restricted access Reflections on Schoenberg (1972)
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Reflections on Schoenberg I think it best to acknowledge at the outset that these "reflections" on Schoenberg are personal, therefore biased; that they are somewhat random in their organization, even containing contradictory elements, because I take it as a rule of reality and of the mental realm (a seemingly separate but no less important "reality" than its physical counterpart) that existence is not logical but, in fact, full of paradox and contradiction and not reducible to neatly arranged verbal packages. These reflections, then, comprise a series of related but not necessarily connected thoughts, observations, and notes whose sole, common link is the contemplation of the body of work of a master. This work, despite the many years during which I preoccupied myself with a close study of it and even carried out in my own work ideas and tendencies directly derived from and based on it, still puzzles and disturbs me and gives me no complete satisfaction because I find in it much-though fascinating-that does not convince me. And yet, for all that, the serious lacks or imperfections or, even now, alien elements (as I see them) of his art do not obscure or overbalance or diminish the compelling power and beauty of portions of his work and, occasionally , entire compositions. The stance of my particular approach to the problem of coming to grips with Schoenberg is best conveyed by this journal entry of Delacroix dated November 1, 1852: To write treatises on the arts ex professo, to divide, to treat methodically, to summarize, to make systems for logical categorical instruction-all this is error, loss of time, a false and useless idea. The ablest man cannot do for others more than he does for himself, which is to note and observe .... With such a man, the points of view change at every moment. Opinions must necessarily be modified; one never knows a master well enough to speak of him absolutely and definitively. Perhaps it is even more important to confess that I view Schoenberg with all the limitations of one composer reflecting on the work of another. A historian or critic potentially has a larger perspective to operate from than a composer who is locked into his own needs and interests. Moreover a composer is far less interested ultimately in history or aesthetics; and although I have not avoided considerations of either in these reflections, it is the wor,k itself which remains as the center of my thought. Possibly the advantage the composer has over the historian or critic is that he is closer than they can be to the making of art and REFLECTIONS ON SCHOENBERG 37 the problems of craft which are the very substance of his existence, the materia of his mental life. Having said this, I also point out that the judgments, evaluations , and opinions which appear here remain subjective and incomplete. Schoenberg as a Steppenwolf Schoenberg seems to me a "Harry Haller," a kind of cultural "Steppenwolf," unable to relate any longer to the traditions from which he came, compelled to leave behind whatever security those traditions offered-yet always longing for them. He was, as Hesse described the Steppenwolf in his 1926 novel, "a genius of suffering" who took to himself and lived out the spiritual torments of a transitional period. The parallelism between Schoenberg and Haller is best inferred from Hesse's own words. . . . for Haller's sickness of the soul ... is not the eccentricity of a single individual, but the sickness of the times themselves, the neurosis of that generation to which Haller belongs, a sickness, it seems, that by no means attacks the weak and worthless only but, rather, precisely those who are strongest in spirit and richest in gifts. Referring to Haller's manuscript, a fantastic record of his inner experience which leads to the soul-transforming "rites" of the Magic Theater, Hesse remarks that these records . . . are not an attempt to disguise or to palliate this widespread sickness of our times. They are an attempt to present the sickness itself in its actual manifestation. They mean, literally, a journey through hell, a sometimes courageous journey through the chaos of a world whose souls dwell in darkness, undertaken with the determination to go through hell from one end to the other, to give battle to chaos, and to suffer torture to the full. Schoenberg's internal experiences, particularly those recorded in his works from 1908-09 on, present us with an almost precise parallel to Haller...


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