Modernism in Music: Some Landmarks 1895-1935

Symposium on European Modernism, 1895-1935

Professor Jonathan Cross, University of Oxford

16 October 2010

This is an essay by Dr Robert Blackburn, former Principal Lecturer in Music at Bath Spa University.  It covers the works chosen by Professor Cross in his talk, presented as a greatly expanded Section Two, but includes a large amount of further material. As far as possible, purely technical descriptions and language have been modified or avoided for the benefit of the general reader at whom this essay is aimed. The introductory Section One is quite new, and the bibliography has been extended considerably. All readers of this essay are directed to Richard Taruskin’s masterly survey of early 20th century music in Volume 4 of The Oxford History of Western Music, published in 2010. Taruskin is also the author of each of the other four volumes of this epic work; there are five in all.

The aim of Professor Cross’s talk was to give a clear, concise, and obviously selective overview of the complex topic of musical ‘modernism’ and its rise between the 1890s and the 1930s. There was no attempt to be fully comprehensive, as this would have meant at least a full weekend symposium in itself. Key composers, notably Bartok, Webern, Ravel, Scriabin, and Szymanowski, let alone Ives and Varese, had to be omitted altogether. No completely uniform agreement exists as to the origins or even the precise nature of the modernist movement in western music. What seems certain about it is its determination to forge new, radical pathways in musical language, in forms of expression, in relations with music of the recent past (or even fairly distant past, as in Stravinsky’s neo-classicism), and in its close connection (for example in the case of Arnold Schoenberg and Wassily Kandinsky) with the parallel experimental and radical movements in the visual arts and literature, including drama.

I

It has been remarked that the beginnings of modernism in literature, like its endings, are arguably indeterminate, a matter ‘of traces rather than of clearly defined historical moments’. (Peter Nicholls: Modernisms : A Literary Guide. Macmillan 1995, p. 1). In music, the opposite can be seen to be the norm. Turning points coincide as a rule with the appearance of seminal works which actually changed the face of what was possible in music. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, and Pierrot Lunaire, Bartok’s second and fifth quartets, and Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, his one-act opera, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Les Noces, Berg’s Wozzeck and Lyric Suite, to name just a handful of centrally important works, show this to be the case. The American musicologist Daniel Albright, writing in 2003/4,felt that music was the art most likely to take the lead in the development of a modernist aesthetic, since it had always ‘assigned privilege to the up-to-date and the novel’, as he put it. Music, Albright felt ‘had always been the medium most sensitive to the New.’ In his view, the modernist composer is ‘a pontificator at large, orating on the largest stages.’ He is a figure whose work relates to ‘every sort of intellectual activity……as if music were a species of thinking carried out by other means.’(Albright, D. Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources, Chicago UP, 2004, p.1-3)

The rise of modernism in European music is closely bound up with the forces gathering in the late nineteenth century pointing towards a possible, even very probable exhaustion of late romantic chromatic tonality. No one, however, in 1895 or even in 1905, knew where this might lead. In any case, many composers active in Europe, and also in America, resisted and resented the idea of the ‘death ’of tonality to the end of their lives. Some would have laughed at the idea. In 1900, the 18-year-old Igor Stravinsky was destined to become a pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1842-1908) one of the ‘Mighty Handful’ in Russia, and in 1908 would produce his sumptuous ballet score The Firebird. This celebrated work, which Stravinsky said earned him far more money over the years than any other, was Stravinsky’s first great score for the impresario Serge Diaghilev, and was rooted in late 19th century harmonic practice, while showing his strongly individual voice. To this day, it remains one of his most frequently performed works.

Igor Stravinsky

Meanwhile, In Hungary, Bela Bartok, born in 1881, fell as a very young man under the spell of Liszt (d.1886) and of Richard Strauss (b.1864), and his earliest works, such as the patriotic symphonic poem Kossuth (1903) show this clearly. He was influenced from early on by the folk music of Eastern Europe, and became over time that very rare creature, an advanced composer of difficult and challenging music who was also a very active fieldworking ethnomusicologist. From the viewpoint of the early 1900s, it would not have been easy to predict, necessarily, that Bartok would become the dissonant, percussive composer of the years after 1918, creating a very individual sound-world, and still influenced by Hungarian, Rumanian and Transylvanian folk-music. In his works of the period 1917 to 1922, he consciously absorbed the influences of both Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  Bartok was also a formidable pianist, and apart from his solo piano works, a large number of them, in his later years, written for educational purposes (such as the 153 pieces which make up the six volumes of ‘Mikrokosmos’, and the Music for Children in two volumes) he wrote two taxing piano concertos in the 1920s for himself to perform wherever his travels took him, alongside the six string quartets (1907-1939) which for many form the bedrock of his reputation as a top-rank modernist composer. Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was his only venture into opera as such, but Bartok produced two important ballet scores, The Miraculous Mandarin and The Wooden Prince.  There were also two violin concertos. Most critics have rated his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste (1936), and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937) as belonging among his finest and most characteristic achievements.  Another piano concerto, more emollient in style, was written near the end of his life ( he died in the U.S.A. in 1945) together with an unfinished viola concerto, completed posthumously by another hand. Bartok was the first composer to write a Concerto for Orchestra, a late work of 1943. It is less uncompromising in its musical language than his music of the 1920s and 1930s, and at one point echoes the wonderful Bluebeard’s Castle of 1911, a one-act opera for two performers and orchestra. This was Bartok’s only opera as such, and a complete failure when it first appeared. Now, and indeed ever since the 1970s, it has proved again and again to be a powerful and consistently popular success both on stage and in the concert hall.

Bela Bartok

In Austria, Arnold Schoenberg’s indebtedness to Brahms and to Wagner is self-evident in his chamber works of the 1890s, and, perhaps more famously, in the first two-thirds of the great Gurrelieder of 1910, a very large-scale work for soloists, chorus and large orchestra, based on a poem by Jens Peter Jacobsen. The first two –thirds of this was composed in 1900/1901, then set aside, and completed much later in 1910, in a very different and much more obviously ’progressive’ manner. Thus Gurrelieder, once very rarely performed because of its complexity, and the special forces involved, is nowadays one of Schoenberg’s best-known and most popular masterpieces, for reasons similar to Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. Both have been recorded many times. They are works about the human heart, eloquent, intense, moving and magisterial, and deserve their success in our time. By 1914, the year after the first performance in Vienna of Gurrelieder, Schoenberg, now 40, had completed such revolutionary atonal scores as Erwartung and Die gluckliche Hand (The fortunate hand) both ground breaking theatre –pieces, the Three Piano Pieces, Op.11, and the chamber work with costumed soloist, Pierrot Lunaire (1912). More will be said about Pierrot later, but all four of these works could be described as foundation stones of the new music, of radical ‘dissonant’ modernism. Schoenberg was now on a path which brooked no return, the supreme ‘conservative revolutionary’, as he has come to be regarded by many in our time.

The path to modern music in France seemed to be no less than in Austria, in the hands of one man, again someone whose roots were decidedly in the 18th and parts of the 19th centuries. Claude Debussy, born in 1862, and a contemporary of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Frederick Delius, never abandoned the tonal system, unlike Schoenberg. His approach to music was heavily influenced by forces and models in literature and the visual arts, including Japanese prints, which formed a significant part of the burgeoning fashion for oriental art in late 19th century Paris. The young Debussy composed in a fluent, limpid, engaging and often energetic style through the 1800s and into the 1890s, influenced by Faure, Chausson, Delibes, Mussorgsky and (though he had difficulty in admitting it) Wagner, especially the last Wagnerian masterpiece of all, Parsifal (1882). The composition of Debussy’s full-length opera Pelleas et Melisande, based on a play by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, was decisive for him and his career as a composer. This work, begun in 1892, completed by 1896 and first performed in 1902, was Debussy’s only finished opera. His characteristic mature style, with its use of the whole-tone scale, parallel chords, cellular rather than thematic development, meticulously graded dynamics and carefully coloured registration, and intermittent use of the Golden Section as a structural device, emerged gradually during the 1890s, and characterised all his later music, including the famous Preludes, Images and Estampes for piano solo, the great orchestral Images and the Three Symphonic Sketches: la Mer, and the fine achievements of his last years (1913-1918), the ballet score Jeux, the three pieces for two pianos, entitled En Blanc et Noir, The Twelve Studies for solo piano, and the three final sonatas for piano and cello, piano and violin , and flute, viola and harp.

Schoenberg was almost as famous in his lifetime as a teacher as he was as an avant garde composer.  His two main, celebrated pupils were Anton Webern (1883-1945) and Alban Berg (1885-1935). All three men enlisted in the Austrian army in the Great War, and, miraculously, all three survived uninjured. Webern began as a scholarly musicologist and choral conductor, composing for a time in a late Romantic idiom.  From Schoenberg, he had developed his own much more miniaturist, fragmented and ‘pointilliste’ compositional technique, moving towards intensity and extreme brevity and condensation.  His mature works were atonal/serial compositions for various forces, and were, after 1945, to have a deep influence on Stravinsky (his almost exact contemporary) and many other mid-20th century composers. Berg’s atonal/serial works were very different, much closer in spirit to late romanticism, and with a profound leaning towards the theatre. He composed two of the century’s greatest operas, Wozzeck (1914-1921, first performed in Berlin, 1925) and Lulu (1929-1935) This was left unfinished at Berg’s death, but first performed incomplete at Zurich in 1937, and in the 1970s, completed by the Austrian composer and Berg specialist Friedrich Cerha and performed in this complete form under Pierre Boulez in 1979. Awareness (and love) of Mahler’s music was an important common factor between Webern and Berg, apart from the searching impact of their teacher Schoenberg. Charles Rosen (1927-2012) hit the nail firmly on the head when he observed: ‘ Composers who turned to the 12-tone technique, if they were any good, made it their own. Stravinsky (he is talking about Stravinsky after about 1956) doesn’t sound like Schoenberg. Webern doesn’t sound like Schoenberg. Berg doesn’t sound like Schoenberg or Webern.’ (Gramophone magazine, December 2011, page 30).

Paul Hindemith

The leading German-born modernist was from a slightly later generation than Berg or Webern. Paul Hindemith, born in Frankfurt in 1895, was a gifted multiple instrumentalist, and a professional violinist and viola player (see below on Walton) who became a prolific composer after serving in the German army from 1917 to 1919. He was a member of the Amar Quartet (which specialised in contemporary music) and a member of the Donaueschingen Festival Committee, set up in that town to promote and develop new music. (This festival later moved to Baden-Baden and then to Berlin.) Never interested in Schoenbergian serialism, Hindemith’s vast output covers all genres and despite his extensive use of dissonance, he never abandoned tonality. Most of his works, and individual movements, end with a tonal close, or something very close to it. Hindemith believed firmly in diatonicism, counterpoint, rhythm and logical structure as the foundation of music, and from the 1930s published treatises on his art, headed by The Craft of Musical Composition (3 vols, 1935 onwards) and including A Composer’s World : Horizons and Limitations (Norton Lectures Harvard, 1949-50). Viewed from the second decade of the 21st century, Hindemith’s flame has not really been kept alive. For someone coming new to his music, the best introductions are the suite Nobilissima Visione,(1938), the symphony based on his opera Mathis der Maler (1934) and the magnificent and genuinely enjoyable Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber (1943) all for full orchestra. This last work refers, of course, to the German Romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber, 1786-1826. Other works by Hindemith, which can be recommended, are the second and third string quartets (1920 and 1921) the sonatas for horn and piano, viola and piano and trumpet and piano (all 1939), the astonishing Kammermusik series for small orchestra (1922-1927) and the song cycle Das Marienleben (The Life of the Virgin Mary) for soprano and piano (1922-3, revised 1936-48).

In Russia, the pianist-composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) deeply influenced initially by the music of Chopin, was carving a unique pathway, which would lead him by the end of his too brief life to the very edge of abandoning tonality altogether.  His final piano works, in particular Vers la Flamme, Op 72 and the Five Preludes, Op 74, point towards the mysterious direction he might have taken, had he lived. Beyond all question the Russian composer, other than Stravinsky, who can be most clearly identified with the modernist movement, albeit in a very idiosyncratic way, is Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953). Prokofiev was paradoxically fortunate in the times in which he lived. Like Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, he loved Russia and Russian culture passionately. But unlike them, having left his homeland for America, Prokofiev returned to Russia, and spent his final years from 1936 living and working under the dark shadow of the Stalinist dictatorship. He and Stalin actually died on the same day, 8 March 1953, so that Prokofiev’s death was totally overshadowed by the great national mourning for the late dictator and monster. Prokofiev was another brilliantly gifted pianist, of an entirely different temperament from either Rachmaninoff or Scriabin. From the start, his works were playful, full of brilliant wit and wilful energy, always lively in execution, using dissonance in a controlled yet joyful way, with an outstanding melodic gift, and with a clear leaning towards theatricality. Not for nothing did Prokofiev become a committed composer of full-length operas, from The Love of Three Oranges (after Carlo Gozzi, 1921).  The Gambler (based on Dostoevsky, 1915/16, revised 1927/8) and The Fiery Angel (based on a symbolist novel by Valery Bryusov, 1919-23, 1926/7) to Semyon Kotko (based on 1937 novel by Valentin Katayev, 1938-39) and War and Peace (based on Tolstoy,1941-3, revised 1946-52). The five piano concertos, seven symphonies and nine piano sonatas, not to mention the magnificent film score he composed for Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, and the Cantata derived from it, have meant that his music is as widely performed today as that of any other major 20th century composer. A friend of the present writer recently told him that, for him, Prokofiev is THE twentieth century composer, preferred by him to Stravinsky, Berg, Shostakovich or Britten. He mentioned such works as the Fifth Symphony, the Scythian Suite, the ballet Cinderella, the sixth and eighth piano sonatas, and the ballet Romeo and Juliet, and the opera the Love of Three Oranges. He could also have mentioned the early group of short piano pieces Visions Fugitives, the Third Piano Sonata, the two magnificent, lyrical violin concertos, and the Third Piano Concerto. All these, and many other works will ensure Prokofiev’s lasting popularity far into the future.

Serge Prokofiev

The career of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), the leading Polish composer of this period, was that of a very private and idiosyncratic modernist, never as radical as Bartok, but superbly adventurous in his use of tonality, texture, rhythm and form, as in the two wonderful violin concertos (1916 and 1933), the Symphony No. 3 (‘Song of the Night’) the Stabat Mater, and the Litany of the Virgin Mary, as well as the chamber and instrumental works. The Dionysian opera King Roger (1918-24) as a particularly fascinating work, which reflects so many aspects of Szymanowski’s personality, especially his mysticism, his love of the Graeco-Roman classical world and his endless curiosity about the orient. As with other composers of the 1880-1930 period, his music has only really found a wider audience since the advent of very high-quality studio recording.

Only in Britain was there little interest in taking musical language in fresh, exploratory directions, despite the presence of certain features here and there (especially harmonically) in a composer such as Gustav Holst (1874-1934) in his deservedly famous Planets Suite of 1914, and also in his Thomas Hardy-inspired Egdon Heath (1927). British composers were either rooted in the 19th century Austro-German tradition (Stanford, Parry, Elgar) or, like Vaughan Williams, Holst and a whole range of lesser figures, primarily interested in reviving and developing the tradition of English folk-music in its various forms. Frederick Delius (1862-1934) could be described as an ‘insider’ in his response to English folksong (for example in the English Rhapsody ‘Brigg Fair’ of 1907) but as an outsider in other respects. He had lived in Leipzig as a young man, and had been a friend of Edvard Grieg. As an impressionist in musical style, he notoriously had no regard for any English music not composed by himself, even though he had an admirable and long-lasting personal friendship with Elgar. In addition, there were important American influences on Delius’ music; as a young man he had spent some time supervising an orange grove in Florida, where he was open to a quite different set of musical experiences. Delius was a self-proclaimed atheist, quite uncompromising in his views on religion, and his Nietzschean Mass of Life (1904/5) stands alone in this era.   It is a fine oratorio, which is defiantly outside the English Christian church music tradition. The typical Delius works, described by Michael Kennedy as ‘exquisite, sensuous orchestral idylls’ were composed in the years just before the outbreak of the Great War, which was also coincidentally the period of the most intense development in continental modernism; Delius had little interest in that, even though he had lived in Paris and had joined an artistic circle which included key figures such as Gauguin, Strindberg and Munch.  These pre-1914 works included In a Summer Garden (1908), Summer Night on the River (1911), On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) and North Country Sketches (1913-14), together with the choral works Sea Drift (after Walt Whitman, 1903-4) and Song of the High Hills(1911).

Frank Bridge

There was one important exception to the general lack of interest in modernism in Britain. This was Frank Bridge (1879-1941) who studied composition (with C.V. Stanford) and violin at the RCM, and was an outstandingly fine all-round musician. He changed to the viola, and played with the English String Quartet until 1915. Bridge was fortunate in attracting the patronage of the wealthy American Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who commissioned many works from him , and set up a Trust Fund to support him during the 1920s when he had left London to live on the South Downs. Bridge’ pre-war works for orchestra included The Sea (1910-11) heard in the Albert Hall, London, by the present writer in a BBC Prom programme in 1999, and Dance Poem (1913). These were followed by the symphonic poem Summer (1914) and the Lament for strings (1915). Bridge had begun writing chamber music in his twenties, and in all produced four string quartets and several other outstanding chamber pieces, some including an important piano part.  After the war by which, like so many, he was very deeply affected, Frank Bridge’s style became steadily more and more touched by the developments in continental modernism, with the use of bitonality (as in the Piano sonata of 1921-24) and, in various works, use of all twelve chromatic notes in any given section, though never a full-blown use of Schoenbergian serialism. The influence of Alban Berg’s music came to pervade his work more and more. Outstanding later chamber works by Bridge included the third and fourth string quartets (1926 and 1937) the Violin Sonata of 1932, and the Piano Trio No. 2 of 1929. Bridge was the one and only composition teacher of Benjamin Britten, as indeed Britten was his only pupil. It was almost certainly Bridge who suggested that Britten might go to Vienna to study with Berg, a journey which never took place because of opposition form the conservative Principal of the RCM, Sir Hugh Allen. Sadly, until very recent times, Frank Bridge’s music has never received anything like the recognition it deserves.  

William Walton

Later English composers, for example Constant Lambert (1905-1951) and William Walton (1902-1983), both of them very serious, academically highly-trained composers who were influenced by jazz in the 1920s, had parallel but quite different careers. Walton developed into one of the main figures of 20th century British music without ever becoming a true ‘modernist’ composer, let alone a member of any sort of ‘avant-garde’.  His best works, by common consent, belong to the period between 1923 and the 1940s, though recent performances of the 1956 Cello Concerto have given this later piece a freshly enhanced standing. The first soloist in Walton’s 1929 Viola Concerto, one of his best-known works, was not the dedicatee and intended player, Lionel Tertis, but Paul Hindemith the composer, good enough as a viola player to undertake such a task at short notice.  Michael Kennedy quotes Walton as saying in 1965 that in his view the five greatest 20th century composers were Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Debussy, Sibelius and Mahler; he added Hindemith and Britten, should seven names be required.  Constant Lambert, a brilliant and gifted man, and an accomplished practical musician, was destroyed early by alcohol. Little of Lambert’s music, apart from the jazz-inspired Rio Grande (1927, for chorus, piano and orchestra) has survived. But it is of relevance here, in an introduction to modernism in music, to reflect that both Walton and Lambert owed something, in different ways, to the figure of Jean Sibelius. Walton drew on him stylistically, to a certain extent, in the First Symphony (1934/5) and the Violin Concerto (1939), two of his finest works. Lambert unexpectedly and surprisingly, saw Sibelius, rather than Stravinsky as the key figure for the new age in music.  His views are set out in the polemical book he wrote in 1934, under the title Music Ho! A Study of Music in Decline, decidedly the most interesting and entertaining piece of extended writing on music by any modern composer, certainly any British modern composer.

 

II

The central thread of the Modernism in Music talk was provided by the eight music examples, linked by the idea of the alienated, anxious subject. These eight works were as follows:

1.             Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1857-9) Act 1, Vorspiel

2.             Debussy: Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune (1894)

3.             Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2,Op.10 (1907-8), movement Iv

4.             Mahler: Symphony No.7 (1904-5), movement II (Allegro)

5.             Mahler: Symphony No.7, movement III (scherzo)

6.             Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (1912) song no. 21 (O alter Duft)

7.             Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex (1926-7), opening chorus

8.             Berg: Violin Concerto (1935)

 

Each of these will now be discussed in turn.

 

1.    WAGNER: TRISTAN UND ISOLDE   Music Drama in 3 acts (1857-9) Act 1, Vorspiel

This is the locus classicus of dense, intense, chromaticism in mid-19th century music. All commentators agree in seeing the Prelude to Tristan, expressing the yearning of erotic love, which can only be fulfilled in death, as the central staring point in the journey towards the gradual dissolution of traditional tonality. Tristan’s long-term influence was immeasurable, profoundly affecting composers as different as Debussy and Richard Strauss, Mahler, Schoenberg and Berg. In technical terms, the Prelude to Tristan does not start, continue or conclude in a particular key, though the key of A minor appears to be in the background throughout. Schoenberg later called this ‘floating tonality’. In his Harmonielehre (Theory of Harmony) of 1911, page 384, he said: ‘A minor, although it is to be inferred from every passage, is scarcely ever sounded in the whole piece. It is always expressed in circuitous ways; it is constantly avoided (he means unresolved) by means of descriptive cadences’.

 

2.    DEBUSSY: PRELUDE A L’APRES –MIDI D’UN FAUNE. Tone poem for full orchestra, after Stephane Mallarme (1842-1898)

The jump from the late 1850s (Tristan) to the mid 1890s may seem a large one chronologically, but this 1894 tone poem by Debussy (32 at the time) is a cornerstone of the modernist movement in music which could not have been written without the impact of the Prelude from Tristan. At the time he composed L’apres-midi d’un faune, Debussy was working on the opera Pelleas et Melisande, and had begun sketching the orchestral Nocturnes. He felt strongly that he had adhered to the general shape of Mallarme’s poem, and the poet himself was pleased by the work’s success. This short orchestral piece has maintained its status to this day as a modernist masterpiece, and as a popular classic, in a similar manner to the later , larger-scale La Mer; Three Symphonic Sketches of 1905. Though its opening is tonally ambiguous, like the Tristan Prelude, it is ultimately a slow, dreamlike piece in the settled key of E major, its effect all the more moving for Debussy’s masterly use of orchestral colour alongside its internal pitch-based musical language. The Ballets Russes presented L’apres-midi d’un faune at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, on 29 May 1912, directed by and featuring Vaclav Nijinsky and Lydia Nelidova. Alas, there was another scandal at the end of that first performance (Debussy was present) as a result of an explicit sexual reference in Nijinsky’s choreography, right at the close of the ballet. It seems that the police were called in for the second performance. Only days later, Debussy and Stravinsky played part of the unfinished score of the latter’s Le Sacre du Printemps together as a piano duet, on 9 June 1912, in the Paris house of Louis Laloy, Debussy taking the bass, and Stravinsky the treble. Laloy apparently said that ‘we were dumbfounded, overwhelmed by this hurricane which had come from the depth of the ages, and has taken our life by the roots.’ Debussy later said that he was haunted by the experience as though it were ’a beautiful nightmare’.

Claude Debussy

3.    SCHOENBERG: STRING QUARTET NO. 2, OP. 10 (1907-8) Fourth movement-a setting of a poem by the German poet Stefan George (1868-1933)entitled ‘Ich fuhle Luft von anderen Planeten’ (I feel air coming from another planet) for soprano and string quartet

Many books have been written about Arnold Schoenberg as the radical pioneer of the ‘new music’, both in its ‘atonal’ form between 1906 and 1913, and in its ‘twelve-note’, or dodecaphonic’ form from 1920 onwards, which became known as ‘serialism’, or composing using the serial technique. Serialism was broadly defined as a method of composing which used twelve notes, in a prearranged order, or ’set’ as the structural basis for a piece, without reference to any one of them as a tonal centre. To give more flexibility, the ‘row’, as it was called, could include its own inversion, as well as its retrograde and the inversion of that (retrograde inversion) making four forms of the row in all.

Virtually all writers on Schoenberg have regarded the Second String Quartet, composed in1907-8, as a vitally important work in his compositional odyssey. It had been preceded by two other substantial string quartets. One, unnumbered, is in D major (1897) , bold and chromatic in style paying homage to Brahms, and composed two years before the (tonal) string sextet Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) after the poem by Richard Dehmel (1863-1920). In 1917 and again in 1943 Schoenberg produced versions of Verklarte Nacht for string orchestra. The earlier work, known as String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, is in D minor, and was composed in 1904-5.  This is an even larger-scale work than the 1897 Quartet, of relentless intensity, fierce intellectual complexity, and uncompromising technical difficulty, in a single 45-minute span, requiring prodigious levels of concentration from both players and audience. In Quartet No. 1, there is a free mixture of tonal and ‘atonal’ passages. The drive and energy of the music, however, makes the blend work. Hans Keller observed in 1965 that in this quartet, ‘atonality is rife-even though the key signature is D minor.’ As though to emphasise this fundamental aspect, the coda to the work after the long tumultuous struggle preceding it, is in an extended, warmly reassuring diatonic D minor. It was first performed in Vienna by the Rose Quartet in February 1907, after no fewer than forty rehearsals.

In his so-called Second Quartet, Op. 10 (1907-8), the choice of key was F sharp minor, a key closely related to D major and its dominant A major. So we can see that each of these four big chamber works from 1897 to 1907-8 are either in D major/minor, or written around it, though the two middle movements of Quartet No. 2 contradict this completely.  After two purely instrumental movements, in the home key (Moderato) and in E flat minor, (marked Sehr rasch, Very fast), Schoenberg gives us two slow movements, with an added soprano voice, both of them settings of poems by Stefan George (pronounced Gai-orger). George was a figure of that time who had a great vogue in the literary world, which he went to some pains to encourage, attracting disciples and admirers; however, his reputation has not been sustained at that high level subsequently.

Litanei (Litany) is the quartet’s third movement, marked Langsam (Slowly), a set of five variations and a coda. The key is the sombre one of E flat minor again, and the theme is constructed from four motifs from from movements 1 and 2.  The choice of minor key here, and the style of the music, is suited to the black personal gloom of the eight short verses of George’s poem. In the last movement, entitled Entruckung (Withdrawal), marked Sehr langsam (very slowly) Schoenberg presents a ‘sonata form ‘ movement, centred on F sharp minor, though it is in ‘expanded’ tonality throughout, and is extremely chromatic. The first line, famously, is ‘Ich fuhle Luft von anderen Planeten’ (I feel the air from another planet) which, whatever George had intended, is invariably taken by Schoenberg scholars as a metaphor for the ‘new’ musical language, on the very edge of tonality. There is a complete logic about Schoenberg’s ‘atonal’ language here, and the movement ends quietly in the original home key of F sharp minor with which the quartet began. It thus follows the manner of Quartet No. 1 at its close.

The Second Quartet was played by the Rose Quartet (again) in Vienna at the Bosendorfersaal in December 1908. It provoked a general riot, not straight away, but only after the first two movements, when there was a general upheaval, with

The Rose Quartet, battled bravely on through the disturbance to complete the performance. This was the earliest, but by no means the last, public riot connected with new music first performances during the pre-1914 period. Schoenberg always realised the special importance of this piece, and he arranged it for string orchestra, with its greater sonority, in 1929.

Arnold Schoenberg

4.    and   5. MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO.7 (1904-5) Second movement: Allegro, and Third movement: Scherzo.   First performed in Prague, 9 September 1908

Gustav Mahler was, of course, a major figure in late 19th century German music, a taonal composer all his life, and a world-ranking conductor as well. There is no doubt at all about the central role of the tonal system in his nine completed symphonies and the various song cycles he composed alongside them.  Four big things marked Mahler out among composers of his time.  The first was the emotional intensity of his musical language, evident from his earliest works. The second was his deliberate use of irony and parody in his music, alongside statements of personal tragedy, suffering and inwardness. The third was his astonishing use of the orchestra, now dense and complex, just as often crystalline and ethereal. The fourth aspect is his later use of expanded or progressive tonality, as in the Ninth Symphony (1909) beginning in D major (first movement, Andante comodo) and concluding with an Adagio in the ‘remote’ key of D flat, a semitone below D.  Other examples of expanded tonality are to be found in the first movement of Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth, 1908), the Allegro movement for tenor and orchestra entitled Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde (The Drinking Song of the Earth’s Sorrow), in which this aspect becomes a metaphor for the theme of inebriation.

The second and third movements of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, composed in 1904-5, have been seen by some as providing a possible ‘modernist’ approach to a composer not thought of as a thoroughgoing musical radical. The second movement, marked Allegro, could be interpreted as looking back at a lost ‘utopian’ rural world, the kind of environment Mahler knew in his earlier years. This contrasts sharply with the busy, vigorous Scherzo which follows. This is a movement which embodies the urbanised, industrial world which Mahler could see emerging around him very quickly, as a mature man and artist. In this case, the dream of the past precedes the vision of the ‘alienated’ present. Mahler lived through an era of Austro-German culture which included the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movement, across all the arts, and he was also an exact contemporary of the painter Gustav Klimt (1860-1918). At the same time he lived (just) into the era of German Expressionism, a fact which is reflected supremely in the parody Landler-waltz and even more in the Rondo-Burleske movement of the Ninth Symphony. This was exactly contemporary with the grotesqueries and histrionics of Richard Strauss’s most experimental and advanced operatic score, that of the one-act opera Elektra.

It is of some interest in this context to note that while he was in New York, as Music Director of the NYPO towards the end of his life, Mahler conducted three works by Debussy, as follows:

Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune (early 1910)

Rondes de Printemps (November 1910) and

Iberia (January 1911, the year of Mahler’s death)

Gustav Mahler

 

6.    SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire,OP. 21 (1912)  Three times seven poems by Alfred Giraud, translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben, for speaker and chamber ensemble.  Song No. 21:  ‘O alter Duft’

Following on from the Second String Quartet of 1907-8, Schoenberg’s activity as a composer of complex, atonal Expressionist works showed no slowing down, even as he continued his part-time activities as a painter in oils. The next big work was The Book of the Hanging Garden (1908-9), again after Stefan George, to which Schoenberg himself attached special importance in his development. Then came he vitally important Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 of 1909,the single-span monodrama for soprano and orchestra, Erwartung (Expectation) from 1909, and the drama with music, also one-act Die gluckliche Hand (the Fortunate hand) of 1910-13. During these years, Schoenberg also completed his great Gurrelieder (oratorio after Jens Peter Jacobsen), using for the first time in the Monodrama of that work  the Sprechstimme , or ‘speech-song’ vocal technique, a combination of pitched and unpitched vocal utterance. This became the most striking new feature of Pierrot Lunaire, completed in 1912. This was a work which perhaps more than any other single one made him very famous and talked-about in his lifetime, particularly in the time of its first appearance. It is still, a century later, one of his most-performed pieces. One critic has called Pierrot ‘this strangest and most notorious of his compositions’. Yet in the 1920s, Stravinsky described it as ‘the solar plexus, as well as the mind of early twentieth century music’, and its influence on other composers both of its own time and later has been profound.

Poster for the first performance of Pierrot Lunaire, 1912

At the centre of Pierrot Lunaire is the female singer-reciter, playing, usually in clown’s costume, the role of the commedia dell’arte figure Pierrot, completely self-absorbed and obsessed with images of the moon. In this work the ever-present moon-image represents violence and death, as well as fantasy, longing and nostalgia. The speech-song is in fact a form of declamation, in which the voice touches a given pitch, but then rises or falls away from it in a mannered vocal glissando or slide. It must not be a pitched musical note or (at the other extreme) sound like singsong speech. There are twenty-one heavily stylised songs, in varying tempi, ranging from Mondestrunken (Moon-Drunk) to O alter Duft (O ancient fragrance), accompanied by five musicians playing a total of eight instruments, a true chamber ensemble, utterly removed from the hysterical orchestra of Erwartung. No two numbers in Pierrot have the same instrumentation, and only in O alter Duft, filled with acute nostalgia for a lost age (of tonality and secure belief in the lasting nature of the old key system in western music?) do all the players combine.

The work is divided into three sections of seven poems each,. Each three-stanza poem has 13 lines, of which the last is a repeat of line 1. The first seven poems are essentially light and satirical, the second seven grim and death-preoccupied, while the last seven are filled with a quiet resignation, and a yearning for past joys. O alter Duft, the very last poem of this supremely stylised work, seems to gaze at a past golden age of (surely imaginary?) lost certainties, very briefly evoking a slow Viennese waltz as a passing symbol of that lost time.

This is the text of O alter Duft (No21 of the 2 poems by Giraud, translated into German by Otto Hartleben), with a simultaneous English translation from 1984 by the distinguished critic Andrew Porter.

O alter Duft aus Marchenzeit

Berauschet wieder meine Sinne!

Ein narrisch Heer von Schelmerein

Durchschwirrt die leichte Luft.

 

Ein gluckhaft Wunschen macht mich froh

Nach Freuden, die ich lang verachtet

O alter Duft aus Marchenzeit,

Berauschet weder mich!

 

Al meinen Unmut geb ich preis

Aus meine sonnumrahmten Fenster

Beschau ich frei die liebe Welt

Und traum hinaus in selge Werten.

O alter Duft ----aus Marchenzeit!

 

 

O ancient scent from fabled times,

Once more you captivate my senses!

A merry troupe of roguish pranks

Pervades the gentle air.

 

With cheerful yearning I return

To pleasures I too long neglected

O ancient scent from fabled time,

Once more you captivate me!

 

All of my gloom I’ve cast aside

And from my sun-encircled window

I gladly view the lovely world,

And dreams go forth to greet the distance.

O ancient scent from fabled times!

 

7.    STRAVINSKY: OEDIPUS REX (1926-7) Opera-oratorio in Latin, after Sophocles.  Original French text by Jean Cocteau

First performed 30 May 1927, in concert form, at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, Paris, under Stravinsky’s direction. First staged performance was on 25 February 1928, at the Berlin Opera House, conducted by Otto Klemperer.

Stravinsky’s great ballet Le Sacre du Printemps  (The Rite of Spring, 1912-13) is his single most famous work, and one of the five or six supreme, undisputed modernist musical masterpieces. Difficult and challenging to perform, either as a fully choreographed ballet or as an orchestral showpiece, modern orchestras expect to play Le Sacre now as part of the standard repertoire. Its primitivism and its extreme rhythmic complexity and sophistication achieve their effect through the simultaneous impact of the dense harmonic vocabulary, and Stravinsky’s unprecedented reliance on wind instruments and percussion for colour and texture. As he had advanced stylistically from The Firebird (1908) to Petrouchka (1911), so he advanced still further, deliberately and self-consciously to the composition of Le Sacre for Serge Diaghilev, observing decades later that ‘I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed’. The premiere in Paris on 29 may 1913, under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux, was one of the great public scandals (if that is the word) in the history of music. Vaclav Nijinsky’s choreography and Nicholas Roerich’s designs for the work were lost for many decades, but have since been reconstructed and restored in our time.

Igor Stravinsky

Oedipus Rex belongs to the postwar period, and follows Les Noces (1916), Renard ( (1919), L’Histoire du Soldat (1918 )and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments(1920, a short,slow, powerful tribute to the memory of Debussy), all of them important works in Stravinsky’s stylistic development. By the mid 1920s, Stravinsky’s style had changed, though his musical personality had not. The influence of J.S. Bach had emerged, and Stravinsky’ neo-classical period had gradually begun after 1918, with works such as the ballet Pulcinella, after Giambattista Pergolesi (1919-20) setting the pace. Another ballet Apollon Musagete (1927-8), strikingly tonal in idiom, is a close contemporary piece with Oedipus Rex. In this opera-oratorio (the first time this term had been used ) Stravinsky wished to achieve a monumental character, matching his newly –developed, still very tonal musical language to a statuesque ‘dead’ sung language, for which he decided on Ciceronian Latin. Working on Oedipus Rex with Jean Cocteau (1889-1962), various changes and excisions were made to Sophocles’ drama, as the composer made it clear that he wanted a ‘still life’ with masks, not a drama of action. For Stravinsky at this point in his creative life, static presentation was essential, in that it drew attention away from Oedipus and the other characters, towards what he calls the’fatal development’ which was for him the meaning of the play, his favourite Greek drama from his youth. A speaker in evening dress, provides the narration in French  (beginning with ‘Spectateurs, vous allez entendre un drame latine  d’Oedipe-Roi!’ ……….) distancing himself from the other figures on the stage, who are masked. Tiresias the soothsayer, the shepherd and the messenger are moving, active characters on the stage, but though mobile are ‘mere travesties of human beings’. The protagonists are still, and there is virtually no dialogue. Even the duet of Oedipus and Jocasta (his mother and his wife, simultaneously) is performed by soloists who are essentially singing to themselves rather than to one another. The chorus, largely hidden behind draperies, plays an important role throughout, their faces alone being visible. Oedipus Rex starts with a chorus, in the key of B flat minor, with a simple ostinato accompaniment, stating the inevitability of fate and the tragic destiny of the king. The same material returns at the close, in the same key, when the chorus bid a sombre farewell to Oedipus (a tenor virtuoso), fading away into silence at the end, when the terrible events involving Laius (the father) and Jocasta (the mother) and the self-inflicted blinding of Oedipus have been disclosed and described. It has rightly been observed that the orchestral formation is quite close to that of Petrouchka (1911), and that the monumental, rigid tonal structure style of Oedipus Rex, with its formal structure of arias, duets and choruses is very indebted to Verdi and even to Gluck. It was Leonard Bernstein who first noticed the ghostly presence of Verdi’s Aida in this work. Verdi, with Tchaikovsky, was among the 19th century composers Stravinsky admired most. When the work first appeared, critics even invoked the name of Handel, many of whose operas were enjoying something of a revival in the Germany of the 1920s, at the same time as there was a revival of interest among opera directors in Germany in the works of Verdi.

 

8.    ALBAN BERG: VIOLIN CONCERTO (1935). Composed ‘to the memory of an angel’  (that is, to the memory of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler, nee Schindler, and the architect Walter Gropius. Manon had died from poliomyelitis, age 18)

Alban Berg

The Violin Concerto was Berg’s last completed work, written between April and August 1935. He died of blood poisoning in the early hours of 24 December 1935, aged 50, having suffered poor health for many years. Berg left his second opera (based on the two ‘Lulu’ plays of Frank Wedekind, 1864-1918) unfinished, though Acts I and II were complete and fully scored. Parts of Act III were also ready in full score, and the whole work had been written out in short, two-stave score. 940 bars in all were left in this abbreviated form. Had the composer survived, he would have finished the work in full in 1936. Various names were suggested after Berg’s death as persons able to complete the opera, but these suggestions came to nothing. Eventually Lulu was completed secretly, during the 1970s, by the Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha, despite the obstacles placed in the way of all interested parties by Berg’s widow, Helene Berg nee Nahowski. Her death in 1976 removed this serious legal snag, though lawsuits with the Berg estate followed before it was possible, in 1979, to have Lulu performed in full in its completed three-act version. Before this, Lulu had received various productions with Act 3 simply acted out verbally on the stage without music, clearly a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. Thanks to Cerha’s intimate knowledge of Berg’s style and orchestral palette, it has been possible since 1979 to enjoy the whole work as near to the way Berg would have envisaged it as is practically possible.

The American violinist Louis Krasner, who had lived in Vienna since 1927, commissioned the Violin Concerto from Berg in February 1935, at a time when the composer was seriously short of money. After the accession to power of Hitler and the Nazis in January 1933, there were few performances of Berg’s music in Germany or Austria. Even though Berg was not of Jewish birth, his music was, for the new regime in Germany, tainted with ‘Kulturbolschewismus’ (cultural subversiveness) along with the works of Schoenberg and Webern.  By a great irony, after Schoenberg had left Germany for the U.S.A. in 1933, certain about what was going to happen, Webern supported the Nazi regime in Germany, and was never tempted to leave Austria and go into exile. The Violin Concerto was first performed in Barcelona on 19 June 1936, with Louis Krasner, the dedicatee, as soloist, and Hermann Scherchen as conductor. Anton Webern conducted the work in May 1936 in a BBC studio concert, again with Krasner as soloist.  On 20 April 1938, Krasner recorded the Concerto for Swedish Radio, with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under Fritz Busch. The tape of this was kept, and it was issued as an historic commercial recording (digitally re-mastered) in 1990.

The early death of Manon Gropius in April 1935, which caused such deep pain to her family and her wide circle of friends, was the dreadful event which released Berg’s inspiration. The work is saturated with the memory of her personality, from start to finish. It is divided into two unlabelled parts. Part I is a portrait of the young girl Manon, and Part II (the break between the two sections is minimal) is a presentation of her suffering, death, and transfiguration. Manon herself becomes embodied in the solo violin, and the concerto, for all its technical complexity, took on a supremely lyrical, elegiac, reflective and intimately personal character which has ensured its popularity and standing ever since those early performances. Because of its status as Berg’s last completed work, the Violin Concerto has been regarded by many as Berg’s own ‘requiem’ for himself. But this cannot be a proper reflection of the truth, since however preoccupied he may have been with the idea of mortality and the shortness of time for completion of his projects, even Berg could not have foreseen that his life would be over before the year was out. Despite this, the Violin Concerto has come to be seen, in an almost mystic way, not only as a requiem for a greatly-loved young girl, but as a lament for Alban Berg himself.

The concerto uses serial, or twelve-tone technique, yet because of the way Berg constructed his initial row, in major and minor thirds, with several overlapping tonic triads, and a final four-note whole tone scale, the actual sound of the work is a rich blend of non-tonal with clear tonal references, a heady mix indeed. Critics as different as the older Ernest Newman (1868-1959) and the then tyro enfant terrible Pierre Boulez (b.1925) found this worrying in the work’s early existence. But it is now clear that its presence at the work’s heart is the reason for this concerto’s special appeal.  The four sections or movements within Parts I and II are in an unusual order: Andante – Allegretto – Allegro - Adagio.  As Mosco Carner observed (he was a Viennese musicologist, 1904-1985, lived in Britain for most of his life, and was a lifelong admirer of Berg’s music) it is more than likely that Berg was quite aware of the parallel with Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, which also opens and closes with a slow movement, and has a similar valedictory character. From the start, Berg was concerned to make the solo part as violinistic as possible, as idiomatic to the instrument as he could. Hence the choice of this particular tone row, strong and lyrical in its own right. Only after he had worked on the concerto for some time did Berg notice that the four-note whole tone scale which ended the original row coincided with the chorale ‘Es ist genug’ (It is enough) from J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 60, ‘O Ewigkeit , du Donnerwort’ (O Eternity, thou voice of thunder).

Arnold Schoenberg’s portrait of Alban Berg, 1910

As the overall tonality, or tonal leaning, of Part I is G minor, so that of Part II is B flat major. The two keys are, of course, intimately related. Berg transposed the A major of Bach’s original chorale upa semitone into B flat, to accommodate this. In the Allegretto section of Part I, he had incorporated a Carinthian folk tune, marked ‘come una pastorale’, in the key of G flat, and played on the horn and two trumpets. The text of the original, published in Vienna in 1892, is startlingly and explicitly erotic. This folk-tune reappears, faintly, near the close of the concerto, before the Coda, in which the chorale, after two elaborate variations, makes its final reappearance. The Violin Concerto closes on a B flat major chord, with added sixth, in the manner of the Abschied (Farewell) from Mahler’s Song of the Earth (1908), ending in C major, on the repeated word ‘Ewigkeit’ (forever) and also (less often mentioned) the final, baritone song ‘Friede, mein Herz’ from Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony (1922) , which closes on a protracted D major. Both of these were works with which Berg was very familiar. Indeed, he quoted from the Lyric Symphony in his own 1927 Lyric Suite.

Many composers in the western tradition have been obsessed, overtly or otherwise, with numerology and its possible incorporation into compositional practice. Schoenber was a very good example of this, as of course was J.S. Bach. Berg had this obsession to an unusual extent, so that number-ratios, patterns of symmetry and palindromes, as well a hidden, private number-based structural features, the latter usually indicating powerful emotional, yet concealed messages, are present in his scores, particularly after Wozzeck (1914-1921). A supreme example of this is the Lyric Suite for string quartet (1927), already mentioned. The truth about this work was not fully realised until the accidental discovery in 1977 of an annotated score, though many had previously felt the Lyric Suite to be a work of unusual expressive intensity. It is now known to embody a secret coded number- and letter-pattern based on the composer’s clandestine love affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, wife of a rich Viennese industrialist, and sister of the novelist and poet Franz Werfel. Hanna’s initials, HF, and his own AB, are interwoven musically, as are the numbers 10 (for Hanna) and 23 (for Berg himself). Recent research has indicated that 23 is also present in the Violin Concerto, together with 28, apparently intended to represent not just Manon Gropius, but all women.

At one time, Berg was seen by music-historians of the ‘radical mainstream’ of modern western music as the most backward looking of the three figures constituting what came later to be called  ’the Second Viennese School’. His music was felt by some to have too many reminders of 19th century music, too much in the way of a background of implied possible tonality within his use, first, of free atonality, then, later, in his idiosyncratic serial technique. Nowadays, that view is reversed, and Berg has become by some margin the most accessible and loved of ‘the great three’. As Webern’s music, so much admired, especially by younger composers, between the 1940s and the 1960s as a model for the future, has rather receded in impact, so the music of Berg, not much studied before the 1960s, has advanced in favour. The words ‘dense’, ‘complex’, ‘intricate’ and ‘esoteric’ crop up frequently in Berg criticism. Close study of his scores has enabled scholars to see how inventive, imaginative and diverse he was in the various uses he made of serial devices in his later music, supremely in the Lyric Suite, the concert aria Der Wein, Lulu, and the Violin Concerto.   Mosco Carner expressed it well in his study, Alban Berg: The Man and his Music (2nd edition, 1983), when he said: ‘With Berg I feel I am in the presence of a great humanist whose creations are all ‘about ‘ something, which in the last analysis has to do with life and life’s bitter experiences’.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

This is the original brief bibliography for the talk, issued at the time:

  • Beller, Steven: Vienna and the Jews, 1867-1938 - Cambridge 1989
  • Butler, Christopher: Early Modernism: Literature, Music and Painting in Europe, 1900-1916 - Oxford 1994
  • Cook, Nicholas and Pople, Anthony (eds): The Cambridge History of Twentieth Century Music - Cambridge 2004
  • Cross, Jonathan: The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky - Cambridge 2003
  • Johnson, Julian: Mahler’s Voices - Oxford 2009
  • Newlin, Dika: Bruckner-Mahler-Schoenberg rev. edition - London 1975
  • Nicholls, Peter: Modernisms; A Literary Guide - Macmillan 1995
  • Pople, Anthony: Berg: Violin Concerto - Cambridge 1991
  • Rosen, Charles: Schoenberg - Fontana Modern Masters, Glasgow 1976
  • Schoenberg, Arnold ‘Composition with Twelve Tones’ in Style and Idea, tr. and ed. Leonard Stein, rev. edn - Faber 1984

 

ADDITIONAL SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Taruskin, Richard: Music in the Early Twentieth Century; The Oxford History of Western Music, Volume 4 - Oxford 2010
  • Griffiths, Paul: A Concise History of Modern Music - Thames and Hudson 1978
  • Albright, Daniel: Modernism in Music: An Anthology of Sources - Chicago UP 2004
  • Ross, Alex: The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century - Harper Perennial 2007 and 2009
  • Lockspeiser, Edward: Debussy: His Life and Mind, 2 vols - Cassell / Cambridge 1962 and 1965
  • Briscoe, James R.: Debussy in Performance - Yale 1999
  • Nichols, Roger: Debussy Remembered - Faber 1992
  • Nichols, Roger: The Life of Debussy - Cambridge 1998
  • Kennedy, Michael:  Mahler - Dent / Oxford (Schirmer/Macmillan) 1974
  • Nicholson, J. and Mitchell, D.: The Mahler Companion - Faber 1998
  • Macdonald, Malcolm: Schoenberg - Dent /Oxford  (Schirmer/ Macmillan) 1976
  • Whittall, Arnold: Schoenberg Chamber Music - BBC Music Guide 1972
  • Dunsby, Jonathan: Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire - Cambridge 1992
  • Arnold Schoenberg tr. and ed.: Leo Black: Style and Idea (writings on music) - Faber 2/1975 and 3/1984
  • Hayes, Malcolm: Anton von Webern - Phaidon 1995
  • Carner, Mosco: Alban Berg: the Man and His Music - Duckworth, 2nd ed., 1983
  • Adorno Theodor W. tr. Juliane Brand and Christopher Hailey: Alban Berg: Master of the Smallest Link - Cambridge 1991 (original German publication by Elisabeth Lafite, Vienna, 1968)
  • Pople, Anthony (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Berg - Cambridge 1997
  • Griffiths, Paul: Stravinsky - Schirmer/ Macmillan 1992
  • Stravinsky, Igor and Craft, Robert: Memories and Commentaries (one-volume edition of the four volumes of conversations between Stravinsky and Robert Craft, originally published between 1958 and 1972) - Faber 2002
  • Kennedy, Michael: Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma - Cambridge 1999  
  • Puffett, Derek: Strauss; Elektra - Cambridge 1989
  • Beaumont, Anthony: Busoni the Composer - Faber 1999
  • Beaumont, Anthony: Zemlinsky - Faber 2000                  
  • Nichols, Roger: Ravel - Yale 2011
  • Griffiths, Paul: Bartok - Schirmer/ Macmillan 1984
  • Gillies, Malcolm (ed.): Bartok Remembered - Faber 1990
  • Hindemith, Paul: A Composer’s World: Horizons and Limitations - Harvard 1952
  • Palmer, Christopher: Szymanowski - BBC Music Guide 1983
  • Macdonald, Hugh: Scriabin (Skryabin) - Oxford 1978
  • Geoffrey Skelton: Paul Hindemith: the Man Behind the Music - Gollancz 1975
  • David Nice: Prokofiev: a Biography. From Russia to the West 1891-1935 - Yale 2003  (This is the first volume of a projected two-volume biography)         

Text by Dr Robert Blackburn 2012-2013