A composer's study and celebration of a difficult but influential artist, his work, and his time
Proposing that Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) has been more discussed than heard, more tolerated than loved, composer Allen Shawn puts aside ultimate judgments about Schoenberg's place in musical history to explore the composer's fascinating world in a series of "linked essays--soundings" that are more searching than analytical, more suggestive than definitive. In an approach that is unusual for a book of an avowedly introductory character, the text plunges into the details of some of Schoenberg works, while at the same time providing a broad overview of his involvement in music, painting and the history through which he lived. Emphasizing music as an expressive art of rhythms and tones, Shawn approaches Schoenberg primarily from the listener's point of view, uncovering both the seeds of his radicalism in his early music and the traditional bases of his later work. Although liberally sprinkled with musical examples, the text can be read without them. By turns witty, personal, opinionated and instructive, "Arnold Schoenberg's Journey" is above all an appreciation of a great musical and artistic imagination in a time unlike any other.
There is not much that is reader friendly written about the great serialist composer just as many music lovers would argue that most of his music is not listener friendly. Composer Shawn has filled a real gap with this short, gracefully written introduction to the man and his music (what he disarmingly and correctly describes as "a mere handshake with its subject"). In alternating chapters that fill in the highlights of the life and encapsulate the composer's major works, Shawn helps readers listen anew to music that can be forbidding to an untutored ear; he is particularly eloquent on Pierrot Lunaire, Erwartung and Book of the Hanging Gardens, and, with his enthusiasm and judicious use of music examples, gives the composer as sympathetic a hearing as he has received in print. He also makes clear that Schoenberg was a difficult, if often admirable, man, who was deeply suspicious of others (often with reason), rigid in his beliefs, largely humorless, while at the same time principled, deeply honest and capable of great efforts in a noble cause: after he fled the Nazis to American refuge, he was tireless in his embrace of Jewish relief efforts. Shawn also examines Schoenberg's peculiar nonrelationship with Stravinsky the two great leaders of modern music virtually ignored each other for 40 years and notes the irony of the Russian's eventual conversion to the serialist persuasion. An intriguing final chapter, "Afterlife," analyzes Schoenberg's influence on his contemporaries and successors, and the course of 20th-century music.