Schoenberg. It Had To Be Schoenberg.

There aren’t a lot of things you can count on in this business but one thing that’s sure to deliver a dazzling display of passionate pyrotechnics is getting people to talk about programming. Case in point, conductor Bill Eddins recently published a pair of articles at Sticks and Drones suggesting the predominance of Second Viennese School compositions throughout the course of the 20th Century may not have been the best thing for classical music; especially large performing arts organizations, like orchestras. And thus the gates of Hell flew open.

Grinding The GearsEddins’ first post, IT’S SCHOENBERG’S FAULT!, generated a number of comments, some of which were rather thoughtful and mild mannered but the bulk of responses were of the pyrotechnic persuasion. There was much virtual gnashing of teeth, name calling, and liberal doses of hyperbolic rhetoric. In short, those who shared an opposing view were none too pleased and had no problem expressing said displeasure.

This post was followed up by No One Expects the 12-Tone Inquisition!, where Eddins expands on the original post by examining what he sees as the basis for such a strong reaction to the original article as well as expanding on what he defines as the problem with classical music orthodoxy (spoiler alert: the posts were more about the relationship between classical music’s relationship to the audience and the world around us).

If you love talking about this stuff, you’re going to revel in both posts and the subsequent comment threads.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “Schoenberg. It Had To Be Schoenberg.

  1. The discussion certainly wasn’t limited to his site. I posted the link on my Facebook timeline on June 27 and ended up with many thoughtful comments from composers Mary Jane Leach, Katharine Hoover, Roberto Toscano, Sara Doncaster, Howard Fredrics, Joseph Benzola, Chris Sahar, Christopher DeLaurenti, and several from Andrew Rudin, including this: “But if Schonberg really WERE so universally despised and the root of all evil, surely the fact that he’s been dead now for a long time would mean his music had utterly faded from the scene and never showed up anywhere. Not the case. He seems to have survived better than quite a number of his contemporaries (can we say Hindemith?) ” I think all our reactions to Eddins shared the opinion that he was setting up strawmen and rolling out old and well-refuted arguments. (PS: I can’t write more than this nor use paragraph breaks because when at 10 lines the “Post Comment” button falls off the bottom.)

  2. Thanks for your post Dennis, but the policy here is any second hand references need to be sourced and a verification link provided (if available). Consequently, thank you in advance for providing that info.

    I’m also curious to know more about your assessment (and correct me if I’m interpreting this incorrectly) that Schoenberg has survived better than Hindemith. When I think about this topic, it’s from the perspective of orchestral programming and from that view, I’m not sure programming records would support that notion (but I’m very curious to find out).

    P.S. any comment issue you’re having is likely due to a browser related problem. The comment field is dynamic so depending on which browser you’re using, you should be able to drag the height to different sizes via the bottom, right-hand corner.

  3. Hi Drew. I’m not sure how to give you the thread link on FB, but here is my page: https://www.facebook.com/kalvos You’ll find the discussion on June 27 in the timeline.

    It’s not my comment, it’s Andrew Rudin’s, a composer whom you may know. I suspect he might be right only because I never hear of Hindemith being programmed much anymore, but there are still Schoenberg pieces that are (he wrote, what, 10 orchestral pieces? For sure ‘Survivor from Warsaw’ and the Chamber Symphony, if either counts as orchestral, are programmed). But that’s not my dog in this hunt, only that there was a prety strong reaction from even non-atonal composers that Eddins was wrong in facts, scope and argument.

  4. Many thanks again Dennis and yes, Facebook doesn’t exactly make it easy when it comes to direct link sourcing.

    The only thing that comes to mind with programming records are those compiled by the League and according to the info they have for the 2009/10 season (the most recent), Schoenberg had four separate works performed at five different ensembles (one of which is a college orchestra) and Hindemith had four separate works performed at seven different ensembles (again, one of which is a college orchestra).

    Both composers received seven cumulative performances so for that one season, it seems to be more or less a dead even tie. In fact, there wasn’t much of a difference in the budget range of ensembles; both included the New York Phil down through those college groups.

    I haven’t looked at other seasons yet (and don’t really have the time right now) but it would be interesting to know how previous years unfolded.

  5. Still? I don’t believe anyone here is arguing about Schoenberg at all. The only comments so far are from Dennis Bathory-Kitsz and me and I actually thought the Hindemith/Schoenberg mini-analysis via the League’s programming stats was an interesting juxtaposition to the anecdotal based discussions Dennis mentioned that occurred at his Facebook wall.

    Beyond that, the only other mention of Schoenberg here at Adaptistration has been from Take A Friend To The Orchestra contributors.

  6. It seems evident on its face that in the healthy classical music culture you envisage both historical relics like Schoenberg and Hindemith would have dropped largely by the wayside in favor of living and more interesting dead composers.

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