Writings about Music

Gould Bringing Schoenberg To Life

Arnold Schoenberg

Hearing this composition properly for the first time, it's fascinating to find connections with jazz, Shostakovich, and Mussorgsky, together with recognizing my personal preference for poly-modalism over atonality, if not always easy to differentiate. I especially enjoyed Schoenberg’s rhythms and percussive articulations here.

Mel Powell once quizzed a graduate composition class I was in at CalArts with ten musical examples we had to determine were either atonal or abstractly tonal music, myself luckily scoring ten for ten. Powell was a Swing jazz pianist who became a composer, of course, studying under Hindemith, eventually succeeding his teacher as the Chair of Composition at Yale University.

Developing an approach for improvising on jazz standards finds me navigating a sea of dissonance together with sirens of consonance calling over the waves.

Needless, to say, a great rendition by Glenn Gould here, always my favorite classical pianist since first hearing him play the Bach Inventions while a teenager, though I retain a fondness for Arthur Rubenstein with Frédéric Chopin, and Vladimir Horowitz with Domenico Scarlatti.

Reading about how Arnold Schoenberg would ask his older, more established friend, Gustav Mahler, for money surprised me no end. Some years later, Schoenberg benefited from another form of financial assistance. Arnold had escaped to Los Angeles from Germany, but his royalties were being frozen due to World War II. Learning of this, having met the composer at a party, Artie Shaw pledged his personal royalties as collateral, saving Schoenberg's house. After being advised of Shaw's assistance, Arnold broke down crying during a phone call made to thank the jazz clarinetist.

- Michael Robinson, October 2021, Los Angeles


© 2021 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist. His 155 albums include 148 albums for meruvina and 7 albums of piano improvisations. He has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University.