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What Classical Music Are You Listening To?


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Kent Nagano's recording of Schoenberg's incomplete but still fairly massive (about 45 minutes) oratorio Die Jakobsleiter (Harmonia Mundi) coupled with the original a cappella version of Friede aid Erden op. 13  and an arrangement of that work (by an unknown hand) for chorus and orchestra. Nagono's recording  of the quite difficult to realize  Die Jakobsleiter is luminous and precise, with baritone Dietrich Henschel in the crucial part of Gabriel a standout. The closing pages, with a soprano soaring above are stunning.

Schoenberg broke off work on Die Jakobsleiter when he was called up. to serve in the the German Army in World War I and never returned to it; the part that he left virtually complete was scrupulously filled in by his pupil Winifred Zillig. Known for working at white heat, Schoenbeg may never have regained the requisite fire to continue with part two -- the total work, libretto by Schoenberg, would have been at least twice as long -- though some speculate that what S had written so far was so prophetic of future developments in his music that he may have felt that what he had had in mind musically for Part Two either would no longer match up with the libretto of Part Two or that he felt that he didn't yet have the musical means at hand to realize those prophetic ideas. In any case, Die Jakobsleiter is brilliant and doesn't feel like a torso.

P.S. Just listened to it again. Brilliant doesn't begin to describe this work. And as Zillig said, torso though it may be in one sense, the ending of the part we have is one of the moar remarkable "endings" in music. The sense it creates of entering previously unknown spheres! 

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Inside Schoenberg's mind  (or soul) circa 1917:

From the text of Die Jakobsleiter:


"Though grandeur gleams around me,

humiliation still chafes me;

I attempt to flee from matter; disgust makes it easy for me,

hunger forces me back.

However high I raised myself,

I shoiuld nver lose them from my sight;

their best is mine; as is their worst.

I plunder, steal, and wrest I way,

disdain what is acquire and inherited,gather it together, seize it, to grab it anew,

to shape a model certainly new, perhaps higher.


They are the theme, I the variation.

But a different motive impels me,

drives me to a different goal.

Which? I must know that! Away!

I leave my word here: ponder it well!

I take my form with me; it lies ahead of you


until it reappears in your midst with new words

-- the old ones again -- to be misunderstood once more.

Even rather prophetic, one might say: 


"I take my form with me; it lies ahead of you


until it reappears in your midst with new words

-- the old ones again -- to be misunderstood once more."





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