Arnold Schoenberg: Music and Modernism
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Arnold Schoenberg revolutionized Western music. Initially a composer in the vein of Brahms, Schoenberg in mid-career dispensed with tonality—the foundation of all Western music theretofore—to produce works of arresting, disquieting originality. “The next big step,” he wrote, in the progression of musical history, Schoenberg’s experiments in free atonality and, later, serialism was the attempt to sweep away the accumulated “kitsch” of decadent bourgeois culture and create in its place a musical form that was clear, unsentimental, and expressive of a fractious, disillusioned, modern civilization. What is atonality? What is the theory of serialism (i.e., 12-tone music)? Why did Schoenberg’s innovations resonate and take hold with a whole generation of composers (Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Max Reger, Pierre Boulez)? To what extent do Schoenberg’s works, and the works of his fellow Viennese Expressionists, reflect and anticipate the turbulent politics of the early twentieth century? What makes Schoenberg “modern”?
In trying to answer these questions, we will examine both Schoenberg music and his relation to other leading Viennese figures, including Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the satirist Karl Kraus. We’ll read interpretations of his music by such writers as Theodor Adorno and Thomas Mann; and use Schoenberg’s own path—from a youthful immersion in German philosophy, through his reconversion to Judaism, culminating in the messianic visions of Moses und Aron and A Survivor from Warsaw—to explore the broader ways in which the Viennese experience shaped the history of modernism in philosophy and the arts. And we will try to understand why, a century after their creation, Schoenberg’s work, and the works of his contemporaries, still have a unique power to compel and disturb.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 12 — August 02, 2018