Sunday, December 21, 2014

Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses und Aron"

I’ve waited for some years for a DVD (possibly a 1973 French film) of the opera “Moses und Aron” (or “Moses and Aaron”) by Arnold Schoenberg to appear on Netflix, so today I dug out my 1985 recording on London with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Only two acts were complete;  a text exists for the third.  The entire work runs about 97 minutes.
The opera plays out the major personality difference between Moses (Franz Mazura) and his older brother Aaron (Philip Langridge).  Aaron grew up with his own people and, although he interceded with Moses in the Egyptian court when trying to secure the release of the Israelites from slavery, he reminded closer to the people “emotionally” and his attitude was more permissive when the people became restless while Moses was on the mountain receiving The Ten Commandments.

The music is largely atonal and dodecaphonic, and Wikipedia diagrams the row here. Yet it often becomes quite “postromantic” in characters, especially in the louder passages with full chorus.  At spots in the Act I, there are foreshadowings of the first movement of Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony.  
The most arresting part of the opera is Scene 3 of Act 2, the Golden Calf scene, where the impatient Israelites engage in “idol worship”.  Is that the same thing as my “upward affiliation”?  Most of this 24-minute scene is orchestral and in fast tempi, and in spots it recalls the violent scherzo (third movement) of the Mahler Ninth.  The dance would work well as a standalone work in concerts.  In a few places, it almost anticipates modern acid disco.

The first act ends very tonally, in fact, in F# minor, with violence;  the second act dies away on a final F#.
Additional:  I just “broke down” and ordered the Amazon DVD of a 2011 performance directed by Daniel Huillet, link, distributed by New Yorker Films.  I’ll add some comments about the scenery (especially the Golden Calf) as soon as I’ve seen it.  This performance appears to add about ten minutes of the unfinished Act III. 

Update: Dec. 24.  The DVD arrived and I reviewed it on the movies blog today. 

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