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Collected Quotes from Arnold Schoenberg

Having recently finished reading Style and Idea, a collection of Arnold Schoenberg's writings on various topics, music related and otherwise, I would like to share some of his ideas I underlined while reading, particularly those that are pertinent to composition, even more specifically those topics that are often covered in this forum.

On "electrical instruments":

...the misguided spirit of industry...does not allow inventions to mature until they are perfect from the artistic point of view...what they are to produce is not an instrument serving art, but something which can be mass-produced and thrown cheaply on the market, and which can be brought out at least once a year in a new fashionable version that makes the earlier ones valueless...

(p.152)

I wholly agree here, and find it funny when people rage about the new EQWL VST's or things of that nature, which they plop down way too much money on only to have to do the same thing in another year lest their music sounds dated.  And they become snobbish about their music sounding good, belittling those who use sound technology from an earlier "era" (ie. two years ago) when it fact it sounds just as cheap as anything else produced electronically.  

I think that way from time to time.  There is also the other side of the coin that there is no conspiracy here, and that the latest innovations do get closer and closer to sounding great, but really, if the goal is to sound more like real instruments, just bypass all that and write for real instruments!  But then again (add your argument here)

Ok , I was thinking about going through all the pertinent quotes, but that would take far too long.  Perhaps a series of installments.  Just one more in order to make the title of this blog appropriate:

On the process of composition:

...a real composer's musical conception...is one single act, comprising the totality of the product...[everything is] there at once, though in embryonic state.  The ultimate formulation of the melodies, rhythms, [etc] will subsequently develop through the generating power of the germs.

(p.165)

This is really nothing more than a nice little dream I think.  Very romantic notion, and in fact temporally impossible.  Music is an art that stretches through time.  How can anybody, in one single moment, conceive of an entire piece of music?  If a piece lasts 3 minutes, it will take at least 3 minutes to write it, no?  That's me perhaps misinterpreting.  But this whole "a real composer works in way x" bothers me in any case.  Of course, such assertions can never be shown to be true, you can analyze a piece in this way, but you will most likely have to fudge details here and there, as with almost any analysis.  And Schoenberg doesn't even bother to back up this claim with any concrete example.  

Mostly when he analyzes music, he shows how odd numbered phrasings come about, interesting examples to be sure, but does a 9 measure phrase somehow make one theme better than one that is 8 measures?  I can (and have!) performed phrase analyses of music that I am certain Schoenberg would certainly not consider to have come from "real composers" (Alice Cooper and Tony Iommi for example) where there are sometimes 5 measure phrases, sometimes 11, yee freaking haw!  Surely, mastery of music composition takes more than that.

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Comment by Tombo Rombo on March 25, 2012 at 2:43am

The usefulness of knowledge depends on how you intend to use it and the truth of  a statement depends on how true it is.  Likewise, the blueness of the sky depends on it being blue.

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