interview Dika Newlin here: Dika Newlin on Schoenberg conducting Pierrot lunaire.

Schoenberg was married twice. He married his second wife, Gertrud Bertha Kolisch, on 28 Aug 1924, in Mödling, Austria. Their three children: Nuria Dorothea, born 7 May 1932, Barcelona, Spain, age: 76; Ronald Rudolf, born 26 May 1937, Santa Monica, California, USA, age: 70; and Lawrence Adam, born 27 Jan 1941, Los Angeles, California, USA, age: 66, agreed to be interviewed. I assumed that their memories might be affected by the many years that passed and their experiences since their childhood. On 4 June 2008 I wrote an email to Nuria, Ronald and Lawrence, asking the following:

Would you agree to be interviewed via email about your father as you remember him and other issues (contemporary performance and promotion of his music, etc.)?

I thought it would be interesting if I could email the questions to all of you, but receive separate answers (that will not be coordinated).
At the end of the interview I will show you the results for confirmation.

The reactions to the email interview idea were positive. I grouped the questions by subject: childhood, On performance, Religion and customs, How you knew him as a father, Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna, and Your mother and children. Not all of Schoenberg’s children answered all of the questions. One of the results of the fact that the interview was not coordinated is that some of the answers are very short, while others are very long. This was usually affected by how important and interesting the subject was for each person, but in some case probably also according to how much information each of them was willing to reveal.

Larry wrote the following disclaimer:

‘I must state that I was born in 1941 my father died in 1951.  Most of my recollections are from the ages of 4 through 10 when he was near the end of his life.  He was quite ill the last few years.  My age now is approximately the same as his age when I was born and my mother’s age when she died!

They must have done something right or the three of us would not be so completely involved in preserving his legacy.  We were fortunate not to be seduced by Hollywood’s glorification of immediate gratification.  We were not materialistic and we grew up considering morality and ethics as the most important characteristics to admire

My memories have been “infected” by photographs, stories by my older brother and sister and commentaries written by others.’

Here is the result of the interview (I divided the interview to five parts so that it will be easier to read in a web format):

Part I: Childhood

Part II: On performance

Part III: Religion and customs

Part IV: How you knew him as a father and Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

Part V: Your mother and children and Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Part V: Schoenberg’s Children on their mother and children

Part V: Schoenberg’s Children on their mother and children

Could you say something about how your mother supported you father’s music during his life and after he passed away?

Nuria: Mother was an exceptional woman and a great support to my father. She had a very active, positive character and believed in my father and in his music 100%. She did a thousand jobs for the family, housekeeping and nursing and gardening and chauffeuring and many other activities which she had never done in Europe and had a great sense of humour. After his death she took over all the business with publishers and managed to keep us from realizing how bad our financial situation actually was. She helped the scholars who wanted to transcribe and publish my father’s German texts. She founded Belmont Music Publishers with Larry.

Larry: She devoted herself to his life and to his works.  I know personally how, after he died, she initiated project after project to preserve his manuscripts, to secure performances for his works. These include her work with Leonard Stein preparing an inventory of the music and text manuscripts, then creating microfilms and microfiche facsimiles, with both Josef Rufer and Jan Maegaard identifying and creating microfilm or microfiche facsimiles producing catalogs of his vast legacy including all of the music and text manuscripts, the extensive library and other artifacts.  She tirelessly negotiated with publishers (Gauner) fighting for his rights.  She established what is now Belmont Music Publishers.  She was intimately involved with the word premieres of Moses and Aron and Die Jakobsleiter.  She helped establish the Schott Gesamtausgabe.

Are your children interested in their grandfather’s music?

Nuria: They are not musicians but they listen to and enjoy his music. I keep them informed about the activities of the ASC.

Larry: It is sad for me to acknowledge that none of my three children have shown any significant interest in their grandfather.  My oldest son, Arnie, teaches anthropology. He is very musical and has even written an extensive thesis on ‘Music and leadership among adolescents in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.’ Of course, I am very proud of my nephew, Randol, who has, in addition to his other skills, become a genuine Schoenberg authority and scholar.


Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Gurrelieder Fanfare – I better be careful with this work*


Suite for String Orchestra

Monn Cello Concerto

Verklaerte Nacht


Op.8 Orchestral Songs

Op 10. for Orchestra

Brahms and Bach arrangements

Windband variations for Orchestra


Within the same constraints (supple and friendly) local choral society could include:

Friede auf Erden


German Folksongs


The Chamber groups could perform:

Ein Stelldichein

1897 Quartet

Cabaret Songs for Chamber Orchestra

Preston for String Quartet

Scherzo for String Quartet

Lied der Waldtaube (chamber)


The Ojai Music Festival near Los Angeles prides itself in programming “modern and contemporary” music.  Schoenberg is rarely on the schedule. Usually the program is devoted to a particular composer (this year it was Reich).  If I were in charge of programming a Schoenberg Festival I would arrange the following events:


Schoenberg for Children – Morning Concert:

            Ten Early Waltzes

            Arrangements: Funiculi, Weil I …, Staenchen

            Suite for Piano Op. 25

            Six Pieces for 2 pianos

            Iron Brigade (with animal sounds)

            Die Prinzessin - multi media presentation


Evening Concerts:

1. Pierrot Lunaire in English with projected text, preceded by a short discussion of the work.

Cabaret Songs for Ensemble

2. Ode to Napoleon with projected text, preceded by a short discussion of the work.


3. Gurrelieder (for reduced ensembles)


Orchestral Interludes (Webern 2 piano 8 hands)

Songs (Berg reductions)

Lied der Waldtaube Chamber reduction

Finale (recorded version)


Afternoon Concerts:

1. Chamber Symphony Op. 9 for 2 pianos

2. Serenade



My War Years

My Evolution

Moses and Aron


Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children - introduction

Part I: Childhood

Part II: On performance

Part III: Religion and customs

Part IV: How you knew him as a father and Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna


Part IV: Schoenberg’s Children on How you knew him as a father

Part IV: Schoenberg’s Children on How you knew him as a father

Did you view of your father change after reading his writings and hearing his music?

Nuria: I learned a great deal about him when I read all of his writings and his letters and those of his colleagues and friends while I was preparing the “Lebensgeschichte in Begegnungen”. But the respect and love for him only became greater with more knowledge.

Is there a side in your father that you knew as children and think that if other people knew it, it would change the way his music is being perceived?

Nuria: I believe that the multimedia exhibition Larry and I curated in the ‘90’s has made a change in the attitude of a lot of people who saw and heard it.  I am hoping the new one at the Schoenberg Center in Vienna will do the same. They both attempt to show Schoenberg in a many-faceted presentation: as a composer, a teacher, a writer and as a family man with a sense of humour.  Making people familiar with him as a person seems to make it easier to approach his music with an open mind.

Did your perspective of your father and his music change during the years?

Nuria: No

Larry: I have also learned much about him by reading what others who knew him have written.  I have been interested especially in the writings of those who studied with him or visited him here in Los Angeles. Recently I read an article in the American Organist in which the author described an afternoon at our Rockingham house.  It is interesting for me to see how those normal for me events at home are filtered through others.

I must comment on what I consider to be the many false characterizations of my father:

He was stern, autocratic, demanding.  

He composed mathematically using formulas.

He forced his students to compose as he did.

Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

I have heard a few Americans and Israelis who think that it was wrong to move the Nachlass to Vienna. They mention various reasons: Vienna treated Schoenberg badly; it should have stayed in America or should have moved to Israel; the move to Vienna supports a certain perspective of Schoenberg, etc. What is you opinion on this? Looking back at the move from California to Vienna, was it a good one?

Nuria: It was very fortunate for us that we could move the Nachlass to Vienna where it is appreciated so much more and is accessible to so many more people. In Los Angeles the Institute did a very good job of conserving the materials, but there was less and less interest in the study of the sources and ultimately almost no public activities. When the University requested that we should remove the Nachlass from the Arnold Schoenberg Institute and we made it known that it was available to be moved elsewhere, there was practically no reaction in Los Angeles in favor of keeping this Archive in California. My brothers will be more specific on this subject, I am sure.

When people say we should not have returned it to Vienna, I always answer: Schoenberg belongs in Vienna (because of the musical tradition of this city) and it is the Nazis that should not have been in Vienna. We have been treated extremely well by the authorities and by the large numbers of people who frequent the Center.

Larry: The history of the disposition of the legacy goes back to the 1950’s when my father was approached by the Library of Congress.  He did decide to give his entire correspondence to the Library.  I was involved with my mother in selecting, packing and shipping the items that were sent their each year.  After my mother died we decided to transfer all of the remaining correspondence to the Library.  While my mother was still alive there were some very serious attempts by various institutions to acquire the full legacy – the City of Darmstadt, the Academy in Berlin, Robert Owen Lehman (who intended to locate the materials in Lincoln Center) and the University of California in Los Angeles.  When my mother died in 1967 we then became entrusted to secure the future location for the legacy.  The University of Michigan proved to be the most serious among the many Universities who desired to house the collection.  We had established a very good relationship with the representatives from the Music Department and had already signed a provisional agreement when a consortium of “local” universities requested that they give us a few months to see if they could develop an alternative that would allow for us to keep the materials in Los Angeles.  The history of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California is well documented. 

In 1995, after being formally evicted from the University, we once again had the opportunity to find a new home. Among the serious possibilities were the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles, the Peter Treistman Fine Arts Center for New Media at the University of Arizona, The Library of Congress (Music Division) in Washington, D.C., The Stanford University Libraries, Harvard University, the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Pepperdine University in Malibu as well as the University of Rochester/Eastman School of Music.  None of these proved satisfactory in meeting our goals.

We were fortunate to have four excellent choices from among which to select the new home: a consortium made up of the Juilliard School of Music, Lincoln Center and the New York Public Library; The Hague; The Academy of Arts in Berlin and the City of Vienna.

We eliminated the consortium and concentrated on the other three.  Each of us had our favorite always for different reasons:  Ronny – The Hague, Nuria – Berlin and I — Vienna.  We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each location for months.  We traveled together to each possible site and compared and contrasted the tree superb options.  In the end we decided upon Vienna.  We felt then and feel even more so now that it was the RIGHT choice.   

The internet site – the ability for students and scholars to easily access the materials including facsimiles, transcriptions and translations of the correspondence and writings,   the educational projects, the preservation of the materials, the China Project, the safe storage of the paintings and drawings, the Avenir scholarships, the cooperation with the Gesamtausgabe, the conferences, symposia and master classes, the new Multi-Media exhibition, the special exhibitions, the new recording projects, the superb facility for scholars and students, the international activities, the guaranteed funding, the excellent staff, the re-furbishing of the Schoenberg House in Moedling and the establishment of a museum there, the Journals, the Newsletters, the YouTube videos, the Jukebox, the active and enthusiastic Board and Beirat ….   Am I satisfied?  YES!

Vienna treated Schoenberg badly, Berlin treated Schoenberg badly, Los Angeles treated Schoenberg badly. 

The University was throwing us out.  There was no clamor in Los Angeles to stop that.  The New York Times wrote very negative things about the family indicating that we were too restrictive and infringed on academic freedom!  No University in the United States presented us a serious offer.  The Library of Congress Music Division was in disarray.  The Getty Center was not interested.  The consortium in New York was disorganized.  Stanford University, Pepperdine University, Arizona State all were either not serious or did not offer anything comparable to what we were offered in The Hague, Vienna or Berlin.  Correspondence from Israel only came well after we had already made our preliminary decision and was very vague.  I, for selfish reasons, wanted the Institute to remain in the States – hopefully in California.

I feel very fortunate that the Center is established in Vienna and I especially look forward to the upcoming exchanges with China.

Ronald: The best answer to those that criticize our move to Vienna is to ask the Complainer, “Where else.” We realized that we had only one opportunity to choose a place, that if we now for any reason failed or if our choice failed, it would be almost impossible to later find more than a repository.  After USC made clear that it did not want the Archives there any longer, or at least that it would not accept any restrictions on what they could or couldn’t do with the Archives or the Archival Building, there was only one semi-serious offer from the United States which came too late with too little.  That “offer” came at a time when we could not afford to keep the three main contenders waiting any longer while we looked into the new prospect. Moreover, it came from one very energetic and influential person. So we had to consider, what if that one person is no longer interested or around. Finally, it was clearly inferior to our three main offers: Vienna, The Hague and Berlin.  Although for sentimental reasons, we favored the United States, what interest we found there amounted to mainly storing the materials and one rather ambitious computerized archival program with little music qualifications. This was probably largely because of the misinformation and bad publicity that USC was spreading about us to further their lawsuit. There was no offer from Israel. As for Germany, the objections to that country would be largely the same as to Austria. The Academy of Art had a very good proposal, placing the Archives on one floor of a new Academy Building. However, plans for that building were not yet funded, were projected far in the future and Berlin was undergoing serious financial problems.  Accepting Berlin’s generous offer meant depositing the Materials there and then having to hope that funding plans succeeded. Furthermore, as a part of the Academy’s rather rigid Archival System, we felt that there would be considerably less chance of our achieving the open access and modern computer techniques that we have been able to put into use in Vienna. The Hague proposed a very attractive plan which we came much closer to accepting than anyone realized. It came from a love of Schoenberg and his music not stemmed from any nationalistic connections.  The choice of Vienna was finally because it was the best offer from the best location where there was the best chance of success.  We did not overlook Austria’s (and Germany’s) past. And we do not pretend that Anti-Semitism is completely dead there. However, one cannot exclude a country forever. We consider the Center as a part of Austria’s coming to terms with its past. In supporting the Center, Austria has answered the question: Who belongs in Austria, Hitler’s Nazis or the Jews.  From our bad experience at USC, we found it easy to be distrustful of the Austrian’s promises.  But Austria has more than lived up to its contractual obligations with respect to the Center. It has proudly encouraged, embraced and funded the Center as its own jewel. Anyone who sees, either in person or on the internet, the many varied Center projects, must acknowledge  the correctness of our choice.    

Continue to read the interview here:

Part V: Your mother and children and Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children - introduction

Part I: Childhood

Part II: On performance

Part III: Religion and customs

Part III: Schoenberg’s Children on Religion and customs

Part III: Schoenberg’s Children on Religion and customs

Did your father mention anything about Judaism at home? Did you celebrate or mention any holiday? Did he speak about the bible? What was your father’s approach to Christianity at the time that you were children?

Nuria: My father did not talk about religion when I was a child. I do remember when I we drove past a synagogue and he told me: this is the temple where Jews go to pray. When I was in primary school some classmates of mine told me not to associate with one of the little boys in the class because he was a Catholic. I remember thinking: I think I am a Catholic. So I asked my parents what a Catholic is and Mother and my father explained to me that there are many different religions: Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and I remember something about Egyptians (!) and that the important thing is to believe in God. One must respect them all. He did not speak about the Bible. Of course I was aware of the texts he used when he composed the choral pieces Op. 50. My mother was Catholic and when they married my father had agreed to bring us up in that Faith, I think. I did not have any religious training until my brothers went to a Catholic school. Then I was sent to catechism and had Holy Communion and Confirmation. But I was already about 12 years old and had gone to public schools.

Ronald: Whatever our Father thought about religion while we were children was not transmitted to us– at least not directly. I didn’t even know what a Jewish holiday was.  When I was still quite young, 6 or 7, (Nuria was 13 or 14; Larry  4 or 5 ) we were baptized Roman Catholic. Larry and I went to Catholic school and Nuria continued in the public school but took some religious instructions. I think this occurred mostly because of our Mother’s preference and our Father’s realization that he had not long to live and that we would soon be totally in her care. Larry remained a practicing Catholic at least through high school and I through college—I attended the University of Notre Dame. If I was at all aware of my Jewishness, I must have suppressed it.  Looking back, I think everyone except me considered me Jewish.


I don’t recall any discussion of religious topics or God in the home, certainly not of Judaism. I never thought Mother was serious about her Catholicism until, when she was dying, she became very Catholic.

Larry: My father never discussed any formal religion yet he did stress ethical behavior.  My formal religious training came from the Irish Catholic nuns at my elementary schools.  I attended a local Catholic school from Kindergarten through grade 8.  We celebrated a very secular Christmas at home, though we sang what could be considered religious Christmas Carols. He would play them on the Harmonium.  There was never any direct discussion regarding Catholicism or Judaism in the home as far as I was concerned.  I had heard from my mother that at one time he wanted to write a Mass but I do not think that this was for “religious” reasons. 

Continue to read the interview here: 

Part IV: How you knew him as a father and Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

Part V: Your mother and children and Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children - introduction

Part I: Childhood

Part II: On performance


Part II: Schoenberg’s Children On performance

Part II: Schoenberg’s Children On performance

What are your favorite recordings of your father’s music?

Nuria: Pierrot lunaire conducted by my father. (I remember listening to the rehearsals at home: it was an unforgettable experience even though I was just 8 years old!) The quartets and the trio and Verklaerte Nacht by the LaSalle Quartet. There are several very good Moses und Aron recordings: Gielen, Solti; Abbado’s Gurrelieder.

Larry: I always waited for the next installment of the Columbia Records Robert Craft Schoenberg series. This series included the Glenn Gould recordings, performances of the Brahms and Bach arrangements, the one act operas and most of the chamber music. In most cases it was the first time that I was able to hear a work. Later I especially appreciated all of the Arditti recordings, the Ozawa Gurrelieder, the Boulez Moses and Aron (from Amsterdam) and very recently the Hilary Hahn Violin Concerto. My experience with the Hahn recording reminded me of when I first really heard a performance of the Wind Quintet.  It was in Vienna, probably around 1974, when the wind players of the Vienna Philharmonic performed the work in a way that I had never imagined.  The performance enabled me to really appreciate the work. Up until then it never made much sense to me – most likely because it was played without any feeling. There is a video recording on YouTube of the Survivor with Hermann Prey which I think is excellent.  

What advice would you give performers who approach your father’s music?

Nuria: It is not really up to me to give advice but I think I would tell them to find the emotions my father was trying to convey, because if they only play the right notes and do not feel the emotions, they will not communicate the music to the audience.

Larry: I would advise performers of my father’s music to listen to as many “earlier” Schoenberg works and to commit themselves to the performance of the work in question in the same way that he committed himself to the compositions.  I would advise them to prepare the work until they felt that everything is “comprehensible” and then to perform it as though they were passing on their discovery of that comprehensibility.

Is his music performed frequently enough?

Nuria: It is different in different countries. Of course we would wish it were performed more often, because the more you hear a work the more familiar you become with it and the more you will love it. I purposely do not use the word: understand. Musicologists and composers understand music, but it is important to FEEL the music and what it has to say. Most of us do not understand traditional music either, but we have heard enough of it to react emotionally to it and to know what to expect.

Is it performed well enough?

Nuria: There are many performers nowadays who interpret Schoenberg’s music really well and the positive reaction of the audiences is the result of this. Examples: Pollini, Levine, Abbado, and many young pianists, among others

Larry: I have attended horrible under-rehearsed performance of almost all of his works. This includes Gurrelieder by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Moses and Aron in Bremen. I can understand the difficulty of performing the orchestral works when they are allowed only 2 or at most 3 rehearsals.  But I am sure that one could say the same about any contemporary work.

Are there certain musical establishments that promote Schoenberg and others who avoid his music?

Nuria: Yes. The people who make up concert programs are often much more conservative than the audiences. But things have changed very much in recent years and it is not so risky – at least in Europe – to put a work of Schoenberg’s on the program. The important thing is that although his works are 115 to 57 years old, they are still “new” to a lot of people and often need quite a bit of rehearsing before they can be played well. Bad performances are counter-productive and induce the audience to believe that the composer meant the work to be what they are hearing. Another problem is that there is an attitude which I think is partly the fault of Schoenberg’s pupils who, after the war, (for instance in Darmstadt) promoted the idea that his music was esoteric, difficult to understand and that only they and a very few initiated people could really appreciate it. Even when a concert is a great success the reviews seem to always begin with a negative phrase like: why don’t audiences like Schoenberg’s music; he is a controversial figure, difficult to listen to etc.

Larry: I have been particularly saddened by the lack of good performances of my father’s works here in Los Angeles.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic rarely performs a work, the local chamber groups, with maybe one exception, never do, the local choral groups have excluded his works from their programs, the Los Angeles Opera has never staged a Schoenberg Opera (a single non-staged performance of Moses and Aron was imported from Germany many years ago), the local Universities never program his music, the single classical music station includes only Verklaerte Nacht (during the Nacht).  When a visiting group to Los Angeles schedules a Schoenberg work there would be a disclaimer stating that “the work is an early work before he started composing those unharmonius, atonal, 12-tone composition”. 

It has been a sinusoidal ride. My experiences with the music of my father in Los Angeles have been both positive and negative.

I think that now with a broader spectrum of critics due to the facility of publishing on the internet (blogs, websites), I encounter regularly extreme opinions based on strongly expressed personal feelings.

I have had and still do have opportunities to influence the public with respect to my father.  Belmont Music Publishers was the first, followed by the establishment of study centers in Los Angeles and Vienna and the production of multi-media and art exhibitions.

Belmont grew out of the necessity to provide printed scores and performance materials in the United States.  Its goal was to make the music easily available. It also took over the re-publication of works that no longer were available from other publishers. In addition it allowed us to publish works posthumously.  Belmont has been able to influence Universal Edition with respect to keeping scores in print and correcting performing materials.  Their new Gurrelieder production based on the Gesamtausgabe – score and parts - is an important example.

Leonard Stein, assistant to my father at UCLA, family friend and the first director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute assisted and advised in the Belmont productions - in Los Angeles he was the one who performed Schoenberg. There were regular concerts of his music at the Museum and Monday Evening Concerts.  One could expect performances of Pierrot, the Serenade even the Suite.  Visiting quartets offered the first and second quartets. Verklaerte Nacht was performed regularly.  He began his own Piano Spheres series where he and other performed Schoenberg.  Pierre Boulez visited Los Angeles and regularly conducted Schoenberg in excellent performances. 

Zubin Mehta, a student of Hans Swarowsky programmed some works including the Chamber Symphony Op. 9, Verklaerte Nacht, Gurrelieder and even the Variations for Orchestra.

From 1973 for about 20 years the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California survived. There were some exceptional events.

For the last 10 to 15 years things have changed dramatically. It is rare that any visiting group would perform any Schoenberg in Los Angeles even though they have works in their repertoire and even though they may be scheduling Schoenberg works in other cities.  Local groups, other than Southwest Chamber Society, never perform a note of Schoenberg.

I am not sure why.  It might have something to do with the dominant Hollywood theme of measuring the value of an event by how entertaining it is.  It is also because of a larger problem seen also in education and medicine – namely that the business model has taken over the arts.  Of course one needs financial security but it is the degree to which this drives the organization, school or hospital that has changed.  I believe that Schoenberg’s music is just one tiny consequence of this change.  And, of course, Los Angeles’s culture is no longer dominated by European immigrants. 

The justifications for not programming Schoenberg have been that, while the conductor appreciates the works, the audience doesn’t.

It is a fact that the audiences in Los Angeles dislike his music and are willing to express that fact.  The orchestra managers naturally do not want to alienate their audiences. Visiting conductors are not permitted to play Schoenberg.   

Zubin Mehta tried a little to perform some works: Chamber Symphony Op. 9, Verklaerte Nacht, Gurrelieder even Variations. Esa-Pekka Salonen first performed some works but rarely, if ever, in the recent past.  He has commented publicly that he does not consider Schoenberg relevant anymore. A visiting Berlin Opera Company presented a single concert performance of Moses and Aron but there has never been a production of any Schoenberg work by the Los Angeles Opera. The Los Angeles Master Choral’s director Grant Gershon has never performed a work by Schoenberg.  I was told that he was not even aware that Schoenberg wrote choral music. I was also told that when Martin Hasselbock wanted to perform the Organ Variations in his recital at Disney Hall the management (Debora Borda) refused to allow him to include the Schoenberg in the program. Neither of the local Universities, UCLA nor USC,   schedule any Schoenberg works by their performing organizations. The single local classical radio station, KUSC, other than occasionally on a late night broadcast, does not include Schoenberg on its play list.

While I can understand the reluctance to perform or play the Wind Quintet, I am amazed that even such works as the arrangement of the Brahms Piano Quartet is considered taboo. (I was once told that the Brahms-Schoenberg [arrangement] had to be cancelled (San Francisco Symphony) due to the fact that one Schoenberg work had already been scheduled for the season and that the subscribers would complain.)

I could make a list of works that would not need to be call “thorny”, that would not “frighten the audiences” including: [see appendix 1]. But then again I am not in charge of the Festival.

Continue to read the interview here:

Part III: Religion and customs

Part IV: How you knew him as a father and Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

Part V: Your mother and children and Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Part I: Childhood

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children - introduction

Part I - Schoenberg’s children on their childhood

Schoenberg’s children on their childhood

What is your very first memory of your father?

Nuria: It is hard to say. Some “memories” might be from photographs, but I think it is going for a walk with him when I was about 4.

Larry: I now have a new “very first memory” since I recently received an email from the brother of the architect Richard Neutra who mentioned that his Aunt Regula Thorston delivered me!

Could you please share with us a memory of your father that you treasure?

Nuria: There are so many.

One of the lessons I received from him which has influenced my behavior in many situations is the following: On his 75th birthday there was a large birthday party planned at our house. It happened that it was also the day on which I had to sign up for my first year at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). When I reached the University campus I found about 2000 other students waiting to register and I realized that I would be too late for the birthday celebration if I waited in line. So I decided to ask a professor in the administration whom I knew from the time my father taught there if he could help me to register more quickly. When he heard the reason for my request he gave me a note so that I could go to the head of the line and in no time I had registered and was on my way home. When I got there I told my father how lucky I had been and how nice Prof. Lazier had been to help me. But my father said: You used my name to gain an advantage. You must never do that again; you must earn your advantages yourself. I think it was an exaggerated response to that situation: I had done it for him, not just for myself, but the ethical lesson has always stayed in my mind.

Ronald: We had a Gentlemen’s Club for which my Father composed an anthem which we sang while he accompanied us on the piano. The family would often play games in the evening: he constructed a roulette board and chips .He also liked to play solitaire and I would kibbitz.

Larry: I am quite certain that one my earliest memories of my father is related to my attempt to open a can of peaches using a wall can opener. After opening the top lid part way I, as maybe a foolish 3 or 4 year old might do, attempted to pull out the tin lid.  My thumb got caught between the cut lid and the circumference of the top of the can and the lid cut though my thumb on my left hand.  I screamed and my father came to the rescue.  He unfortunately turned the opener the wrong way (though I am not sure that there was a "right" way) such that the lid continued to sever more deeply into my thumb.  The doctor was able to sew the thumb back together and healed perfectly preventing me from following my uncle Rudi in becoming a left-handed violinist.  I recall vividly how distressed my father was after this encounter with me and the can opener and the peaches in bright red sugary syrup.

Also among the earliest memories that I had was when I discovered my father sitting in a chair in the living room crying uncontrollably.  This would have been when he discovered that his daughter Gertrud had died.

One memory that I treasure must have taken place when I was 4 or 5 years old in Kindergarten. I recall watching him make little axes and lanterns from “silver paper”, cardboard, dog food cans and various other materials for my classroom play: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I recall the after dinner walks.

Recently I was asked to record the answer to the same question.   I responded as follows:

Early Memories:

I must have been about 4 years old when I clearly remember my father collecting “silver paper” from cigarette packages.  He also saved some empty dog food cans.  What could this be for? 

Then, one evening, I saw him with my mother arranging the cans, the silver paper and some cardboard on our large dinner table.  I was told that tomorrow morning I would find out what they were doing.

In the morning my mother took me to my Kindergarten class and brought along a large bag.  I still had no idea what was in the bag.  It was a very exciting time for me in Kindergarten since we were preparing a production of “Snow White” and I was to play the character “bashful”. 

In the classroom she gave the bag to the teacher who opened it and there it was:

Seven, I assume now, beautiful bright silver hatchets and seven little lanterns.

I was very proud of my father!


We often took automobile trips to a nearby village, Westwood.  When we were there we would stop by the Gas Company office.  The Gas Company sponsored an evening concert program on the radio.  The two-hour program only played classical music.  Each week they would issue a new printed program listing the radio concerts for the next week.  When we got the program I was given the opportunity to search through it to find out if there were any works by “Schoenberg” to be broadcast.  I would get a dime, 10 cents for each one I could find.  I didn’t get rich but once in a while I’d find one – usually “Transfigured Night”. 

I learned the importance of reading early on in my life.


Family automobile trips up the Pacific Coast Highway were always special for me.  We, my sister, brother and I would often stop a roadside stand that served fresh orange juice.  One summer in 1947 on our way to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, we made our usual detour to the SANTA CLAUS LANE ORANGE JUICE STAND. The stand had a large Santa Claus and outdoor speaker that would play Christmas songs.   But this time something very special happened.  When we drove up, my mother and father were alerted to something different.  Then we found out what was happening – instead of “Jingle Bells” blaring over the loudspeaker it was Verklaerte Nacht!

We had a great time and never had any trouble convincing my father that we should stop there in the future.


I only learned well after my father died why I was not allowed to join the “cub scouts”. It was, of course, because of the uniforms.


On the Saturday before his classes that he taught at home I was allowed to make staff lines on the butcher paper that he used for his music examples.  He had made a device that would inscribe all five lines simultaneously using 5 black crayons.


I loved Christmas when he would play Holiday Songs on the harmonium. 


I was learning to play the violin.  I had very little talent and knew, even at a very early age, that this was not going to be my career.  I recall practicing – screeching when I heard my father call out – falsch!  It was comical because I did at least have a good ear and knew that it was falsch.


We always kissed our parents “good night”, every evening, without exception.  During the night that he died – or perhaps it was in the morning, my mother told me to kiss him “good bye”.  I was confused since I though that I had already kissed him good night. 


We went out shopping on day.  My mother would always do the driving; my father would sit in the front passenger seat.  She would always spend a great deal of time shopping while he would remain the car.  When my mother and I returned to the car after completing the shopping she pushed the starter button to engage the engine.  There was a terribly loud noise from the engine.  She turned the key off and then on and again pushed the starter button – the noise again appeared.  My father seemed unconcerned and continued to work in his sketchbook.  After this kept happening a few times some strangers came to help out.  Someone discovered that my father’s left foot was fully depressing the accelerator! 


Your father is famous as being an excellent teacher. Was this also evident in family life?

Nuria: I remember when he explained to me the movement of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth, using the living room uplighter lamp and objects from the furnishings. He loved to teach.

Ronald: While Nuria was getting her braces tightened, he would take us to a hot dog stand. He told us that the hot dog vendor was a Master of the hot dog.

Larry: I am probably more aware of his capacity as a teacher vis-à-vis others. I knew how much he prepared for his Sunday classes at home.  I later was told by Leonard Stein how my father would design separate exams for each student in his University classes based on each student’s ability. I read the book Schoenberg Remembered by his student Dika Newlin. And I have seen and heard the many who have testified to his teaching ability.

I don’t recall any specific times when he was explicitly teaching me something though I suspect that our after dinner games of roulette and cards had an educational purpose.  And of course I learned a little French  = Rien ne va plus! (I actually thought that it meant that you are going to get your hand slapped).  I know that he was proud of my mathematical ability as evidenced by his famous composition Larry got an A in Arithmetic.  Too bad that he only had the text by Max Blonda (Jolly Joker)! 

Were your friends at School aware that you are children of a very important composer? Did anyone bother you or admire you because of this? 

Nuria: I seriously doubt it 

Ronald: Very few friends were aware of who my Father was. I myself was barely aware of that. After all, he certainly wasn’t famous in Los Angeles, and he didn’t fit the criteria for stardom—wealth, nor did he have any hit songs or compose for the movies. 

Larry: If they were, I didn’t know about it.  The most that I can recall is that a teacher mentioned that he was a famous “conductor”.  I should add that most of the kids and teachers considered conductor and composer synonyms. 

I am not an objective observer. And I don’t pretend to be. When I was very young there was always the conflict between “great composer – very famous father” and “who ..  shonburg”.   I recall asking my mother and later my cousin Richard Hoffmann regarding his fame.

I have never been able to differentiate clearly between the serious admirers and the superficial detractors.  Their words always spoke softer than their actions.

Did your father invest time with you or was he too busy?

Nuria: When I was very young I think he spent quite a lot of time with me. In Los Angeles we had meals together and he would tell us stories and ask about school. But he did not have too much time because he had to teach at the University and private lessons and needed time to compose.

Larry: I never felt that he was “too busy”.  My relationship to him was defined by what was happening.  There was never any comparison with what should be happening.  Again, I was 10 years old when he died and he was ill the last few years of his life.

Was it possible to approach him while he was composing?

Nuria: His study was closed off to us and I went in only to call him for meals or if he called me to show me something.

Larry: I never felt any constraints though I am now told that I was not allowed to go into the work room when he was working.  That was “news to me” now.

What music did you hear at home?

Nuria: We had very few recordings, but there were some of his works on LPs. Mostly, we listened to a radio program that broadcast classical music every evening from 8-10 PM. One of my happiest memories is listening to the radio and looking over my father’s shoulder as he followed the music in the score. On his birthdays they often played Gurrelieder. That was a special occasion, since we had no possibility of hearing it live.

Larry: Nuria and Ronny had phonograph records with, as best as I can recall, patriotic songs.  We sat in the living room listening to the classical radio station music though I can’t imagine that I would have been up that late (8-10PM) very often. 

Performers and performing groups would visit my father and often perform in the living room. (Kolisch Quartet, Steuermann, Feuermann) 

Did you go and/or participate in any other cultural activities with your father or were encouraged by him? 

Nuria: Not really. He considered the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its conductor mediocre and did not encourage me to go to concerts. I did go to concerts of modern music at the famous “Evenings on the Roof” and special events like the Kolisch Quartet or Arthur Schnabel at UCLA. 

Larry: None that I can recall. I would like to remark on how he instilled the importance of work ethic.  For us the milkman, Mr. Kirby, or the occasional repairman that came to the house were characterized as “heroes” – they performed their work admirably.  It did not matter what they were doing it was always a question of how well they did it.

Continue to read the interview here:

Part II: On performance

Part III: Religion and customs

Part IV: How you knew him as a father and Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

Part V: Your mother and children and Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children - introduction

Dika Newlin on Schoenberg conducting Pierrot lunaire

Dika Newlin was a student of Schoenberg during the years 1936 and 1938. Newlin is a pianist, critic, musicologist, composer, and rock/punk singer. She is one of the few people who are still alive and were present in the rehearsals and test pressing sessions of the commercial recording of Pierrot lunaire in 1940. She was involved in choosing the takes for the recordings and she heard the broadcast of this composition that was made by Schoenberg at the same year (click to read on Schoenberg as conductor). During 2005 I made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Dika Newlin by phone and by mail. Sabine Feisst, from Arizona State University, who is an expert for almost anything connected with Schoenberg in America, wrote to me that ‘Dika is virtually blind, that is why she does not have e-mail. Also she broke her hip some months ago and barely gets around with a walker (that is why she does not answer the phone). The best way to get in touch with her is through film maker Michael D. Moore (not to be confused with the film maker of Fahrenheit 9/11).’ Moore was very helpful with making the contact with Newlin. After 65 years the memories of people tends to change. In spite of the long period of time that had passed and the age of Dika Newlin, it seems that her mind is clear and that her answers are credible. This can be deduced from her detailed answers, and especially from her honesty in admitting that she does not remember certain issues. This interview is included here with the kind permission of Michael D. Moore (see endnote 1). Michael D. Moore: Our first question from Avior is ‘Could you tell me something about how Schoenberg worked with Erika Wagner-Stiedry? What kind of remarks did he give her? What was he concerned about? And do you think he was happy with her performance of Sprechstimme?’

DN: Oh yes. I think he was very happy with her performance. They have been working together for a long time, in fact she was part of the Pierrot ensemble in Europe as where some of the other players and so there were people there, he knew what they could do, he knew what they could accomplish. The important thing about the recitation in Pierrot is, and some people don’t realize, that the vocalist is not a solo vocalist. In other words, this is not a vocalist being accompanied by instruments, but this is a part of the ensemble. And in fact, sometimes the instruments are even more important than the voice. Often, this is not understood, but Mrs. Wagner-Stiedry, Stiedry-Wagner, had learned this over the years – and so indeed she did fulfill that very very well.

MDM: What was Schoenberg’s…, what was his major concern in working with Erika?

DN: I think that the voice be placed properly, that it’d be placed in relation to the other instruments, that it’ll not be too prominent or not prominent enough. Of course, the text has to be very clearly heard. And, it’s interesting, you know, to realize that Schoenberg thought, in later times, Pierrot lunaire is always to be performed in the language of the country that it is being performed in, which is why earlier I had prepared a complete performable translation of the Pierrot lunaire text. Which I have performed myself later on, but that’s another story. Obviously, in this case, since German was Erika’s native language it would be performed in German and this she did. Certainly, her diction was very clear at all times. The text is important and she brought it out very well indeed.

MDM: Number 2, Mr. Byron asks: ‘how was the atmosphere in the recording studio?’

DN: Rather tense at times. In the rehearsals too, of course there were tensions between players, tensions with Schoenberg, who obviously was very concerned that everything be just right. So it wasn’t, shall we say, relaxed and chummy. It was tense, but not unbearably tense. See, we had two kinds of performers in this performance. Number one, were the people who had performed it for years. People like, for instance, Edward Steuermann the pianist. And then there were people who were Hollywood musician, in other words, studio musicians, who are used to performing all kinds of music on very short notice and can play almost anything very well. They could get into this, but maybe it took them a little more time because maybe they have not performed something like this before. So there were tensions that happened at times. I recall one occasion when Mr. Stephan Auber, who was the cellist, and had an important cello solo in one of the pieces, he might have questioned something and Schoenberg immediately became furious and said: ‘Sie sind … [unintelligible]’, in other words, ‘you’re being rude, this is bad, I’m not going to put up with this’ and he stormed out of the rehearsal. Leonard Stein, Schoenberg’s assistant at the time, had to go upstairs and smooth Schoenberg down and get him back to the rehearsal and then the rehearsal continued pleasantly enough.

MDM: Were you at all the rehearsals?

DN: I think at most of them. There might have been one or two when I wasn’t present. As far as I remember, I attended certainly three or four rehearsals, which were usually about two hours long, sometimes a little bit longer. And, of course, this was very important to me, to be present; this was a statement of confidence in me, of interest in my opinion. This was in my third year of studying with Schoenberg, by this time I was, more or less, one of the family and I felt very very honored to be allowed to be present at this. I had never, of course, had the opportunity to hear a Pierrot before, because it hadn’t been performed that often in this country, in places where I could hear it. So I was looking forward to getting acquainted with the work.

MDM: As a side note, he asks: ‘Was the atmosphere different in the rehearsals than it was when they finally went into the recording studio?’ DN: No, I would say it was about the same. Maybe a little more relaxed in the recording studio because, by this time, a lot of the major problems have been discussed at the rehearsals so it wasn’t necessary to bring it up again.

MDM: This is question number 3: ‘How was the broadcast in September 1940?’ Are you acquainted with that broadcast?

DN: Yes I am.

MDM: ‘Was it different from the recording?’

DN: No, substantially no. I would say, of course, any two successful performances are not going to be exactly the same. There are always going to be little differences that happen, otherwise it would be so totally mechanical. So, they were not note for note identical. Not totally identical in expression. It would be always, each performance instead, should be recreated new, and I felt that happened.

MDM: Ok, and another question on that: ‘How did people react to it?’ On this you could elaborate how did the fellow musicians react to the broadcast and how did Schoenberg react to it?

DN: I think they were very happy with it, on the whole. They felt they had achieved what they had set out to achieve. Schoenberg was basically happy with it, as far as I remember now. And the musicians, well… I think they would say, ‘we got through it, we did it, we made it’. So, musicians are always happy when that occurs.

MDM: How about the critics? Do you remember any critical comments at the time, one way or the other?

DN: No, I don’t remember the reviews, I’m sure there were some, but I don’t remember those at this time.

MDM: Number 4: ‘Could you tell me any more information about the recording sessions that you were present in? And was Dr. Stiedry really interfering as Schoenberg wrote in one of his letters?’

DN: Ok, I don’t remember that specifically, for Schoenberg said that in one of his letters. I’m sure that’s what he felt, of course, Dr. Steidry, as Erika’s husband was very concerned that she be well presented, that she be well heard, and perhaps he wanted her to be a little more prominent than Schoenberg thought should be the case. So, I don’t remember that specifically, but that would be a reasonable supposition. I just don’t remember that particular dialogue.

MDM: Ok, well perhaps you could elaborate on something that you just now mentioned. And, in addition, give us any more information about the recording sessions – it says ’session’ here in the question, but also any additional sessions you were present in. Perhaps you should mention how Schoenberg felt the voice should act, react, in relation to the music? Maybe that’s what caused her husband to question him?

DN: Yes, I think, as I mentioned before, the voice is really just one of the instruments. The voice is not an accompanying soloist. Of course, there’s a lot about the performance practice which is misleading in Schoenberg’s preface to Pierrot lunaire. For instance, he says that the printed notes, of course, are not printed as notes but are printed as x’s in the score, and that you touch that pitch and then you slide your way from it. This is not what happens in a performance, this is not what’s supposed to happen in performance. So, actually, what happens is, that one follows the line and you go up or go down as the placement of the notes on the staff suggests. And, of course, you keep the strict rhythm. But the pitches are not going to be the same as those you see on the printed page. And this particular notation has caused a lot of misunderstanding. Singers see this and see notes, and say: ‘Ah, we want to sing’. This is not to be sung, except for when Schoenberg specifically says so. And in fact, many of the first performances have not been by singers but have been by actors. The very first performance was by an actress. This type of misunderstanding I think was why in Schoenberg’s later work with Sprechstimme he gave up using notes at all and simply used a horizontal line which represented middle pitch and shows pitches above or below that, shows us the exact rhythm but does not show pitches. I think that’s much more realistic. So, I think he learned from some of the problems about Pierrot.

MDM: ‘How long was the recording session?’

DN: I believe it was about three hours, as I recall. And of course that’s because of a number of retakes. There were not too many retakes necessary at this point because people knew what they were doing.

MDM: ‘Who decided how many times to record each piece?’

DN: Schoenberg.

MDM: ‘On what basis?’

DN: On whether he felt that it has successfully achieved what he wanted to. In other words, the proper valves [?], the accuracy of notes, of course, had a lot of consideration because we knew that everybody was going to play the right notes. There were some questions of ensemble, which happened at times. I’ll mention one of those a little bit later, which I think happened. I think most people would have discarded that particular take, Schoenberg didn’t want to and I’ll explain that a little bit later on.

MDM: Alright, ‘how many people were there at these recordings?’ Did they happen on one day or on the course of several days?

DN: As I recall, it was all done in one day [Byron: see endnote 2]. The people who be present were of course the technicians who had to be there, and I was present, and I believe Leonard Stein (Schoenberg’s assistant) was present. There may have been a couple of others, but I don’t recall them.

MDM: Ok, so four, five people maximum?

DN: Yes.

MDM: And that includes the engineers?

DN: Yes.

MDM: Alright, number 5: ‘You wrote that you were active in choosing takes from the test pressings for the commercial recordings. On what basis were the takes chosen?’ And please elaborate on that and then I’ll ask some more.

DN: Alright. As I said, on basis of accuracy, on basis of following what Schoenberg had wanted to have happen, on the basis of balance, on basis of atmosphere. And here I want to mention one piece in particular where one might be surprised by the choice which was made. In the recitation called Madonna, there’s a certain moment when three instruments are playing in three-part harmony. And ordinarily, one would expect a three part harmony to be played with the three instruments playing precisely at the same time, which was how Schoenberg wrote it. However, for whatever reason, they weren’t quite precise in doing it together. So instead of hearing chord, chord, chord you heard ta-da-da, ta-da-da, ta-da-da. In other words, it was not quite together. I heard this and I thought: well, you know, we really don’t want to have this, we shouldn’t take that take. However, Schoenberg wanted that particular take. He wanted that insecurity, if you will, in the harmony. And so he chose. Finally, when I thought about it, I did agree with him that it, perhaps, reflected the tense atmosphere of that particular piece. So, the chords didn’t need to be exactly together. So that was an unusual choice.

MDM: So they weren’t rhythmically displayed in unison, that’s what you’re saying.

DN: That’s right.

MDM: On what basis were the takes chosen? What were people talking about when or after listening to the takes?

DN: Again, the same considerations I’ve been mentioning. Does this take reflect the atmosphere of the piece? Is this take correct? Is the balance between instruments good? Did everybody do what we had agreed upon in performance? All of these things. In other words, had many rehearsals borne fruit? And I think we all would agree that they had.

MDM: Alright, ‘Who was the most active in the choosing? Were people listening with or without scores?’ Maybe you could elaborate on that.

DN: Yes. My recollection is we were listening without scores. We were listening in a way, in other words, the person who goes on and buys this recordings is not going to have a score. They’re going to have a musical experience. Are they having this musical experience when they’re listening to this recording? We tried to put ourselves, at least I’ve tried to put myself, in the place of a listener, somebody who has never heard the work before. What will they get out of this? Because, this recording should not be just for musicians to listen to, just for professionals to listen to. It should be something that a musical public can enjoy. And I think this recording is.

MDM: Very good. ‘How many people were present when choosing from the press recordings?’ I know you and Schoenberg were there, but who else was involved in this choice process?

DN: Again, Leonard Stein probably. And the performers. Certainly Erika was there. And sure Steidry was there. Steuermann. Probably, the group of the four of us as a whole. Maybe some of the studio musicians, the Hollywood musicians, were not. But the old-timers were present.

MDM: Ok, the old-timers, meaning the old-timers that were associated with the composer? The old-timers who were associates with the studio?

DN: The old-timers that were associated with the composer. Yes, and there would have been some studio people present also.

MDM: Yes, I’m sure there would’ve. Studio engineers playing and replaying the test pressings.

DN: Exactly.

MDM: Right. So you’re talking about several other people, maybe somewhere between half a dozen and ten people, would you think?

DN: Yes. Something like that.

MDM: Ok. Very good. ‘What did Schoenberg think about the recording after it was made?’

DN: He was very very happy about the recording. However, here I think I should tell the story about my translation because this has a bearing on how the recording was received or was not received by the public. Obviously, with a piece like this it is very very important that the listener knew exactly what is going on and not just in a general way. Schoenberg suggested sometime back that I make a translation of Pierrot and I made it, in fact, in such a way that one could perform it in English, since that I had twice recorded one of those recordings. Well, we wanted to have this printed, the translation printed, with the album, just like musicians print the lyrics of songs, for example. So we sent it along with the test pressings, a copy of my translation. And, in due course, we got a letter back from a Mr. Wagner Liberstein, who was, at that time, a rather minor figure at Columbia, later on he became a major person there you may know about. And, so, he basically said we can’t use a translation from the German. Remember, this was at the time we were at war with Germany. There may be all kinds of copyright problems and so forth. He said that we should go back to the original French text, that the German text was a translation of, and adapt it from the French text, that we could use that. So, I told Schoenberg this and he said: ‘I forbid this!’ in his usual commanding voice. The problem being that the German was a very free translation of the French in the first place and in some places quite different. So a translation from the French would have absolutely been not proper. Se we compromised that there was a brief summary with the album of what each of the songs was about. Of course, Schoenberg was not happy with that and needless to say, I was not happy with that.

MDM: Because you had spent a lot of time working on these translations and getting them accurate to Schoenberg’s specifications.

DN: Yes, yes, exactly. Well. This is why I was happy – because at a later time, once at Northern Texas State University and once at Texas Tech I had the opportunity of performing my, in my English translation. And, by the way, Erika was a great inspiration to me, as trying to learn how to do the recitation. I remember, in California, my mother and I, we had sometimes used to go out to Palm Springs for a weekend and I would go into the desert and practice doing like Erika’s vocals. So I consider, that in obessensive [?], she was my vocal coach for what I do today. Now, what I do today is quite different, but the idea is the same.

MDM: This is a question from me personally, this work that you were doing in the desert, is that how you learned about projection of your voice, how to contrast between the softness and the strength that were necessary for the performance?

DN: Yes. That is part of it. The interesting thing is, and of course again this is in accordance with what I told you about the kind of person who usually performs or who usually should perform, this is not for singers. This is for actors. Actually, I’ve never had vocal training as an actress either. This is something I’ve learned on my own, by working with this, by seeing what other people did and projecting it. I didn’t have voice lessons. I have never had any voice lessons and in light of what that score actually is, I’m glad that I didn’t. I think round, pear-shaped tones are not what Schoenberg was looking for.

MDM: Do you think, do you know, ‘what he had thought about it when he heard it again? When it was released to the public?’ In other words, when he heard the test pressings and when he heard the final release? I think, perhaps, the question is more addressing the release to the public. And ‘did he change his mind about these recordings at any time?’

DN: Number one, here I’ll try to go into his mind, I know, I feel that I know, that he was happy with the recording as it went out. He was not happy that he could not have the translations. And, to my knowledge, later on, of course, I did not see Schoenberg very much after I graduated from UCLA, I was in New York, I was studying at Columbia.

MDM: What year did you last work with him at UCLA?

DN: 1941. And then I was at Columbia University working on my book, ‘Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg’, as my doctoral dissertation. By the way, that’s an interesting story. That was the first time that a musicology dissertation had been accepted who’s dealing with a still living person. That was something unusual. And I was very happy to be able to do that. I was in touch by letter with Schoenberg during this time and I would see him during the summers. I went to California in the summers and visited with him on a number of occasions. He’ll hear my latest work and so forth and so on. So we were in touch pretty much until his death.

MDM: And more on the aspect of ‘did he ever change his mind about the recordings at any time?’

DN: That I didn’t know because that wasn’t something that came up after the business of recording, it was all over with. I’ve never discussed it with him, for instance, in the summers when I was visiting because we were discussing other things.

MDM: New things.

DN: New things. Like my new works.

MDM: That’s right. And what did you tell me yesterday when we were speaking on the phone? That Schoenberg, when he made up his mind about something he liked or didn’t like, and it wouldn’t really change that much. Is that true?

DN: Yes. I think that was true. I believe that to be true. I remember, to my knowledge, my memory is that he didn’t change on this. But again, you can’t say he was completely rigid because sometimes he did change his mind. And wasn’t it Emerson who said ‘Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’?

MDM: Correct. Number seven: ‘how was Schoenberg as a conductor?’

DN: Ok. Not the virtuoso type of conductor, not the show off type of conductor as Bernstein, for instance, or Toscanini, or somebody like that. I think he was successful in putting across his own ideas of his music. I saw him conduct a number of times, specifically in a very interesting group that we had in Los Angeles at that time called The rehearsal orchestra, and this was for Hollywood musicians who got tired playing some of the stuff that they were playing in film and wanted to have more challenging material. So they would invite, for instance, Stravinsky to come in and conduct them on Sunday or Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco or whoever was around, and they invited Schoenberg and so he conducted quite a few of the studio musicians in various works in one of these rehearsals. So he was effective, I think, in putting it across, his ideas. I don’t know if he’s the person I would want to hear conduct Beethoven’s ninth. Well, he did do that. Not in my hearing. For the needs of what he was doing with conducting his own music, certainly he was the right man in the right place at the right time.

MDM: What was his relation to the score and how was his conducting of tempo?

DN: He had rather free ideas about tempo, and if you look to the scores one could see he never replaced one tempo heading at the beginning. It would be ca circa about say 51 to 65. He gives people a choice. So sometimes it might be done a little bit slower, sometimes it might be done a little bit faster. And that would depend, in some cases, in the nature of the hall in which it was being done. Is this a more resonant place? Is this a less resonant place? It might depend on the capacity of the performer, on the feeling of the performer. So, he was not rigid about tempo. Flexible about tempo.

MDM: ‘Did the performers follow his conducting?’

DN: Yes…, they’d better [laughter]. He had a quick temper you know.

MDM: Avior Byron here, concludes his letter: ‘If there is anything else that you could tell me considering the recording, broadcast and rehearsals of Pierrot lunaire, please do not hesitate to do that’. Now, you’ve got half and hour to tell us everything that you know about Pierrot lunaire.

DN: Everything I know. Ok. Well, are some of the things that I’ve mentioned already are the ones are they ones you’d like me to expand on a little bit more, that you’d like to hear more about?

MDM: Well, What I particularly would like to hear more about is the recording studio. Where it was located? The size of the studio? How many musicians were used and also I’d like to know more about the phraseology of the work itself. How Erika Wagner-Stiedry came up with the phrasing with Schoenberg. And I’d also like to know a little bit more about how it actually came to being there for the performance.

DN: Ok. Within the studio itself, and this was a fair sized studio, I don’t recall which studio building was used, this was whatever space Columbia Records were using at that time. It wasn’t a huge room. I’d say it was sort of a middle-sized performance space. And within that, of course, as I mentioned before, there were several listeners, there were several engineers. Of course this was very different from contemporary technology, obviously, se we had whoever we needed at that time. As far as phrasing is concerned, this kind of thing, this particularly with the vocals, this depends on the character, the words, what words you want to emphasize, etc. And that, of course, was thoroughly discussed with Schoenberg. Let me mention this, I go back to the famous preface to Pierrot, which I think is misleading. He claims that he wasn’t really going for tone-painting. What I mean by tone-painting, the idea that the music describes exactly what is going on in the text, or exactly what is going on in the text if it’s a tone poem, for instance, the orchestra does, the music reflects that exactly. Schoenberg liked to think that he wasn’t doing that much tone-painting. And, in fact, sometimes he did the opposite of tone painting in the piece. For instance, uses the solo cello when the text talks about a Bratsche, a viola [in German]. He would have had a viola at his disposal, because the thing is so orchestrated that at some place the violin turns into a viola. However, he deliberately didn’t choose the viola, he used a cello. So that’s exactly the opposite of tone-painting. However, about two or there years ago at my university, which is the Virginia Commonwealth University, I presented a special seminar on Pierrot lunaire and one of the things we did at the class was to take the text word-by-word and see where the music specifically illustrates the words, does it or does it not? And we found out that there’s much more tone-painting, there’s much more illustration than Schoenberg probably wanted to admit to. And the class has been taught by other teachers ready to consider Schoenberg as a radical who wanted to go away totally from romanticism. That kind of thing. And as they worked through what we have realized together, which I already knew, of course, and I came to know even more – Schoenberg, to the end of his life, whatever medium he was using, whether he was using tonality, whether he was using extended tonality or going away from a tonal center, whether he was using twelve-tone-music, he was always a full-blown romantic. And a lot of people don’t know that or don’t admit that. But it is true. There are all kinds of tone-painting which are going on in his music.

MDM: May I ask you a question? How many musicians were present at each one, there are seven pieces, right? Twenty one pieces in all? Three times seven.

DN: Twenty one pieces, three parts. Ok. Well, all of the musicians are present throughout, there are more musicians playing in some of the pieces than there are in others. Some of the musicians double on instruments, for instance, the violinist played the viola, the clarinetist played the bass-clarinet, so forth. Those who had doubled, do double.

MDM: How many musicians are necessary, for say, the minimal requirement, similar to the requirement they set in the medium studio at Columbia in 1940? How many musicians do you suppose were in the room with you guys?

DN: Ok. Five.

MDM: Five musicians? And they would have been?

DN: Violinist, doubling on viola. Pianist, of course, on piano. Cello. And who else? Clarinet.

MDM: Yes, you mentioned clarinet.

DN: And bass-clarinet.

MDM: And would you have had someone playing a bass run? Or would that have been done on a cello?

DN: No. No percussion.

MDM: Ok. How about the…, another question that I had was, about the choosing of the thing. How many takes, cause I never did get, it was kind of included in the other questions, question number five from Avior Byron. How many takes would they have done on each piece and were they done in a row from beginning to end? For the whole piece? Or was each piece done separately? And you can also elaborate on the recording process. Did everyone play together in a large room and each one had their own microphone? No one came back in for over dubs or anything, did they?

DN: Well, no, not at that time. This was a direct recording. I don’t recall whether the pieces were recorded in the order that they are in the score or not. Probably not, because there were certain pieces that required only certain people and those people would have to be present, otherwise, if all the people were needed we would have all the people there. That’s my recollection of it but I don’t remember that much detail. That would have been a logical way to do it.

MDM: So it was probably done over a day or two of recording sessions?

DN: Yes.

MDM: And, one? Two? Three? How many takes of each one?

DN: It depended on the problems which came up. I don’t think we did anything in only one take. But maybe two or three, sometimes. I don’t recall more than three.

MDM: Ok. Cause I know you were famous for doing your songs, that we’ve recorded in the productions, in either one or two takes. You’re just famous for that. And so many of the songs that we have used on your albums have been one-take songs that you’ve performed live. So it wasn’t unheard of with these professional musicians and they were well-rehearsed to do this in one, two, three takes?

DN: That’s right.

MDM: Ok, what else would you like to tell us about Pierrot lunaire, and something that could perhaps tie us, tie you, to this production and to the other two productions thay you’ve done in Texas and here, and explain some of the variations that you’ve incorporated.

DN: Alright. As I’ve said, I was fascinated with what Erika was doing and I used to go out and do this, try this out and see how it worked. And I’ve always dreamed of being able to perform this with an ensemble. Well, the opportunity came when one of my students at North Texas State, this was the last year I believe that I was there – 1965, wanted to do the Pierrot as her senior project, to get players together to do that, Oh, my goodness, I’ve forgot to name the flute.

MDM: Yeah, that was what I was going to say, when we talked about the musicians incorporated. We forgot about the importance of the flute.

DN: The flute is very important and, of course, the flute has a wonderful piece alone with the voice – ‘like this taken to death’, and the flute plays this as ‘The Sick moon’. And it’s just for flute and voice. And at my time in North Texas we had a wonderful flute department, the flutists liked to play that piece and liked to have it recited with them. So that often showed up at flute recitals. But I really was anxious, at North Texas, to play… to do the voice part, as part of a whole performance. And, of course, when they were getting that together, they thought of me as the pianist. I said: ‘Oh, no. you have other pianists, I would like to do the voice’. So that worked out and I was able to do that. And I did it in English and we recorded that at the time. I don’t know if that recording had been kept or not. Did I give you my own copy of that recording?

MDM: I don’t know if I had a copy of that recording. But I do have a copy of the recording you did recently in Texas, several years ago. And I would also like for you, at this time, we have enough time on our Question and Answer tape here. If you could elaborate on the person of the speaker, or the reciter, not the singer, since she is not singing. Can you talk about who that person I sand what is that importance to the piece?

DN: Oh, yes, that’s very important. In the very first performance that ever took place, in Berlin, the reciter appeared in a costume and that has happened in a number of performances. Not in my performances because Pierrot in not the narrator. The narrator is talking about Pierrot. So you have to be somebody else. In the performances that I did, in the first performance I did in Texas I believe I’ve used some kind of harlequin costume. In the second performance in Texas, I had another type of costume which the wife of the conductor had specially designed for me. A sort of futuristic costume, but it was not a Pierrot costume because we are talking about Pierrot, and, of course, in preparing for the recordings, there was not any costuming for these performances. Obviously.

MDM: Ok. What else would you like to tell us about, that will help Avior Byron in conducting this piece, in performing this piece. What else would you like to tell him and also what else would you like to discuss with our audience today about the piece before we wrap it up?

DN: How much time do I have?

MDM: You have 15 minutes.

DN: Oh. Very good. I would say, first of all, listen to the Schoenberg recording, listen to other recordings as well. There are a number of very interesting recordings. One with Bethany Beardslee who was trained as a singer but does a very good job as a reciter [Byron: see endnote 3]. One, very unusual, by the popular singer Cleo Laine, who does do it in English. And there are probably a number of others that don’t cross my mind at the moment, but it’s interesting to hear different recordings and hear how different they were. By the way, there was a study done on this by a writer in the 1920s, I forget the name of the writer, but this was in German, and this was in Austria or Germany. Someone who was very struck by the fact that performances of Pierrot differ greatly from one to another. In other words, there seems to be no unanimity about what should be done, in particularly with the voice. And I think this shows, this became rather a criticism of the way it was written down. In other words, Schoenberg wrote one thing and yet everyone does something different. Which I think is what convinced Schoenberg later to use a more flexible notation. As he does in Ode to Napoleon, for example, and in other works which used to speak so. The questions of how notated this kind of music becomes important. But there’s a lot of variety between performances and I think there should be, so long as the atmosphere of the work is portrayed. And the people I’ve mentioned, I think, all did that very successfully. So, listen to a lot of recordings, look at the score from your own stand point – what do you get out of this? What personally, to you, is important in the score? Why do you devote yourself to this score? What is it that you would like the audience to hear in the score? And I think that is always of importance. In presenting this to an audience in Texas, twice, I think that was rather unusual, because, certainly, you wouldn’t think Schoenberg will be a household word in Texas. So, it was interesting to me to see what reaction was, especially in Texas Tech. We had fun with this. Those articles published about it in the local magazine, and they were talking about all the different aspects of this. And finally, I came up with jokes like ‘Two gun Texas piece’ and I came on the scene with a couple of bottles of Texas Pea Hot Sauce, I did not do that in the performance.

MDM: That was more to put the musicians at ease.

DN: Yes, definitely. And I think we discussed this, in the magazine article, but there wasn’t a picture. We had private pictures of that, so we wanted people to have fun with this concept and I think they did. Certainly the audience there was very enthusiastic, they were cheering for it. The thing is, I suggest again, keep in mind Schoenberg was a romanticist all the way. He was not this very turbidly intellectual person, that is often presented. People have this notion of him as a cerebral composer who always composed by system, who composed in a very strict manner, who was not interested in romanticism, who was not interested in expression and so forth. And that was not the case. One bit of reading he might like to do, or several essays you might like to read out of his book titled Style and Idea, of which I made the initial translation, on the very first edition of it that came out in 1951 or 1952. Later on, a larger edition was made by Leonard Stein. And in this a number of interesting articles. One that I like is ‘Heart and Brain in Music’, where he deals with this very problem. There seems to be a feeling of a conflict there between heart and brain and Schoenberg felt the two should work together. If you didn’t have any brain, you’d have a really poor heart. So, you use your mind, but also, you let your emotions take over. And another very good one is ‘On Revient Toujour, one always come back’. People had a huge tale of abandoning tonality, they had no interest in tonality anymore, they’ve thrown it out of the window. Not so, he came back in later years to tonal music. And even when he was writing non-tonally-centered works, this was because he wanted to expand the possibilities of music. He did not want to throw out tonality, and he never did, in fact. And then, of course, expanding it still more with his method of composition with twelve tones. But what he said in ‘On Revient Toujour’, he said you always come back to earlier things, there is nothing wrong in doing that. He said: ‘I like all my works, because I liked them when I wrote them’. Which I tell my students. Sometimes they feel ‘I’ve gone beyond this now, I mustn’t do this anymore’. And I say: ‘No. You do what is appropriate to what you are feeling at the time’. And I think this is important. So a conductor should not be doctrinaire about what he or she wants to conduct or how it should be conducted. Look at the past, see how you felt about it in the past, how you feel about it now, can you put those things together and come up with something which is valid for you? And I think that is extremely important to be able to do. Another Schoenberg essay in Style and Idea, its title is ‘This is my fault’ and there he talks about people who write, who compose absolutely contrary to the text and he admits that he might sometimes had done this, but it was not his habit. What one really should do is, one should consider the text, one should relate well to the text. He has a whole argument about relations to the text, which should be studied as well by composers and, I think, conductors. Conducting text, one should realize what the relationship of the orchestra or small ensemble is to the text and direct the performance accordingly.

MDM: Would you like to make one final summation about this whole piece, now that you have thought about it and recorded it. We have enough time for you to make a summation paragraph before we wrap up our show today.

DN: Ok. In my life, I think Schoenberg, or I know Schoenberg in my life had a predominant influence that leads up to the present day. In my later years, I’ve had the opportunity to go back over the past, while doing this or other interviews and other situations as well, and pass on that heritage. And a very important part of my work has been to be able to teach all of these years. I’ve taught for fifty years, so I’ve had fifty years to be able to pass this on to students. Some people don’t entirely appreciate this, I must say, even within my own university, Virginia Commonwealth University at this time, as I have been teaching there. There were some people who diDN’t quite approve of this. Who felt whether I should be using this textbook or that textbook? Why I use Schoenberg’s textbooks? And, by the way, Schoenberg’s textbooks are terribly important, a marvelous resource for young students who want to learn more about the past, through a master of the present day. A wonderful counterpoint textbook, a wonderful harmony textbook. Got two wonderful harmony textbooks that everybody who is studying composition should have that exposure. I hope that will be true in many cases. I’ve made it, in my teaching here at the Virginia Commonwealth University, as true as I can. I’d like to be true to the tradition and I hope in things I am doing and saying now and in summing up my own life, what my relationship to Schoenberg has been, and summing up what my pupils have done, I feel that the heritage goes on and on and on. Maybe we have Vienna on the [unintelligible] now and I’ve had some wonderful students, I have some wonderful students now, who carry on the tradition and learn to be themselves. Schoenberg’s students were not all just clones of each other, they learned a lot of basics, learned a lot of fundamentals, each one was his or her own person. They learned to become who they were like Berg and Webern who took it different. I think the latest example of two people who were certainly as different as they could be, and totally different than Berg and Webern, I think myself and John Cage, a very unlikely combination. 1 2005 copyrighted material owned by Michael D. Moore T/A

MDM Productions, P.O. Box 5703, Richmond, Virginia 23220-0703 USA 2 The test-pressing sessions took three days. Newlin was probably only in one of those sessions (her diary records that she was present in the recording session of 25 of September) or her memory failed her here. Note that later in the interview she confirms that the sessions were ‘probably done over a day or two’. 3 Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Columbia Chamber Ensemble (Murray Panitz, flute & piccolo; Ernest Bright, clarinet & bass clarinet; Isidore Cohen, violin & viola; Charles McCracken, violoncello; Robert Helps, piano) Robert Craft, conductor, various issues, among them CBS Sony SOCL 267/68 (pre 1978) LP.

Related posts:

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children

Copyright Avior Byron 2023 .