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“Away with Harmony as the Cement of my Architecture!”: Arnold Schoenberg at 140

This Saturday, Arnold Schoenberg celebrates his 140th birthday. All those who have studied music have come across Schoenberg’s compositions in one way or another, and whether they love, despise, or are intrigued by his works, it’s undeniable that Schoenberg had an enormous impact on 20th and 21st century art music.

I must admit, I have a personal bias, since I deeply explored 20th century modernist music in my graduate music studies. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, Schoenberg’s music is historically and musically significant, as is the entire Second Viennese School, which had enormous impact on the development of Western art music in the 20th century. This, in my humble opinion, makes his music completely worthy of study, performance, and critical analysis.

Not surprisingly, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) Music Section has Schoenberg piano pieces for loan. Below is a selected listing:

Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19 (1913)

Schoenberg completed this piece for piano roughly around the same time that he was finishing his late-romantic cantata Gurre-Lieder. The first five pieces of opus 19 were written in February of 1911, and the last piece written a few weeks after the death of his mentor and friend Gustav Mahler in May of that year. Although not confirmed by Schoenberg himself, the final piece of opus 19 is commonly thought to be an expression of Schoenberg’s grief over the loss of Mahler–one of the modern era’s greatest composers. Schoenberg’s Sechs kleine Klavierstücke can be found in our collection at BRM 21776.

 Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11 (1910)

This piece, sometimes considered Schoenberg’s initial desertion of tonality, was written in 1909–the same year as Five Pieces for Orchestra (op. 16) and Erwartung. During this highly creative period, Schoenberg was met with increased incomprehension from his critics, as he himself states “my second string quartet caused, at its first performance in Vienna, December 1908, riots which surpassed every previous and subsequent happening of this kind.” On top of this, his personal life had become quite tempestuous, as his wife Mathilde eloped with Schoenberg’s friend, the painter Richard Gerstl the summer before (although they did get back together in October). Following these emotional events, Schoenberg wrote the first two movements of opus 11 early in 1909, and the last movement in August of that year. This piece can be found in our collection at BRM 20340.

Suite für Klavier, op. 25 (1921-1923)

Schoenberg might be most famous (or infamous, as the case may be) for his 12-tone composition technique. This method requires composers to use all twelve chromatic tones without any repetitions in different combinations, transpositions, and permutations. Opus 25 sees Schoenberg employing this new “method of composing with twelve tones related only to one another” throughout an entire piece of music for the first time. Although this 12-tone method had been employed in other pieces, this was Schoenberg’s first completely 12-tone composition. This historic piece can be found in our collection at BRM 22884.

We’re Not Always About Long-Haired Music; an Introduction to Popular Music Lead Sheets

When you say the word music, people usually agree that they like it. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone say anything else; and if they didn’t like music, that would be a sad day for me.  But, music covers a lot of territory, and people have their reasons for liking or identifying with what appeals to […]

Just Call Him “Doc” : NLS Guitar Materials Featuring Doc Watson

I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina in an area where music styles and lyrics known to the Southern Appalachians trickled down and nestled in my bones. In writing about the music culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, what would a discussion of NC mountain music be without the mention of legendary guitar […]

“Take Five”…and Check Out Our Jazz Titles

Although the majority of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) Music Section’s collection deals with classical music, we also have a wide array of materials dedicated to the great American art form–jazz. In this blog post, I will detail some of the special format materials in our collection that jazz […]

In Performance: Musicians Take the Stage

While most people associate Louis Braille with the system of reading and writing for the blind, many are not aware he was also an accomplished organist and musician.  There is good evidence he created the Braille code for music first and language second.  But whichever came first, the literary or the music code, we’re just grateful […]

Soul Music? Let’s talk about Ray Charles!

Summer and jazz seem to go hand-in-hand. I am noticing weekend jazz festivals and evenings of “jazz in the park” all over the D.C. area. I am sure some of you have enjoyed some of these events where you live. Now I am thinking about jazz! This thought lends itself to a discussion of related genres like […]

Friday Afternoons; Continuing a Grand Tradition

The NLS Music Section recently acquired a braille transcription of Benjamin Britten’s Friday Afternoons. The songs in this collection are available both in hard copy and for download from BARD, for anyone who is performing them or otherwise interested in this music.  The music is scored for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass choral parts.  A […]