Programme Guide

Before turning to atonality in works such as the Three Piano Pieces op. 11 and the String Quartet op. 10, Arnold Schoenberg’s 1906 Chamber Symphony No. 1 op. 9 saw him once again exploit all the possibilities of tonal composition.

His concept of a symphony for small forces was completely new – especially at a time when Gustav Mahler was working on his gigantic Eighth Symphony. It signalled nothing less than a radical rethinking of the genre: towards the compact texture of an interwoven, highly expressive web of voices that demanded the highest degree of chamber music precision.

On the other hand, Schoenberg’s oratorio Die Jakobsleiter (1915–1922), based on his own libretto, is monumental: a philosophical work which, in addition to a huge orchestra, also required vocal soloists and choir plus off-stage choirs and orchestra. The piece has only survived as a draft, with the last 15 bars only as a sketch. A score, which makes performances possible at all, was written by Schoenberg’s long-time pupil Winfried Zillig, who said about the piece: “Strangely enough, the end of the Jakobsleiter fragment is one of the most impressive endings ever to be found in Western music. Schoenberg’s invention of sounds floating in space really does open up new realms. The enchantment is complete, despite the fragmentary nature.”

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