Thursday, 15 August 2013


Listening to Schoenberg at the moment. A composer I wasn't previously aware of, which I'm sure says more about me than him. I've recently discovered his existence courtesy of an article in Five Dials. Five Dials is a curious magazine which rather reminds me of the magazines of a hundred years ago - The early Strand and All the Year Round. An admixture of features, journalism, cartoons, short stories and articles which assume a reasonable amount of intelligence on the part of the reader. This article was on twelve tone music, and mentioned Alban Berg and Schoenberg. 
It also quoted Yehudi Menuhin talking about Schoenberg thus. ‘There isn’t great contrast – intervallic contrast – between dissonance and consonance . . . So the only contrast there could be is between sound and no sound, and that is probably where there are so many pauses.'

But the really interesting thing was the simile Menuhin used to describe this music. ‘There is a curious dis­crepancy between the gesture and the words. It’s as if you’d taken the words apart of, say, a play like Hamlet, and mere­ly strung together an arbitrary sequence of syllables that had no meaning as such, but the rhythm and the gesture of the play were copied absolutely, so that the per­son who knew the play would recognize where the love scene takes place, and the ghost, and so on.’

Because I personally think that could make a very, very good play. Somewhat challenging for the actors, having to learn lines with no meaning, although the fact a great deal of Hamlet is in iambic pentameter might give something to lock onto – just as we were taught Frere Jacques as children without being able to distinguish any one particular word.

And this is the point at which I wonder whether the use of Iambic Pentameter in the theatre was in part a device for helping actors remember long speeches. As well as a subtle hint as to mental state and/or status. 

And my own opinion on Schoenberg? That it sounds like cinema music to me, as if it needs a visual element to be complete. I'll listen to a few more pieces, but I can't see myself coming back regularly to this composer.

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