Monthly Archives: July 2012

Condoleezza

The blogosphere is abuzz with rumors that Mitt Romney is considering former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.  Leaving her politics aside — and her chances of being picked do seem slim — Rice would probably be the most musically educated candidate since Richard Nixon.  She is an excellent pianist and her favorite composer is Brahms. As she explained in an interview with Denver University Today in 2010:

DU: I’d like to read you a quote from The New York Times. It’s from an interview with you. The quote is, “I love Brahms because Brahms is actually structured. And he’s passionate without being sentimental. I don’t like sentimental music, so I tend not to like Liszt, and I don’t actually much care for the Russian romantics Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, where it’s all on the sleeve. With Brahms it’s restrained, and there’s a sense of tension that never resolves.” Do you still feel that way?

Rice: Oh absolutely. Johannes Brahms is by far my favorite composer. It is in part because he was a great classicist, but he was also pushing music toward the 20th century. Brahms died in 1897, he was only 64 years old, and I often wonder what it would have been like if Brahms had lived to be part of the explosion of atonal music and the new music of Schoenberg and Webern that come only a couple of decades later, less than two decades later. So I’m a great fan of Brahms as a classicist, the true heir to Bach and Beethoven, but also because his music is spectacularly beautiful, but not sentimental. I don’t like music that wears its emotions on its sleeve, and you’ll never find that with Brahms.

I’ve been aware of Rice’s musical tastes since at least 1998, when she took part in a Time Magazine Person of the Century panel and suggested she would pick Arnold Schoenberg. But Time Magazine let Philip Glass pick Stravinsky as the musical entry on the list.

Schoenberg on the auction block

Sotheby’s will be auctioning off a copy of the Second String Quartet, Op. 10.  The signed manuscript is estimated at $150,000 to $184,000.

Signed Autograph Manuscript of Arnold Schoenberg’s String Quartet (op.10) This landmark work in Schoenberg’s oeuvre, and in 20th century music as a whole, broke with string quartet tradition by introducing a soprano voice to the last two movements. This manuscript is the cornerstone of Schoenberg’s development of atonality: In the fourth movement, Schoenberg for the first time dispenses with the use of key signatures. Schoenberg composed the work in 1908 during the troubled period marked by his wife Mathilde’s affair with their mutual friend, the artist Richard Gerstl. Schoenberg’s reconciliation with his wife led to Gerstl’s suicide, and Schoenberg soberly dedicated this quartet to his wife (Meiner Frau). Weakened by the trials of World War One war, Mathilde spent the last weeks of her life at Auersperg Sanatorium; the Seybert family invited Schoenberg and his closest relatives to stay with them so as to be close to her. After Mathilde’s death in October 1923, Schoenberg gave them this well-preserved copy of his second quartet in gratitude for their hospitality (est. €100,000-150,000/ $122,800-184,100).

Some of the above-mentioned “history” of the quartet has been debunked by Raymond Coffer on his site devoted to Richard Gerstl.

Secondly, the website provides compelling evidence of the extent to which Mathilde’s infidelity was represented in Schönberg’s works from the time. In particular, it examines in great detail the history of Schönberg’s composition of his Second String Quartet, in whose fourth movement, Entrueckung, the composer is generally considered to have crossed the line to atonality for the first time.

Schönberg completed the work during July and early August 1908 while staying in Preslgütl (right), a waterside farmhouse in the stunning lakeside resort of Gmunden that he had rented for his family’s summer vacation. Here, on the eastern banks of the Traunsee, he had been joined by his studenst and friends, including Gerstl. However, a couple of weeks after Schönberg had completed the composition, Gerstl and Mathilde were discovered in flagrante delicto, possibly in Gerstl’s own holiday farmhouse. Shocked by his wife’s betrayal, Schönberg summarily rejected her pleas, upon which the two lovers fled from Gmunden back to Vienna.

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that this juxtaposition of events should have prompted a raft of scholarly musicological conjecture that has somewhat questionably concluded that not only had Schönberg represented his emotions regarding the affair in his Second String Quartet, but that Mathilde’s infidelity had acted as the catalyst for his historic leap to atonality. Such speculation, however, is firmly refuted by the timeline established within this research, which strongly indicates that, rather than events in Gmunden having had an influence on Schönberg’s startling musical development in his Second String Quartet, there may have been other powerful factors that caused him to write atonally for the first time.

Postscript: Nuria points out that the Seybert family were the parents of the photographer Lisette Model, who was a friend of Trudi Schönberg. Lisette studied music with Schoenberg in 1920-21. She later wrote, “If ever in my life I had one teacher and one great influence, it was Schönberg,”

Eddins Steps In It Again

Bill Eddins, the music director fo the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, was pilloried on his own blog for his earlier post (It’s Schoenberg’s Fault!).  Undeterred, he posted a second blog (No One Expects the 12-Tone Inquisition!) now claiming that he was being attacked for challenging “orthodoxy” and attacking a “sacred cow” by suggesting that the music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern was responsible for a supposed lack of interest in classical music among the general public.

The new blog is almost as incoherent as the first (and does not deal with my prior blog on the topic).  In the end, Eddins backtracks a bit from his original posting, even claiming that his title was just a tongue-in-cheek attempt to be provocative.

Of course, no one can blame Shoenberg [sic] for the current crisis in classical music, anymore than one can blame Queen Elizabeth II for the fact that no British born man has won Wimbledon since 1936. . . . But that was never the point of my post, and it is very, very interesting that this was understood immediately in the social media world yet almost completely mistaken on the “serious” side.  The point was, and is, that there are way too many sacred cows in this business. Orthodoxy is very, very bad for religion, nationalism, and art.

Oh, sorry we misunderstood.

Eddins’ main problem is that he’s just not smart enough.  Sorry, that’s the real sacred cow.  It’s a truism that the smarter people are, the more they are able to appreciate new and difficult music (or new and difficult anything).  And people who aren’t that smart, generally don’t like smart people telling them that they aren’t smart.

Apparently it is ok for someone like Eddins to denigrate the entire output of a composer like Schoenberg, but it is not ok for someone to challenge Eddins’ opinion and point out the logical errors in his argument.  So, for example, Eddins takes issue with those who pointed out that his repetition of the myth that “In the width and breadth of this mighty land the universities and colleges during this era were the bastions of the Dodecaphonists” was simply not true, according to the recent statistical study by Joseph Straus (The Myth of Serial “Tyranny” in the 1950s and 1960s).  The comprehensive study can be ignored, apparently, because Eddins himself once witnessed a member of a faculty at the school he attended “deriding” a student for writing a melody.  “It was depressing in the extreme,” he writes.  No doubt.  No one likes being told by an authority that they aren’t talented or smart enough.  And the standard defense is to challenge the authority as “elitist,” as if that epithet can explain away the pupil’s deficiencies.

Here’s his new explanation of why Eddins thinks people don’t like classical music:

However, I can’t count how many times I have gotten into a conversation with someone who no longer attends classical music concerts because they were made to feel uncomfortable expressing a negative opinion about the music they were listening to.  Because they didn’t like what they heard, and they happened to not be “experts” on music, their feelings were denigrated.  Herein lies the worse aspect of orthodoxy – the inability to understand or give creedence to an opposing point of view without denigrating it with attacks or arguments of a condescendingly personal nature.

According to Eddins, music is a “very personal choice” that apparently has nothing to do with training, education and innate intelligence.  So, I suppose it is perfectly appropriate for someone who lacks all three qualities to denigrate a piece of music, or even a composer’s entire output. Not only appropriate, but the lay critic can then be offended if someone with more training, education and intelligence challenges his opinion.  Imagine if this were true in physics, and Mr. and Mrs. Average could say “I just don’t like relativity and that whole quantum physics thing.  Newtonian physics was better.  Down with the ‘sacred cow’ of new science. If only scientists would stop talking about the Higgs Boson, I would pay attention to science again.”  And if anyone dared to point out the problems with Mr. Average’s views, he would say

It doesn’t mean that the [science] we dislike is evil, but rather it is not for us. It also doesn’t mean that the [science] we like is good.  However, I can’t count how many times I have gotten into a conversation with someone who no longer attends [science lectures] because they were made to feel uncomfortable expressing a negative opinion about the [science] they were listening to.  Because they didn’t like what they heard, and they happened to not be “experts” on [science], their feelings were denigrated.  Herein lies the worse aspect of orthodoxy – the inability to understand or give creedence to an opposing point of view without denigrating it with attacks or arguments of a condescendingly personal nature.

Mr. Eddins, we all “understand” your point of view.  You have an inferiority complex. Sorry if that’s a personal argument.  Sort of like blaming your own inability to connect with audiences on my grandfather is personal.