Ein Stelldichein (1905) by Arnold Schoenberg
for oboe, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Among the dozens of musical fragments left by Arnold Schoenberg there are only a couple longer than Ein Stelldichein (A Rendezvous) of 1905, which was retrieved from the musical effects left at the composer’s death. Austrian composer and conductor Friedrich Cerha supplemented the score and conducted its world premiere in Vienna in 1966. It uses a chamber orchestra consisting primarily of the same instruments Schoenberg later used for Pierrot Lunaire, but without the voice.

Jan Maegaard defines a fragment as a piece of music "that starts at the beginning and is worked out in detail but not concluded. A large number of fragments contain only the first five to twenty measures of a composition," but Ein Stelldichein contains ninety measures of a slow section plus about half that many of an incomplete, faster second section. Earplay will perform the opening seventy-seven measures of the piece, the part Schoenberg completed in full.

The piece reflects some of the composer’s most characteristic techniques of this period — continuous melodic development, harmonic chromaticism, and the move toward atonality. His language here is tinged with the whole-tone scale that appealed to so many other composers of this period. It represents a step toward Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, Opus 9, which followed in 1906 and may be the reason he lost interest in completing Ein Stelldichein. Earplay performed the Chamber Symphony earlier this year.)

The work draws inspiration from a poem of the same name (see below) written about ten years earlier by the German poet Richard Dehmel (1863-1920), who also inspired Schoenberg’s better-known earlier work Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Although Schoenberg admired Dehmel, he did not wish to collaborate with him as much as to react to his words. In a letter to the poet in 1912, regarding an oratorio the composer was contemplating, Schoenberg said, "If you should think it possible, it would be not merely superfluous but actually a mistake to write the text with any thought of the music in mind. For a work by Dehmel is something that I — being in such profound sympathy with every word — can set to music just as it stands." So this is program music but in the sense that it reflects the mood of Dehmel’s poem and not a story or narrative.

Dehmel, an admirer of Nietzsche, was a controversial figure associated with the end-of-the-century northern European aesthetics supported by artists such as the Expressionists Edvard Munch and Ernst Kirchner and writers such as August Strindberg, all of whom spent time in Berlin in the 1890s. The eroticism and impiety of Dehmel’s poetry drew the ire of the German censors who threatened him with imprisonment, but it also has drawn the admiration of composers who have set his works to music, including Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Kurt Weill and Alma Mahler-Werfel, in addition to Schoenberg.

In the same year that Schoenberg worked on Ein Stelldichein, he was busy collaborating with other musicians to form the Union of Creative Composers; later he helped form the Society for Private Musical Performances. In the latter group, works were often performed more than once at the same concert. One could perhaps draw a postmodern parallel to the performance on tonight’s program of Peter Josheff’s Waiting, a radical rearrangement, or variation, of the pitches of Ein Stelldichein in Josheff’s own voice.

— R. W. M.

Ein Stelldichein
Richard Dehmel

So war´s auch damals schon. So lautlos
verhing die dumpfe Luft das Land,
und unterm Dach der Trauerbuche
verfingen sich am Gartenrand
die Blütendünste des Holunders;
stumm nahm sie meine schwüle Hand,
stumm vor Glück.

Es war wie Grabgeruch... Ich bin nicht schuld!
Du blasses Licht da drüben im Geschwele,
was stehtst du wie ein Geist im Leichentuch —
lisch aus, du Mahnbild der gebrochenen Seele!
Was starrst du mich so gottesäugig an?
Ich brach sie nicht: sie tat es selbst! Was quäle
ich mich mit fremdem Unglück ab...

Das Land wird grau; die Nacht bringt keinen Funken,
die Weiden sehn im Nebel aus wie Rauch,
der schwere Himmel scheint ins Korn gesunken.
Still hängt das Laub am feuchten Strauch,
als hätten alle Blätter Gift getrunken;
so still liegt sie nun auch.
Ich wünsche mir den Tod.

A Rendezvous

It was like this even then. The stifling air hung so silently over the earth, and under the roof of the mourning beeches the scent of elder blooms got caught up at the garden's edge; silently she took my moist hand, silent with happiness.

It was like the smell of the grave... I am not at fault! You pale shade over there in the mist, how you stand like a shrouded ghost — fade out, you reminder of a broken soul! Why do you stare at me with godlike eyes? I did not break her; she did it herself. Why do I torment myself with others’ misfortune?

The ground becomes gray; the night brings no spark, in the fog the willows look like smoke, the heavy sky seems to have sunken into the grain. The foliage hangs silently on the wet shrubs as if the leaves had drunk poison; now she lies so motionless too. I wish for my death.

— S. N.    

[from program for March 18, 2013 concert]