Sunday 20 June 2010

Schoenberg and Slightly More Than 100 Years of Wilful Ignorance

Schoenberg; Table tennis because Wimbledon starts tomorrow (table tennis and tennis are basically the same right? What? You mean I have to look it up?)

I suppose the great man wouldn't be surprised, over 100 years on from his (partial) break with the tonal system and people still think he's 'difficult'. So much so that often they don't even bother to do basic research when passing comment about his work as is unfortunately the case with a recent article about John Williams Luther Adams in The Observer online.

According to Peter Conrad (a teacher of literature apparently which makes his gaffe somewhat more forgivable I suppose)...

As a young man, John Williams Luther Adams upset the sedate peace of American symphonic music. His scores pulsed as relentlessly as the bass in a rock band, his noisy riffs repeated themselves to the point of madness. He enjoyed being childish: in Harmonielehre, a 1984 symphony that alludes to a crabby atonal textbook by Schoenberg, he imagined his infant daughter, Quackie, riding on the shoulders of the German mystic Meister Eckhart.

As is commonly known amongst people who know, stuff, about 20th century music Schoenberg's Harmonielehre is certainly not an 'atonal textbook' and Conrad wouldn't know whether or not the tone of the work is 'crabby' as he obviously hasn't read it. Not exactly an honest or learned beginning to an article.

Disappointing for the Guardian/Observer, if Tom Service were dead he'd be turning in his grave.

I'll shoot Chiggi a message about it, perhaps they can change the article and give Conrad one of those slaps on the back of the head that makes a satisfying 'thwap' sound.

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tom said...

Amazing that its 100 years since Harmonielehre, still a few years to go before 12-tone makes the ton though.

Meanwhile, I must say it's a bit crabby of you to object to single word of a review about an entirely different composer.

I think Adam's Harmonielehre is a very good piece by the way. Maybe you should give it another go yourself?

E.L. said...

Crabby possibly but I don't think pointing out a factual error in an article is unwarranted, especially when I can make a cheap point about Schoenberg.

Re the Adams piece, it's the only one of his I've heard that liked some bits of but it's been years since I heard it.

I remember liking the way there was a big crescendo a beginning, a bold move and I thought it worked. I don't think I want to listen to it again on YouTube at the moment though.

Re the Williams jibe/s, that's a reference to 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine'.