The piano music of Arnold Schoenberg is not played as often as it deserves. Each piece is a gem, yet these gems defy most attempts to display them in the normal context of a variety of compositions from the Classical and Romantic traditions.
Berkeley pianist Jerry Kuderna says, “There is a problem when orchestras or major name pianists try to sneak an atonal piece into a program. Without context, it doesn’t work. But a whole concert of modern music allows the listeners to immerse themselves in it.”
Kuderna will perform all of Schoenberg’s piano music in a single concert, which will show the development of the composer in capsulated form. This program is the ultimate extension of this concept of immersion, as it invites the listeners to experience the development of one of the lions of 20th century
Schoenberg further challenged the limits of the already stretched late Romantic technique he inherited from Mahler, Berg and others. This can be heard in the Opus 11 pieces, yet even within these three pieces Schoenberg is already moving swiftly towards atonality.
There is a curious regrouping in the suite of six micro-compositions of Opus 19.
Kuderna says, “They are like little haiku poems which point to an inability to develop thoughts in a new vocabulary. Schoenberg’s musical language developed so quickly that he often had to cast aside a work because he had evolved beyond it.” Yet these little thoughts are complete and display amazing imagination. They are like poignant snapshots, rather than moving pictures.
In Opus 23 the composer discovered a method of treating melodic cells in ways which allow new types of development. Chords explode and implode, becoming clusters. The rules of melody and harmony merge to make way for formal serialism. Opus 25 is the apex of Schoenberg’s piano works. He has invented a new form of atonality and created a dance suite using this potentially dry technique.
The two pieces that comprise Opus 33 show the master working in familiar territory. Although the sense of over-arching discovery is no longer prominent, Schoenberg is still creating fresh means of expression in a young vocabulary. These are profound, difficult pieces which make great sense in the historical sweep of a lifetime of invention. Since this lucky audience will enjoy the preparation of hearing the new ordering system congeal, these pieces will be much more meaningful than ever before.
Anyone who has any interest in 20th century music should avail themselves of this unique presentation.
This is a chance to make sense of a composer whose works have seemed baffling or obscure. Jerry Kuderna is the perfect guide for this journey. This concert can also serve well as an introduction to Schoenberg’s style for anyone planning to hear his piano concerto, which the Berkeley Symphony will present in December. As a special bonus attraction, Kuderna has invited the soprano Kathryn Hunter to open up the concert with Alban Berg’s “Seven Early Songs.” This serves the didactic function of providing a context for Schoenberg’s piano works, but it will also be like having dessert before eating a well-balanced meal.
But don’t worry: these sweet treats will not spoil your appetite – it will be whetted and then fulfilled.