Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to Talk About Hard Music: Menuhin and Gould on Schoenberg's Violin Fantasy

If you want a primer on what's so great about Schoenberg--and what's so bad--you can do worse than this:

Schoenberg scholarship has only recently started addressing the problems that Gould and Menuhin brought up here over five decades ago. It just goes to show you how theorists' focus on post-tonal coherence, and musicologists' obsession with finding links to the classical-music past, has held us back from really getting at how this music sounds.

The open-mindedness that Menuhin displays is striking. So is the clarity of both performers' descriptions of the music; their no-nonsense approach lets their insights shine through. This is a master class on how to talk about "difficult music" without pretension and with depth.

After a six-minute debate on the merits of Schoenberg's Violin Fantasy, they play it. Look who's got his part memorized: