When Gurre-Lieder had its first performance in Vienna on February 23, 1913, it was an immediate success despite the fact that Arnold Schoenberg had made a series of scandals with his latest works. The following day, Pierrot Lunaire made a new scandal in Prague.
It is a thought-provoking paradox that Schoenberg kept on working on the late Romantic symphonic cantata during the development of his free atonal or pantonal style. In this paper I intend to discuss this paradox in terms of worlding and unworlding in reference to phenomenological philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Mikel Dufrenne as well as the musicologists John Covach and Hermann Danuser. At the same time as a new musical world emerges in works such as the Second String Quartet and Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, the world of late Romanticism starts to be dissolved or unworlded.
Vital to this investigation is the dislocation in the poetics of Stefan George, whose poems Schoenberg began to set to music during this period of change – both the quartet and the song cycle belong to those works. George’s close friend and foremost interpreter Friedrich Gundolf described a shift from the mood orientation of the early George to the emergence of a powerful tone. Instead of only saying that Schoenberg and the composers of his circle needed texts in order to organize longer compositions during the atonal, pre-dodecaphonic phase – a common suggestion in research on the Second Viennese School – I propose that it is less linguistic elements than the specific tone of the poems that had the sought-after potential.
The change can be described as an attunemental shift that concerns much more than a compositional development. It took place during a time of crisis, just before World War I and in the last years of an era that Hobsbawm has called ‘the long 19th century’. Even if this circumstance can only be hinted at, it is crucial for my postdoc project ‘Worlding and Unworlding’, to which this paper belongs, where I investigate a series of historical disruptions and crises.
Seventeenth Nordic Musicological Congress 2015, Aalborg, August 11th-14th 2015