Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Lou Harrison on Arnold Schoenberg

He was a lovely and delicate man, very nervous when airplanes flew over U.C.L.A.; who once hushed us, too, in order to hear a bird outside.

(...) When I was about to leave for New York, he asked me why I was going there and I replied that I did not really know. "I know why you are going," he said. "You are going for fame and fortune. Good luck! And, do not study anymore — only Mozart!"

(from the preface to Harrison's fine Suite for Piano, C.F. Peters.)


Anonymous said...

Most of us would agree that Mozart did a very good job with most of his works, but Schoenberg's advice seems a little misplaced ("study Mozart!").

Mozart's Cavatina (Barbarina's aria) from Figaro, one of the most powerful works of art, known to man, looks so simple ON PAPER, you could almost see it as an insult to art, if you didn't know it was Mozart.

Conversely, Schoenberg looks impeccable on paper, but the very ouput, which, after all, is everything that matters, is so disturbing that you keep wondering of he may have violated all applicable aesthetic laws, codified or otherwise.

Look, I think we really need to start taking Schoenberg at face value, for one who he really was and still is, to most of us - a great leader, a team-builder, someone who could transcend the "cubicle" of limited, self-sufficient modes of expression.

When I tried taking private composition lessons some time ago, my tutor, a recent graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, now a duly licensed instructor of counterpoint at another institution, said: "OK, we'll study composition using THIS". And he handed me Schoenberg's book on composition.

I looked at the mad expression of the man on the cover page and I said: "Look, I'm not studying composition from a book written by THIS man".

And he said "RELAX, most examples and principles are derived from Beethoven".

And I said, "It's important WHO is reverse-engineering interpreting Beethoven's process, if there ever was one".

We could not agree on using the text-book, and he said "ok, I give up, but I'll try again later." In the meantime, let's study some strict counterpoint. Actually, it was really interesting, but I could feel he was SO irritated with the whole idea of teaching, I eventually quit, after some hesitation.

It's interesting to learn theory from a composer, because he or she has a composer's (generative vs passive) view of a score and how music is made.

But,as for Mozart, I don't really think he was constructing music in that sense, it was probably some kind of flow, somehow hitting the golden proportion.

As Akhmatova said, poetry is about two things - talent and mystery.

Charles Shere said...

But lou doesnt say scbg said study mozart. He said only mozart.

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