old title "Adagio für Streicher und Harfe"

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DURATION: ca. 4 Min.

Universal Edition
Belmont Music Publishers (USA, Canada, Mexico)

In his development both as a composer and as a painter, Arnold Schoenberg was self-taught. Study of scores by his models, including Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, awoke in him the desire to be a composer himself. Until his 17th year, these attempts were, in his own words, restricted to 'imitations of such music as I had been able to become acquainted with - violin duets and duet-arrangements of operas and the repertory of military bands that played in public parks' (My Evolution, 1949). The only instruction that Schoenberg can be proved to have received came through his future brother-in-law Alexander von Zemlinsky, whose acquaintance he had made in the autumn of 1895. Zemlinsky was at the time the leader of the Viennese 'Polyhymnia Musical Society', a group of amateur dilettantes who held rehearsals first in the Rabl Hotel on the Meat Market, then in the National Hotel in Tabor Street and finally in the 'Great Tobacco Pipe' in Goldsmith Lane. According to Zemlinsky, the society's orchestra consisted of just 'a few violins, a viola, a cello and a double bass'. Arnold Schoenberg, who in the summer of 1895 had resigned from his position with the bankers Werner & Co, played cello in Polyhymnia in a manner 'full as much of fire as of mistakes' (in the words of Zemlinsky in 1934, recalling his younger years). On 2 March 1896, in the hall of the Merchants' Society, the first official orchestral concert of Polyhymnia took place; on the program, alongside works including Alexander Zemlinsky's Conversation in the Wood, was the first public performance of a work by Schoenberg: 'a very atmospheric Nocturne (manuscript) for string orchestra and solo fiddle' (Neue musikalische Presse, 15 March 1896). Schoenberg's Notturno was long believed by researchers to have been lost, but Antony Beautmont was recently able to identify the work as the manuscript which had previously been entered in the catalogue under the title 'Adagio for Harp and Strings' and was preserved in the Library of Congress in Washington (the Moldenhauer Bequest). The identification was made possible on the basis of a comparison with the Zemlinsky Conversation in the Wood manuscript, which showed part allocations in the same handwriting as well as parallels in the instrumentation (the preferential treatment given to the solo fiddle and harp). Beaumont in his edition (Universal Edition Vienna, 2001) linked this characteristic to the specific situation of the Polyhymnia orchestra, which was able to rely on both an excellent concertmaster and an excellent harpist. Fingerings in the cello part of the Notturno, which are clearly in Schoenberg's handwriting, provide further evidence that the composer himself took part in the premiere. The late-Romantic work, written three years before the string sextet Verklärte Nacht, was originally marked Andante, and was only later changed by Schoenberg to Adagio.

Therese Muxeneder © Arnold Schönberg Center Translation: Natalie Shea Symphony Australia © 2003