Beschreibung: Interview of Schoenberg by John Campbell. On composition, melody, and harmony. Gertrud Schoenberg and an unidentified student also speak. In English.
Signatur: 11/C (3:20); 40/C (2:07); 51/R7 (32:00); 105/R7 (30:04)
JOHN CAMPBELL: Well now we are recording what is sounding in this room. Let's see, just for a test to see how it sounds.
SCHOENBERG: You mean I should speak now, a little, and this will come back?
CAMPBELL: Uh huh, we're picking up everything that's sounding in the room including, that chair moving out in the dining room.
SCHOENBERG: Ah ha! Trude dear[?] please don't make noises. They are recorded otherwise.
GERTRUD SCHOENBERG: [from the other room] What?
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: The noises which you make are recorded.
GERTRUD SCHOENBERG: [getting closer] Are they? I hope so. You never believe me [unintelligible] terrible words.
CAMPBELL: Oh, may I present my friend, Ebbe Rekton, Mrs. Schoenberg. We were just making a test to see what it will sound like.
GERTRUD SCHOENBERG: Ah hah.
CAMPBELL: I take very great pleasure now in introducing to the EE-200 Seminar in sound Mr. Arnold Schoenberg.
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: Thank you.
CAMPBELL: Mr. Schoenberg, I am trying to think of some good leading questions which will start this little discussion on modern harmony and composition. I wonder what you might say regarding the way in which taste for musical intervals has changed through the ages. Have people been able to stand hearing harmonies of sevenths and ninths in the past as much as they do now?
SCHOENBERG: There was always some trouble with dissonances. I am not very good in history of music. I make up history generally myself whether it's true or not. I try to find out how it could have been. And I know one thing: that in former times the third was even not considered as a consonance. It is quite clear: my explanation for all this is the understandability of tones, the recognizability, whereas I don't think it is so much the beauty, this is only a secondary evaluation--an evaluation of beauty. I think the main point is to understand what tones mean. Accordingly I would say that the comprehensibility of [the] relation of tones with one another is the deciding point and maybe that one calls this--what one is entitled to call this--beauty, if the relationship becomes very clear. I mean that it's quite clear that the identity of a tone with one... with itself is satisfactory. The next satisfactory, but a little more remote identity, is the identity of the tone... of the tone with its octaves, with its higher and lower octaves, this is why, probably, [the] first music also according to our natural conditions of... the man singing an octave lower than the woman. There was accepted as, let's say, as pure as a kind of beauty. Now the next interval which... whose relationship is quite evident is of the fifth. But the third was naturally a major third. But according... responding to the theoretical constructions of the scales the major third was not always included among the artificial music. It was rather a minor third such as we have for in, for instance, in the Dorian mode. Now evidently the minor third was not considered at first a consonance because of its only remote resemblance to the natural third. And I think, in the same manner according to the comprehensibility the evaluation of the dissonances progressed.
CAMPBELL: I wonder if we could step over to the piano and just play these intervals that we are talking about. I think we have enough microphone cord here to do so.
SCHOENBERG: Uh huh. Now the identity [strikes a note] of one tone [restrikes a note] played on two different instruments is very convincing. [strikes an octave] So is the identity of an upper [strikes another octave] or a lower octave or more than this [strikes more octaves], of three or four octaves. [It's] very convincing and it's quite understandable why they could be considered as consonant beauties. Now we know [strikes a fifth] that the next way besides singing in octaves was... na, was heisst denn? Na! in... yes octaves, in fifths [restrikes a fifth] which is the most primitive form of harmony. After the introduction of the third, the necessity came up to decide about the place of other tones in harmony. Now [in] this we know the procedures used in introducing sevenths and so on by careful preparations and resolutions.
CAMPBELL: Is there anything natural in the intervals that are used [telephone rings] in Western music which would make it [telephone rings again] likely that that would be developed in any country. I was wondering why there is so much difference in oriental music--Indian music, Chinese music--and Western music.
SCHOENBERG: I don't know much about these musics. I would not be able to give a competent judgement.
CAMPBELL: Is it just a matter of people being accustomed to one set of intervals throughout their lives or is there something about the intervals that we use which is more consonant.
SCHOENBERG: I think that the whole matter of acoustics and of tones and of tone relations is a very vague matter and admits many many ranges of right or correct solutions. And, it seems to me, that the Western music comes most near to nature, and it seems to me, that all the other attempts--Chinese, as much as I know of it, or Indian, and so... --are very remote from nature. And this is why they didn't have the great progress in music as we have. They could not progress to a real polyphony. Their polyphony is not based on recognition of the nature of the sound, of the nature of relationships, of tonal relationships.
CAMPBELL: How do you think the harmonies are likely to go in the future? That is, is the tendency towards more ninths and elevenths and other harmonies which are now regarded as dissonant?
SCHOENBERG: I don't think this is true... this is the manner. I think there is now... when I could say so, the ice has been broken. The progress will not be a systematic seventh, ninth, and eleventh systematically. But more to the expressiveness of such harmonies.
CAMPBELL: It would be more a matter of exploiting the harmonies which we have now.
SCHOENBERG: According... yes! According to the capacity of expression of, I mean, emotional and illustrating and otherwise.
CAMPBELL: I think one thing that everyone would be interested in would be to hear [of] your methods of composition. And in starting do you conceive the harmonies first and construct melodic patterns through them, or do you think of a melodic line, or just how do you begin to create a musical composition.
SCHOENBERG: I hear the music which I am going to write. I hear the music and I have acquired a thing which every composer has to acquire in time. I have acquired the capacity of finding out what composes this music which I hear in my mind, in my imagination. And it's a kind of analysis of course but it's possible to mechanically express, if I say analysis, but the process is certainly similar to an analysis. I know, like a good cook would know of what the food is prepared, you know, what is in this food. So the composer knows what is in this sound which he hears.
CAMPBELL: Do you hear it completely harmonized?
SCHOENBERG: Yes, of course, yes.
CAMPBELL: And orchestrated also?
SCHOENBERG: If I have an orchestra, I think for orchestra as well as if I would have a violin, I would hear the violin in my mind.
CAMPBELL: Do you remember it if you hear and compose in your mind a whole movement? Do you then remember it and are able to write it down later anytime?
SCHOENBERG: It's now a little more complicated, you know, so that it would be difficult to have a whole movement at once in one's mind. But I could say that I have a feeling as if I would hear a specific kind of musical space filled with music which comes later to my mind into the details. While in the beginning it's a mess, you know, but I feel it. It becomes gradually clearer so as something becomes clearer when you see it from the very distance and later move to the point where you see it more in details.
CAMPBELL: Is it something you'll think of ocassionally for a period of days or do you...
SCHOENBERG: Yes, also this happens, yes! I remember some, for instance, some themes which I never have written down and I keep them often in mind for years. I remember, for instance, one just in this last article which I wrote, I remembered the theme of a symphony which I wanted to compose about more than fifty years ago. And I still could remember it, yes.
CAMPBELL: Is there any way in which that method of composition could be taught to anyone else? Or is it something which one has to discover for himself?
SCHOENBERG: I think one has to have it for one's self but one can .... I tried very often to make my pupils think in this manner, you know. I always suggested that they should not write a few measures or compose a few measures but in one whole movement in once in them [?]. Think of the whole. You would also not write a poem one line after the other, you would know what the rules should be. The details come later, of course.
CAMPBELL: Is there a difficulty in some... In harmony, in some small part, it is better to go over it and get the whole...
SCHOENBERG: And correct it later, yes, yes. Improve it quite later.
EBBE REKTON: Mr. Schoenberg, does the music as such have any meaning to you or does it sound as just pure music? I mean, do you hear it in your mind a just a melodic form? For example you said in a poem the meaning there is simple in a simple poem. But in some of these very modern poems, the meaning is somewhat obscure. Do you think of music with a meaning or do you just think of it in terms of hearing sounds as they come?
SCHOENBERG: It is difficult to say, you know. One is... I think one is too much in a trance to become aware of everything which goes on within, which, let us be a little sentimental, [is] within one's soul, you know. But maybe there is a certain relationship to one's feeling if you mean with meaning. This, you know, there is something emotional. It's not a shame emotion. It's not directly a shame, as the people's contempt at present, who find it romantic to be emotional. But they forget that music expresses something whether you want it or not. So as your handwriting expresses yourself and your fingerprints express yourself, why should music you make not express something which you have from your own character and from your own feeling.
CAMPBELL: It may be that ideas are untranslatable into English for example.
SCHOENBERG: Yes, of course.
CAMPBELL: It is something that can only be expressed...
SCHOENBERG: ...in music. Yes, yes.
CAMPBELL: Very often now, you're hearing criticism that the music of Bach and Mozart is now passe, that it expresses an age which is gone; and that people should not regard it as being great music any longer. Do you think that music of that sort can ever...
SCHOENBERG: This is nonsense. This is mere nonsense. I mean we do not believe so much in the philosophy of Aristotle. But we know that he was a great thinker. And we know that it was something which men always will have to admire. We do not admire the absolute achievement of a man, but the relative achievement of a man.
CAMPBELL: Relative to the age in which he lives.
SCHOENBERG: Yes. And to the... to what was known before him, before his discoveries. And I mean in music, there is no reason to relate it to the time.
CAMPBELL: One other thing, [on] a rather different subject: do you feel that the modern jazz music which is being composed commercially in such profusion now would be classified as folk music and might have any permanent place in musical literature.
SCHOENBERG: Maybe. Some of it is really good. And some is, I would rather say much of it is, very amusing and I like to listen to it. I personally, yes. It's often full of a very partic... peculiar spirit, you know. Yes. Which I like very much. And very witty often. Not all of it. Some is really only made because it's the fashion. But for this I have not so much respect.
CAMPBELL: Do you think that the present age in which we are living is perhaps not conducive to composition. I was just thinking of the fact that at several periods in the past we would find a dozen major composers living at one time. And nowadays there are very, very few. Do you think it's the life we're leading that...
SCHOENBERG: Do you find there are few? I find there are very, very many.
CAMPBELL: Well, perhaps they're not appreciated yet.
SCHOENBERG: Yes. The appreciation goes a little slow, little slowly, yes.
CAMPBELL: Maybe fifty years from now, there will be composers who are unknown now, who would be regarded as great.
SCHOENBERG: Yes certainly, certainly yes. I hope that human inventiveness will not stop using music as a subject.
CAMPBELL: There is one thing that I have speculated about in trying to analyze what constitutes melody. It seems there has been an analysis of harmony. We can compare degrees of consonance by comparing which harmonies... which harmonics coincide. But is there any similar analysis possible with melodic lines which would determine what is melody and what is not?
SCHOENBERG: I think what is melody has not yet been defined at all. I complain about this for in many of my writings very often. And try to find some of the factors which assist to create melodies. But the only thing which I can say about this is that the melody must enable a listener to conceive very easily what goes on. I mean the relationship between the parts of which a melody consists must be so obvious that you can easily follow it. This is partly true, but I, in an article which I wrote, I proved that one of the most wonderful melodies of Beethoven, in the F-minor string quartet, opus 95, the Adagio, has no motival relationship.
CAMPBELL: Could you play that melody on the piano just so we can see what it is?
SCHOENBERG: Yes. [plays melody] And so on. There is almost nothing which what a
motive should do or a phrase should do in a melody which is repeated. It goes on and on without any of these symbols which help us [in] understanding a melody. I mean this proves that this one little thing which I could say about the melody is not to be found everywhere.
CAMPBELL: Yet, in the Beethoven Sixth symphony, he repeats themes just without end.
SCHOENBERG: Yes. This is the popular touch.
CAMPBELL: He was not tied down by rules of any kind he did as he felt.
EBBE REKTON: Mr. Schoenberg, I have a question on a more general subject on what you mean when you have control on music. For example, the Russian government right now is putting rather stringent controls, I don't know what kind of controls, on the music of its Russian composers, as to exactly what is pure communistic music. For some reason this music, whether or not it's controlled or not, appeals to the United States' audiences. Can you say something on the subject as to what you think the effect of controls would be.
SCHOENBERG: I don't know any of this music which Russian composers write now. I was always wondering whether a serious composer can compose under such a dictate. It is true one could compare this demand of the Soviets to the demands of the Church when they wanted the composers to write church music. But I don't think it's quite the same. I'm sure that... I'm quite sure that Bach was not threatened to be killed if he does not write the right music for churches as a Soviet composer is in danger if he doesn't write the music which Mr. Stalin likes to hear. This seems to be, to me, a task imposed on an artist which is not worthy. One can assume that a composer like Bach wrote church music, or other such composers, because he believed in religion. And he expressed only religion. Now if such a belief can produce church music then why should communist believers be forced to have communist music. Why does not communist music be produced as automatically by itself as church music was produced by believers in religion. They have to be threatened that they will be killed if they don't compose what Mr. Stalin [wants] or other people in the orchestra--I used to call these people the second viola pair on the fourth stand in the orchestra--who is the man who still has these demands on the composers and on the players and on the conductors. Now I personally do not believe in such demands.
EBBE REKTON: Here's another one on a general... I have heard some comments that great music is normally composed under great stress. In other words, when the composer himself is in great trouble. For example: Mozart composed very well when he was very hungary and he was dying; Beethoven composed much of his greatest music after he was deaf--which is the greatest crime that could happen to a man personally as a composer. They have often stated, these same authorities, that this might be the reason why we don't get music coming out from Americans, solely because life is too good here. What do you think?
SCHOENBERG: There is some truth in the Hugertuch (would you translate this?), Hungertuch the comp... to the artist who is pressed by need. but I don't think it is all. It is too much capacity of inventiveness and of imagination which produces the great works of composers and poets and painters. And also, I mean a certain natural skill which--a natural gift--which one should not underrate. It's not everything really to be explained in a materialistic way. I think there is something in [it]. It should not be too easy that a composer writes something and today, and tomorrow it is performed, and the third day he gets the money, and fourth day he has the villa and the auto. It need not be in this manner. But the contrary, it also is not absolutely necessary.
CAMPBELL: I wondered if we might return for a moment to the actual technique of composition which is such a mysterious matter to the layman. To what extent is a musical idea suggested by a theme which might be heard--a little bit of folk melody or even a natural bird sound, something of that sort--and to what extent is it purely inventive on the part of the composer?
SCHOENBERG: I myself do not believe in such external influences. It is... perhaps it's the most natural and self evident matter that it should remain a mystery. And I don't believe in materialistic explanations of this kind as long as we have a less satisfactory explanation of the mystery.
CAMPBELL: This for example... Here is a little musical theme which I thought of some time back and have played with, and enjoyed trying it out in various forms. Let me just try it about two or three measures and then tell me if it suggests anything further to your mind or if it is something which just ends by itself. Ebbe, could you hold this mike for a minute while I try this? [plays a melody] Does that sort of a theme suggest anything continuing on from there?
SCHOENBERG: I would say this contains already a number of sequences. These are repetitions which technically is one of the means of ending something. It, so that it does not require a continuation anymore. A continuation would rather consist of a development. It would... that means it would vary the factors of which such a melody is composed and create out of them new forms. New... make it blossom, make it bear fruits and so on. But this contains already a number of sequences.
CAMPBELL: Well this... we're going over to the piano now...
SCHOENBERG: [plays the same melody] so in this manner... in this manner... was it in this manner [unintelligible]?
CAMPBELL: Uh huh.
SCHOENBERG: Yes. Now see this "dah, dah, dah, dah." This rhythm which comes without any development again and again is rather an ending, you know, than a beginning. S
CAMPBELL: Well that's interesting because this theme first occurred to me as something that might be a beginning but when I actually put it into some music, it was at the end. It seemed to naturally fit in like that. It's part of this little operetta and I'll play it for you if you can stand it. Well, we seem to be very near the end of this reel of tape, so perhaps we can stop for a while and if we get some more good questions or ideas we'll put another one in. Thank you very much Mr. Schoenberg.