Arnold Schoenberg: Music and Modernism
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Arnold Schoenberg revolutionized Western music. Beginning as a Romantic composer influenced by Brahms and Wagner, Schoenberg in mid-career dispensed with tonality—the foundation of Western music since the 17th century—to produce works of arresting, disquieting originality. His experiments in atonality and serialism, Schoenberg believed, were the next great step in musical history, sweeping away the accumulated “kitsch” of a decadent culture and creating in its place a musical language that was pure, unsentimental, and expressive of a fractious, disillusioned, modern civilization. What is atonality? What is serial (also known as 12-tone) music? Why did Schoenberg’s innovations captivate three generations of composers, from his disciples Alban Berg and Anton Webern to postwar masters like 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’s 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 we’ll 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 works, 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