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FastNotes

  • By 1930, the year of Accompaniment to a Film Scene (Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene), Schoenberg had refined his process of writing “with 12 notes” to the point where it had become his principal means of expression
  • The Accompaniment, roughly ten harrowingly emotional minutes long, is music for an imaginary (silent) film sequence. It bears the subtitles “Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe,” to indicate the three moods successively depicted.

Composed: 1930
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: flute (= piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, timpani, percussion (cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, xylophone), piano, and strings
First LA Phil performance: July 23, 1933, Nicolas Slonimsky conducting

By 1930, the year of Accompaniment to a Film Scene (Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene), Schoenberg had refined his process of writing “with 12 notes” to the point where it had become his principal means of expression. That marked a period also of growing acceptance. His early works were steadily gaining ground throughout Europe, and in 1925 he inherited from the late Ferruccio Busoni the master class in composition at the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin.

The subsequent, relatively stable years of teaching and composing came to an end in 1933, with the onset of Nazism. In response, Schoenberg left Europe, taking up his final residence in the United States. Los Angeles was his home from 1935 until his death in 1951.

The Accompaniment, roughly ten harrowingly emotional minutes long, is music for an imaginary (silent) film sequence. It bears the subtitle “Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe,” to indicate the three moods successively depicted.

The tone row is introduced by the oboe in measure nine, followed by jagged, leaping “threatening” violin figurations, then a precipitate drop in volume with nervous cross-rhythms, certainly indicating “fear.” The coloring here is marvelously imaginative, with very soft muted horns, strings played col legno (with the wooden back of the bow), and gratingly insidious percussion.

After a quiet bridge section, all hell breaks loose for a few measures, with roaring brass chords underlined by tam-tam and timpani. A fearful quiet ensues, suggesting even vaster storms to come. But, instead, the composer introduces the suggestion of a funeral march, which never quite takes shape. The piece ends as it began, in dark murmurings.

The first performance was given November 6, 1930 in Berlin under the direction of Otto Klemperer. [It later received its American premiere at the Hollywood Bowl, under the direction of Nicolas Slonimsky.]

In 1936, when both men were in Los Angeles, Klemperer, who had become Music Director of the Philharmonic, studied with Schoenberg at UCLA. Klemperer later recalled, “This involved his criticizing my work [Klemperer was also a composer] and analyzing the Bach motets with me. Not a word was ever mentioned about dodecaphonic music.”  – Herbert Glass