A wave of ultra-modern music has suddenly invaded the Italian Concert Halls, which until today, with very few exceptions, were strictly confined to older traditions. Thanks to the Corporazione delle Nuove Musiche directed by Gabriele D’Annunzio, Francesco Malipiero, AIfredo Casella, Ildebrando Pizzetti and Bernardino Molinari, there were five concerts given in Rome, illustrating the most important compositions of modern music of all countries, and now recently a tournée of ten performances of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. This tournee began with great success at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and it has created the greatest interest in all parts of Italy where the work was heard. The performances were conducted by the composer, who visited Italy for the first time.
Our interview with him took place in a silent, dark corner of a little cafe, where the master took refuge before he consented to speak on his music. To many people modern music is something which is written without much difficulty, and which has no relation to their own deep feelings. Arnold Schönberg certainly does not look like a man whose success was easy: he appears taciturn, absorbed in deep thought and often restless. He has not only a deep faith in his art, but he is of a severe and often meticulous turn of mind. Thus in order to express himself on his music he took great pains in being most decided lest he should be misunderstood. Before speaking he considers the answer very thoroughly, paraphrasing certain words, and although he speaks French fluently, he refuses to speak of music in anything but German.
“My Music” he said “is not Atonal. So far tonality has consisted in using the seven notes of the scale in all their combinations. I could not set aside this principle, but my tonality uses twelve notes instead of seven. That is the whole difference, and all the new aspects of my music derive from this only.”
In fact with Schönberg chromaticism has attained its utmost limit, and thus it forms the last and logical step of the German romanticism of Wagner and Strauss.
Schönberg refused to say how he arrived at the conception of Pierrot Lunaire; it is the romantic side of his creation which he keeps to himself as a jealously guarded secret.
“My Pierrot consists of twenty-one short pieces. It is far more difficult to write short and yet complete pieces, than a long composition. In Pierrot conciseness is essential, because the horizontal and vertical spaces are used to the full, so as to express a musical idea as briefly as possible. The idea is developed continuously in all the instruments so that we get a concentrated and condensed synthetic expression of the thought. Both harmony and rhythm correspond also to this condition of brevity, so that in two or three chords the whole twelve tonalities are expressed. The harmonic line is developed to the full, the melodies are confided to each instrument independently from the others and proceed continuously. To understand Pierrot it is therefore necessary to get used to following the melodic line of all the instrumental parts which are developed at the same time.”
Schönberg spent most of his time in Rome, and when he was not busy rehearsals he visited the museums and antiquities of the city. In a few days he saw everything, in three hours he ‘did’ the great museum at the Vatican, from the first to the last room!
“That was a synthetic visit, like the synthetic pieces of Pierrot.”
“Yes, but when I left I felt as if I had heard all the nine symphonies of Beethoven.”
“Rome is beautiful, isn‘t it ?”
“Wonderful, but any tenor would say that… or even Jeritza.”
In the evenings he goes to Alfredo Casella or to Vittorio Rieti, and then he neither performs, nor talks of, music. As far as the other Italian towns are concerned he saw little or nothing of them. He just arrived, conducted, and left again.
Before and during each concert, both the public and the composer were rather nervous, but everything finished well, and even those in the audience who were not prepared, applauded. There was only one interruption in Venice; the majority of the press received Pierrot well.
Now the master has returned to Vienna to his work. Of late he has composed some piano pieces and a serenade for violins, viola, cello, clarinet, bass clarinet, guitar and mandoline, and he is now composing a quintet for wind instruments, also a grand opera for chorus and orchestra. For the last fifteen years he has been writing a great deal on Aesthetics and Composition, but the great work is not near publication yet. Perhaps it will follow me into the grave, Schönberg added. He works a great deal but composes relatively little. In his home near Vienna much chamber music is played, Schönberg himself playing either viola or cello. The compositions most frequently played are those by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.
When I asked Schönberg what he thought of other modern composers he refused to be drawn, especially as it is his opinion that the only basis for future music is his own system. When I insisted, his reply was, “I simply love Verdi’s Trovatore.”
(English by Dr. G.A. Pfister)
The Sackbut (July 1924)
Sunday, May 19th
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