Chamber Symphony (Schoenberg)
This work bears the designation Opus 9. It is also listed under its German title Kammersymphonie no. 1.
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B-flat Soprano Clarinet
A Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
Horn in F I-II
None discovered thus far.
Arnold Schoenberg was a composer in search of listeners willing to experiment. In 1915, when his music regularly provoked one scandal after another, Schoenberg wrote to his brother-in-law, Alexander von Zemlinsky, “You know that I have scarcely ever taken any account of whether my works were liked or not. I have become indifferent to public abuse and I have never had any inclination to do anything that wasn’t dictated by the purely musical demands of my works.” In that same letter, however, he asked Zemlinsky not to program his Chamber Symphony on an upcoming concert, but to substitute an earlier piece, “something that [we] can count on being fairly well received by the public.”
Although the Chamber Symphony can sound romantic in its gestures and harmonic language today, it was difficult for audiences to follow when it was first played. Midway through the premiere, given in Vienna’s elegant Musikverein in February 1907, people began to scrape their chairs loudly in protest and to walk out. Gustav Mahler, who was in the audience, rose from his seat in anger and demanded silence. At the end of the performance, he stood at the front of his box, applauding, until everyone had left the hall. Although he recognized the importance of Schoenberg’s latest work, on the way home he confessed, “I do not understand his music, but he is young; perhaps he is right.” When the chamber symphony was played again in Vienna in March 1913, it was again met with obvious displeasure—although that night it was the music of Schoenberg’s pupil, Alban Berg, that touched off a riot. The riot —and the concert—were stopped by the arrival of the police.
The Chamber Symphony is unquestionably one of Schoenberg’s masterworks, containing formal and tonal ideas that opened the door to many later developments in 20th century music. The piece is written in the one-movement form conceived by Schubert and developed by Liszt: a sonata-form structure that unites the several movements of the sonata (or the symphony) in a single span of music.
Schoenberg said he had a “perfect vision of the whole work” when he started to compose, but he struggled with the opening of the Chamber Symphony. It is an almost-atonal passage that moves melodically from Ab to A as the underlying harmony cadences on F major. The horn then presents a chromatic ascent from D to Eb as a rising series of fourths. The Eb (D) is the leading tone to the main key of the work, E major, but a G augmented triad leading to a series of whole-tone scales undermines its tonal effectiveness. Schoenberg, in fact, seems to delight in finding ways to subvert the tonal world that operates at the heart of post-Romantic symphonic music. A key center is still present during the course of the music, however, and when the music settles in E major during the coda there is the satisfying feeling of “returning home” that distinguishes good symphonic music.
Schoenberg believed that he had “arrived” with the Chamber Symphony. He told his friends at the time, “Now I have established my style. I know now how I have to compose.” But several years later, his comments about the work sound like regrets for a lost love of youth: “It was as lovely a dream as it was a disappointing illusion.” In fact, rather than an arrival, the Chamber Symphony was a launching pad. It rocketed Schoenberg to his revolutionary ideas of “the unity of musical space” and ultimately to his “system of composing with 12 tones.”
-Program Note by University of Maryland Wind Orchestra concert program, 12 July 2015
- Chamber Symphony no. 1 has been recommended as interesting, serious and distinctive music by members of the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE).
- Audio CD: Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Heinz Holliger, conductor) - 2002
None discovered thus far.
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- University of Maryland Wind Orchestra (Michael Votta, Jr., conductor) – 12 July 2015 - WASBE Conference, San Jose, Calif.
- Omega Ensemble (Paul Meyer, conductor) – 7 June 2014
Works for Winds by this Composer
- Chamber Symphony (1906)
- Pierrot lunaire (1912)
- Wind Quintet, Op 26 (1923-24)
- Theme and Variations, Op 43a (1943)
- Fanfare for a Bowl Concert on Motifs of Die Gurrelieder (1945)
- Schoenberg, A. (1906). Kammersymphonie (für 15 Solo Instrumente) [score]. Universal Edition: Vienna.