From Dusk till Dawn…

This photo, taken this very evening, I have stolen from my pal Mark Berry — whose forthcoming book on Schoenberg is now with its publisher…

You may or may not have noticed — and as far as I can see, our mass media haven’t exactly bent over backwards to remind anyone — but today is Arnold Schoenberg’s 143rd birthday. Yes, he was born on 13 September 1874.

And, late though it is and tired though I am, I really can’t let the day pass without some kind of posting that pays tribute to this astounding mind and personality — whose musical and human achievements inspire and strengthen me like no-one else’s.

As for what I can present that might do justice to even a small part of what Schoenberg achieved in his 76 years, I have decided to stick by the idea that crossed my mind as I drove home a few hours ago: through my windscreen I saw the sun setting behind the clouds — and thought of Schoenberg’s huge cantata Gurrelieder, begun when this largely self-taught composer was still a young man in his mid-twenties…

Many readers, I’m sure, won’t know the piece at all; and, as it happens, I’m going to tell them almost nothing about it. Yes, I have my reasons — and, no, I’m not going to tell you about those either. Just trust me, okay?

All I’m going to say is this:

The work begins with a sunset, and ends with a sunrise. And this posting presents you with both.

And, before you ask: yes, Schoenberg includes the sound of birds both times. Of course he does: not only does effective tone-painting call for realism (stylization not excluded), but you can’t properly define the supernatural except by juxtaposition with the natural. (But I’m giving away the plot…)

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

And, in fact, the cutest thing in the entire piece is the way you can hear a few of these birds going mad with excitement just before the sunrise happens! (All right: hands up. Who thought Schoenberg didn’t do cute…?!?)

Here is the twilight — and the song that follows it: I want to let people hear the way Schoenberg integrates that first song with the material of the preceding Prelude, the first vocal entry commenting upon the dusk from within it, as it were. No, I’m not going to tell you what the words are about: the music alone will hold you up — if you let it…

That’s the twilight and the sunset.

And here is the dawn…

‘Behold the sun…’

All right. What have we got?

Largely self-taught…

Almost all of this music composed before he was 30…

Hadn’t written all that much for orchestra before beginning the huge task of orchestrating this piece…

Comment superfluous.

A birthday well worth noting.

If only we could thank him…


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One thought on “From Dusk till Dawn…

  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Mark. The only open question for me about Gurrelieder is whether it is summative or seminal. Both, I think. It is an amazing, exciting work. As you know I have blogged a few times on it. I particularly recommend Alban Berg’s analysis of it ( & hope that someone will translate this analysis into English soon, because I’ll be dead before I get to it. Also, the wonderful Lied der Waldtaube – the dove announcing Tove’s death ( and, for an overview of the Gurrelieder legend including a link to view the site of the Gurre castle in Denmark (actual ruins still standing):
    Steve Soderberg


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