No, it is not just the fabulous hair, stern look, and hip glasses. As I have studied the music and lives of the Second-Viennese-School composers over the past month, I have been pleasantly surprised by a few discoveries. The first being: Schoenberg writes expansive and lyrical vocal lines! Listening to his early songs (especially with orchestra) or even his Pelleas und Melisande, one can easily mistake the work for that of Richard Strauss. The sweep, the grandness, and the (heavy) orchestration all speak to the links between Schoenberg/Strauss and Wagner/Beethoven, the apparent, direct lineage.
This week, I have been focussing on Webern, however: reading the 800-page biography by Hans Moldenhauer. (Quite the tome to tote around. And I have been accused of reading a Harry Potter book. Excusez-moi?) As it turns out, Webern's experiences (and travails) as a composer, seem to mirror my own. And , while I am struggling at the moment to keep myself positive with regard to a career in composition and forcing myself to acknowledge the bigger picture rather than fretting over minutiae, I take comfort in the fact that another composer, whose music I revere, struggled as much.
Below are some quotes and interesting parallels between our lives:
First, Webern issues the same complaint in 1902 that I hear many of my colleagues declare today:
"Now the concert season roars with terrible force! Mostly miserable programmes [sic]! Every concert over-crowded with people who applaud after each number, not caring whether it is good or bad. Probably, nay certainly, the people can no longer perceive any difference. Their taste is continually corrupted by miserable programmes and witchcraft virtuosi."
Ok, I definitely felt this at a recent concert that I thought was good, but did not warrant the sudden, almost violent, thrust to a standing ovation (those older patrons are surprisingly agile) at the end of every piece. I feel no obligation to stand - and I can withstand glares, from young and old, so save them for someone else.
Now, who knew that Webern worked in the theatre? Not I! Here are some of his reflections on these jobs. I've said or thought all of them at one point or another.
"My activities have been horrible. I find no words to describe such a theatre. May the world be rid of such trash! What benefit would be done to mankind if all operettas, farces, and folk-plays were destroyed. Then it would no longer occur to anyone that such 'art work' had to be produced at any price. It is enough to drive one mad."
"Mahler remark[ed] that I should not go to theatre since I would not find time to compose. I cannot get this out of my head anymore."
Thanks, Gus. Words of wisdom.
"I would flee a theatre such as the one where I am at present as if it were a place infested with the plague, and now I myself must help to stir the sauce. Often I am ashamed, I appear to myself like a criminal even collaborating in this hell-hole of mankind. I can hardly await my deliverance from this morass."
Speaking of the necessity to work at such jobs while neglecting his writing he said:
"I maintain almost unshakably the stand of wanting to dedicate my work exclusively to my compositions. I could entirely forswear every worldly position. If I could only halfway find subsistence in any kind of job that does not take me away from composition, wholly and completely, for months on end. As it is, one must kill off what wants to come forth. This is the difficulty, and it makes me very unhappy."
(Disclaimer: This does not reflect my personal feeling about EVERY theatre job I have undertaken. If you are reading this, I am NOT talking about you.)
As I get (ahem) older, I become more and more aware of the gulf between my age (as if I would ever reveal my REAL age) and the ages of my colleagues who are at the same stage in career as I. Here are some of Webern's similar reactions:
Regarding Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who shot to stardom
at age 13(!):
"Publishers, performances–the boy has everything. I will become old before that."
Webern was 27 at the time.
The next year, while working in the theatre, Webern again felt despondent:
"Am I thus to spend all my years–feeling redeemed each evening that another day has passed? Does this make any sense? I am growing old and am nothing and have nothing and accomplish nothing, or better, cannot accomplish anything."
Yep, I think I have said something similar weekly for the past...well, a lot of years.
I have been entering a TON of contests and commissioning competitions over the past three years. With almost no success. Some second places. Mostly no word at all. They take the $100 entry fee (plus the exorbitant cost to print, bind, and ship a score) and run! Ah well. I'll leave you with Webern's Five Sacred Songs, op. 15, which he sent into the Berkshire Chamber Music Composition Contest in 1924 and LOST! Didn't even place. Who won? I guess that is something to research.