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[...]

At a recent meeting [Schoenberg] was asked how he valued „Pierrot lunaire“ among his works. Did he call it „romantic“ music?

„I have not changed my attitude toward ‚Pierrot lunaire’ at all,“ he said. „I feel it now as I felt it then. I enter again into the mood and the intention I had when I composed it.
„As for romanticism and the rest of the terminology, I don’t myself make these demarcations between one kind of music and another. I have written in one way, I think, when I have written works for the stage, in another way in the settings of the Guiraud poems. When I write purely instrumental music I necessarily approach the problem from a different direction, consequent upon the subject.“

What did he conceive the present direction of music to be? Did he believe atonality the solution?

„In the first place,“ he replied quietly, „I don’t believe in atonality“ – which, from the man of the 12-tone scale and ist consequences, was sufficiently astonishing.

„But don’t you believe that all music must have a tonal center? If you don’t then why in the 12-tone system inherent in the Opus 29 [recte: op. 31] Variations’ do you repeat the theme on the same notes of the scale? Perhaps that was to replace the older practice of an established key for a composition?“

He said that he might have done that because at the time of the „Variations“ he was still unconsciously under the influence of the traditional conception of tonality. He might unconsciously have adopted such a method to preserve a principle that was at variance with his theory of the 12-tone scale.

„And what was that?“

„It includes the belief that there are always harmonic centers, which we have not yet clearly defined in the new province that this conception of the scale opens to us. We have to find that out by creative exploration, as we become more emancipated from aural conceptions of the past.“
He was curious about the effect of „Pierrot lunaire“ upon the listener of today. „Does it sill sound strange?“ he wanted to know. The consensus of a little group was that it no longer sounded strange, or at least incomprehensible, yet it kept its effect of a provocative modernity intact.

At that point Charles Burney’s „Music in Germany, Netherlands and the Provinces,“ vintage of 1773, was taken from a shelf and a passage read with much amusement at its application to the contemporaneous scene.
“No one will, I believe, at present deny the necessity for discord in the composition of music in parts; it seems to be as much the essence of music, as shade is of painting; not only as it improves and meliorates concord by opposition and comparison, but, still further, as it becomes a necessary stimulus to the attention, which would languish over a succession of pure concords. It occasions a momentary distress to the ear, which remains unsatisfied, and even uneasy, till it hears something better; for no musical phrase can end upon a discord [at which Mr. Schoenberg had reason to smile]. Some of the discords in modern music, unknown till this century, are what the ear can just bear, but have a very good effect as to contrast. The severe laws of preparing and resolving discord, may be too much adhered to for great effects; I am convinced, that provided the ear be at length made amends, there are few dissonances are too strong for it.”

Asked if he believed in race in music and if he found any racial or national characteristics in American music today, the composer replied: „I do not take particular stock in a racial quality inherent in music of the individual who has not been subjected to musical influences of a particular kind. But the musical culture of a nation certainly takes a racial or at least a national style. Here am I, educated in music from the German standpoint. I cannot think music in some other way – in the way that Bizet thought music from France, or a Verdi from Italy. I have been trained in another way and have grown up in it. Therefore the German culture certainly tinges my music.“
„I feel from Americans a different musical attitude, or instinct, toward harmonic relations than my own. I confess to you that I can feel this difference more readily than I can define it. It is something to be studied, and it should mean something to music.“

These were remarks of Arnold Schoenberg, a man of singular earnestness, humility and knowledge, a student, artist, explorer of music.

The New York Times (24 November 1940)
Part of a review of Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, 11 November 1940 in New York, Town Hall, conducted by the composer