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,”

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