Yes, Schoenberg, you and I can be friends

tumblr_lf6bersnuT1qaruxco1_1280Randomly reading some music interviews last night. There was this interview with a piano/violin duo at Penn State University back in 1996, and the interviewer asked the duo why they would think of performing and recording George Crumb:

Just the name Crumb makes me cringe, expecting dissonance. How can the same Duo encompass the lush, romantic Strauss, the crisp, classically-inspired Stravinsky, and the dissonant, difficult Crumb? And why would they want to?

This statement made me realize how relative the word “dissonance” is. I noticed that “dissonant” wasn’t used as a descriptor for Stravinsky, whose Rite of Spring automatically gets “dissonant.” Instead George Crumb gets “dissonant”, and the question of why the duo would even WANT to perform Crumb. This seems to be someone whose ears have gotten used to Stravinsky to the point where it isn’t considered “dissonant” or “difficult” to listen to or understand. Dissonant is strange, too because what music is free of dissonance? Think of the clusters in Mephisto Waltz 1. Or is “dissonant” the fall back term when someone doesn’t quite like the sound of a piece of music, but lacks the vocabulary to say why?

Perhaps the reason why we’ve ceased to call Stravinsky’s music “dissonant” any longer is because we’ve gotten accustomed to it.

Even Chopin was “dissonant” once.

If dissonance is so relative, what could this mean for us as listeners? It took me a while to come to terms with Schoenberg, even though I’d like to think that I respect him a lot, and defended him passionately in class, or tried to. I listened to Pollini’s recording of his piano works, and I thought that it was about time Schoenberg and I became friends.

Op. 19

Op. 19

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