Friends—and enemies—of “new music” will perhaps find it amusing that it was on today’s date that Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg arrived in America, when the liner “Ile de France” docked in New York in 1933.
Schoenberg arrived in the company of his wife, their 17-month-old daughter Nuria, and a little terrier named “Witz”—which in German, means “Joke.” For the benefit of the American press, Schoenberg explained this was because the dog was “so very comic.”
For the benefit of its readers, a 1933 issue of Musical America magazine described Schoenberg as: “the despair of conservatives, the hope of radicals” and “the arch-priest of atonality.” The Nazis had fired Schoenberg from his teaching post at the Prussian Academy of Arts, and he’d come to American to teach at a school in Boston.
In 1934, Schoenberg moved to Los Angeles, where he taught Californian junior college students, played tennis with George Gershwin, and continued to compose music which Time magazine described as “so complicated that only he and a couple of other fellows understand what it’s about.”
Despite his reputation as a radical, Schoenberg saw himself as a conservative, whose harmonic innovations would help maintain the traditional dominance of German music; and, despite his fame as the inventor of a strict 12-tone “method,” Schoenberg wrote: “As a composer, I must believe in inspiration rather than mechanics.”
Even so, 50-plus years after his death in 1951, just seeing the name “Schoenberg” on a concert program is still enough to give some concertgoers a good scare!
Music Played in Today's Program
Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)Violin Concerto, Op 36Zvi Zeitlin, violin; Bavarian Radio Symphony; Rafael Kubelik, cond.DG 431 740