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It was over 30 years ago when a group of student music enthusiasts founded an amateur orchestra in Vienna, proudly named it Polyhymnia and chose me to be their conductor. The orchestra was not large; a couple of violins, one viola, one cello and one contrabass – actually, only half of one. But as presumptuous as we were otherwise, we were content with our achievements. We were all young and hungry for music, and we played for better or worse, going at it ardently once a week.
Now, such societies have always existed; there was nothing unusual about that. But with ours, there was a young man sitting at the only cello desk who would abuse his instrument with fiery ardor, playing one wrong note after the other. (Incidentally the cello deserved no better – the player had bought it for three very hard-earned gulden on the so-called Tandelmarkt [flea market] in Vienna) – and that cello player was none other than Arnold Schönberg.
He was still a small-time bank clerk back then – but he did not think much of that as a profession, much preferring his musical notes to the bank notes where he worked. That was Schönberg when I met him, and soon our acquaintance developed into a deep friendship. We would show our work to each other; at the time, Schönberg was composing everything under the sun – violin sonatas, duets, choruses for workers’ societies – and Lieder most of all. None of them was published and only a few friends knew the manuscripts.
His first large-scale opus was a string quartet, a piece still greatly influenced by Brahms, although Schönberg’s own voice was already beginning to emerge in the middle movement. I was a member of the board of the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein at the time; Brahms chaired it as its honorary president. I suggested a performance of Schönberg’s quartet and I was ultimately managed to have it performed as part of a private Verein concert. I believe it was a great success – at least, the people sat up and took notice and Schönberg’s name gradually began to crop up in musical circles.
Not long after that he composed a string sextet to a poem by Richard Dehmel; as far as I know, it was the first program music ever for a chamber ensemble. Once again, I tried to persuade the Verein’s board to perform the work – but this time, I had no luck. The piece was “reviewed” and the result was nothing short of terrible; one member of the jury expressed his verdict in these words: “It sounds as if someone had wiped over the score of Tristan while the ink was still wet.” Well, that sextet – Verklärte Nacht – is now one of Schönberg’s most frequently performed works and one of the most often played pieces of chamber music literature altogether.
Schönberg was not dissuaded by that apparent failure; he shot off a few strong, witty words for his critics and then his nature – still immensely cheerful and optimistic at the time – had taken care of the entire matter.
The Tonkünstlerverein was destined to come into a certain contact with one of his works for a third time; the occasion was a competition prize the Verein was awarding for a Lieder cycle with piano accompaniment. Schönberg entered the competition with some Lieder he composed to poems by Jacobsen. I played them for him (since, of course, Schönberg could not play the piano). The Lieder were very beautiful and truly innovative – but both of us felt that, for precisely that reason, they would not have much of a chance in such a competition. But Schönberg composed the entire, large Jacobsen cycle nonetheless – but no longer for one singer alone; he added large choruses, a melodrama, preludes and interludes, all of it scored for huge orchestra. He had composed a very great, large work – the »Gurrelieder« – a piece which was to become the foundation of his worldwide success. But even that success did not save Schönberg from bitter struggles concerning his other works – yet today, on his 60th birthday, he indeed knows that he emerged victorious. And so we need only add now our hope that many more years and many more works will be vouchsafed to him.

Arnold Schönberg zum 60. Geburtstag, 13. September 1934. Wien 1934, p. 33–35