12 Points of View

CD 20 of 24

100 years after writing his masterpieces, his name still strikes terror into the hearts of classical music lovers. In conversation, he is spoken of derisively, and patrons continue to walk out on performances of his work, their heads shaking. Why is this? Have audiences given his music a fair chance?

 I suspect not.

To his accusers, Schoenberg obliterated tonality, the musical system that gives precedence to certain notes over others, most importantly the note of the home key, also known as the tonic. Schoenberg dispensed with this system, replacing it with his twelve-tone music, essentially making each note equal in importance. From these twelve tones he created tone-rows. A tone row is the ordering of the twelve tones in an octave in what may appear to be random order, for example: C-E flat–A Flat–D–A–D Flat–B-G–E–B flat–G Flat-F and then back to C to begin anew. The notes could be employed melodically (one at a time), or harmonically (two or more notes played simultaneously), and could leap around the octaves, but however they are employed the eleven other notes in the row must be heard in the same order before the first note may be heard from again. For variety, the rows could be transposed, played backwards or played backwards while being transposed, but the principle holds throughout – each tone has an equal say.

 Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951), Alban Berg (1885 – 1935) and Anton Webern (1883 – 1945) were collectively known as the Second Viennese School, of which Schoenberg was the headmaster (the First Viennese school comprised Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven). He took some time in formulating his system and it was only in 1923, after a six-year compositional hiatus, that he presented the twelve-tone concept to his students. It may come as a surprise, but prior to 1923, Schoenberg was not writing twelve- tone music. It may be more precise to say that a lot of what he did write were over-active Romantic works that pushed traditional harmony to extremes, his Five Pieces For Orchestra (Tracks 10 –14) being a prime example. With the exception of Berg’s Violin Concerto, the pieces on this disc date from the years 1909 – 1915, so strictly speaking, they are not 12-tone music – but they are definitely its ancestors!

To these ears, Berg got it just right, and as the old saying goes, rules are meant to be broken. In applying the twelve-tone principle to his Violin Concerto of 1935 in a loose manner, building his rows on a succession of major and minor triads, Berg certainly had no qualms of permitting tonality to rear its beautiful head. His Concerto is dedicated “to the memory of an angel”, the angel being the young daughter of a friend of Berg. The daughter passed away shortly after Berg had been offered the commission to compose the piece, and this would be the last composition that he would complete. Berg, too, passed away shortly after finishing the piece.   


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Alban Berg (1885 - 1935):
Violin Concerto "To the Memory of an Angel" | 1. Andante - Allegro
Levine · Chicago Symphony Orchestra · Berliner Philharmoniker · Mutter


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Alban Berg (1885 - 1935)
        3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6
        1. Revised version of 1929
          1. 1.
            1. Präludium. Langsam
          2. 2.
            2. Reigen. Anfangs etwas zögernd- Leicht beschwingt
          3. 3.
            3. Marsch. Mäßiges Marschtempo
      2. Anton Webern (1883 - 1945)
        Six pieces for orchestra, Op.6
        1. Original version (1909)
          1. 4.
            1. Etwas bewegt
          2. 5.
            2. Bewegt
          3. 6.
            3. Zart bewegt
          4. 7.
            4. Langsam (marcia funebre)
          5. 8.
            5. Sehr langsam
          6. 9.
            6. Zart bewegt
      3. Arnold Schoenberg (1874 - 1951)
        5 Pieces for Orchestra, Op.16
        1. Original version of 1909
          1. 10.
            1. Vorgefühle
          2. 11.
            2. Vergangenes
          3. 12.
            3. Farben
          4. 13.
            4. Peripetie
          5. 14.
            5. Das obligate Recetativ
            Berliner Philharmoniker, James Levine
      4. Alban Berg (1885 - 1935)
        Violin Concerto "To the Memory of an Angel"
        1. 15.
          1. Andante - Allegro
        2. 16.
          2. Allegro - Adagio
          Anne-Sophie Mutter, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine
    Playing Time 01:19:53