Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Arnold Schoenberg's "Erwartung": is this what the afterlife promises?



Here is a presentation of the score of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), 1909, a one-act monodrama or opera for solo soprano and large orchestra, with German libretto by Marie Pappenheim.


A woman is lost in the forest looking for her lover.  First she mistakes a tree trunk for him, then she finds that he is expiring, and she wonders what to do with her life.  It’s as if the rest of her life would go into suspended animation and waiting for what is not hers to have.

Stumbling on to thinking about this piece is like a step in a Pokemon Go treasure hunt (in front of the Angelika Mosaic Theater in Fairfax VA in 2016).


The music style is atonal, but Schoenberg would not develop his full twelve-tone system until the 1920s.  The music is also said to be athematic, and it is hard to grasp what that means.  I thought I detected fragments of a theme being developed.  There are many chromatic scale passages and glissandi, especially near the end.  There are a few places where the music resembles some passages in the first movement of the Mahler Ninth (written also in 1909).

He was a “bad soldier” during World War I, foreshadowing moral controversies about conscription to occur in later decades.
  
The work is often paired with Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” for performance, and I saw it that way in Washington in the 1990s.

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