In yesterday’s posting, I was discussing a few points that struck me about Schoenberg’s end-of-life entry in the famous British biographical registers Who’s Who and Who Was Who — and I ended by asking if people could see anything odd about the bits of visible text that I’d shown but not discussed. (Let me thank my two ‘have-a-go’ commenters for the interesting information they kindly provided — and, as it happens, coming very close to the answer!)
Well, everyone can now stop the head-scratching — because here’s how it all looks to me.
Let me start by presenting something new: the ‘Works’ section of the entry — with everything blanked out except the ‘American’ part of Schoenberg’s output and some odd items at the bottom:
So far, so good, I think you’ll agree — and pretty sensible with it. As you can see with the help of all those included dates (not all of them correct), the post-1933 ‘American’ works have English titles (as long as you think Prelude to the Genesis qualifies as English!), except in certain reasonable cases: older works that gained ‘American’ versions (e.g. the ‘Op. 9B’ big-ification of the Op. 9 Kammersymphonie, originally written in 1906); and things where a foreign-language title makes sense because a foreign-language text is involved (e.g. Dreimal tausend Jahre; Kol Nidre). If you agree that this is all hunky-dory, take a moment and savour the feeling — because things are about to get a lot weirder.
Here’s the same text with those lines blanked out and the others restored:
What I hope everyone will see here is something that simply knocked me over when I suddenly noticed it: the ‘pre-American’ part of the list doesn’t merely ‘use German titles for the European works’ (and pay remarkably little attention to dates) — it incorporates a totally separate layer of text. What’s more, it’s a layer that has not only been thought and written in German, but has actually been typeset, proofed and printed in German without anyone at the publishing end apparently noticing anything amiss — not the extra-titular appearance of ‘u.‘ instead of ‘and’; not the obtrusive presence of ‘noch unvollendet‘ (‘still unfinished’) — and not even the use of German terminology instead of English. For there is not the remotest justification whatever for a British dictionary of biography to be operating in terms of — and expecting its readers to engage with! — German categories like Kammermusik, Chormusik ‘Mit Orchester und Solis‘, Bühnenwerke, Schriften, and the rest. Nor does it make the slightest sense for such a volume to be referring to something called ‘Bearbeitungen Bachscher Orgelwerke‘ — which merely tells of ‘Arrangements of Bach’s Organ Works’ — or to follow that Germanic mouthful with a colon which implies that the ‘Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (after Monn)’ is one of them! And while we’re looking at punctuation, see how ‘Bühnenwerke’ (‘Stage Works’) was obviously a word so completely baffling that even as late as 1951 it is followed by a semi-colon — as if it’s the first in a list of actual works that only then gets to something called ‘Monodram Erwartung‘. In short, this entry is a complete dog’s dinner.
Let’s have another look at the way it starts:
I don’t think it’s too hard to see what must have happened. The very first entry must have been created in the ‘pre-American’ period — and been based on a work-list and other information provided in German by someone (perhaps the composer himself) over in Austria or Germany. This source will have carried the spelling ‘Schönberg’ (which, at that time, will have been perfectly correct) and, with it, at least the earliest bit of musical information — the ‘erst Autodidakt‘ — which, owing to someone’s complete lack of interest or competence (or both) was never actually translated into the language of the publication itself. Nor was the entry’s work list ever considered worth the effort of separating the parts that could reasonably be left in German from the parts that couldn’t. Nor did anyone stoop to anything resembling translation at the point — it can’t have been before 1925! — when they were informed, evidently in German, about the appointment English readers should have seen as Director of a Masterclass in Composition at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. How on earth ‘Zemlinszky’ (well done Stephen!) retained his ‘von’ and regained his parents’ extra ‘z’ when his sister Mathilde didn’t — or how his tutelary relationship came to be expressed in sudden and temporary English — is, undoubtedly, anyone’s guess; but the answer will no doubt involve a whole succession of people not giving even part of a damn about what the entry actually looked like.
Clearly, however, the composer was offered the usual (annual?) opportunities to add new information — and at some point started doing so in English. (We even see ‘English’ entries for the Concertos after Monn and Handel — both of which were actually finished in Europe before the end of August 1933: yes, both those dates are wrong.) What seems never to have occurred to anyone at the publishing end was that the spelling of Schoenberg’s surname had to be changed — and that the passage of time had in fact seen their bizarrely foreign-looking entry mutate into a bizarrely inconsistent and polyglot one.
At which point I think two things remain to be said. First, when someone is viewed as an outcast, an outsider, a pariah, human psychology has a million different ways of rubbing it in. Secondly, I’ll make a small but public bet with myself that the first time Schoenberg was included in Who’s Who has to have been before he left Europe (in late 1933) but after he started teaching at the Berlin Academy (in early 1926). Which means that when those libraries reopen after the holiday, I’ll first order up the volumes from 1925 to 1935 — and expect to see him appear at some point between 1927 and 1933. I am, in other words, betting on the quintessentially English snobbery and snootiness of Who’s Who being such that nothing he’d done creatively before then — not Gurrelieder, not Erwartung — would have impressed the editors as much as that little bit of institutional accreditation … even if they never, ever got round to translating it.
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