Words, Words, Words…

Those who read to the end my report of the other day about that 1950 confrontation between Musical Opinion and Music Survey will have seen mention of Robert Donington’s strong reaction to hearing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire in the same performance that was the pretext for Clinton Gray-Fiske’s hit-piece. It was, you might remember, towards the end of the exchange that this rather personal detail was revealed. The Music Survey team’s response to the seventh and last of the original critic’s objections to their objections was as follows:

from Music Survey's Letter to the Editor, Musical Opinion, No. 871, April 1950, p. 413

from Music Survey‘s Letter to the Editor, Musical Opinion, No. 871, April 1950, p. 413

Having posted and pondered that text, I wondered if Music Survey had printed its own review of the event — something which seemed jolly likely in view of the journal’s campaigning, pro-Schoenberg stance. (In case anyone isn’t familiar with this splendidly vigorous and — in the strict sense — un-compromising post-war publication, let me point out that its degree of commitment was such that it didn’t simply review Schoenberg performances, broadcasts and recordings, but frequently reviewed other reviewers’ reviews in addition…).

musicsurveySo I went and found my own copy of the ‘New Series’ issues (which, back in 1981 appeared in the hefty form of a hardbound reprint that provided me with bedtime reading for around the next two years). And what I found was that they had printed a review — and that it was Donington himself who covered the concert for them. This is what he wrote (and note, incidentally, the spelling ‘Verklaerte‘: yes, we’ll be coming back to Umlauts…):



from Music Survey (New Series), Vol. 2, No. 3, Winter 1950

Comparing that — a very definite ‘Wow!’ review — with the one that Gray-Fiske produced gives a pretty vivid picture of the spread of critical opinion, back then, where Schoenberg was concerned — or, as one should perhaps put it, of the difference between the Music Survey view and that of pretty well everyone else in the UK press (including the then-anonymous ‘Music Critic of The Times‘, Frank Howes [1891-1974; ‘in post’ 1943-60], who certainly had his knife in the composer). In fact, not only was Music Survey determined to write about everything that happened concerning Schoenberg, but it might even allow more than one person to comment upon a given event: the performances of 8 November are also mentioned by Schoenberg’s great British advocate Edward Clark (1888-1962) in the same issue.

As far as Robert Donington is concerned, I do think it’s worth highlighting this little contribution of his to the mid-20th-century debate concerning Schoenberg. For, as his Wikipedia entry makes clear, Donington is nowadays remembered for his contributions to the study of early music on the one hand, and opera — especially Wagner — on the other: who’d have guessed that a piece of non-tonal Schoenberg would have hit him so forcefully…?

What interesting times they were!

Actually, I was planning to end there; but the thought occurred to me that readers who’ve never come across Pierrot Lunaire might welcome the chance to hear at least a tiny bit of what all that critical ink was expended on, back in 1950. As it happens, I’m not eager to use this blog as a tool for evangelising about Schoenberg’s non-tonal music when so many people have yet to explore the more traditional and traditionally attractive stuff he wrote. (And, what’s more, when I do start evangelising about the non-tonal music, I’m going to do it my way — which, believe me, isn’t like anyone else’s.) But for anyone who wants to know how Pierrot ends, here’s the last of its 21 numbers…

And it even has the words as well!


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