Schoenberg vs Stravinsky

Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky emerged between the two World Wars as leaders of two radically different approaches to writing modern music. Not only rivals, they personally despised each other.

Interviewed by a Barcelona newspaper in 1936, Stravinsky called Schoenberg more of a musical chemist than artist. He acknowledged the importance of Schoenberg’s research. After all, they did expand possibilities of what people might enjoy hearing.

But on the whole, he considered the twelve-tone method very much like Alois Haba’s experiments with quarter-tones. They exist only scientifically. Can anyone make genuine art with either method? Stravinsky thought not.

Schoenberg vented his spleen in unpublished writings discovered among his papers only after his death.

In one, dated 1926, he contrasted his own desire to write music for the future with Stravinsky’s desire to write only the music of today. He also thought that Stravinsky’s use of older music as a model somehow contradicted his supposed view that it was “old-fashioned to regard any work of art as significant for any period beyond the present.”

In Schoenberg’s view, Stravinsky produced nothing more important than, say neckties, while he considered his own music more along the lines of seeking a cure for cancer.

His comment that Stravinsky thought only of satisfying his customers reveals his envy even that early that Stravinsky’s music had won more public acclaim than his own.

As the two men grew old, their mutual contempt did not mellow. In fact, during the last years of Schoenberg’s life, they both lived in Los Angeles and made sure everyone knew that they were ignoring each other.

Perhaps it is as much because of personal hostility as anything else that Stravinsky sought to make use of Schoenberg’s experimentation with tone rows only after Schoenberg died. Even then, he pointedly made his own rows of some other number of notes than twelve and acknowledged only Anton Webern as an inspiration.

Source: Music in the Western World: A History in Documents / selected and annotated by Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin, pp. 465-67.


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