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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000050.txt from 2000/09

From: Daniel Leeson <>
Subj: Re: [kl] An interesting story about Schoenberg
Date: Sun, 3 Sep 2000 11:25:25 -0400

This response by Tony to the Schoenberg incident was an absolute delight
to read. It examines the problem at a great distance in time, it
reviews it analytically, it makes intelligent conclusions from a
god's-eye point of view. It was really an exciting piece of reading.

I very much enjoy objectivity in musical analysis and this is a prime
example of doing so rationally.

Tony Pay wrote:
> On Sat, 02 Sep 2000 17:48:56 -0700, said:
> > "At one point the clarinetist Polatschek leaned over to whisper to
> > Burghauser that he had just discovered he had by mistake been playing
> > a clarinet in B-flat instead of the one in A specified in the score,
> > and Schoenberg hadn't noticed it -- which led to Burghauser's
> > suggestion that the musicians play wrong notes to see if Schoenberg
> > would hear them, and their discovery that he did not hear them."
> It's difficult to know what to make of stories like this. We know that
> anecdotes often get exaggerated and elaborated in the telling, if
> they're passed from one person to another -- and even if they're told a
> large number of times by one person.
> To start with, it's worth noting that this is the sort of story that
> orchestral players quite like to tell, isn't it? Music that's really
> difficult to play, a conductor that's a difficult person to deal with --
> what more delightful than that he can't hear whether or not you're
> playing what he wrote? It helps the beer go down a treat!
> Well, the Schoenberg Kammersymphonie clarinet part is largely in A, with
> the central scherzo on the Bb.
> The way the story is told seems to suggest that Polatschek had failed to
> read correctly which clarinet he should take, and had been playing for
> some time without Schoenberg noticing. If that's so, one possibility is
> that Polatschek made his mistake at the very beginning, just not
> noticing that the part's in A; or that he failed for some reason to
> change back to the A clarinet after the scherzo.
> We can dismiss the first alternative: it would certainly be impossible
> to play the beginning of the piece on the Bb clarinet without *everyone*
> noticing, because the held F major chord in the fourth bar would have a
> C# in it, and in bars 6 to 9 the melody is doubled by all the high
> winds, including the A clarinet.
> Likewise the return. The clarinet switches to A for the ghostly
> sehr langsam passage in fourths, with col legno strings, which is
> completely exposed. Playing a semitone sharp here would be like a slap
> in the face.
> Could it have been the other way round? That is, could Polatschek have
> failed to make the switch to *Bb* for the scherzo, and the story has
> been garbled? Well, no, because almost immediately in the scherzo the
> clarinet and piccolo have exposed octaves, which again would stick out
> like a sore thumb.
> So, perhaps we should read the story differently. Perhaps what happened
> was that in the course of the rehearsal, Schoenberg jumped from one
> part of the piece to rehearse a couple of bars in another; Polatschek
> didn't see that he should switch clarinets, and Schoenberg didn't
> notice.
> That's a bit more plausible. We might imagine that Schoenberg was
> concentrating on another part of the group, and wasn't listening
> overmuch at that moment to what the clarinet was doing. (The most
> likely part of the piece for this to occur, funnily enough, is the part
> that's actually on the Bb clarinet.)
> But I've played this piece probably around a hundred times, and
> conducted it around 10 times, and I have to say that I find it very
> implausible that the error could have persisted for longer than a bar or
> so, say. All the players would notice, never mind the conductor! There
> are just too many unison and octave doublings, and the tonal mismatches
> would be too extreme.
> Finally, I suppose we should consider the possibility that Schoenberg,
> despite being a great composer, actually was unable to hear blatant
> wrong notes, in a tonal piece, when he conducted rehearsals. (This is
> the suggestion made in the story at the end, though the degree to which
> it was found to be true by our bassoonist informant and his colleagues
> is -- conveniently? -- left unspecified.)
> This could be so, I suppose. I don't know of any other evidence for it.
> He was a professional 'cellist.
> By the way, if you don't know this Op 9 of Schoenberg, I thoroughly
> recommend it. As I said, it's an early, tonal work, not at all
> difficult to listen to; and it's very, very exciting. Get the original
> chamber version rather than the later version for full orchestra.
> If you buy London Sinfonietta/Atherton you get me trying to negotiate
> the D/Eb part, unfortunately without the help of a D clarinet. (You
> also get some searing horn playing from Barry Tuckwell, who turned up 15
> minutes late for the session from a meeting with his ex-wife's
> solicitor. We knew where he'd been, and nobody said a word, not even
> the conductor:-)
> One thing is certain: even if Schoenberg didn't hear clearly what his
> players *were* doing when they were rehearsing his piece, he certainly
> heard pretty clearly what they *should* be doing when he was writing it!
> Tony
> --
> _________ Tony Pay
> |ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd
> | |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN family artist:
> tel/fax 01865 553339
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** Dan Leeson **
** **

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