Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Schoenberg for people who think they don't like Schoenberg

... and no, I don't mean "Verklärte Nacht" (wonderful though that is, too).

The Piano Concerto doesn't get as much air time—or concert stage time—as it really deserves. But it's not only one of Schoenberg's most exciting pieces; I also think that it's one of the most accessible, even despite the fact that it's a full-fledged, serialist, late-in-life work. It's full of dehiscent lyricism punctured by sudden bursts of fire. I think it's actually less aurally challenging  to make sense of certain Bartók string quartets or Elliott Carter's work or even, in some respects, The Rite of Spring than this concerto.

Twelve-note theme (in serialist-speak, "tone row") from the New York Philharmonic's concert program.

If you don't know what to expect, it might take a couple listenings, but after recently excavating an mp3 of this piece from my hard drive, I'm kind of hooked. Schoenberg has an amazing intuition for gesture, specificity of articulation, and also rhythm—and I think all of that comes across to any listener, tonality aside. It's probably not background music for most people—but how much really good music, whether the St. Matthew Passion or "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"—is?

It's on YouTube as played by Alfred Brendel:

Also, as if I didn't already love Mitsuko Uchida enough, this video interview/lecture about the Schoenberg concerto is wonderful:

P.S. I swear that, if you're looking to waste some time, all of the hyperlinks above are worth clicking on. 

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