Chad Goodman on why Schoenberg’s Music Matters

chad goodman

Photo cc: Jiyang Chen

Elevate’s Transformations, coming up on May 19, is one of our most technically ambitious programs to date. The program features a masterpiece by Arnold Schoenberg that radically changed the course of music history, his Chamber Symphony no.1.

We asked artistic director Chad Goodman to tell us a bit about the piece, what to listen for, and why it’s so relevant to our particular moment in history.

What can you tell us about Arnold Schoenberg and his Chamber Symphony no.1?

Chamber Symphony No. 1 was written in a glorious “in-between” period where Schoenberg was shedding many of the traditions of music and developing a completely unique, free voice.

I find Arnold Schoenberg and his music fascinating. Ask any classically-trained musician what they think about Beethoven, and you will pretty much get the same answers: I love his music. He was a genius. He was one of the greatest composers in history. The same goes for Mozart.

But if you ask those same musicians what they think about Schoenberg, you will notice an immediate split in those answers. Schoenberg and his music draw truly visceral responses from musicians. They either love him or hate him. Very few people are on the fence. I find this absolutely fascinating.

Why do you think opinions are so split?

Because Schoenberg questioned the traditions of music. He wanted to get as far outside the box as possible, to explore what was possible if you broke the rules; in the language of the tech world, to “disrupt” music.

Schoenberg’s music and ideas would shape the future. Composers either embraced his principles or vehemently rebelled against them. Great music has been written in both traditions—but it all takes place against the backdrop of what Schoenberg did.

What is one thing that listeners, especially people who aren’t musicians and don’t know Schoenberg, should listen for in this piece?

Allow this music to wash over you. Listen for and enjoy the sharp contrasts in styles, timbres, and sounds. You will hear music that you might describe as clashing, crunchy, or harsh. But you will also also hear music that is joyous, inviting, and playful. Understand that this was a piece in which Schoenberg was grappling with the rigidity of musical traditions and his desire to carve a new path. Embrace the craziness that is this piece!

As you mentioned, Schoenberg inspires passionate responses, both from his advocates and critics. What do you see as his most lasting musical legacy today?

Schoenberg allowed himself to try new things. He did not let those who disagreed with his music and ideas steer him in a different direction. Schoenberg inspired future composers to experiment, to try and express themselves in whatever way they felt was suitable, and this is where his legacy is preserved.

It is interesting that you describe the in-between period as “glorious.” A lot of musicians are interested in the “in-between” spaces these days, whether between styles or artistic philosophies or cultural references. Do you think there is something about our current moment in history that makes Schoenberg’s in-between writing particularly relevant?

I believe that we are currently living in an “in-between” period of history, so Schoenberg’s “in-between” writing is particularly relevant. While Schoenberg was questioning tonality and traditional harmony in his writing, the music of today is constantly pushing and blurring boundaries, sometimes structurally, and other times stylistically or artistically.

The “new music” field that Elevate works in is not “classical” music per se, although we all trained in the classical tradition and many of us play more typical classical music. New music composers are influenced by rock, rap, jazz, salsa, EDM…all musical styles and genres are fair game for inspiration. Rapper Kendrick Lamar recently won the Pulitzer Prize in Music, an award that has typically gone to classical musicians. This is just one example of how music is currently evolving.

As technology continues to embed itself into our daily lives, we will continue connecting with more people, cultures, and ideas from around the world. Our influences are more diverse than ever before, making this a time of great experimentation. I’m very excited  to see how music evolves over the next few years!

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Don’t miss this rare chance to hear an amazing Schoenberg masterpiece! Get your tickets for Transformations today.