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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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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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A paper on Huberman in the 2010 Annual Israel Musicology Conference

The violinist Bronislaw Huberman is considered to be one of the greatest violinists in music history. Although his playing is controversial, there were few who did not recognize his greatness as a performer. There is very little academic research on Huberman and his playing. In this paper I will present materials from Huberman’s archive that was not discussed in the literature. I claim that people from different countries and periods conceptualized Huberman’s playing as something that is more than just playing. His performances and interpretations were considered to represent things that are transcendent or even metaphysical. The paper will analyze how important cultural figures, music critics and common listeners, perceived the technique of Huberman, his behavior on stage, his physical appearance, and how he interpreted the scores that he played. The presentation will include listening to historical recordings by Huberman.

Dr. Avior Byron is a musicologist, blogger and composer. Byron published in journals such as Music Theory Online and The World of Music and is currently working on a book on Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance (Oxford University Press). He received his PhD from University of London (2007) and is currently conducting research on Bronislaw Huberman. Website: www.bymusic.org

The internet and the interpretation of music

The internet and the interpretation of music

One of the interesting things about the internet is that it lets people become more than passive listeners. Not that listeners were ever really passive. My recent research on letters by listeners to the violinist Bronislaw Huberman show that many listeners experienced intense feelings when listening to his performances. Yet there is something in the web that grants people the possibility to comment and even participate in the creation of meaning in the work of art.


 

Consider for example the video above. One can listen to Arnold Schoenberg’s famous Verklarte Nacht with a film added to it. The music and the film are edited so that they will fit together and create a new experience for us. The story in the file (a solider returning from war) is close to the program used by Schoenberg. I prefer the text by Dehmal, however, the idea of love that is united, is reflected from both the film and the work of the person who arranged the music and film. He or she made a very good job in making them work together.
 
The creation of meaning does not stop here. Youtube grants people the possibility to comment on the film. This often influences the way people experience it. Here are a few examples of comments that were written about this film: "Lovely and touching moments you’ve wed together there. Schoenberg’s score is sublime, and so is she! Love the overall tone and mood of your piece. Thank you.", "Wow. Very nice use of film & music together. I am impressed.", "My gosh that’s absolutely beautiful!!!! x", "Outstanding." These comments affect how people see the video. They see it differently after reading these positive comments, as they tell them to pay attention to the way the music and video are ‘wed together’.
 
Moreover, Youtube grants people the possibilty to embed the video in their blog or website and continue to comment on it, as I did here. This too has the potential to contribute to the creation of meaning. Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter help people to be active in commenting, spreading the meaning, and influencing it in different ways.
 
The composers and performers of the future will know how to use the web, not only for spreading their creations (such as see my compositions pages), but in encouraging individuals to comment and contribute to the creation of meaning. They will encourage people to add things to their creations and change them, while potentially giving credit to all people who participated. The artists of the future will not be individuals who only project meaning. They will make their ‘listeners’ respond, share and influence. It will be an endless creativity of groups of people.
 
The questions of copyright, as well as, who is granted the right to participate, will continue to be significant. And yes, there is a problem of copyright here. The person who made this music and video ‘marrige’ did not bother to write who are the performers and who made the video (only the following information is given: ‘A short film to music. 1940’s period piece’. This might mean that he or she are violating the copyright of certain people and it might be removed from Youtube. Pitty.
 
Indeed, the internet is one of the platforms that will probably change the rules concerning what is and what is not under copyright, and what is a violation in this respect. I can tell you that when I did research at the British Library, I found the issue of copyright very troubling. When I wanted to use excerpts of recordings in order to convey to my readers the foundings of my research. I hope that the rules of copyright will benifit in the future, not only the commercial firms, but also the listeners, scholars and all web participaters.
 

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Feeling bad about my concert review

Feeling bad about my concert review

Last week I attended an all Schoenberg concert in Jerusalem. I reviewed the concert in my blog and the review was not positive. Lady R, who is one of my subscribers, wrote to me arguing that she did not like my review. She claimed that it was too harsh. I used the word ‘murdering Schoenberg’ and she said that this was too much. She said that I should think about these young performers as if they were my children and avoid hurting their feelings. She told me that I do not want to be like the critic Hanoch Ron who is notorious for hurting performers’ feelings without justifying his arguments (Lady R did acknowledged that my criticism was not without explanations).

After writing the review, I noticed that another subscriber sent me an email (about a week before the concert) telling me about the concert, and that he got the information from one of the performers. This made me feel even worse, since I really do not want to hurt anyone, and especially young performers attempting to play Schoenberg.
 
As a result I lowered the tone of my review. I removed the ‘murdering’ and used ‘distorting’ and wrote that it was a students’ concert so that my review will be considered in proportion. However, the basic criticism stayed almost the same.
 
There is some difference between my criticsim and that of the critic Hanoch Ron. As lady R wrote, I do try to explain why I think the way I do about a concert. Moreover, I have about 60 subscribers and this is much less than the readers of Hanoch Ron. It should be remembered that I did mention the first violinist of the 2nd quartet, who played in a professional way. I liked how he performed. The idea behind the concert was brilliant and some of the lectures were better than others (I did not go into too many details since I preferred to speak about the playing). The whole idea of making such a project is great, yet I am not sure that the ideal place should have been the hall of Mishkenot Shaananim and not the School’s facilities.
 
After I changed my review, Lady R was happy from the result. The question of how to make negative criticism in a productive and not destructive manner is an important one. When I did a course on how to lecture in higher education, in Royal Holloway, University of London, we were told that a criticism should start and end with positive remarks. This gives the students a feeling that not everything is black. I truly think that what the student performers did has value.
 
As students, they probably were very busy with other duties. They may not have had too much experience with performing Schoenberg’s music. Some of the movements were reasonable. Nevertheless, I do think that with a few more rehearsals, and with listening to recordings, they could highly improve the result.
 
There is also value in presenting criticism to young performers. Without knowing where one can improve, one cannot advance and do it better next time. This, however, should be conducted in a gentle manner.
 
What do you think? Was my review too harsh? Is there a better way to write things when there is a chance that students will read it? Feel free to comment in the form below.

 


 

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A student performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartets

A student performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartets

Two days ago I stumbled upon a message via Titter saying that there will be a concert with the first movements of the four String Quartets by Schoenberg. After each lecture there will be a short lecture. I decided to attend the concert that occurred yesterday. The lecturers and the student performers were from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. 

The basic idea for the concert is brilliant: play only the first movement from each String Quartet and let the audience hear things that cannot be usually heard in concerts. There were two quartet groups. The first played from the String Quartets 1 and 3 and second group played no. 2 and 4. This could grant the listeners a perspective on the creativity and development of Schoenberg though most of his life. It also granted the students an opportunity to focus on a reasonable task.

It would not be fair to judge a student concert with the same criteria as with more professional performers. It is true that this music is not easy to perform. Nevertheless, there are some things that I would expect also from students of an Academy (this is one of the two highest education institutes for performers in Israel.


 

When the first quartet group started to play I felt physical pain. I know this music quite well from listening to various CDs. I especially adore the performances of the Kolisch Quartet (see the two videos below) and the Lasalle Quartet. I do not expect that the students will play on the level of these excellent quartets. However, I felt that they were simply distorting the music. It seemed to me that they were struggling to play the right notes. There was no groove and no sense of feeling to the various sections of the first movement of String Quartet No. 1. It seemed to me that they did not enjoy playing the music.

The second quartet group was better. I even had a few moments were I enjoyed to listen to the first movement of the Second String Quartet. It was easy to notice that most of the performers, if not all of them, enjoyed the music making. The first violinist (I am not sure whether it was Yuval Herz or Shachar Pooyae) was especially good. They too had some problems with intonation (especially when they started to play) yet the difference between the groups was prominent during the whole concert, especially due to the fact that they played alternately. However, with the second group one could start feeling an interpretation and ensemble playing. The problems of intonation were less important, since they gave the audience the impression that they feel and breathe the music. For me, this is much more important than aspects such as hitting right notes during performance. In short, Yuval Herz, Shachar Pooyae – violin, Willy Zaikin – viola and Daniela Shemer – cello, proved that students can make music on a high level. Yet, even this group had to stop playing in the middle of the performance of the Fourth Quartet. Next time, give the music a few more rehearsals and you will avoid such embarrassing situations.

The lectures were not interesting. The big problem with the lectures was not the mistakes of some of the four lecturers (it is not Robert Kolisch, but Rudolf Kolish), or some of the things that I would never dare to write in public (the program notes actually argued that Schoenberg had a basic musical education! I hope that they meant that he was an autodidact), but they attempted to speak about the music by using anecdotic tales (the Second Quartet and Schoenberg’s wife’s affair with the painter Gerstel) or analyze the music in terms that simply no one could follow (these were moments were some of these people simply slept. The problem was that some of the people were music analysts themselves!). It was absurd that one of the lecturers quoted a letter from Schoenberg to Rudolf Kolisch were he argued that counting the tones in a twelve tone composition is speaking about how the music is built and not about what the music actually is. This was exactly the problem with the lectures. They did not grant the listeners any information that helped them enjoy the music in a better way.


The problem with such concerts is that they give a very bad reputation to the music of Schoenberg, to both the audience and the students. Although the basic idea of the concert was very good, I would recommend that the lectures be much shorter (originally planned for five minutes) and focus on one or two ideas that all of the audience can understand. I would suggest that the students will listen to recordings of famous performers and try to understand what this music is about, before attempting to play it in public.

In short, the feeling was not that of a concert, but of sitting and listening to a rehearsal of under-rehearsed music. I suddenly understood why Schoenberg insisted on many rehearsals. It was clear to me how a bad performance can distort the music. It does not matter whether you like or hate Schoenberg. Listening to an under-rehearsed performance of his music can leave you only with a very negative and general impression. It is simply not the same thing.

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A Schoenberg concert in Jerusalem

I just discovered via Twitter that there will be a Schoenberg concert tomorrow at Jerusalem (read here my review of the concert) . I am really starting to enjoy twitter. This social site and the Google Alerts really keep me updated on subjects that I am interested in. Since many of my subscribers are from Israel, I have copied some information about the concert (both in Hebrew and English). If you will come to the concert we might have the pleasure meeting there:

 

Arnold Schoenberg: Four Milestones

In collaboration with the Department of Composition & Conducting, JAMD

Wednesday, 4.11.09 at 8 pm

A survey of Schoenberg’s artistic development through his complete string quartets: live performance of the opening movement from each of the four quartets, illustrated with short lectures (in Hebrew) by the department’s staff. 

First movements of quartets no. 1, 3:
Hila Lifshitz, Barak Shossberger – violin
Daniel Tanchelson – viola
Bernice Keshet – cello 

First movements of quartets no. 2, 4:
Yuval Herz, Shachar Pooyae – violin 
Willy Zaikin – viola
Daniela Shemer – cello

Lecturers:
Ayal Adler
Karel Volniansky
Michael Wolpe
Menachem Zur

Admission free, please book in advance at tel. 02-6241041

 

ארנולד שנברג: ארבע אבני דרך

בשיתוף החוג לתורת המוסיקה, קומפוזיציה וניצוח באקדמיה למוסיקה ולמחול בירושלים 

רביעי, 4.11.09, בשעה 20:00

סקירת התפתחות דרכו האמנותית של שנברג דרך מכלול רביעיות המיתרים פרי עטו: נגינה חיה של פרק הפתיחה מכל אחת מארבע הרביעיות, ובתווך הרצאות קצרות (בעברית) מפי חברי הסגל בחוג. 

פרקים ראשונים מהרביעיות מס’ 3,1:
הילה ליפשיץ, ברק שוסברגר – כינור 
דניאל תנחלסון – ויולה
ברניס קשת – צ’לו

פרקים ראשונים מהרביעיות מס’ 4,2:
יובל הרץ, שחר פוייאי – כינור
ווילי זייקין - ויולה
דניאלה שמר – צ’לו

מרצים:
איל אדלר
קארל וולניאנסקי
מיכאל וולפה
מנחם צור

הכניסה חופשית על בסיס מקום פנוי, 
נא להזמין מקומות בטל’ 02-6241041

Read here my review of the concert.

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The interpretation of Rudolf Serkin - lesson plan

The interpretation of Rudolf Serkin

Once a month I conduct a meeting which is part of ‘Beit-Midrash Musika’ in the Keshet community in Mazkeret Bataya (where religious and secular Jews educate the children together). The meetings are dedicated to musical interpretation which has many issues that are connected to the performance and interpretation of tradition in general. The people who come to this program are interested in both music and pluralistic interpretation of Jewish/Israeli culture. The next meeting is dedicated to the famous pianist Rudolf Serkin. I have included in this post a brief of the lesson plan and some videos of Serkin performing.  


The pianist Andras Schiff wrote that ‘Rudolf Serkin is one of the great unsung heroes among the giants of musical performance.’ Serkin influenced a huge amount of important pianist in America and beyond it. Most of the lesson is based on what I have read in the book Rudolf Serkin: A Life  by Stephen Lehmann and Marion Faber (Oxford, 2003).

Here is the lesson plan for the ‘Beit-Midrash Musika’ that I will do tomorrow.


lesson plan

1. Listening

2. Early influences: Swarzwald school, Schoenberg (objectivity, ‘ethical’ interpretation, total dedication to the composer, Society for the Private Performance of Music (1918-1921).

3. Berlin: turning away from Schoenberg, Adolf Busch, playing from memory, Sachlichkeit, unified tempo, clarity, going beyond sound.
 
4. Toscanini: ‘architecture with passion’.
 
5. Listening
 
6. Serkin’s attitude towards recordings, his attitude towards listing to recordings when building an interpretation.
 
7. Listening.

8. The way excessive practice influences one’s performance, Serkin relation to the musical score, Serkin’s ‘religious’ interpretaion of music, suffering as an ideal, choosing the difficult solution, practicing with physical pain. Conflict and tension when performing.   

9. Listening.
 


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Research proposal for the Avenir Foundation-Research Grant

The Avenir Foundation-Research Grant

 
Last week I received the following wonderful news from The Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna concerning the Avenir Foundation-Research Grant:
 
Dear Avior,

With pleasure I am writing to you to inform you about our decision to support your research projects by providing an Avenir stipend for travel and accommodation in Vienna/Moedling.

Support for the Research Grants will include:
Housing at the Schoenberg-House in Moedling for a four-week period;
Public transportation passes to and from the Schoenberg-House in Moedling to the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna as well as transportation within Vienna;
Per diem allowance;
Transportation allowance to assist in travel to and from Vienna.

 
The news made me very happy since it will help me finish two books. The following is the research proposal that I have submitted on 3 September 2009 to the Arnold Schoenberg Center:
 

From Dr. Avior Byron, Musicology Department, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

To Dr. Christian Meyer, Director of the Arnold Schoenberg Center

 

Research proposal for the Avenir Foundation-Research Grant:

I would like to come to the Schoenberg center for one month during August 2010. The aim of the research trip is to work on two books. I am applying for a 2 week grant for my Oxford book (Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance) and an additional 2 week grant for a second book entitled Schoenberg and Performance: Changing Interpretive Perspectives. In the following I describe the contents of both books.

 

A. Plan for the book Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance

I have signed a contract for editing a book on Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance, which is the fourth out of nine volumes called Schoenberg in Words: Teachings, Correspondence and other Writings (1890-1951), (Oxford University Press).

The main aim of the research trip is to examine the documents listed below and to search for further documents that could be included in this book.

Book description: This volume will be the first published collection and translation devoted to Schoenberg’s writings on performance. Only a handful of these commentaries have appeared in the editions of Style and Idea (1975, 1984). Indeed, from 1923 to 1951, Schoenberg wrote more than thirty manuscripts, two of which he targeted for a proposed book project. Some of these works are reactions to concerts that he heard or reviews or essays that he read, while others discuss the philosophical nature of performance itself. Although they do not deal exclusively with performance, selected correspondence with various musicians often makes a substantial contribution to the understanding of specific works.

My introduction to the text will engage the primary concepts of Schoenberg’s aesthetics of performance —crucially, the impact of his notion of musical idea on interpretation and the role of the performer in relation to the composer and the score itself. The writings will divide chronologically into three parts (1909-18, 1919-32, 1933-51), which reflect certain changes of attitude toward performances during his career. For example, he strongly altered his views in America where his pieces lacked appropriate venues. Although Schoenberg’s notions of the aesthetics of performance do not define a school of thought that others may readily follow, his ideas contribute to a refined interpretation of his music and the classical canon.

The grand will help me examine the following letters and writings as well as find other ones that might be relevant for the book.

MANUSCRIPTS TO BE CONSULTED AND EXCERPTED: (230 PAGES)

c. 1900  Das Opern- und Konzertpublikum und seine Führer [The Opera- and Concert-Public and Its Leaders, from ‘Seven Fragments’]

1904 Prospectus for the Society of Creative Musicians
1909 Letter to Busoni concerning Op. 11
1909 Tempo annotations on the performance score of his String Quartet, Op. 10
1912 (revision 1948) Excerpt from ‘Gustav Mahler’, about Mahler as conductor.

1912 Berlin Diary about not identifying a clarinet playing in a wrong transposition.
Post 1917 Excerpt from Schoenberg’s annotations on Busoni’s Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Outline of a New Aesthetic of Music).

1914 Schoenberg’s introduction to Pierrot lunaire
1918 Prospectus of the Society for Private Musical Performances
1920 Letter to Berg and other students
1920 Letter to Erwin Stein
1922 Letter to the singer Marya Freund
1922 Letter concerning Copenhagen performers
1922 Letter to Varèse
1923  Zur Notenschriften ["On notation"]
1923 Vortragszeichen ["Performance indications"]
1923  Noten-Bilder-Schrift ["Pictorial notation"]
1923  Der Moderne Klavierauszug ["The modern piano reduction"]
1923 letter to Josef Rufer
c. 1923 or 1924 Zur Vortragslehre ["For a treatise on performance"]
1924 Zu einigen Punkten der Frage, ob man Krammermusik dirigiren soll ["One point about the question whether on should conduct chamber music"]
1924  Eine neue Zwölfton-Schrift ["A new twelve-tone notation"]
1926 Mechanische Musikinstrumente ("Mechanical Musical Instruments")
1926 Zur Metronomisierung ["On metronome markings"]  

1927 Schoenberg to Stein
1929 Musikalische Dynamik ["Musical dynamics"]
1929 Das ist eine seichte Auffassung ["This is a shallow conception"]
1929 Ein "Urheberrecht nachsch-affender Künstler" ("A ‘Copyright for performers’")
1930?
Splitter (shortened form of Gedankensplitter. Aphorisms on opera)
1931  Revolution Evolution (Notierung – Vorzeichen) ["Revolution-evolution, notation (accidentals)"]
1931  Raumton, Vibrato, Radio, etc. ["Tone space, vibrato, radio, etc."]
1931  Phrasierung ["Phrasing"]
1934  Vortrag und Gestalt ["Performance and Gestalt’]
1934  Triolen und Quartolen bei Brahms und Bach ["Triplets and quadruplets in Brahms and Bach"]
Post 1934 Tempo
1936 Schoenberg answered Columbia by telegraph concerning recording of Pierrot lunaire

Late 1930s – Early 1940s EXPRESSION music was from the very beginning…

1939 manuscript with Schoenberg’s claim that critics and conductors were creating a conspiracy against him

1940 letter to Moses Smith concerning recording of  recording of Pierrot lunaire

 1940 letter to Fritz Stiedry and Erika Stiedry-Wagner
c. 1940  Das Vibrato hat man in meiner Jugend  ["in my youth the vibrato was called…"]
1941 letter to Stein ‘… though Mrs. Stiedry is never in pitch’
c. August 1944 Koussevitzki-Toscanini
c. 1945 Musical notation is done in rebusses …
post-1945 Theory of Performance
1946 May I state that knowing records, I realized that their performers…
1947 Before Musical notation
1948 Today’s Manner of Performing Classical Music
1949 For the Radio Broadcast of the String Trio
1949  Ich glaube den Anfang von Pelleas ["I believe that the start of Pelleas"]
1949 To Twelve American Conductors
1949 Letter to Steuermann
1949 letter to Daniel Ruyneman

1949 letter to Hans Rosbaud
1950 Letter about Rudolf Kolisch
1950 Letter to Basil Douglas
1951 Letter to Thor Johnson

 

B. Plan for the book Schoenberg and Performance: Changing Interpretive Perspectives.

This book focuses on Schoenberg’s performance aesthetics and practice as a conductor in relation to the various cultural and social environments in which he lived. It also examines historical recordings from the early interpretive history of Schoenberg’s music. In Part I examine Schoenberg’s history as a performer. I suggest that the common notion that Schoenberg was an unaccomplished conductor was often tainted by issues unrelated to his performance technique. Part II focuses on Schoenberg’s writings. There is a discussion of some of the basic conceptions concerning his performance aesthetics and I inspect his performance-related writings (articles, unpublished manuscripts and letters). I argue that Schoenberg’s performance aesthetics significantly changed during his life.

Part III and IV contain several case studies focusing on Schoenberg’s practice. I examine Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4, dating from his tonal period, and Suite, Op. 29 as well as the Piano Piece, Op. 33a from his twelve-tone period and claim that several key factors affected Schoenberg’s performance practice. Part IV is dedicated to Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21 from the atonal period. There is a detailed discussion of the Sprechstimme enigma (how should the voice perform it?). I examine for the first time the test pressings for the commercial recording. This sheds new light on how Stiedry-Wagner and Schoenberg performed the Sprechstimme in his 1940 commercial recording of the piece. A comparison is made between a broadcast that I have recently discovered and the famous 1940 commercial recording of the piece, showing significant differences between the two. I end this part by suggesting criteria for evaluating Sprechstimme performances and examining early recordings of performers from the 1950s.

Part V includes a review and analysis of video and audio performance of Schoenberg that can be obtained only via the internet. The jump to the twentieth century will grant the reader a perspective to what direction the interpretation of Schoenberg’s music is going to.

Part VI evaluates Schoenberg’s performance aesthetics and practice from a large perspective. In chapter 11 I examine whether Schoenberg’s performance aesthetics and practice shed new light on the analysis of his music. In the final chapter I examine the relation between Schoenberg’s practice as a conductor (Parts III and IV) and his performance aesthetic (Part II), and I point out some of the problems and challenges that it presents to one who wishes to interpret Schoenberg.

 

I will need access to performance manuscripts and I will try to find more performance related manuscripts. Access to the library as well as to early recordings of Pierrot lunaire will also be of great importance.

 
Plan of book chapters:

Acknowledgments
Lists of tables, figures, examples and sound examples
List of Abbreviations
Preface

Part I: Introduction
Chapter 1. Demystifying Schoenberg’s conducting

 
Part II: Aesthetics

Chapter 2. Basic performance conceptions
Chapter 3. Schoenberg’s writings on performance

Chapter 4. Comparison of Schoenberg’s and Adorno’s performance aesthetics  

Part III: Ideas in Practice - compositions from the 1920s
Chapter 5. Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
Chapter 6. Suite, Op. 29
Chapter 7. Piano Piece, Op. 33a, early performances, 1950s-1960s


Part IV: Ideas in Practice - Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21
Chapter 8. Schoenberg’s broadcast and commercial recording
Chapter 9. Sprechstimme reconsidered

Chapter 10. Evaluating Sprechstimme - early performances, 1940s-1950s

Part V: Performing Schoenberg on the internet
Chapter 11. Video and audio performances on the web
 

Part VI: Evaluation
Chapter 12. Analysis and performance
Chapter 13. On interpreting Schoenberg

Appendices
Interview with Dika Newlin

Excerpts from an interview with Schoenberg’s children

Bibliography
Discography

 

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Blogging researcher at the British Library

Blogging researcher at the British Library

The following was published in an internal newletter of the British Library:

In August Israeli musicologist and composer Avior Byron was awarded one of the Library’s prestigious Edison Fellowships to carry out research on Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

He found the British Library facilities to be of great help in his continuing research that combined the examination of sound recordings from CDs, LPs and the Library’s SoundServer with printed scores and printed books.

 

Schoenberg’s music sounded very modern in its day and still has the power to shock. Pierrot Lunaire is a setting of poems for voice and chamber group, except the voice does not sing, but intones the text to approximate pitches using Sprechstimme – the ‘spoken voice’.

Dr Byron’s analysis used special visualisation software in the Sound Archive to reveal that the pitch of the voice suggested bySchoenberg’s score in fact varies with each performer. 

He commented: “This is the most advanced software I have seen for analysing recordings.

I find it very useful for hearing very short extracts of music repeatedly as in a loop.  It provides opportunities to see sound representations and hear things that are not discernable during normal listening to recordings.”

Dr Byron has shared his findings through his blog and Twitter even using ‘tweets’ to take research notes. “The blog gives me more space than Twitter to express myself, yet it is still less formal than academic publishing in journals and books.

It was surprising and encouraging to see how people in the British Library were enthusiastic about my tweeting. It certainly shows that the British Library is in the forefront of technology.”

Richard Ranft, Head of the Sound Archive, comments: “as part of a review of the S&C directorate, staff have been preparing scenarios on future research use of the Library’s collections and services. 

Dr Byron’s research methods, his needs for a variety of analogue and digital sources and his sharing with fellow academics worldwide of his discoveries online and in real-time, is a powerful example of how researcher behaviour is changing.”

For more information about the Edison Fellowships please contact Jonathan Summers

 

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Arnold Schoenberg spoke to me in a dream

On Firday 18th September 2009 I went to sleep during the day and I had a dream. In my dream, Arnold Schoenberg was rushing up a street. I tried to catch up with him in order to ask him something. I remember that I asked him questions. The first one was whether he knew a good festival of new music. He answered: "Yes, there is one… Daunch… Daunch… ah yes… Doanuschigen!" Then I asked him who is the best performer of his music. Schoenberg answered very seriously: "I am". I asked: "Why?" Schoenberg replied: "Because I have thunder in my eyes."

I remember the strong experience after I woke up. I spent several years doing research on Schoenberg and I do not remember ever dreaming about him. Is this only my imagination?

Evaluating Sprechstimme: what early recordings tell us - the chapter

Evaluating Sprechstimme: what early recordings tell us

I am including here the first part of the chapter that I just wrote in the British Library as part of the Edison fellowship. You can read the whole chapter at my latest research page. This will be a chapter in a book that I plan to publish on Schoenberg and Performance:

After I wrote my article ‘Sprechstimme reconsidered’[1] I was sure that I finally solved what Boulez and Milhaud called ‘The Sprechstimme enigma’: namely, how should the vocalist in Pierrot lunaire perform the vocal part? As mentioned above, to many commentators the evidence seemed confusing: Schoenberg’s exact notation and demand to perform that notation without adding anything that is not notated, on the one hand, and his vague performance instructions at the preface of the score, and the recordings of him conducting the piece with Stiedry-Wagner not reproducing the notated pitch, on the other hand. I claimed quite confidently that ‘the test pressings of Pierrot lunaire confirm that a perfect reproduction was not Schoenberg’s intention.’[2] Stiedy-Wagner’s test pressings revealed a process of live improvisation in performance that was a very free (although not completely free) way of rendering the notated pitch.

            However, recently two books on Sprechstimme appeared. They were written by singers who perform Pierrot as part of their standard repertoire, and they argued the complete opposite of what I did. Aidan Soder suggested that Schoenberg did not have enough rehearsal time and that ‘the final product on Schoenberg’s recording is perhaps not how he heard it in his ear’.[3] If Soder is right, then perhaps my observations that are based on this recording should be seen as a compromise done by the composer.[4] In the second publication, Paul Mathews and the singer Phyllis Bryn-Julson gave preference to what they understand as Schoenberg’s ‘original conception of the sound’.[5] They argued that ‘the performer would likely prioritize a performance of the passage [in Pierrot] as notated, because … she will find correspondences of pitch and motivic shape in the surrounding texture’.[6] They claimed that ‘the correct interpretation of Sprechstimme is to emphasize the pitch and minimize the effects of “falling and rising”’ by doing glissando.[7] They seem to argue against (the aforementioned article by Stein that states) the idea that one can transpose the Sprechstimme part, since such transpositions, they believe, will cause ‘unintended consequences’.[8] They conclude that a performer that does not sing the notated pitch may feel ‘liberated’, yet many such performances ‘sound self-conscious and mannerist’.[9] At certain moments it seems as if they echo Eugene Narmour’s unfortunate claim that ‘many negative consequences’ will occur ‘if formal relations are not properly analyzed by the performer’.[10] Singers that have absolute pitch may feel it natural to perform the notated pitches accurately. One of them is Jane Manning who confessed: ‘From the outset I knew I wanted to try to adhere to the pitches the composer had written and to obey his every marking as far as I was able.’[11] The notion of the importance of being ‘faithful’ to the score is not shared only by some of the singers and musicologists that I have mentioned. As I wrote the current chapter, I stumbled upon a blog post by Maready of ‘The High Pony Tail’ that argued the following: ‘Would Schoenberg have taken such sweet care to imprison Pierrot inside a nightmare latticework of canons and free imitation, giving his instruments free rein to alternately mock and cradle and impersonate him, only to allow the singer to hit whatever notes she pleased? Pierrot’s predicament is that this dandified night music insists on being followed to the smallest workaday detail.’[12]     

            All this made me think that perhaps my article conclusion concerning Schoenberg’s intentions was premature. As I describe in the first part of chapter …., the manuscripts, writings, letters and other evidence by Schoenberg and his circle, are highly contradictory. The picture is far from being clear. In spite of the fact that Stiedry-Wagner was the performer that Schoenberg often employed for many years, it could well have been that he would not be against a performance that would render the notated pitch without variance. Perhaps, due to various reasons, this was the best performance he could receive at the time the recording was made. The singer Martha Elliott, whom is an established Pierrot performer, wrote that today there are quite a few singers that are able to perform Pierrot as notated. She raised the question whether Schoenberg would have liked it performed that way. She concluded that since ‘what Schonberg said he wanted regarding the Sprechstimme in Pierrot and what he got in his lifetime were quite different, we can never determine what the “correct” style really is.’[13] Moreover, she ended her chapter on the Second Viennese School stating that ‘singers today can come closer than many of the original performers to what these composers actually asked for. But whether the composers would ultimately approve of this approach remains unanswerable.’[14] Indeed, all this seems to suggest that one can never really know how Schoenberg intended that the Sprechstimme will be performed. Bryn-Julson and Mathews acknowledge the contradictions, evolution and change in Schoenberg’s conception of Sprechstimme.[15] However, their preference on what they see as the original view of Schoenberg is a very subjective one. Why should one prefer his conception of 1912 rather than that of the 1930s? The contrary may be argued: during the 30s he had much more performance experience and could now really know how he wanted Sprechstimme to be done.   

Apart from voice limitations, taste, and performance traditions, one can try to build an interpretation based on convincing historical evidence. Part of such evidence was presented in the previous chapters. In this chapter I will explore further data that is revealed by an examination of early recordings from the early history of the interpretation of Pierrot lunaire.I will start by discussing reviews of these recordings. The chapter will end with a discussion on how the historical evidence of early recordings and the reviews of these recordings may help one define criterions for aesthetic judgments.

            My case study is the song ‘Parodie’ which contains canonical relationships between the voice and the instruments.[16] It is these relationships that most scholarly commentators have commented on when writing about the song. These relationships may have a connection to the text of the song. Jonathan Dunsby suggested that the texture of contrapuntally related lines are ‘apt in a melodrama entitled ‘Parodie’, featuring knitting-needles’.[17] The canons put before the vocalist the question of how and whether to present them in performance. Dunsby, for example, claimed that ‘the “voice”, for all the strict compositional relationships to be read from the score, is nevertheless still Sprechstimme, with no special instruction to convey the pitches.”[18] Aidan Soder suggested that rhythmic accuracy is enough in order to be aware of imitative relationships.[19] Yet Bryn-Julson and Mathews aforementioned argument, as well as some of the recent recordings[20] show that some performers do find it important to do a Sprechstimme that reproduces the notated pitch. From this perspective, this song is ideal as a springboard for discussing the way vocalists perform Sprechstimme in early recordings.

         In a lecture on Sprechstimme in Pierrot lunaire, the singer Jane Manning said the following: ‘I have a … preference for some of the early recordings, even though they are much less accurate than the recent ones, but they do seem to preserve the spirit of the age rather better than some of the modern ones’.[21] We will see in a moment that many critics heard these recording as quite distinct in character. Moreover, a close examination of early recordings shows a more detailed picture concerning the relation of these performances to notated pitch, as well as other aspects which are special to each performance.

        I will discuss four early recordings. The first one is the recordings by Stiedry-Wagner and Schoenberg in 1940. Three other recordings were recorded in the 1950s. The second was done by Ellen Adler, voice; and René Leibowitz, conductor, around 1951.[22] The next recording was done in 1954 by Leibowitz, once again, yet this time with Ethel Semser.[23] The forth recording that I will examine is from 1957 with Jeanne Héricard, voice and Hans Rosbaud as conductor.[24] One of the reasons behind choosing these early recordings is the strong connection between the conductors and Schoenberg. Leibowitz claimed that he studied with Schoenberg in the early 1930s (although there is no proof to substantiate this claim). He was in contact with Schonberg in 1945 and most of the correspondence between the two was done during the last decade of the composer’s life. Leibowitz promoted Schoenberg’s music after the Second World War by organizing concerts and writing Books.[25] Rosbaud corresponded with Schoenberg from the 1930s and up to the composer’s death. He performed Schoenberg’s music before and after the Nazi period in Germany. He premiered Beglietmuisk zu einer Lichtspielszene, Op. 34 (1930) and Vier Orchesterlieder, Op. 22 (1932). In 1948 he led the South-West German Radio (SWF) where he continued to promote modern music. This broadcast was recorded during two days with the SWF. In 1954 he gave the premier of Moses und Aron.

Where is the rest of the chapter?

You can read the rest of the chapter at my latest research page.

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[1] Avior Byron, ‘The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 12/1 (February 2006). http://mto.societymusictheory.org/issues/mto.06.12.1/mto.06.12.1.byron_frames.html

[2] Ibid., 4.8.

[3] Soder, Aidan, Sprehstimme in Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire: A Study of Vocal Performance Practice (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), p. 18.

[4] Although she underestimated the authority of the recording as reflecting Schoenberg’s ideal intentions, she does not advocate a performance that renders the notated pitch in a perfect manner.

[5] Bryn-Julson, Phyllis and Paul Matthews, Inside Pierrot lunaire: Performing the Sprechstimme in Schoenberg’s Masterpiece (Lanham, Maryland; Toronto; Plymouth, UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2009), p. 49

[6] Ibid., p. 57.
[7] Ibid., p. 62.
[8] Ibid. p. 58.
[9] Ibid.

[10] Eugene Narmour, ‘On the relationship of analytical theory to performance and interpretation’, in Eugene Narmour and Ruth A. Solie (eds.), Exploration in Music, the Arts, and Ideas (Styvesant: Pendragon, 1988), 340. Quoted in Rink02, p. 36. 

[11] Jane Manning, ‘A Sixties “Pierrot”: A Personal Memoir’, Tempo, Vol. 59, July 2005: 17-25.

[12] Erika Sziklay: ‘Pierrot lunaire’, 23 August 2009, http://highponytail.blogspot.com/2009/08/erika-sziklay-pierrot-lunaire.html Retrieved on 24 August 2009

[13] Martha Elliott, Singing in Style: A Guide to Vocal Performance Practices (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 238.

[14] Ibid., 250.

[15] It is strange that Bryn-Julson and Matthews claimed that ‘Byron argues that Schoenberg’s view of Sprechmelodie remained fairly consistent’ (Inside Pierrot lunaire, p. 76) when I actually wrote that ‘The history of Schoenberg’s conception of Sprechstimme proves that he understood it differently in different periods.’ Byron, ‘The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 12/1 (February 2006), [4.12].

[16] For analyses of such relationships in this song see Dunsby, Pierrot lunaire, pp. 64-65, and Bryn-Julson and Mathews, Inside Pierrot, pp. 187-191.

[17] Dunsby, Pierrot lunaire, p. 65.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Soder, Sprechstimme in Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, p. 91.

[20] For example, Christine Schäfer, voice; Pierre Boulez, conductor (recorded: IRCAM/Espro, Paris, France, September 1997) *Deutsche Grammophon 457 630-2 GH stereo DDD (1998) CD.

[21] Jane Manning, ‘Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire in performance’, Saul Seminar, 7th June 2005, British Library (1CDR 0022875).

[22] Ellen Adler, voice; Paris Chamber Ensemble (Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute & piccolo; Ernest Briand, clarinet; André Dupont, bass clarinet; Francine Villers, violin; Colette Lequien, viola; Sean Barati, violoncello; Claude Helffer, piano); René Leibowitz, conductor; Dial DLP 16 mono (1951?) LP  

[23] Ethel Semser, soprano; Virtuoso Chamber Ensemble (Edward Walker, flute & piccolo; Sidney Fell, clarinet; Walter Lear, bass clarinet; Lionel Bentley, violin; Gwynne Edwards, viola; Willem De Mont, violoncello; Wilfrid Parry, piano); René Leibowitz, conductor (recorded: 1954?)  *Argo RG 54 mono (1955?) LP

[24] Jeanne Héricard, voice; members, Sinfonie-Orchester des Südwestfunks, Baden-Baden (Kraft-Thorwald Diloo, flute; Otto Voigt, piccolo; Sepp Fackler, clarinet; Hans Lemser, bass clarinet; Günther Weigmann, violin; Ulrich Koch, viola; Anton Käsmeier, violoncello; Maria Bergmann, piano); Hans Rosbaud, conductor (recorded: Musikstudio, Südwestfunk, Baden-Baden, West Germany, 4-5 April 1957) *Wergo WER 6403-2 (286 403-2) mono AAD (1993) CD

[25] For example, René Leibowitz, Schoenberg and his School (philosophical library, 1949).

 

Copyright Avior Byron 2014 .