Sunday, June 14, 2009

Arnold Schoenberg

The Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg interests me deeply. He was probably the last major composer to shock the public to any great degree. His twelve-tone composing technique would cause audiences to riot in some cases. He wrote a-tonal music when more traditional forms of harmony and contrapuntal music were dominant.

Schoenberg intrigues me because I wonder to myself - where do we go next? We have moved from tonality to a-tonality, and this dichotomy seems to exhaust the possibilities. It interests me as a poet, because using this dichotomy as a metaphor and applying it to poetry, we might say we have moved from the tonal classical structures of meter and rhyme, to the a-tonal structures of experimentation, free verse and effacement of meaning.

Schoenberg in many ways showed us a new way to turn. He employed a sharp auto-didactic knowledge toward constructing theories of composition, which created work that was new and shocking. But it has been a hundred years since some of his major works, and we are still in many respects caught in the tonal/atonal bind. What is outside this duality in terms of creativity? Do we simply move to the past and draw once again from the classical - a movement which has been necessitated at numerous intervals in the history of creativity? Or can we actually create something truly new - and will it be enough to shock the establishment, or will it only be an echo of what the past has given us?

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