Schoenberg's Handel Concerto and the Ruins of Tradition

Joseph H. Auner
1996 Journal of the American Musicological Society  
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact . RNOLD SCHOENBERG made no secret of his antipathy toward Handel's music. He would reportedly become furious "if one mentioned Handel in the same breath as Bach
more » ... or even Haydn and Mozart."' In his essay "New Music, Outmoded Music, Style and Idea," he set up Handel as a foil to illustrate the greatness of Bach, whose sophisticated counterpoint made Handel's seem "bare and simple ... really inferior" by contrast." Schoenberg described what he called "the defects of the Handelian style" in a 1932 letter to Pablo Casals concerning the Cello Concerto, a recomposition of a keyboard concerto by Handel's contemporary Georg Matthias Monn: Just as Mozart did with Handel's "Messiah," I have got rid of whole handfuls of sequences (rosalias, "Schusterflecke"), replacing them with real substance. Then I also did my best to deal with the other main defect of Handelian style, which is that the theme is always best when it first appears and grows steadily more insignificant and trivial in the course of the piece.3 Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Sixtieth Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Minneapolis, October 1994, and in conferences and colloquia at the Musikhochschule des Saarlandes, Saarbriicken, Princeton University, and The State University of New York at Stony Brook. Parts of this material have been published in "Schoenberg and Handel in 1933," The Newsletter of the American Handel Society io (1995): i-7; and "Sch6nbergs Handel Konzert: Eine Konfrontation mit der Tradition gegen Ende der Weimarer Republik," trans. Stefan Eckert, in Schriftenreihe der Musikhochschule des Saarlandes (Saarbriicken: Paar, 1995), 34-53. I would like to thank in particular SCHOENBERG'S HANDEL CONCERTO 265 It is surprising in light of such criticisms that Schoenberg devoted nearly six months of 1933, which was a difficult period in his life, to the composition of the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, "freely transcribed" from Handel's Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, no. 7.4 The concerto is one of a series of adaptations from the 1920os and 1930s that includes the Bach and Brahms arrangements and the Cello Concerto.5s Yet to a far greater extent than these works, the Concerto for String Quartet alters-sometimes dramatically-the melodic and harmonic structure of the original, starkly exposing the nearly two hundred years that separate it from Schoenberg's reworking. Writing to Berg in the summer of 1933, he described his efforts to complete the String Quartet Concerto as "very tedious work ... in the end it will be a very good piece and that won't be Handel's doing, if I do say Uebrigen war es meine Hauptsorge die Mingel des Handelstils (dem das Werk im Original angehdrt) zu beseitigen. Sowie Mozart es mit dem Messias von Hindel getan hat, so habe auch ich hier ganze Hinde voll Sequenzen (Rosalien, 'Schusterflecke') entfernt und durch echte Substanz ersetzt. Dann habe ich mich bemiiht, den andern Hauptmangel des Handelstils zu bekimpfen: dort ist nimlich das Thema immer beim ersten Auftreten am Besten und wird im Lauf des Stiickes immer unbedeutender und geringer" (Arnold Schoenberg Correspondence: A Collection of Translated and Annotated Letters Exchanged with Guido Adler, Pablo Casals, Emanuel Feuermann, and Olin Downes, ed. Egbert M. Ennulat [Metuchen, N.J., and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1991], 162). 4The title as it appears at the head of the score in the original Schirmer publication of 1935 reads as follows: "Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra after the Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7 by G. F. Handel," with "freely transcribed by Arnold Schoenberg" as a subtitle. The title on the autograph reads, "Konzert fiir Streichquartett und Orchester / nach dem Concerto grosso Opus 6 Nr. 7 von G. F. Hindel in freier Umgestaltung von Arnold Schdnberg." Arnold Schonberg Sdmtliche Werke, ed. Nikos Kokkinis, Abteilung 7: Bearbeitungen, Reihe B, Band 27, Teil 2: Instrumentalkonzerte nach Werken alter Meister (Mainz: B. Schott's Sahne; Vienna: Universal Edition, 1987), 121. 5 Throughout this essay I will use the term recomposition for the Monn and Handel concertos to distinguish them from the less fundamentally reworked Bach and Brahms arrangements, which include J. S. Bach, Chorale Prelude, "Komm, Gott, Sch6pfer, heiliger Geist," BWV 631 (1922); Chorale Prelude, "Schmiicke dich, O liebe Seele," BWV 654 (1922); 266 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICAL SOCIETY so. I liked the piece better in the beginning."6 This confrontational attitude is apparent in Schoenberg's copy of Op. 6, no. 7, which he assiduously marked as a teacher would correct a composition exercise (see Plate i below).7 The vehemence of Schoenberg's reactions toward Handel both in his writings and in the String Quartet Concerto go far beyond the ambivalent relationship to tradition we might expect of the "conservative revolutionary."8 Schoenberg always focused his criticisms of Handel on stylistic features, but broader political and cultural factors can help explain his hostility as well as his preoccupation with Handel during the early 1930s. Recent studies have explored many aspects of Schoenberg's works and thought during his final years in Germany, including the recompositions and arrangements as signs of his ambivalent relationship to the past, the formation of his Jewish identity, and his stance toward Neoclassicism. Yet the special position of the String Quartet Concerto as a focal point for all of these concerns has received little attention. I will argue that the work and its sketches document the extraordinary challenges Schoenberg faced in reconciling the complex and contradictory strands in his own identity while negotiating the shifting cultural and political currents at the end of the Weimar Republic. A study of the sketches for the third movement will chart a transformation from Schoenberg's initial attempt to mediate inherent conflicts in the movement to his eventual decision to make stylistic opposition the subject of the work. The tension between respect and rebellion manifest in the creative process and in the completed score can thus offer new critical windows into Schoenberg's ideas of history and tradition, his position in respect to artistic trends in the 1920s and 193os, and the eclecticism of his late style.9 6Juliane Brand, Christopher Hailey, and Donald Harris, eds., The Berg-Schoenberg
doi:10.2307/831991 fatcat:4cww2664ezgwtggidt5dirufdu