Monday, August 16, 2010

Randy Schoenberg and Hilary Hahn

Violinist Hillary Hahn has been an advocate for the Schoenberg violin concerto in an age that has seen far too few performances Schoenberg's post-Verklärte Nacht works. She makes Schoenberg's music seem fun.

This light-hearted but clever interview introduces us to Arnold Schoenberg's grandson, Randy, who asks her the questions that Arnold Schoenberg asked Louis Krasner (1903-1995), the violinist who premiered the work in Philadelphia on December 6, 1940:


First, one cannot help but notice the resemblance between Randy and Arnold. So cool.

In a detour during her second question, Hahn develops an important idea [0:53]: "sometimes you have to work on it...so the orchestra relaxes enough to not play too loud. [...] When an orchestra doesn't know a piece very well, sometimes they will play louder and stiffen up, and it sounds better when its more flexible, and lighter."

It is also true that one of the most characteristic aspects of the orchestration in this work is the almost complete lack of octave doublings. An unusual number of unisons, often of radically different colors, are piled-up and present real challenges to intonation. These sonorities take time to hear and manage.

In the third question [1:09], "hauptstimme," or "primary voice" is a term and symbol that Schoenberg frequently marked in his 12-tone scores to help clarify complex textures. He felt that it was no longer always possible to surmise where these primary lines were in a work not based on traditional tonality.

Randy inserts his own question into the mix [1:32] about whether the hauptstimme is always marked in the solo part. There are certainly many places where the violin soloist is not the hauptstimme, according to the score itself.

[3:14] "The whole thing holds together," says Hahn, "and the whole thing is enjoyable to play. Hopefully that carries over to the audience." With an advocate as charismatic as Hahn, this concerto has had the opportunity to speak to a new and wider audience.

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