Monthly Archives: June 2012

No, Mr. Eddins, it’s YOUR fault!

The latest in a 100-year effort to scare people away from the music of Arnold Schoenberg is a blog by Bill Eddins, It’s Schoenberg’s Fault!

I did an interview with a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio yesterday exploring the difficulties being faced by the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  After a thorough dissection of the mistakes that led up to this current mess with both orchestras, and much of the classical music industry thereto, I have come to one undeniable conclusion – it’s Schoenberg’s fault.

His theory is that ordinary people will not listen to ANY classical music, because orchestras sometimes program works by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Ok. That’s one theory. But I have another.

I suppose it is possible that Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Josephine Average (as Eddins calls them) discuss whether or not to go to a classical music concert, and Mr. Average says to his wife, “You know, honey, I’ve heard Schoenberg’s Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra and I just don’t like it.  So let’s not go to the concert tonight (whatever they are playing).  I just don’t want to listen to any classical music ever again.” But I think there is a more likely scenario.

Mr. and Mrs. Average are prejudiced.  They have probably never heard a note of music by Schoenberg, Berg or Webern and certainly could not tell the difference between their music and that of Stravinsky, Bartok or Ives, about which Eddins writes that “people are excited to hear it” and “jump to their feet.”

What sends the audience away is not the music, it’s the hype.  It is prejudice. Literally, people have been taught by Mr. Eddins and others to pre-judge the music before they even listen to a note of it. They see the name on the program, figure they won’t like the music because they’ve heard that it’s hard to like, and stay away. Eddins is a purveyor of hatred and prejudice.

I am not suggesting that every person will love every note of Schoenberg’s music. It is often not easy, especially on a first listening. But, as Eddins points out, audiences often love difficult music. They just have to know that it’s ok to like it. Honestly, is it Schoenberg’s fault that people like Eddins write articles and give interviews suggesting that if an orchestra programs Verklaerte NachtPelleas und MelisandeGurrelieder, Monn Cello ConcertoTheme and Variations or Suite for String Orchestra, or even the Brahms or Bach orchestrations, that “subscription renewals drop like a paralyzed falcon”?  Do Mr. and Mrs. Average really appreciate Stravinsky’s Le Sacre de Printemps and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra more than Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphonies One and Two?

Ah, Eddins might say, you are not mentioning the more difficult works like Five Pieces for Orchestra or the twelve-tone Variations for OrchestraViolin Concerto or Piano Concerto.  But that’s the whole point.  Eddins doesn’t differentiate those works in his post either.  He writes, about all of it, “this music does not seem to speak to most people’s souls.”  Really?  All of it?

The real problem is that audiences have been prejudiced against ALL music by Schoenberg, as if they are required to like and appreciate every note.  It is an impossible standard, especially for the “average” music-lover who only wants a certain type of music (one that he is familiar with). Do Mr. and Mrs. Average need to avoid Petrouschka because they won’t like the Requiem Canticles?

Schoenberg goes in many other directions (as do Stravinsky, Bartok and Ives), and that puts some people off.  As Schoenberg explained in his brief note:

My music is supposedly not emotional.
Of course, it is not: “Oh, darling! You are so wonderful; I love you so much.”
There are also other kinds of love, for instance Alberich’s, Monostaten’s, Don Juan’s but also Petrarca’s (not expecting early reward).
There are also different kinds of emotion.
There is jealousy, hatred, enthusiasm.
There is love of ideals, of virtues, of one’s country, town or village and its inhabitants.
There is not only joy,
There is also sadness, mourning, pity and envy.
There is also anger;
There is contempt, pride, devotion, madness, fear, panic, courage, admiration.
Love of justice, of honesty, of good manners.
Love of good food and drinks and of the beauty of nature; of animals, flowers and exotic stones.
Love of a bird’s song and of competitive games.

No need for Schoenberg to apologize.  It really is not his fault. Eddins and his ilk, preaching prejudice to the uninformed, are what is hurting classical music.

100 Years of Pierrot Lunaire

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, op. 21.  Predictably, there have been a number of performances and fine articles, such as this one by Joseph Auner in the Boston Globe.  The work was composed between March 12 and July 9, 1912 and the first performance took place on October 9, 1912 in Berlin with the actress Albertine Zehme, who inspired the piece, as the first interpreter of the role.  There are many fine websites discussing the work.  See, for example, Todd Tarantino. You can also listen to many interpretations on youtube, including this old recording conducted by the composer.

Of course, the 100-year-hoopla is already starting for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which was premiered in Paris on May 29, 1913.  It would be interesting to see a study of the comparative reception of these two landmark works.  One unexplored avenue, I think, is how the premiere of Stravinsky’s work became known as “one of the most famous classical music riots in history.”  It actually was preceded by the infamous Skandalkonzert of March 31, 1913, where Schoenberg conducted works by Webern, Zemlinsky, Schoenberg and Berg in the Great Hall of the Vienna Musikverein.  The concert was supposed to conclude with a song from Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, but the rioting during Berg’s Altenberglieder ended the concert.  People actually rushed the stage to assault Schoenberg as he conducted.  Wikipedia has a page on classical music riots that does not even mention the Skandalkonzert.  The Vienna riot was reported widely, also in Paris, and must have influenced the audience reaction to Stravinsky’s ballet.  But I have never seen anyone really explore that connection.

 

Schönberg Center Summer Academy

The Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna hosts a Summer Academy for students, organized by  Severine Neff.  Megen Eagen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill posted a nice blog about her experience.  One of the goals of the Center is to promote scholarship, and these seminars are a great way to introduce students to the Schoenberg archives.  Some can then go on to apply for a research grant sponsored by the Avenir Foundation.

Summer vacation update

We’ve been traveling for almost a week now — from Las Vegas to Zion to Bryce and now Park City. A great trip so far, with memorable hikes and incredible sights. I had not been on this route since our family trip in 1976.

I was impressed with the drive to Las Vegas, which was nicer than I expected. The groves of yucca trees were spectacular. The outside temp reached 112 degrees as we passed through Baker, California — probably the hottest place on earth at that moment (or second to Death Valley to the north) because the sun was already down on all the other world hot spots on the other side of the globe.

We stayed at the Four Seasons, which is really just the top 5 floors of the Mandalay Bay, a hotel right at the beginning of the famous Las Vegas strip. On arrival we wet out to the water park outside. Joey was crushed to learn that he was not yet tall enough to go into the wave pool. Eventually, all the kids went into the Lazy River and had a blast. We then segued to the Four Season’s pool and ordered food form the restaurant so we could eat by the pool outside.

After the kids and Pam went to sleep, I snuck down to the casino. It was intimidating at first. The last time I was at a casino was in 1991 on my post bar exam trip when I quickly lost $40 in Monet Carlo. This time I gave myself $500 to lose. It took a while, but I wandered around and found the poker tables. I was shown to a seat at a table and bought $300 in chips. A nice guy next to me helped me get comfortable with some of the rules, which were not too different than the ones at our friendly neighborhood poker game. I had lousy cards for the first several times around the table, and so either did not play, or played and lost, until I was down about $200. I bought another $200 in chips to give me enough to play with, and spent the rest of the night clawing my way back. When I left the tables at 12:30, I was down $64, which included giving about $10 in tips. So not too bad for my first time playing poker in Las Vegas.

On Monday we left Las Vegas, gawking at all the crazy hotels on the strip, and headed to Zion National Park. I didn’t remember much from our trip to Zion in 1976, when I was 9 years old. Mainly just the Weeping Rock and being not so impressed. This time the canyon was more memorable. The red cliffs on both sides change colors throughout the day. Maybe we did not stay long enough last time. But we had two nights this time, so a full day to really appreciate the dramatic scenery. Rather than the Weeping Rock, we decided to hike the Riverside Walk to the Narrows.

The starting point is the end of the tram line. Droves of people do this short hike, and many then continue on into the Narrows, as the canyon walls move in and you are forced to wade up the river. Pam didn’t want to get her shoes wet, but the kids and I waded across twice so we could go up a little bit. I am sure the kids will remember this hike and Zion.

On Wednesday we went to Bryce Canyon, which I did remember loving as a kid. But maybe it was just the adventure of having out brand new Buick Century station wagon break down, and getting to ride with my dad in the tow truck for 100 miles to the nearest place that could fix it. (I still remember the chili cheese dog I had while we waited for the car to be fixed.) This time our rented black Suburban didn’t have any problems. By the way, speaking of eating, on the way from Bryce to Zion we stopped for lunch at the Adobe Cafe in Hatch (any relation to the Senator?) and everyone loved the food (which doesn’t happen often when we’re on the road). Anyway, Bryce Canyon is just as amazing as I remembered. Pictures just cannot do it justice. We stayed, as in Zion, in the park Lodge in old cabins with two connecting rooms.

On Thursday, we hiked down into the canyon. Every person we met at the Lodge gave us advice on which direction to go. Problem was, they gave the opposite advice. One said to go clockwise; the next counterclockwise. So I chose to go clockwise, starting with the walk down to the Queen’s Garden from Sunrise Point.  The hike down from there is less steep and so we enjoyed the gradual descent into the canyon.  After resting in the Queen’s Garden, we headed on toward the very steep climb up to Sunset Point.  But while we were still going down, Joey had a sit-down strike and I was worried we’d never make it back out.  I finally was able to get him out of his funk by asking what he would do to survive if we stayed down there overnight (which was what he had decided he wanted to do, rather than go up).  He then regaled me with survival tactics he had learned in repeated viewings of Alvin and the Chipmunks — Chipwrecked, including using his glasses to start a fire.  That got him going and by the end he very literally beat me to the top of the rim of the canyon.

Yesterday, we drove form Bryce up to Park City.  A big fire south of Salt Lake City made everything all smoggy, even up to Park City.  I had been here for skiing around 1979 or 1980, but did not remember anything about the town, which is really charming.  We’re staying in a nice condominium at the bottom of Main Street.  Dora and I walked up to the top and then stopped for ice cream at Java Cow on the way down.  There’s some big Republican get-together with presidential candidate Mitt Romney, so we’re probably the only democrats in town.  I wonder if they all know that there’s no chance he can win?

Today Pam and the kids want an easy rest day.  With the smoke from the fires, it doesn’t make sense to go hiking anyway.  Tomorrow we head to Yellowstone, my first time.

Hilary Hahn wants your “tone rows”

The violinist Hilary Hahn posted a video asking people to submit “tone rows” for some as yet unrevealed purpose related to her Encores Contest, ending June 15.  I am using her announcement to experiment with embedding a video on this blog.

I wonder if she will want an all-interval twelve-tone row.  I wrote my Princeton thesis in 1988 on some attempts to classify those.  Wikipedia says “There are 3,856 distinct all-interval twelve-tone rows.”  (A row is not distinct if it is just a transposition up or down of another row, so for each of these there are actually 11 others.)  In fact, if you remove the inversions, you get 1,928, a finding of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg and Malvin Ferentz from 1965.  In my thesis I described several further operations that allowed me to reduce the number of distinct all-interval twelve-tone row generators to just 286.  The total number of all-interval 12-tone rows is 46,272 and the total number of twelve-tone rows of any type is 12! or 479,001,600.

Settlers

I attended the farewell party for the German Consul General Wolfgang Drautz yesterday.  Drautz was extremely friendly and interested in cultural affairs.  I will miss him.  At the party I met the president of the local Donauschwaben society.  The Donauschwaben (Danube Swabians) were Germans settlers in the Kingdom of Hungary, residing largely along the Danube river.  As a result of wars between the Ottomans Turksand the Habsburgs, the area was devastated, and so following the defeat of the Turks, the Habsburgs invited German-speaking settlers to repopulate areas of Hungary.  These settlers founded communities throughout the region, ultimately numbering about 500,000 by the 1930s.  My ggg-grandmother Irma Resch was a descendant of one of these communities in Kula (now in Serbia).  Many of the Donauschwaben were dispossessed and expelled from Hungary after World War II.  Many simply fled, including the parents of my aunt Anne.

David Schulman has an article in the New York Review of Books “Israel in Peril” that discusses Israel’s more recent problem with settlements.  He describes very movingly the harshness of Israeli actions removing electricity apparatus for West Bank Palestinians residing in huts and caves, allegedly on the grounds that they were unlicensed.  It is a sympathetic story.  But it reminded me of one of my principle complaints regarding how Israel treats the non-Jewish populations inside Israel, which demonstrates the opposite side of the problem.  As I understand it, in many Palestinian villages within Israel (not the West Bank), the Palestinians are given a good deal of autonomy. Often this results in local “chieftans” running the towns, sometimes in a corrupt fashion, while Israeli authorities look the other way.  As a result, Israeli construction and safety codes are largely unenforced in these parts of Israel, and it shows.  So, the problem discussed by Schulman, as with most issues, has two sides.  When Israel is too strict in applying its construction codes, it is accused of relegating Palestinians to living in caves without electricity.  When it is too lax, it is condemned for allowing Arab Israelis to live in substandard housing, denying them the protection of Israeli law.  A classic Catch-22.

Settlements and ethnic struggles are not unique to Israel, although Israel does get most of the world’s attention these days.  I like to point out that in 1947-48, at the same time as Israel’s war of independence, the Partition of India and creation of Pakistan resulted in the dislocation of between 10 and 12 million people, as Muslims flocked to one side, and Hindi to the other.  A few years earlier, about 2.4 million ethnic Germans (Sudentendeutsch) were expelled from Czechoslovakia.  And I mentioned the Germans in Hungary (Donauschwaben) already.  The world is mostly silent about these and other population transfers in the 1940s.

I agree with Israel’s internal critics like Schulman that the country could use a dose of reality when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians.  But the rest of the world could too.  How is it possible, for example, that no country recognizes Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel.  The city was supposed to be an international “free city” according to the original 1947 UN partition plan, but that plan was rejected by the Arabs states, who declared war on Israel in 1948.  Israel then occupied and ultimately annexed West Jerusalem, building its capitol there.  The city had already had a Jewish majority since well before 1900.  In the 1967 war, Israel occupied and annexed the rest of the city. But so far no country has been willing to recognize Israeli sovereignty over even West Jerusalem.  The U.S. even refuses to move its embassy to West Jerusalem, despite a 1995 law approving the move.  And it won’t allow a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem to say “Jerusalem, Israel” on his passport (the subject of a recent US Supreme Court decision in a case brought by my friend Alyza Lewin.)

Lack of a realistic approach to Jerusalem by the rest of the world has destroyed any chance for realism in Israeli politics.  There is simply no possible “solution” to the Arab-Israel problem that would not keep at least West Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.  And yet no country in the world is willing to recognize that reality.  It is time for the United States to stop playing games and to take some of the pawns (like recognition of Israel’s 1948 annexation of West Jerusalem) off the table, so that the Israelis and Palestinians can focus on the real issues of settling final borders.  As long as the US and the rest of the world hold on to the fantasy that the status of West Jerusalem is still up in the air, there’s no sense in criticizing Israel or the Palestinians for being unserious.

With West Jerusalem’s status officially resolved by the international community, it would hardly take a few months for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resolve the rest of their issues.  Will it be peaceful when the territory issues are resolved?  Probably not.  But then India and Pakistan aren’t always so peaceful either.  But if Czechoslovakia and Hungary are examples, even massive population transfers accompanied by expropriations can be generally accepted over time if the international community accepts the facts of the situation.  It is time for the world to approach Israel like it did Hungary, Czechoslovakia and India, and allow everyone to move on.

Politicos everywhere

We must be on every list, because we are getting inundated with telephone calls from all sorts of political groups.  But a bit unusual today, I got a solicitation call out of the blue from Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, himself, and then an hour later Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and his wife knocked on our front door because he’s campaigning for State Assembly. Turns out McNerney was a math major, which makes me like him. Bloom I knew and liked already, so I let him put a sign on our front lawn. Not every day we get face and phone time with some good politicians.