It’s amazing to visit places where things happened, things that we read about and that have affected our daily lives. For music, I think about Vienna, the birthplace of Franz Schubert, the city of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. But I live in LA. It looks different from Vienna, that is for sure. But amazing musical creativity has happened and continues to happen here every day. LA is a wonderful center for the arts and has been a historical haven for European composers fleeing tyranny. Today it harbors a rich and diverse musical culture. In this post, I want to talk about a composer and the historical Los Angeles sites where he lived and worked. Yes, it’s wonderful to visit places like Vienna to see the places where composers created masterpieces. LA is part of the same story. Though its more difficult to find the places in LA where composers created their music than the plaque-indicated tour stop houses of Beethoven and Schubert, historic music sites do exist in LA and I want to track them down.
Arnold Schoenberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) is a composer we find in virtually every historical account of classical music in the 20th century, a giant in the world of music composition. He himself characterized his music as belonging to three stylistic periods: 1) extended tonality 2) atonality and 3) twelve-tone composition. The first of these styles came directly out of the German Romantic traditions of Mahler and Richard Strauss, both conductors of the Vienna State Opera. Schoenberg’s sextet Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night) is a beautiful example of his extended tonality and highly recommended listening. As his music moved towards atonality from 1908 – around 1921, it is easy to draw a historical parallel between his music and the dramatic, tumultuous upheavals which were taking place in the world, with WWI and WWII. Such times cried out for new music. Schoenberg was not the only one headed musically in this direction of atonality. He, along with Webern and Berg, was one of the composers who have become known as the “Second Viennese School”. With his development of twelve-tone music, Schoenberg broke away from a centuries-old tonal tradition to create something new, somethings that did not give any special place to any particular note, no tonic, no dominant, no tonal center, with the requirement that all pitches be played before any one is repeated. He opened up the possibilities for composers to create new means of musical composition outside traditional tonal progressions.
Schoenberg was born in Vienna where he lived and worked, living throughout his life in that city and in Berlin until he was forced to leave Europe in 1933 during WWII because of his Jewish heritage and faith. And where did he go? He came here to Los Angeles. He taught at the University of Southern California (USC) and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Both schools dedicated music buildings to him, both entitled “Schoenberg Hall” and both schools frequently host concerts, so attending one or both of these venues is a way to make a musical field trip to see sites where the composer worked. Here is a post from USC about a Schoenburg concert that was held earlier this year, though not in Schoenberg Hall: http://web-app.usc.edu/web/eo4/event/detail/909669?calendar_id=113. UCLA Schoenberg hall concert tickets can be bought at Ticketmaster: http://www.ticketmaster.com/Schoenberg-Hall-UCLA-tickets-Los-Angeles/venue/90202#!.
Arnold Schoenberg lived at 116 N. Rockingham Ave. Bentwood Park, Los Angeles, CA. I looked up the address online and found that the home was recently for sale for upwards of $2.5 million, though it appears its value has risen significantly. It was built in 1925. It would be wonderful if a house like this could be made into a museum about European immigration to Los Angeles in the 20th century, but then again the home is still a livable private residence.
While looking up information about Schoenberg’s home, I also came across a book preview containing some correspondence written while the composer was living in the Brentwood home as well as some reviews and program notes from the time. These documents are fascinating to read in that they tell about how people thought of Schoenberg during his life in America. There is a particularly interesting correspondence on pgs. 231 – 232 between Schoenberg and Mr. Olin Downes from the New Your Times dated November 8 and 14, 1938 in which the composer corrects the title of one of his pieces as it was named in the paper. Mr. Downes apologizes and then goes on to talk about his sympathy with Schoenberg for having to flee his country unjustly in a way which is very relevant to us today. He says,
“I hope that working in California is proving interesting for you, and that there is some spiritual encouragement for you as well as, no doubt, some undeserved penalties for your having changed your home from Europe to America. I fancy, however, that you do feel the obligation which all of us do these days – a most heavy and disheartening one it is – to fight against the catastrophic series of evils that are now falling upon humanity, and each of us joins as best we may in our individual efforts towards repelling these evils and endeavoring in some way to construct, as they say in the New York World’s Fair, a better “World of Tomorrow”.
This selection comes from the book entitled, “Arnold Schoenburg Correspondence: A Collection of Translated and Annotated Letters Exchanged with Guido Adler, Pablo Casals, Emanuel Feurmann, and Olin Downes”, by Egbert M. Ennulat, Pablo Casals (photographer), and Emanuel Feuermann (photographer).
For a book about Schoenberg’s music, I would highly recommend the one written by him, “Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg”, edited by Leonard Stein, translated by Leo Black, Berkley and Los. Angeles: University of California Press, Belmont Music Publishers, 1975.
For an interesting article about German and Austrian immigration to LA during the first half of the 20th century, you can visit, LA Times, “LA’s German Accent”, by Scott Timberg, June 20 2010, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-ca-german-culture-la-20100620-story.html#page=1, (accessed June 22, 2015).
The information about Schoenberg, his life, and music is rich and extensive. It offers us insights into the transformative events which took place in the 20th century and the effects these events had on art. There were other European composers who found refuge here in LA during the 20th century. There were also some very well-know individuals who were born and worked right here. Perhaps we’ll explore some of their historic sites too. Those will be discoveries for another day.