HEY ARNOLD

At a performance of Arnold Schoenberg's transcription (?) of Brahms' g minor piano quartet, in which I participated, the audience was told that Arnold chose to do this because the work is "always very badly played."

After pondering this statement, I looked up the quote:

When a music critic asked to why he had chosen the work in question, Schoenberg replied, "I like the piece. It is seldom played. It is always very badly played, because, the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing form the strings. I wanted once to hear everything, and this I achieved."

The work was completed in 1861, Schoenberg created his orchestration in 1937. It was premiered by Clara Schumann, and played the next year by Brahms himself.

1937 was a year when Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Misha Elman and a host of violinists so great that many would agree are unequaled; same for violists such as William Primrose and Lionel Tertis, cellists Pablo Casals, Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky. The piano department had the likes of Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, Horowitz, to name just a few. Hey, Arnold, where were they, and where were you? Did you only hear performances by students?

And Arnie, by the way, what did you create instead? Your transcription has passages that are so awkward, for almost every instrument in the score, which hardly any orchestral players can make sound palatable, as well as plenty of places where melodies and harmonies are obliterated by bad orchestration, including brass flutters, percussion smashes and pure ugliness. You transformed an intimate chamber music work into a disgraceful mockery.

This performer and music listener has never accepted the 12-tone system of composition; judging by the paucity of performances of this music over the last century, it is not withstanding the test of time well at all. Perhaps Arnold had to take this route because he really couldn't hear, or certainly couldn't write or construct something that pleases the ear.


Hey Arnold
Bowing Bowings
All content © 2020 Frederick Zlotkin