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The Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna decided to give Avior Byron the Avenir Foundation Research Grant for a one month research trip in Vienna in order to work on two books that he is writing.  

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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

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Review of the Israeli Musicological Society (IMS) Annual Meeting 2009

Review of the Israeli Musicological Society (IMS) Annual Meeting 2009

The session “Music in the World of Islam” in honor of Prof. Amnon Shiloach 80th birthday was interesting. It was heart warming to see that there is an academic in the music field in Israel that is so active despite our poor situation. Shiloach has about 250 publications. I never read his research, which was described by Dr. Ronit Seter as positivistic; however, I do hope to read some of it in the future. The speakers in the session, Prof. Joseph Sadan, Prof. Sasson Somech. Dr. Avi Eylam Amzallag, showed great respect to Shiloach and gave interesting papers.
At the end of the session Shiloach thanked the speakers and the audience and spoke shortly about the mission of music. He also said that he just came of a conference in England where he was a key speaker. He was amazed to see there that no one of the speakers ever tried to speak more that the time that he or she was given. I must add that it was a pity to see that in our conference there were at least three scholars that could not find the strength to stop speaking, even when it was demanded by common sense.
I found the papers by Dr. Yifat Shoshat “Between Lessing and Haydn: Rhetorical Expressions in 18th-Century Music and Philosophy”, and Yoel Greenberg “A Stitch in Time: The Transition from the Slow Introduction to the Fast Section in Haydn’s Symphonies”, especially interesting. Greenberg realted to the research of Eithan Haimo, and I wonder what he would say if he would be preset in the room.
The “Plenary session” was both too long and too short. Dr. Bella Brover-Lubovsky (president) spoke about the annual report and RILM national committee report. Dr. Yosef Goldenberg (treasurer) gave the financial report. I spoke about the IMS Google group. Dr. Adena Portowitz (Min-Ad editor) gave the Min-ad report.
I only heard half of the paper of Oded Erez "Contemporary Voices in Israeli Popular Music: Revisiting Zionist Cultural Space”. However, it is good to see that there are still young scholars that find interest in musicology and some of its new paths. Popular music, gender, and performance studies are exciting new areas for research.
One of the most interesting parts was Prof. Jehoash Hirshberg’s talk and listening session to “In Memory of the Crystal Night in Munich: A Premiere of the Oratorio Joram by Paul Frankenburger (Ben Haim) Seventy Five Years after its Composition”. The music was facinating and Hirshberg’s review of it gave it an interesting context and interpretation.
It was nice meeting many of the people that I usually communicate with electronically. I hope that we could have more of these session during the year and that young scholars will join our musicological society. Remember, you can make a change only if you participate.

Related posts

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On fear: Schoenberg, Stravinsky and the Israeli music scene

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Review of the IMS conference 2008: what there is and what there is not to read in Hebrew in Music

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Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

I am a great admirer of Glenn Gould. I always loved the two versions of the Goldberg Variations that he recorded (as usual I have included in this post several video that you might find interesting).
However, the first time that I was really amazed from his interpretation was when I heard him play Schoenberg’s Piano Piece Op. 33a. In his performance I heard something that I cannot describe in words. It is simply magic. As he often does, Gould deviates from the score. He does it on purpose from the reason that I will mention in a moment.

I bought several months ago The Glenn Gould Reader (edited by Tim Page. Published by Vintage Books, 1990). It includes essays written by Gould to journals such as the Piano Quarterly and texts that accompanied his recordings. Some of the texts are funny and light hearted. Others have incredible insights into music, performance and musical history.

Gould on Stokowsky

His essay ‘Stokowsky in Six Scenes’ is a master piece. A passage from it may give you an idea why Gould himself had the habit of deviating from the score as well as give you a taste of his literary style:
‘Stokowsky was, for want of a better word, an ecstatic. He was involved with the notes, the tempo marks, the dynamics in the score, to the same extent that a filmmaker is involved with the original book or source which supplies the impetus, the idea, for his film. “Black marks on paper”, he would say to me a quarter-century later. “We write black marks on white paper – the mere facts of frequency; but music is a communication much more subtle than mere facts. The best a composer can do when within him he hears a great melody is to put it on paper. We call it music, but that is not music; that is only paper. Some believe that one should merely mechanically reproduce the marks on the paper, but I do not believe in that. One must go much further than that. We must defend the composer against the mechanical conception of life which if becoming more and more strong today.”’ (p. 264)
This, of course, could represent not only Stokowsky, but also Gould himself. At another place in the essay Gould tells us that Stokowsky modified his studio interpretations so that they will suite the living-room acoustics where the music will be heard. Indeed, when Gould writes about other performers, he often gives valuable and interesting information about himself.

Gould on Schoenberg

Another excellent essay is ‘Arnold Schoenberg – A Perspective’. This is was originally a monograph published by the University of Cincinnati (1964). What I love about this essay is that it makes an interesting overview on Schoenberg’s compositional development, yet it also tries (as early as 1964!) to understand his significance on the history of music. Gould raises questions such as ‘what will happen to Schoenberg in the year 2000?’ He notes the fact that Schoenberg’s technique had entered the grade-B horror movies and that it is much more acceptable in operas than in the concert hall.     
Gould had a deep understanding of the aesthetics, philosophical and technical problems that occupied Schoenberg. When he deals with technical issues, he usually does not divorce them from social and historical events (although he takes caution not to suggest too strong connections), and he describes in a very lively way what might have been the composer’s feelings when embarking on new and unknown paths of composition.


Gould on  Rubinstein

In his essay on Rubinstein he includes a conversation that tell us volumes about Gould’s philosophy of recording:
‘…when you begin, you don’t quite know what it is about. You only come to know as you proceed… I very rarely know, when I come to the studio, exactly how I am going to do something… I’ll try it is fifteen different ways… I don’t know at the time of the session what result is finally going to accrue. And it does depend upon listening to a playback and saying “That doesn’t work; it is going to go that way; I’ll have to change that completely.” It makes the performer very like the composer, really, because it gives him editorial afterthought…’ (p. 287)
It is interesting to read this, since Gould had a dream of being a composer – a dream that was fulfilled only in his performances.
Gould was an incredibly knowledgeable musician. He writes about people such as Byrd, Gibbons, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Hindemith, Boulez, Terry Riley, Rubinstein, Menuhin, Barbra Streisand and many others. I the book one can find essays about technology, recordings, Gould various broadcast and TV projects, and other interesting things. I recommend reading this book to anyone who is interested in classical music in general and Glenn Gould and performance in particular.    

Gould on Recordings and Media

Some of the most interesting essays can be found in part three of the book, which is entitled "Media". The first article, "The Prospects of Recording", is perhaps the most interesting. In it Gould explains his views on editing, the affect of recordings on the listener in particular and art in general. I also recommend reading the next essay: "Music and Technology". In this section one can find texts that Gould used for some of his broadcasts. For example, for The Idea of North. One can listen to these broadcasts, as they have been released two years ago on CDs on CBS Records.

Related Posts


Further Reading

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

During my short Post-doc in Berlin (January-February 2008) I visited the Stifung Archiv Der Akademie Der Künst. I saw there interesting things concerning Arnold Schoenberg (concert programs and record sleeves as well as some items from the Stuckenschmidt Nachlass). I bought there a book which was published by the institution titled Artur Schnabel: Musiker Musician, ed. Werner Grünzweig (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2001). 

Only today, I open the book for the first time (it took me one year!). This book contains many interesting items such as writings on Schnabel, writings by Schnabel, letters, various lists and other items that only German musicology is able to collect in such a wonderful manner (and I am only half sarcastic when I say so). 

One of the most interesting items in this book is an article by Claudio Arrau (the pianist, 1903-1991) titled “Artur Schnabel: Servant of the Music”. The article is from 1952, first published in Musical America (p.31). 

The article is interesting in more than one respect. It seems that Arrau is suggesting, what may seem as a contradiction. On the one hand, he claims that “Schnabel completely rejected the nineteenth-century notion of music as a vehicle for self-expression, at the service of the virtuoso for his own self-gratification.” Arrau mentions that Schnabel was not satisfied with the Urtext edition of his time. He conducted research and “corrected” that version. 

Yet his recording and printed editions show that he used flexible tempo when playing. His editions mention tempo fluctuations that were not originally printed in the score. These tempo fluctuations were not seen as a contradiction to being faithful to the spirit of the composition. On the contrary, music was seen (as Arrau argues) as “a living organism with an inner fluctuation and flexibility above and below metronome markings”. 

This view of seeking to understand an objective musical object (or spirit, if you like) while expressing it with vitality of an “organism” was also the performance aesthetics of Arnold Schoenberg, a contemporary and friend of Schnabel.   

On the one hand, on 24 August 1909 he wrote a letter to Busoni criticizing the latter’s transcription of Schoenberg’s Op. 11 No. 2. Trying to understand why Busoni had decided to create his version of this piece, a matter that seemed to irritate Schoenberg, he enquired of Busoni: ‘I would like to ask you if you have perhaps taken too slow a tempo. That could make a great difference. Or too little rubato. I never stay in time! Never in tempo!’ (Ferruccio Busoni, Selected Letters, trans. and ed. Antony Beaumont (London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987), p. 395.) Here Schoenberg admitted that his approach to performance transcended his own score indications. 

On the other hand in 1912 Schoenberg cited Mahler saying: ‘I consider it my greatest service that I force the musicians to play [spielen] exactly what is in the notes’. (Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ‘Gustav Mahler‘, 464-5.) In the preface to the first edition (1914) of Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21 Schoenberg argued quite clearly that actions originating with the interpreter, which are not included in the score, have a negative effect. 

For Schoenberg and Schnabel, therefore, extensive tempo fluctuations that go beyond the score indications, was not contradictory to being a servant of the composer’s intentions. In 1912 Schoenberg claimed that playing the right notes results in the performer’s participation in ‘the spirit of the music’. (Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ‘Gustav Mahler’, 464-465.) A work of art which is a spiritual entity demands spontaneity in performance.

Pianist Arthur Schnabel Home Movie 1937

Artur Schnabel plays Beethoven Sonata #32 in C min Op. 111

Related Posts

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On fear: Schoenberg, Stravinsky and the Israeli music scene

Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance

How to choose a PhD, MA or DMA subject for a thesis

Upcoming interesting music conferences

Upcoming interesting music conferences - open your diary

Here are a few upcoming interesting music conferences I gathered from RHUL golden pages.


Theatre Noise An international conference

The Central School of Speech and Drama

University of London

Theatre Noise An international conference

Wednesday 22 - Friday 24 April 2009

Keynote presenters include:
Professor Heiner Goebbels (composer and director, managing director of the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies, Justus Liebig University, Giessen) John Collins (artistic director of the New York-based theatre company Elevator Repair Service, formerly sound designer with The Wooster Group) Theatre Noise describes the acoustic environments and auditory phenomena of theatre and performance. It is concerned, then, with that which is heard. It addresses sound design and ‘undesigned’ noises, music for performance and performance that is both ‘musical’ and ‘unmusical’, voice production and vocal utterance (speaking, shouting, singing, muttering). It proposes that theatre is that which is heard as well as that which is watched – that the theatron is a listening place as well as a seeing place.

Theatre Noise considers aurality. It asks how hearing and listening shape our experience and perception of an event. It concentrates on theatre as a subjective perceptual encounter. It addresses ways in which the noise of theatre works on our senses, and how it positions us within a visceral sphere of acoustic energy.

Theatre Noise is also interested in the inherent noise of the materials of theatre and performance: the rasping of its voices, the sounds in its environment, the interfering consciousness of ‘aural’ corporeal presence within the noisy arena of theatre as a place.

While it proposes a characteristically aural model, Theatre Noise is not confined to the auditory. It describes any atmospheric or environmental distraction, any attention-grabbing dissonance, flaw or mistake, whether sensory or imagined. It might concern any piece of residue or interference that negatively defines theatre.

The conference features examples of innovative performance practices that work in and through sound, music, voice and noise. It explores, through keynotes and paper presentations, developments in thinking and practice in sound design; music; the voice; the notion and presence of noise – all with a bearing on theatre and performance. It develops ideas and principles by way of a series of workshops. Round tables address key issues in the field. Theatre Noise also features a playback room that includes compositions and other aural contributions.

Proposals are invited that address the themes of the conference. The precise meaning of the terms ‘Theatre’ and ‘Noise’ is open to interpretation by contributors. Contributions may, for example, address areas such as:

The noise theatre of the auditory environment
Acoustic ecology
The musicality of theatre
Non-linguistic voice
Sonic arrangements and/or imperfections that help create meaning
Aural encounters that constitute ‘place’
Noise as ‘other’ – the chaotic dark material that negatively defines music, theatre, art, sound design

Proposals are invited for the following (please specify):
20-minute paper presentation
1-hour or 2-hour workshop
3-day practitioner-residency with a work-in-progress outcome
Round table
Contribution to the playback room
Proposals should be 300 words in length, with a 150-word biography of the key presenter(s). Proposals should be submitted to the conference organisers at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it by 5 December 2008.


MOZART IN PRAGUE Mozart Society of America and Society for Eighteenth-Century Music


Prauge is always a great place to visit…


9 - 13 June 2009


The Mozart Society of America and the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music invite proposals for papers and presentations to be offered at our forthcoming conference in Prague, 9-13 June 2009. We wish to explore not only Mozart and his music in the Prague setting, but also the musical culture of Bohemia and neighboring territories during the long eighteenth century. Topics may include Mozart opera in Prague, music in Bohemian convents and monasteries, musical patronage in Central Europe, Mozart’s Czech contemporaries (composers, singers, instrumentalists, impresarios), the dissemination of Mozart’s music in Central Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and important 18th-century sources and collections in the region. We welcome new perspectives on these and other topics that engage the general themes of the conference and contribute to knowledge of a rich musical culture that Mozart found particularly congenial.

Please submit an abstract of up to 500 words about your proposed topic, along with an indication of equipment necessary for your presentation, to the Program Chair: Kathryn L. Libin, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Deadline for proposals: 1 December 2008


International Symposium on Performance Science

I wrote in the following link about several performance conferences. Here is another interesting one.


ISPS 2009
Performing Excellence

15-18 December 2009
Auckland, New Zealand

Convened by:

National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries
The University of Auckland

Centre for Performance Science
Royal College of Music, London

Following a highly successful inaugural conference in Portugal in 2007, the next International Symposium on Performance Science will take place at The University of Auckland on 15-18 December 2009.

Submissions are invited for unpublished papers, posters, and symposia on research from across the arts which explores the theme Performing Excellence.

The conference will bring together performers and researchers, artists and scientists, teachers and students for an interdisciplinary exchange. For this reason, specific research topics, fields of study, and methodological approaches have been left open intentionally. Those whose primary interests lie outside of the arts, but whose work nonetheless offers implications for the performing arts and/or for performing artists, are also encouraged to attend.

Keynote speakers:

Deidre Anderson
Chief Executive Officer of U@MQ,
Macquarie University (Australia)

Sylvie Fortin
Director of the Dance Health and Performance Center,
University of Québec at Montreal (Canada)

K. Anders Ericsson
Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology,
Florida State University (USA)

Lord Robert Winston
Professor of Science and Society,
Imperial College London (UK)


Submissions are invited for

- Spoken papers
- Poster presentations
- Symposia, workshops, demonstrations

Detailed instructions for submissions are available via the conference website, Submissions should be made electronically to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it by 1 April 2009.

Graduate award paper:

The conference Organizers and Scientific Committee are keen to encourage the attendance of students, as well as established researchers and practitioners. Therefore, the ISPS 2009 Graduate Award will be offered to one graduate student to present a 30-minute keynote paper at the conference. The award will include all conference fees and accommodation.

Information on how to submit a proposal for the Graduate Award is available at the conference website. (Unsuccessful award submissions will be processed automatically as regular conference submissions.)

Review process:

Each submission will be reviewed anonymously by the Scientific Committee according to its originality, importance, clarity, and interdisciplinarity. Corresponding authors will be notified by email of the Committee’s decision by 15 May 2009.

Conference publication:

Accepted paper, poster, and symposia submissions will be published as 6-page papers in the Proceedings of ISPS 2009 (complete with ISBN), available in hardcopy at the conference and subsequently downloadable via the conference website. Details of the procedure and format for submitting published papers will be provided when authors receive notification of acceptance. Final papers for publication will be due on 1 September 2009.

Important dates:

1 March 2009    Online registration opens
1 April 2009       Submission deadline for papers, posters, and symposia
15 May 2009     Notification of submission decision
31 July 2009      End of early registration
1 Sept 2009       Deadline for final papers for the Proceedings of ISPS 2009
15 Dec 2009      Start of ISPS 2009

Additional information on the conference programme, venue, and registration costs is available on the conference website,

The official language of the conference is English.

Dr Aaron Williamon
Head of CPS

Centre for Performance Science
Royal College of Music
Prince Consort Road
London SW7 2BS
United Kingdom

Tel +44 (0)20 7591 4348
Fax +44 (0)20 7591 4381
Email This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


Related posts:

Review: five upcoming conferences on performance

Review of the IMS conference 2008: what there is and what there is not to read in Hebrew in Music

Conference: The dramaturgy of sound in the music of Luigi Nono

Van Leer conference on Zionism and Lebensphilosophie

Information about music conferences (1)


Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme

Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme in the Music Beit Midrash of Mazkeret Batya

The Music Beit-Midrash met last Tuesday for the first time. In the following you will find a brief report of the meeting which might be useful for those who wish to listen again to some of the music, read more (see some of the links below), or comment on the music or the meeting (in the form below). Note that the last link in this post leads to interesting related videos.

The first meeting was dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. I introduced the aims of the meetings and started it by giving a short review of Schoenberg’s life, musical contributions, and relation to Judaism. Since the meeting was mainly on Pierrot lunaire, I felt that we should listen also to Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4, in order to receive a perspective of Schoenberg’s musical development. We listened to a modern performance of Schoenberg from the last few years, and to the historical recording with Schoenberg conducting the piece (see the first recording in the page). The people who took place in the meeting noticed that Schoenberg’s conducting is much slower than that of the other recording. It was fascinating to see the reactions of the people who listened. Some of the people commented that Schoenberg’s conducting seems more confident. My impression is that people are very sensitive to what they hear even if they do not have any musical education. I mentioned some of the historical and cultural reasons of why Schoenberg’s conducting is slower.

The next part of the meeting was about Pierrot lunaire. We listened to four performances. The first one was quite brutal and the last one was (as one of the people present remarked) ‘anemic’. It seemed that people were quite shocked from the music. Yet I think that they were simultaneously interested in the fact that these performances are so different. We discussed the performance indications for the vocal technique titled Sprechstimme and we moved on to discuss the ‘problem’ that there are multiple categories for deciding which performance is better.

Some argued that they just want to enjoy the music. Others claimed that the composer communicates something with the music and they want to understand it. Therefore, a performance that communicates the ‘message’ better is superior. Others wondered how can one define what is the ‘original’ demand to perform this music. An interesting dicussion developed concerning the various value that one can promote in performance. For example: faithfullness to the score, faithfullness to the atmoshphere the composer intended, and expressing the individual interpretation and insight of the performer.

I suggested that the idea of communication is not without problems and that the performer must make decisions that involve their own identity and values. I think (and hope) that most people enjoyed this first session. You can click here to see 8 video performances of Pierrot lunaire.  This could give you an idea of the verity of interpretaions that one can hear in recorded (video and audio) performance of the piece.

For those who did not participate in the first session, please note that you are very welcome to join at any stage. There is no need for any prior knowledge in music, and the sessions are not built one on the other.

Participate and comment

If you took part in the meeting please comment on this post in the form below. Did you enjoy the session? Any thoughts or suggestion?

Related posts

Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance


Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance

Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme vocal technique was extremely influential on many composers. It has invited not only a large variety of performative interpretations, but also very different responses by listeners. The origin of this technique has been traced to Engelbert Humperdinck in his 1897 melodrama Königskinder, as well as to the "old" Austrian theater speaking, yet Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme is a fresh and new conception. It has been described as posing "an enduring and perhaps insoluble interpretive enigma for the performer."[1] Both Darius Milhaud and Pierre Boulez, who conducted the piece, described it as creating "insoluble problems."[2] If you wish to read more about the history of Sprechstimme you are welcome to read my article ‘The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 12/1 (February 2006). Pierrot lunaire is one of the most performed pieces by Schoenberg (even Bjork performed Pierrot lunaire!).

Here are several examples of performance of Sprechstimme that might give you an idea about the variety and differences between the performances:

The first historical recording of the Piece is by Schoenberg’s conduting, Erika Stiedry-von Wagner, Sprechstimme; Rudolf Kolisch, violin; Stefan Auber, cello; Eduard Steuermann, piano; Leonard Posella, flute & piccolo; Kalman Bloch, clarinet & bass clarinet. For more information about Stiedry’s Sprechstimme see my article with Matthias Pasdzierny, Sprechstimme Reconsidered Once Again: "… though Mrs. Stiedry is never in pitch"’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 13/2 (June 2007). Note that this is a studio performance. There is a very big difference between Schoenberg’s studio and live performance of Pierrot lunaire. You can listen to all of this historical recording here.

The singer Lucy Shelton and Blair Thomas & Co made a performance of the piece where the visual part is very prominent.

Another scenic version of Pierrot Lunaire was staged by Rudolf Werthen

See also

There was also a film made with Christing Schafer, soprano (as Pierrot), Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez, conductor. I find the singing a bit cold although it is worth watching. The film interpretation is much more daring than that of the Sprechstimme. The director of the film is Oliver Herrmann.

Glenn Gould and Patricia Rideout perform poems 1, 2, and 5 from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

If you want to have Pierrot with an Italian flavour see

I like this one too: Christiane Boesiger, sopran Ensemble Opus Novum, Luzern1998, IMF Luzern Lucerne Festival

Related posts

Dika Newlin on Schoenberg conducting Pierrot lunaire

Bjork singing Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire

The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered

Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme


[1] Bryan Simms, The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg 1908-1923 (New York: Oxford, 2000), p. 132.

[2] William W. Austin, Music in the 20th Century (New York, London: Norton, 1966), p. 196.

Schoenberg just had a birthday

Schoenberg just had a birthday

When I visited London a few days ago, a musician that I respect recommended me to approach a publishing house and try to publish a book on Schoenberg, saying that his 60s anniversary to his death will be on 2011. However, birthdays are much more fun. Here is a video that I recommend to see. It has a wonderful 12-tone birthday tune for Schoenberg’s birthday.

Check out P0lyph0ny ’s youtube site which is about Gould and other interesting things.

Related Posts:

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children

Conference paper: Schoenberg’s or Adorno’s Performance Aesthetics?

Schoenberg’s piano piece Op. 33a article and videos

Arnold Schoenberg as a painter

Arnold Schoenberg videos

Mauricio Kagel has died

Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) has as died on Thursday. Kagel was interested in many things but what seems to me noteworthy in the context of my site is his interest in musical performance. It is mentioned in Wikipedia that Kagal gave ’specific theatrical instructions to the performers, such as to adopt certain facial expressions while playing, to make their stage entrances in a particular way, to physically interact with other performers and so on. His work has often been compared to the Theatre of the Absurd.’ Several years ago I studied composition with Yuval Shaked, who was a student of Kagel in Köln. Yuval didn’t speak too much about Kagel. Anyway, here is a video of Dressur by Mauricio Kagel. The performers are Michael Lehman, Jon Hepfer and Aaron William.


Related links:

Conference paper: Schoenberg’s or Adorno’s Performance Aesthetics?

Schoenberg’s or Adorno’s Performance Aesthetics?

On 3 August I wrote a post with a selection of quotations from Adorno’s book Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction (Cambridge UK and Malden MA USA: Polity, 2006). During the past few weeks I have read this book and wrote down my own thoughts on it. This is the paper that I plan to read next week in the conference on Adorno’s performance aesthetics in Manchester. The paper might pass slight changes before the conference. I plan to expand it into an article after I receive reactions. I hope you will find it interesting. Since it is a conference paper, I removed the footnotes. If anyone is interested in the exact source of any quotation please contact me.


For many years, Schoenberg and Adorno wanted to write (separately) a book on musical performance.Both authors never completed the projects and left in their Nachlaß articles, fragmentary sketches and other relevant writings on the subject. This paper will examine the relation between what we know about their performance aesthetics. My main thesis is that a clear and objective definition of its ‘essence’ is difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

The Second Viennese School performance aesthetics narrative           

Several scholars speak about the existence of a Second Viennese School with relation to performance aesthetics. In 1986 Hermann Danuser argued that the most important motivation for Schoenberg’s theory of performance is to protect performance from the will of the performer. He insisted that this is true also ‘for the total theories that came out of the performance of the Viennese School: above all those of Rudolf Kolisch, Erwin Stein, René Leibowitz, Theodor W. Adorno and Hans Swarowsky’. Although Danuser acknowledges that Schoenberg’s performance theory is fragmentary, at the end of his article he refers the reader to the theory of performance of Kolisch in order to answer questions that were not answered by Schoenberg. David Satz, a student of Kolisch, mentioned that in Darmstadt in the 1950s Kolisch and Adorno discussed performance. Satz wrote that this ‘leaves open the question of how the joint project’s scope might have related to the notes which Adorno left, or the work which Kolisch actually brought about. I believe that it is a serious mistake to assume an absolute identity between the two’. Helmut Haack referred mainly to the performance aesthetics of Kolisch in order to examine what he called, the ‘aesthetics of the school’, and argued that it was influenced by Mahler. John Butt made a comment in passing claiming that Stravinsky had a ‘very similar aesthetics of performance … [compared to the one] promoted by Schoenberg and his students.’ In this context, Butt mentioned Rudolph Kolisch, Erwin Stein, René Leibowitz, Theodore Adorno and Hans Swarowsky. Finally, in 1997 Alfred Cramer suggested that ‘Adorno’s vision of silent reading echoed Schoenberg’s own mind’.

In light of this Second Viennese School performance aesthetics narrative, I would like to raise two questions. What are the criteria to decide whether a certain thinker belongs to a certain school? What are the ideological implications of declaring that a specific individual belongs to a certain group and not to others? I suggest that it is possible to construct a different narrative that would highlight not only the similarities but also the differences between people such as Adorno and Schoenberg.

When discussing the so-called Second Viennese School with relation to performance, one finds significant differences between the aesthetics of its members. Schoenberg disagreed with some of Kolisch’s ideas in the latter’s article ‘Tempo and Character in Beethoven’s Music’. In a letter dated 1949 from Schoenberg to Steuermann regarding the latter’s recording of Schoenberg’s piano music, he wrote: ‘I do not at all share your anxiety lest anyone should hear a wrong note. I am convinced that it had happened only a few times in the history of musical reproduction that some wrong note did not come in.’ He stressed: ‘there is no absolute purity in this world… But I am convinced that you can play music so convincingly that it evokes the impression of purity, artistic purity, and, after all, that’s what matters. Let’s leave this quasi-perfection to those who can’t perceive anything else’. Steuermann’s refusal to release his recording for publication resulted in rupture between the two old friends. On 13 January 1950 Schoenberg wrote to Ross Russell from Dial Records concerning a plan to record his music with Steuermann and Kolisch. He warned Russel ‘not to be too indulgent’ to Steuermann’s and Kolisch’s wishes to play the music ‘over and over again, until there is nothing which … [they do] not like’. Schoenberg stresses that ‘it has no sense to aim for a perfection which is not human’. I do not wish to argue that there are no similarities between the performance aesthetics of members of Schoenberg’s circle, yet one should be very cautious about making casual assumptions about links between one aesthetic and the others. In order to point to some of the problems with this concept I will start by examining Schoenberg and Adorno’s relationship.

Schoenberg and Adorno’s relationship

Berg wrote about Adorno’s Two Pieces for String Quartet Op. 2 to Schoenberg, claiming that ‘in its seriousness and concision and above all in the uncompromising purity of its whole structure, it may be described as belonging to Schoenberg’s school (and to no other!)’. Yet including Adorno into the Second Viennese School was not part of Schoenberg’s wish. Schoenberg mentioned Adorno in his will as the person to whom he clearly does not want to entrust his Nachlaß after his death. On 5 December 1949 Schoenberg wrote to Stuckenschmidt after reading Adorno’s Philosophy of Modern Music: ‘I have never been able to bear the fellow… now I know that he clearly never liked my music.’ On the same day he wrote to Rufer: ‘The book is very difficult to read, for it uses this quasi-philosophical jargon in which modern professors of philosophy hide the absence of an idea. They think it is profound when they produce lack of clarity by undefined new expressions.’ On 10 December 1949 he wrote to Kurth List: ‘Wiesengrund’s attack is an act of vengeance. Once when he was getting on my nerves, I made him look ridiculous, and although I thoroughly excused myself on account of nervousness, sickness, etc., he has apparently not forgiven me for this.’ In December 1950, several months before Schoenberg died, he wrote a manuscript titled ‘Wiesengrund’. There he wrote: ‘I could never really stand him… Not without Rudi’s [Rudolf Kolisch] fault, he was regarded in our circle as a great scholar.’

Similarities between the aesthetics

Having said this, one should keep in mind that Schoenberg did appreciate Adorno. At the ‘Wiesengrund’ manuscript he wrote: ‘It cannot be disputed that he possesses certain estimable abilities. He is very musical, plays piano well, and possesses a great knowledge of the musical literature, from which he can play many pieces by heart due to his good memory. He has looked into musical-theoretical problems with a great deal and with success, and he knows the history of our art most thoroughly.’ Having studied with Berg for several months since January 1925 and being the editor-in-chief of journal ‘Anbruch’ between 1928 and 1931, it is not surprising that Adorno was influenced and possibly also has influenced the thoughts of people in Schoenberg’s circle.     

            It is interesting that both authors attacked the performance aesthetics of enemies of Schoenberg’s circle: for example, famous conductors such as Toscanini and Bruno Walter.

Both call for the help of the concept of ‘organicism’ in order to protect the work from irresponsible performers. Adorno is more ambivalent than Schoenberg towards this concept. He claimed that ‘the “living” totality of a performance, especially in larger forms, is probably a mere ideology, as in many other areas.’ Yet in the same breath he attacked the ‘”fascinating” conductor [that] is a fetish like the master violinist… [that] belong to the culture industry’. Schoenberg too attacked ‘the goat-like bleating [vibrato] used by many instrumentalists to curry favour with the public’, or singers for ‘ignoring dramatic requirements in favour of their own vocal effects’. Both authors wrote against the so called ‘beautiful tone’ for its own sake. The organic musical work is the thing that should be expressed in performance.

Yet pure objectivism was not part of their performance aesthetics. Schoenberg called for a ‘well-balanced’ performance style, one that does not veer towards either of the two extremes: the subjective over-expressive ‘romantic’ performance style and the objective performance practice of the Neue Sachlichkeit, which demanded full faithfulness to the score. This demand is echoed by Adorno who wrote that his performance study is ‘directed against 2 fronts. On the one hand official musical life, which … became part of the culture industry long ago: galvanized, spirited and culinary. On the other hand the front of abstract negation, the escape to the mensural realm. In the former case a false subjectivism, in the latter a residual theory of truth, the extermination of the subject (all forms of objectivism, from Stockhausen to Walcha, really amount to the same thing…)’. Adorno mentioned there that the ‘so-called young people protested against the “exaggerated expressivity” in Eduard’s [Steuermann] Schoenberg interpretation.’ Elsewhere he wrote: ‘Against intuitionism and positivism.’, and in another place he claimed that the ‘Secret of interpretation … [is] controlling oneself, yet not making music against oneself. One’s impulse must live on even in its negation.’          

Both Schoenberg and Adorno wrote volumes on the primacy of the imagined on the so-called ‘mere’ playing. Schoenberg complimented conductors for insisting on many rehearsals. In his essay on Mahler he claimed that Mahler the conductor demanded many rehearsals since he has a clear image in his mind of the music, and that during each rehearsal he corrected the orchestra in order to come as close as possible to this ideal.  Adorno argued that ‘Making music correctly demands an incessant verification of all real sounds in relation to the imagined… Whoever places doing before imagining in music today is guilty of regressive music-making.’

Differences between the aesthetics

Both authors suggested that it is not enough to simply play the music. There is an idea that is hidden that needs to be revealed in performance. Yet Adorno claimed that the idea ‘cannot even be recognized in its pure state, let alone realized.’ This leads to an extremely idealistic view of composition and a negative view of performance: ‘The measure of interpretation is the height of its failure’. Elsewhere he used the word ‘evil’ in order to describe what the performer does. Although Schoenberg too saw composition and the musical idea as something that is higher than performance, his writings usually do not give the impression that whatever the performer does, performance cannot communicate the musical idea. On the contrary, whether it is structure or feelings, Schoenberg strived to explain how performance can and should communicate the musical idea. Moreover, as I argue in my book on Schoenberg’s aesthetic writings on performance and interpretation (which will be published in Oxford University Press), in Schoenberg’s writings from the 1930s and 1940s he granted the performer an integral part in the role that in his earlier writings belonged solely to the composer: now both composer and performer have a mutual part in the presentation of the abstract musical idea. Although both authors’ views on this subject are not without contradictions, it seems to me that by large, Schoenberg tended to give more credit to performers and their creative role than Adorno.

On analysis and performance

Did Schoenberg, who was a world-famous theorist during his lifetime, expect performers to analyze the music they performed? Schoenberg did not write in any of his performance manuscripts explicitly about a type of analysis that the performer must undertake. On 27 July 1932 Schoenberg wrote to Kolisch that the latter had correctly worked out the series of Schoenberg’s Third String Quartet. He continued:


You must have gone to a great deal of trouble … But do you think one’s any better off for knowing it? I can’t see it that way … this [the series] isn’t where the aesthetic qualities reveal themselves … I can’t utter too many warnings against overrating these analyses, since after all they only lead to what I have always been dead against: seeing how it is done; whereas I have always helped people to see: what it is! I have repeatedly tried to make Wiesengrund understand this, and also Berg and Webern. But they won’t believe me… The only sort of analysis there can be any question of for me is one that throws the idea into relief and shows how it is presented and worked out. It goes without saying that in doing this one mustn’t overlook artistic subtleties.      


The fact that he did not insist that performers should conduct analyses before performing has great importance. It means that, unlike Adorno, Schoenberg did not consider analysis as the single path to music making.

            In ‘Notes towards a theory of musical reproduction’ Adorno mentions ‘Precise Analysis as a self-evident precondition of interpretation. Its cannon is the most advanced state of compositional-technical insight.’ In the notes taken after the Darmstadt lecture he wrote: ‘For the concept of reconstructing the neumic from the mensural, a genuine interpretation in the sense of decoding, the most important category of mediation is that of analysis as a necessary condition for interpretation.’ Adorno mentioned two meanings of the concept of ‘clarity’. The first is that ‘one can hear everything that is written’, or as Schoenberg famously wrote around 1923 ‘The highest principle for all reproduction of music would have to be that what the composer has written is made to sound in such a way that every note is really heard … that they all stand out clearly from one another.’ The second meaning of ‘clarity’, according to Adorno, which is ‘higher’, is based upon analysis: ‘Nothing should be played arbitrarily, simply because it is written’. Adorno adds that ‘this failing is one of the reasons for the incomprehensibility of many performances of new music’. In other words, Adorno seems to expect from the performer much rational and intellectual work in order to perform ‘correctly’.

Schoenberg often complains against insufficient number of rehearsal. Actually, the demand for many rehearsals is a major theme in his writings and letters. Performers who insists on many rehearsals (for example Mahler), have a clear image of the music in their minds. They seek to communicate the image by refining their performance. Adorno too complains against insufficient rehearsal, yet he connects it to the socio-economic conditions of interpretation. It can be generalized that Adorno, as an experienced philosopher and educated musician, went to great pains in order to contextualize his ideas with relation to the history of music. He related to the writings of Wagner, Dorian, Riemann and others, in a manner that Schoenberg usually did not bother to do so in such an extensive manner.

Developing theories

When one compares the fragments each author wrote during the years one finds that their theories are not internally consistent. Before 1963 Adorno believed in the ‘x-ray’ concept that reveals hidden structure that lies beneath the heard surface. During the 1960s he changed his mind: ‘My hypothesis that the performance is the x-ray photograph of the work requires correction in so far as it provides not the skeleton, but rather the entire wealth of subcutanea.’  

            Schoenberg’s performance aesthetics too developed and changed. From pronouncing anti-performance ideas in some (yet not all) of his performance writings in the 1920s, after 1933 he grants the performer more importance in the creative process. Unfortunately, this is something that is not acknowledged by scholars up to now. Leon Botstein, said: ‘we were taught by a generation of teachers in the composer and analysis world who were extremely hostile to performers. This generation was trained in its attitude to players by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who were extremely negative about performers’. Authors such as Botstein, Nicholas Cook, Alfred Cramer and Danuser, who emphasize Schoenberg’s negative writings on performers, contribute to a meta-narrative that puts him in the position of a composer, which insists on complete cultural hegemony of composers over performers, manifested in the passivity of performers in a process of communication between composer to listener. My study of Schoenberg’s performance writings and the Adorno’s recently published fragments of performance challenge this meta-narrative by demonstrating that they held various changing views on performers and performance. The alternative narrative that I suggest calls for being sensitive to both the differences and the similarities between the performance aesthetics of the two musicians, as well as being aware of their fragmentary, multifaceted, developmental and at certain points contradictory character. The definition of the core or message of these writings depends not only on the fragmentary texts, but also on us: their readers, and on our aims and values.

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Review: five upcoming conferences on performance

Musical performance is a research field that is gathering great momentum in recent years. You will find in this page information about five upcoming conferences on performance. The two last conferences have a call for papers. By the way, I attend the CHARM conference and give a paper at the conference on Adorno.

(1) CHARM Symposium 6: Playing with recordings

Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, 11-13 September 2008

How do musicians use recordings and what has been their impact? In this final CHARM symposium we explore the attitudes towards recordings of performers and teachers, along with the ways in which recordings contribute to both the maintenance of musical culture and processes of style change. Do recordings prompt or inhibit style change? Have they resulted in stylistic convergence, as is often claimed? And what is the relationship between such processes and the technological or business history of recording? Might technology and business practices be seen as the principal drivers of performance style in the age of recordings? In addressing the interface between recordings and the professional practice of performance, the symposium will prepare the transition to CHARM’s successor centre from April 2009, the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice.


The symposium will run from lunchtime on Thursday 11th through to lunchtime on Saturday 13th September. Speakers and panellists will include John Carewe, Mine Dogantan-Dack, Martin Elste, Anthony Gritten, Pekka Gronow, Peter Martland, Nick Morgan, Ian Partridge, David Patmore, and Jeremy Summerly. Further scheduling details and abstracts will be posted online very shortly.


(2) “Formulate with the greatest care”: Adorno and Performance

13-14 September 2008
Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK

A conference based around readings of Adorno’s Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction (TTMR) and its contexts, interpretations, and uses.


(3) Minimalism, Post-Opera, and Performance

10.00 - 5.00

A one-day colloquium organised in association with the Society for
Minimalist Music


(4) The Musical Body: Gesture, Representation and Ergonomics in Performance – call for papers!

The Musical Body: Gesture, Representation and Ergonomics in Performance

Institute of Musical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London, in
association with the Open University, the University of Durham and the
Orpheus Instituut, Gent, the University of Sussex, the Royal College of
Music and the IMR Music & Science group

22-24 April 2009

The aim of this interdisciplinary conference is to bring together
researchers from widely divergent fields to share perspectives on the
physicality of performance, and its visual representation, in musics of
all kinds. From connections between musical performance and health, and
musical performance as dance, to representations of the ‘ideal’ posture
in historical treatises and the lampooning of soloists in caricature,
the conference will explore the ways in which music and the body
interact, both with ease (such as where composition or improvisation are
explicitly ergonomic) and in tension (where physical strain is etched
into a musical composition or acts as a marker of authenticity in a
performance style). Finally, it is pertinent to consider those areas in
which physical ease in performance is either obstructed (eg. via
performance anxiety) or results from the creative adaptation of standard
practices (eg. as a response to disability).

Sessions will be built around themes, with presentations grouped as far
as possible in ways that bring together a variety of historical and
generic areas of study. The following list of themes and topics is
indicative only:

· Music and health
· Iconographical representation
· History of performance style
· Organology
· The boundaries of the idiomatic and the ergonomic in composition
· Entrainment, ensembles and community
· Gesture and embodied cognition
· Stage presence and performance anxiety

A Call for Papers and Lecture-recitals will be issued in the early autumn.

Programme committee:

Katharine Ellis (IMR)
Martin Clayton (Open University)
Mieko Kanno (Durham University; Orpheus Instituut, Gent)
Nicholas Till (University of Sussex)
Aaron Williamon (Royal College of Music; IMR Music & Science group)


(5) The Performer’s Voice: An International Forum for Music Performance & Scholarship – call for papers!

29 October – 2 November 2009

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore 

Symposium Partners:

Peabody Institute, John Hopkins University
Royal Northern College of Music 

The Performer’s Voice aims to stimulate discussion, develop ideas, and disseminate research on music performance from a range of angles. Though interdisciplinary in scope the symposium’s distinct focus derives from an uncompromising emphasis on the act of performance, the role of the performer, and the professional performer’s perspective. The program will feature plenary and parallel sessions of lecture-recitals, papers with live or recorded performance, open rehearsals, panel discussions, and workshops.  

Keynote Speaker:

Prof. Richard Taruskin (University of California, Berkeley)

Guest Panelist, ‘Asian Voices’:

Prof. Kishore Mahbubani (National University of Singapore)

Plenary Presenters:

Prof. John Rink (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Dr. Elisabeth Le Guin (University of California, Los Angeles)
Dr. Stephen Emmerson (Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University)
Dr. Helena Gaunt (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)
Dr. Aiyun Huang (McGill University)
Dr. Thomas Hecht (Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music) 
Qian Zhou (Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music)
Qin Li Wei (Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music)  

Call for presentations & more information available at:

Symposium Convener: Dr. Anne Marshman

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