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austrian art at the turn of the century and the start of the 20th century dealt in particular with undisguised eroticism through to sadomasochistic cruelty, through to intensive immersion in living flesh.
I am thinking in particular of freud, schnitzler, schiele, musil, gerstl, kokoschka. weininger, trakl, werfel, kafka, and the second viennese school headed by arnold schönberg.
all of these elements came together in the music of arnold schönberg. beginning with the chromatics of tristan, he transcended tonality via transfigured night. what was needed was a transgressor, a violent transgressor whose need for expression broke the current limits of music, until he entered that atonal space beyond major and minor keys. like nietzsche, he destroyed everything around and above him that was in some way constrictive. he became the murderer of his “father” and of traditional orders, effectively creating a new reality.
with his programmatic second string quartet he opened the way to free tonality, “I feel air from another planet”. there is weightlessness. reeling, we enter the weightless space of the universe, with an effect similar to that produced by kandinsky’s first non-representational paintings. nobody broke so radically with traditions than schönberg, nobody was as radical as he in this period.
eroticism plays a dominant role in almost all of schönberg’s works. in his melodramatic expectation, arguably his most consistent composition, eroticism mounts to become excessive cruelty bordering on perversion.
a woman wanders through the forest in search of her lover, only to find him dead. the expressive force contained in this music surpasses everything that has preceded it – even the macabre tone of richard strauss’s salome.
here you can only draw on a comparison with depth psychology. schönberg’s analysis of sound makes deep incisions into flesh of the living. aside from the radical nature of the music, the unfinished opera moses and aron treads new dramaturgical ground. schönberg did not believe his work could be performed. slaughters and rage were to take place on stage. notwithstanding the strict twelve-tone composition style, he succeeded in creating orgiastic music in keeping with the action. for me moses and aron was practically an anticipation of my o[rgy] m[ystery] theatre. to date, nobody has explored the reality of slaughter in such a radical manner.
his music, with its exhibitionist, drastic nature and excitement which is revealing in manner similar to psychoanalysis, plumbs erotic depths and has repeatedly motivated me and encouraged me to produce highly radical work myself.
I have always been impressed by the almost ecstatic progression in the evolution of his works. he does not slow down in any of his works. each new work presents the recipients with new problems. the progression starts with transfigured night, via the symphonic poem pelleas and melisande, the chamber symphony, the piano piece op. 11, the second string quartet, the george songs, expectation, and so on, through to his invention of the twelve-tone method. by the time he finished the gurrelieder – an early work – it was outdated by his later ones. this is the source of the double-faced nature of his monumental compositions. schönberg’s painting, undoubtedly encouraged by the artist gerstl, once again casts a deep light on his persona and œuvre. with his painting he is clearly an amateur, albeit a fascinating one. his depths extend to the dimension of the psychotic. likewise his music illuminates these depths, yet the form of his great compositional ability is a restraining force on the drastic outcome engendered by breaking with the rules.
all in all, schönberg is one of the great 20th-century personalities who instilled new meaning into existing concepts. yet one should not forget his function as a teacher and pedagogue. of the many composers who studied under him, webern and berg were his equals. the second viennese school would have been inconceivable without these two brilliant composers. he was loved and revered by his pupils. and it is telling that one of his last pupils was john cage in california.

The Visions of Arnold Schönberg. Edited by Max Hollein und Blazenka Perica. Frankfurt am Main 2001, S. 59–60