Schoenbergs Cosmic Blunder
A satirical socratic dialogue Published by:
Highbridge Music Ltd
Note on Lyrics:
Text of a satirical, socratic dialogue by Howard Blake
A Socratic dialogue dealing with the problem of 12-tone music
'Schoenberg, Webern and Berg stand like three bollards at the end of a one-way street'.
'Who are they?'
'They are the Father, Son and Holy Ghost of serious twentieth-century music.'
'Are they fun to listen to?'
Is their music profoundly moving?'
'Does it give spiritual enlightenment, uplift the heart, stir the finest feelings of which mankind is capable? Does it shine forth like a good deed in a dark mistrustful world?'
'None of those things, no'
'Is it intellectually stimulating- does the mind race with cerebral excitement at its phenomenal ingenuity, its quicksilver brilliance of ideas controlled with dazzling mastery? Is it in fact FRIGHTFULLY CLEVER?'
'It's like this: you regard each note of the chromatic scale as an integer, as a disembodied object.'
'What does that sound like?'
'Please, please-it's not what it sounds like that is of prime importance, in fact it's probably of no importance at all. What is important is the manipulaton of these integers in a very complex and highly ordered way, for instance you can put the twelve notes of the chromatic scale into a row in any order you like and call it a row'.
'Well it would be a row wouldn't it...if you put them in a row?'
'Yes. Well it sounds more important if you put it in German. TONREIHE. That means 'tone-row.'
'Alright and then what do you do?'
You see then the tonerow applies to everything, you always keep to that sequence, in that order- the line, chords even the dynamics, everything can follow this pattern.'
'Why would you want to do that?'
'Because it liberates music from outdated structures and preconceived ideas. It is the NEW MUSIC.'
'So they're young these chaps, are they?'
'No, they're all dead.'
'Good God, that's tragic.'
'Well no, Schoenberg lived to a ripe old age. What I'm talking about is the fact that the music is something totally new and eventually, when people get to understand it, it will be regarded as the classical music of the twentieth century. This is why the entire cultural establishment world-wide in all civilised countries subsidise this music very heavily knowing that eventually it will be accepted and revered and pondered over and considered ENORMOUSLY WORTHWHILE.'
'How long has this been going on?'
'Well, some people would say that its roots are found in the later operas of Richard Wagner, the strong hints of atonality in 'Tristan and Isolde' often being mentioned.'
'When was that?'
'Well around about 1865.'
'But that's more than 100 years ago!'
'Roots I'm saying, Schoenberg didn't develop his uncompromisingly mature style until at least 1909 or so.'
'Oh I see. so it's only really been going for about 108 years?'
'And how's it doing?'
'The education of the public is a painstakingly laborious task.'
'You mean it's not doing too well?'
'We don't give up merely because people say they don't like it. We're not defeatist about it.'
'One hundred and eight years seems an awfully long time for people not to actually like something. Suppose the public is actually RIGHT? Everyone says that critics in the past have always been wrong.'
Yes that's perfectly correct. At the beginnings of the new music critics attacked it unmercifully and declared it incomprehensible. Then later they decided that it was enormously worthwhile and have spent the last 100 years at least on spreading the gospel.'
'So you think that for the last 100 years or so they've been right and before that they were wrong? But suppose they were wrong in both instances. Suppose that at its start the new music was interesting just from the point of novelty value and a bit of a change. That's when they attacked it when they shouldn't have done, and then the novelty quickly faded and they supported it- also when they shouldn't have done-and now they now they seem to have got stuck with it, and no-one dares to upset the apple cart since it's been sitting there such a long time and to admit that the apples are rotten would be to look very silly.'
'Yes, well the view that you are propounding is the normal, reactionary, widely-held, boring view of the average Joe Public. If I were to concede to that view I might have to concede that say Paul McCartney is a greater composer than Alban Berg.'
'Well he writes nicer tunes.'
'Tunes? You think writing music is about TUNES?'
'Well isn't it? If you took away all the tunes from Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and so on nobody would listen to them. Surely the heaven-sent gift of melody is what distinguishes the great composer or song-writer from the mediocre or boring?'
'You don't listen to J S Bach because of the tunes.'
'But of course I do. I listen to the Matthew Passion for precisely that reason-and the Brandenburg concertos- and the two violin concertos-the suites-they're all infused through and through with melody. In fact the art of polyphony is the art of interweaving MELODY- a living, breathing thing.'
'Well the 12-tone system of Schoenberg is polyphonic, so what's the difference?'
'The difference is that you couldn't sing one single melodic line of 12-tone Schoenberg, whereas I could sing you a lot of tunes by Bach. I'll start with Air on the G-string...'
'I'd rather you didn't. Hackneyed and commercialised. Just what I'd expect you to come up with.'
'Oh I see. So you mean that if a piece of music is really adored by the public then you find that suspicious-in fact you don't have any faith in the public?'