Moses und Aron, biblical drama in 3 acts (unfinished) (Моисей и Аарон)
другое исполнение - H Scherchen
About 1 (en)
About 2 (en)
About, libretto (en,dh)
Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus
Recording: Orchestra Hall, Chicago, April-May 1984
The performers on this recording, whom Georg Solti instructed, "Please play and sing as if you were performing Brahms!" clearly took his directions to heart. This performance is characterized by the kind of passion, and occasional frenzy, Schoenberg had in mind - in this incarnation, the opera could never be taken as an academic exercise in serialism. A large part of the credit goes to Solti, who discovers the dramatic contours within the musical phrases and delivers a shapely and nuanced reading. The opera's punch is heightened by the composer's brilliantly colorful and evocative orchestration, which creates a drama of its own, and the Chicago Symphony plays with considerable heat without sacrificing precision. Whether or not Schoenberg's harmonic language is to a listener's personal taste, it would be hard not to get caught up in the visceral energy of the performance. The chorus is really the star of the opera, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus, directed by the legendary Margaret Hillis, sings the grueling music with the apparent ease and naturalness one would expect in a performance of a tonal piece. In the dramatically challenging role of Moses, Franz Mazura delivers the Sprechstimme lines with real authority and power. Tenor Philip Langridge's voice is not always tonally beautiful - the upper register can sound strained - but he sings with passion and understanding, and his Aron is a strong dramatic foil to Mazura's stern Moses. Soprano Barbara Bonney and bass Aage Haugland bring a sheen of bel canto polish to their relatively small roles. Decca's sound, in this reissue of a 1984 release, is warm and dramatically realistic.
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Schoenberg - Moses And Aron
My Thoughts on Recording "Moses and Aron"
I remember so vividly the fears and anxiety I had when I first studied the score of Moses and Aron in 1965. I found it unbelievably complicated, and thought I would never manage to learn it. But since then I have performed the work over twenty times in London, Paris, Chicago and New York. With every performance the work has become clearer, less complicated, and more expressive and romantic. In the recording I have tried to underline the clarity of Schoenberg's writing rather than its complexity. There are the clearest indications in the score where the main and secondary themes lie, and I have tried to follow these indications as faithfully as possible. Schoenberg loved Brahms and this comes out in the work if the espressivo character is enough underlined and played romantically. During the recording I said to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus "Please play and sing as if you were performing Brahms!"
Despite the complexities of the twelve-tone system, the more we rehearsed and played the easier the work became. To my great admiration the tones which had initially seemed hard and dissonant to our ears gradually softened and were performed by everyone with accuracy and ease.
My advice to the listener is not to be discouraged but to listen to the work repeatedly, preferably with a score, until the point is reached where the strength and impact of this great masterpiece of twentieth-century music cannot be escaped.
- Sir Georg Solti
"I feel: my life task would be fulfilled only fragmentarily if I failed to complete at least these two largest of my musical... works." So Schoenberg wrote to the Guggenheim Foundation at the beginning of 1945; and even allowing for the natural forcefulncss of one stating his case for a grant, it is difficult to undervalue the importance of those two largest works, which were the oratorio Die Jakobsleiter and the opera Moses and Aron. As it happened, both were to remain incomplete. It could, indeed, hardly have been otherwise, for both take on the challenge of expressing the inexpressible: both falter at the prospect of conveying unity with God. Schoenberg did not venture to compose the second part of his own text for the oratorio, in which the Archangel Gabriel urges souls to struggle towards this ultimate destiny, and the opera, similarly with words by the composer, stops short of its third act, which was to have ended with Moses' words "But even in the wasteland you shall be victorious and achieve the goal: unity with God." What we have in both works is not that achievement but the struggle which precedes it.
The struggle is really continued from one work into the other. In a letter to Berg, Schoenberg reminded his pupil how the Moses project dated back to 1928, when the text for an oratorio on the subject had been drafted, but how the idea went back"at least five years" before that - to very much the time, then, when Die Jakobsleiter had been abandoned. And Die Jakobsleiter itself can be understood as a response to another large-scale work, the Gurrelieder. In the latter Schoenberg had again been concerned with the immortal projection of human beings, but there within the context of a symbolist fairytale; the work had taken him some time to complete - a decade from 1901 to 1911 - but it had been completed. Die Jakobsleiter (1917-22) and Moses, however, came too near his deepest convictions to be finishable, and the same may be held of his third major religious undertaking, the sequence of Modern Psalms on which he was engaged at the time of his death in 1951. Moses is thus a keystone in fully half a century of creative endeavour; it is no wonder that it should loom over much that Schoenberg was writing at the same time. Its subject matter is announced in the set of Four Pieces for Chorus opus 27 (1925), and most particularly in the second of them, Du sollsi nicht, du must. Again the words are by Schoenberg, and characteristically exhortatory in expounding a Biblical injunction: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any image! For an image restricts, confines, comprehends what should remain unconfined and inconceivable." This is the law of Moses, the Bible's and Schoenberg's, and the conceptual substance of the opera presses, too, behind the Six Pieces for Male Chorus opus 35 (1929-30) which immediately preceded the opera, and most of which are, like the opus 27 pieces, quite as much 'modern psalms' as the group Schoenberg planned under that title. "How hard it is to express a thought!" sighs the first piece, composed in February 1930.Yet just three months later Schoenberg was embarking on the grandest expression of this recurrent idea in Moses and Aron.
Begun in May 1930, the composition of the first two acts was completed in March 1932 - an astounding feat if one considers that these two acts occupy 540 pages of short score, laid out for soloists with a densely woven fabric of support from chorus and large orchestra. The opera was started in Berlin, where Schoenberg was teaching at the Prussian Academy of Arts, and it would seem that the decision to make it an opera and not an oratorio was taken at a late stage. In June 1930 the Berlin publishers Bote & Bock turned down the offer of the work as an oratorio, and that same month Schoenberg was involved in rehearsing productions of his Erwartung (1909) and Die gluckliche Hand (1910-13) at the Kroll Opera: that experience, coming soon after the first production of his one-act comedy Von heute auf morgen at Frankfurt in February 1930, could well have helped him to sec himself as a man of the theatre and assign his largest work to the opera stage. This was, after all, a period when the German opera houses were eagerly in search of adventure, the period of Hindemith's Neues vom Tage (1929), Krenek's Jonny spieli auf (1927) and Leben des Orest (1930), and the Brecht-Weill Dreigroschenoper (1928) and Mahagonny (1930). Moreover, Schoenberg himself had looked to the theatre as a place where serious matters might be discussed: not so much in Von heute auf morgen, which is a satire on contemporary modishness, but very definitely in his play Der biblische Weg (1926-7). This is a conscious transposition of the Moses-Aron story into twentieth-century Zionism: Max Aruns, the central figure, leads his people to a new promised land in Africa, and thereby comes into conflict with traditionalists who would see the 'biblical path' as leading back to Palestine.
Unlike Moses, Der biblische Weg was finished, but it was never performed, possibly because Schoenberg felt its substance had gone into the ensuing opera. Of this he completed the first act on 14 July 1931, during a summer spent near Montreux. From there he wrote to Berg, who was also at work on an opera (Lulu): he was pleased to note that his pupil was working in the same way as himself, defining the words only at the stage of composing the music. And this, he found, was "possible only if one starts with a very exact notion of the whole thing, and what lakes some doing is not only keeping this vision vivid all the lime but intensifying it, enriching it, enlarging it, in the working out of details!" The composer, therefore, had to be both Moses and Aron, remaining true to his idea and also interpreting and elaborating it.
By the time of his letter to Berg, twenty-five days after he had finished the first act, he had already 'composed 250 bars of the second. In October he was due to return to Berlin, but for reasons of health (he was asthmatic) he went instead to Barcelona, where he had enjoyed a happy stay in 1925. There, on March 10, he completed the second act of the opera, before returning to Berlin at the beginning of June. The year was 1932: after Hitler's assumption of power the following January, Schoenberg was obliged to leave Berlin permanently. He went first to France, where he formally returned to the Jewish faith, and then to the United States, where in 1937 he briefly sketched some musical ideas for the third act. But despite this, and despite his often repeated statements that he would set the text he had established, it seems inescapable that the third act was destined not to be composed. Only an unfinished work could properly deal with the problem and the duty of giving expression to what cannot be expressed.
Reading the Bible
Schoenberg's principal source for Moses and Aron was of course the Bible, and in particular those passages in Exodus and Numbers dealing with the Burning Bush, the Golden Calf and the Tablets of the Law. Originally, it would seem, the text was studded with outright quotations from Luther's translation, but these Schoenberg deleted because, as he said in a letter to Berg of August 1930, he did not want the special colour of sixteenth-century German. He was, indeed, very much concerned that the text should speak with his own voice, and he was irritated by Berg's suggestion of some similarity with Strindberg's drama Moses, insisting that "both my main idea and the many, many subsidiary ideas literally and symbolically represented are all so much tied up with my own personality that it is impossible for Strindberg to have presented anything that could have even an external similarity." Being honest to that idea, that vision, was the justification for adapting the Biblical story in an attempt to attain a truth that the Bible itself might conceivably be misrepresenting. We know that Schoenberg was much exercised by contradictions within the Bible, and we can be sure that his attitude to his sources was one of questioning and search rather than opportunist selection.
The first act is an exposition of the roles of Moses and Aron as these are laid out by the Voice from the Burning Bush in Exodus 4. After just five bars of prelude, the first scene, The Calling of Moses, shows Moses in conversation with the Voice, which is represented by a six-part chorus in Sprechgesang (Schoenberg imagined it might be fed into the auditorium by electrical means) coloured by six singing voices in the orchestra. Moses also delivers his words in Sprechgesangy which Schoenberg had earlier used to suggest some estrangement from a surrounding reality (Gurrelieder, Pierrot lunaire and Die gluckliche Hand) and was to use later as a means of rhetorical force (Ode to Napoleon and A Survivor from Warsaw). Moses is both estranged and rhetorical: he finds it difficult to communicate with everyone else in the opera, and yet his utterances are made with great power, reinforcing the justness of Schoenberg's own estimation that his Moses had something in common with Michelangelo's.
In the second scene, Moses meets Aron in the Wilderness, the differences between the two brothers begin to surface. The music becomes suddenly supple and serenade-like: we are in a Grazioso for flute, violins, horns and harp that belongs in style with the lighter chamber pieces of the 1920s, and contrasts extremely with the first scene's cloudy choral textures figured with orchestral chords and solo instrumental lines. We have moved, quite simply, from Moses' world into Aron's. The two brothers are engaged not in a dialogue but rather in a duet, where Moses' unadorned statements attempt to give some grounding to Aron's lyrical flow. For Aron is a tenor, quite at home in the opera house, and it is his role that eloquently confirms Schoenberg's view that the melodies are beautiful and characteristic to sing, requiring from the singer attention to tone and phrasing before any effort to characterise the line.
Aron takes up Moses' ideas and makes them more humanly comprehensible: Moses, for instance, sees the Jewish people as set apart to know their unknowable God, while Aron rhapsodises on the honour and glamour of being the chosen race. Finally, for the only time in the opera, Moses rises to song as he addresses Aron directly, and the scene ends in an uneasy attunement of the two.
Schoenberg's title for the third scene, Moses and Aron Bring God's Message to the People, would seem to apply both to it and to its successor, since the third scene is a preparation tor the fourth and musically continuous with it. A tew individuals, identified by particular themes, speculate with the chorus about the new god that Moses is coming to announce. Then, in the fourth scene, the brothers arrive. Moses attempts to speak of the inconceivable God, and again Aron diminishes the message in making it manageable. In despair Moses withdraws, while Aron goes on to convince the people by a display of miracles, Here Schoenberg departs significantly from Exodus. The Biblical miracles are effected by the Voice from the Burning Bush and then by Moses and Aron together at God's express command, but for Schoenberg, as for Christ in the wilderness, any display of magic is a misrepresentation of divine authority, which ought to be recognised by the free act of the intellect. Encouraged by Aron's tricks, the people are all too ready to leave Egypt for the unknown. Moses briefly resumes his voice to say that the wilderness will be a place for purity of thought, but his idea is again taken over and made more accessible by Aron, returning here to his grazioso style from the second scene. The act ends with a choral hymn to the Almighty in march tempo.
Before the second act begins there is a whispered interlude, played in darkness, in which the scattered voices ofa six-part chorus ask one another what has become of Moses and his God. Then the first two scenes of the act, Aron and the Seventy Elders before the Mountain of Revelation, make the situation actual. Moses has been away for forty days on the mountain, and the people begin to be quarrelsome and distrustful. Aron now in his turn is misunderstood: he suggests that God may have destroyed his prophet, but the people interpret this as meaning that the old gods have destroyed Moses, thereby showing their superiority over the newfangled deity. In order to appease them Aron promises a return to the old ways, and bids them bring their gold so that he may lashion an image. There is a barbaric chorus as antipole to the victorious march at the end of the first act. The third scene, The Golden Calf and the Altar, is the opera's largest and most extravagant. Aron, with bleak irony, summons the people to worship a god that is of their own making, and there follows an immense scene of animal butchery, human self-sacrifice, gluttony and unbridled sexuality. In Exodus this is a single verse; Schoenberg needs to show much more fully how the relinquishment of God is the relinquishment of all that is good in human nature. And he does so by creating an orgy of songs and dances, where, beneath his writhing chromatic melodies, the music slips into the primitivism of pehtatonic ostinatos and regular percussion beats. Here the listener to a recording may have some advantage over the stage audience. Characterisically Schoenberg advised his future producers that "everything brought forth by thinking is well done". But he was adamant too that the stage action should not be synchronised with the music, which would produce too puppet-like an eftect. Also, in a letter to Webern of the time he expressed his distaste for the crude programme-music propensities of ballet and for "the petrified mechanical quality of its 'beauty'". He hoped in his Golden Call scene to have created something rather different.
The tumult comes to an end suddenly when, in the very short fourth scene of the act, a scout spots Moses coming down from the mountain, and Moses causes the Golden Calf to vanish at his word. The final scene, called simply Moses and Aron, is a long discourse lor the brothers like Act I scene 2, but now more dialogue than duet. From a brief hint in Exodus, Schoenberg elaborates a confrontation in which Aron begins to gain the upper hand. He points out the inevitability of images: how Moses' destruction of the Golden Call was itself an image of divine power, how the Tables of the Law too are images. At this Moses smashes them - not, as in Exodus, in his anger at the sight of the Golden Calf. Aron then introduces a further image in the fiery pillar which will lead the people to the promised land, and Moses is left, in the last minutes of the opera, to bewail his uselessness in the linguistic element where Aron swims so elegantly: "O word, thou word that I lack!".
Moses or Aron?
The burden of Schoenberg's changes to the Exodus story is to point up the conflict between Moses and Aron, and in particular to intensify Moses' resoluteness in eschewing any road to God other than that of pure faith. Such rigorousness was very evidently part of Schoenberg's own personality. As his letters plainly show, he was ruthlessly honest in his dealings with other people, and the history of his creative output is enough to show how, despite often violent rejection, he kept faith with the obligation he felt to discover and expound new truths in the world of music. In a radio talk on his Variations for Orchestra (1926-28), for example, he indicated how it would have been possible for him to present the twelve-note theme in a diatonic harmonisation, but how this would have been a misrepresentation because it would not have taken full account of the theme's nature. In his fiercely moral view of art, the crime would have been as grave as Aron's in easing the passage of Moses' idea.
He himself reacted vehemently against such analogies being drawn from his opera, not wanting his biggest creative statement to be interpreted just as a personal problem in aesthetics. Nevertheless, the views that Moses declares are too close to his own, as man and as musician, for the fact to be overlooked. There is even a comparison to be drawn between the Mosaic God and the Schoenbergian series, which is, to quote the terms of Moses' opening words, "single, eternal, omnipresent, unperceived and inconceivable": an abstract entity which lies behind everything in a composition, but which is never more than partially defined, since any definition is of necessity a limitation. Moses and Aron is itself perhaps the biggest work ever created out of a single twelve-note series, but all its presentations of that series, whether in the choral harmonies and piano flurry of the opening or in Aron's first entry (it is Aron who first makes the series into a melody), all are aspects of something beyond complete musical elucidation.
Given also Schoenbcrg's absolute conviction of his mission, it is very tempting to see Moses as a self-portrait. The cards, too, seem stacked in his favour. Through the medium of Sprechgesang, Moses addresses us more immediately, whereas Aron can easily seem offensively affected in his beautification of everything his brother puts forward. But Schoenberg is Aron too (A ron=Arnold). As he wrote to Berg in that letter of August 1930, "one thing must be granted me (I won't let myself be deprived of it): Everything I have written has a certain inner likeness to myself." And as he wrote in his text for a canon composed in December 1931 - one of the four canons that were the only pieces to interrupt Moses and Aron - "Mirror yourself in your work".
After all, Moses would never have composed an opera. The work that exists, incomplete though it may be, is the creation of Aron-Arnold, doing his best to be just in his treatment of Moses, but pointing out too the weaknesses and absurdities in the prophetic stance. This is how the two acts balance one another so perfectly. In the first act Moses has things his own way: Aron is merely a weak tool, but effective enough to get the message across to the people and gain their enthusiastic accord with Moses' vision. Then in the second act Aron's weakness is shown as potentially catastrophic, but at the same time Moses' strength, in the crucial final scene, is seen as self-deluding and untenable. It is Aron who emerges as the more realistic, while Moses' austerity may seem an ideal or even a self-indulgent escape from the necessary negotiations and compromises of human intercourse. Far from being a glorification of his own role as prophet - which would have been absurdly presumptuous - Moses and Aron may therefore be a work of unyielding self-criticism in which Schoenberg made himself face the question of whether musical difficulty might not be an end in itself and not an inevitable concomitant of the need to express difficult ideas. He would go on expressing those ideas: he was Moses as well as Aron. But he would go on making them, as he had in the opera, as amenable as possible to human understanding, and even as exciting: he was Aron as well as Moses.
- Paul Griffiths