Schoenberg Why he matters

Harvey Sachs, 1946-

Book - 2023

An astonishingly lyrical biography that rescues Schoenberg from notoriety, restoring him to his rightful place in the pantheon of twentieth-century composers.

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2nd Floor New Shelf 780.92/Schoenberg (NEW SHELF) Checked In
New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation [2023]
Main Author
Harvey Sachs, 1946- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xx, 248 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 231-233) and index
  • Prologue: A Warning
  • Author's Note
  • I. A Boy from Matzah Island
  • II. Forming the Battle Lines
  • III. War, Internal and External
  • IV. Breakthrough and Breakaway
  • V. A Californian Finale
  • Epilogue: What Now?
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone system heralded a new age in classical music, yet today the work of this influential composer is rarely performed on the concert stage. According to Sachs (Ten Masterpieces of Music, 2021), "Schoenberg, a thorny character who composed thorny works, must be confronted by anyone interested in the past, the present, and the future of Western art music." This "brief, succinct interpretive study of Schoenberg's life and work" offers listeners and musicians alike a way to cut through the brambles and approach this often- misunderstood composer and his music. Sachs deftly weaves together biography and informed opinion to give the reader a full portrait framed in musical and historical context. He suggests recordings to listen to, quotes musicians on their approaches to Schoenberg, and provides a generous bibliography for those interested in delving deeper. In a letter to a new acquaintance, Schoenberg wrote, "You can see it isn't easy to get on with me. But don't lose heart because of that." Sachs makes it easy and enjoyable in this thoughtful and concise work.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A new consideration of the life and work of the modernist composer endeavors to explain why his innovations in classical music are still relevant today. In the prologue, Sachs, a music writer, Toscanini biographer, and educator at the Curtis Institute of Music, states explicitly that he aims to offer a "succinct interpretative study" of Arnold Schoenberg's life and work, not a full-scale biography or complete theoretical analysis. He includes basic biographical material such as Schoenberg's birth (1874, in Vienna), escape from Nazi Europe to America in 1933, and death in Los Angeles in 1951. Although Sachs presents a basic chronology of the composer's personal and professional life, the emphasis is on the work, specifically his invention of the 12-tone technique and resulting "serialist" music. The author makes clear that Schoenberg's renunciation of a clear-cut tonality or key does not mean the same thing as atonality or dissonance. In his cogent explanation of serialism, Sachs shows how the 12 tones of the chromatic scale offer the "emancipation from a hierarchy" of the single note as a key center. On the whole, readers don't need extensive training in music theory to understand this significant development in the history of Western music. Even Schoenberg himself considered his compositional breakthrough to be an evolution, not a revolution, in music. The problem is that most listeners, even skilled musicians, perceive the sound of post-tonal music as emotionally monochromatic, and the result is that this oeuvre is rarely performed by major orchestras today. Schoenberg's path forward split the music world into pro and con factions in the mid-20th century, but Sachs makes a strong argument that composers today may choose from many musical idioms, serialist music being just one of them. Moreover, he shows, Schoenberg's adventures past classic tonality were inventive takes on traditional forms, not complete breaks with the past. Though rarely encountered, his music still matters today. A convincing, laymen-friendly reappraisal of a great musical theorist, teacher, and composer. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.