A.Schönberg: op.16,18,40, Kaiserwalzer                                Ars Musici 1344-2

Text: Peter Hirsch

                 End of the World
                 The hat flies from the pointed head of the citizen,
                 It resounds like a scream in all the winds,
                 Roofers fall and break in two,
                 And on the coasts, one reads, the floods rise.

                 The storm is there; the wild seas jump
                 On land to crush the large dikes.
                 Almost everybody has the sniffles.
                 The trains fall from the bridges.
                 (J.van Hoddis)

5 Orchestral Pieces op.16

Music on the eve of World War I: „Vorgefühle“ („Anticipations“): but of what? It is as if the piece is searching for a language that still must find its way to itself with several haltings and resigned attemps, as it were. What it finally throws out, explosion-like, from within itself has nothing joyful about it; anticipations as premonitions; alarming, catastrophic, terse. How does one write something like this in 1909? And what does it „mean“? It is the continuation of Mahler‘s legacy at a time in which he was still alive, and simultaneously a vision of the twentieth century far beyond 1914-18. „Peripetie“ („Peripeteia“): the jagged lines of a newly recharged chromaticism show the sudden change as a turn toward the catastrophe. It is already almost a music „after“, and at the same time so „right in the middle of it“ that it still shocks to the present day, almost a hundred years later; rare evidence of a permanent avantgarde. Between the conciseness of these pieces, „Vergangenes“ (The Past“) is comparable in length and gesture to a Mahler Adagio. However: Even from within the iridescent sounds of this island of memory, something menacing shines through again and again. The concluding „Obligate Rezitativ („obbligato recitative“) can only be a waltz!

Die glückliche Hand op.18

The synopsis of this „for the most part symbolic“ drama of an artist, written by Schoenberg himself: the „man“ lies on the ground. A cat-like mythical creature sits on the back of his neck. A chorus, of whose faces one sees almost only the eyes, warns him: „Quiet, be silent; ...can you not finally find peace?... You know, it is always the same thing ... Must you fall for it again? ... Believe reality: ... Again and again you believe the dream... you attach your yearning to the unattainable... You who has the divine within yourself longs for the worldly! ... You poor fellow!“ - The man courts a „young, beautiful woman“: „Oh, you! You good woman! ... How beatiful you are! I am so happy because you are with me! I am alive again!“ He does not notice that she is under the sway of a „noble gentleman“. After his hand touches her‘s he again feels power and inspiration growing within himself and stares, without noticing her disappearence, at his hand: „Now I possess you for ever!“ - In a grotto he forges a precious diadem in that he hurls a heavy hammer down with such force onto a nugget of gold that the anvil bursts under it: „In that manner one makes jewellery“! Subsequently, the stage changes color in a „crescendo of light and storm“, via a dirty green and a violet, from which in turn an intensive dark red splitts off, ultimately to a garish yellow. (Each of these developments is indicated measure for measure in the score; the music evokes the events on stage in addition to commenting upon them. Schoenberg called it „making music with the means of the stage“.) - The man attemps once again to win the love of the woman - „Lovely lady -remain with me!“ - but is repulsed by her and accopanied by derisive laughter, sinks to the ground at the same place as at the beginning. The chorus again, now accusingly stern: „Did you have to experience again what you have experienced so often? .. Can you not do without? ... You attempt to grip what can only slip away from you when you hold it... And you search anyway! And torture yourself! And are restless! You poor fellow!“
In a talk about his piece Schoenberg remarked in 1928: „A happy hand that does not hold what it promises!“ What does the so ardently happy hand actually promise? Or rather: What does it hold  - in its hand, if not the art that it promises to be, thus itself? Beyond the symbolic personality profile of an artist, this is above all a far-seeing score with open, glassy stare. In the ‚light crescendo‘ - which indeed is nothing else than „juwellery“ in the sense of art work, and here the composition of an orchestral piece of ca. two minutes duration - the music strives toward a vision that in its glare (of sound as well as light) promises only destruction.
In „Die Glückliche Hand“, like nowhere else, Schoenberg exposes his repeatedly re-analysed „Sprechgesang“ („speech-song“) to up to three-part chordal progressions and counterpoint. The question, open for decades already, as to the sound of this manner of speaking, which in the first scene of „Die Glückliche Hand“ is also a whisper, finds at the least a radical answer in this recording: spoken is spoken, and whispered is whispered! We are therefore dealing with spoken and whispered chords whose entirely distingishable pitches consciously step back behind the tonal characteristic of speech. Not only a new quality of transparancy is attained through this, but of credibility as well.

Variations on a Recitative for organ, op.40

The musical proximity to the „Ode to Napoleon“ links the Variations with those pieces from the American period that combine a confirmation of tradition, the self-established as well as the musical-historical one, with the protest against fascism. The dark, oppressive inflection of the recitative belongs to the situation of the elderly Schoenberg in exile, as does the almost obsessively appelative emphasis at the end of the fugue. From among the composers of the Viennese school, it devolved upon him, the eldest, to have to reconcile the contradictions between fundamental change and tradition within his own self. The end of an epoch, of the „k.u.k“ monarchy, marked by World War I and seemingly foreseen in op.16: Schoenberg now sees it, almost thirty years later, from the observation post of the New World, develop into the decline of the Old World.

Kaiser Waltz

In 1921, Schoenberg‘s ‚Society for Private Musical Performances‘ which usually organized performances of modern music held an „special concert“ with arrangements of Johann Strauss waltzes: Inspired by the succes of this evening Schoenberg followed up four years later with the transcription of the „Kaiser Waltz“. This skillful arrangement makes the „Kaiser Waltz“ into both chamber music and symphonic poem. Already in the introduction Schoenberg lets himself go with all possible neighbouring tones and sounds, from piano clusters that imitade the side drum to a quotation of the ‚Emperor‘s Hymn‘ the melody of which at the time still had the text „God save Franz the Emperor“ and that Schoenberg inserted into his own contrapuntal net of small gestures and motives in and around Strauss‘ music. At the end of the piece, in the coda, the short return of the quotation transfigures the waltz in Schoenberg‘s version into a farewell to an epoch.