“In 1949, in celebration of the seventy-fifth birthday of Arnold Schoenberg, the United States Section of the International Society of Contemporary Music arranged for the first performance of this work in over twenty-four years, under the auspicious direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos. The ISCM has, in the years since its inception in 1923, been enterprising in bringing to performance the works of many contemporary composers whose works might otherwise go unheard and unnoticed either because of their difficulty, or because of prejudice against their “modernity.”
Since the larger record companies have with little exception always been over-cautions in producing any recordings that might seem out of the ordinary, one can really appreciate the sympathy, confidence, and artistic interest of Counterpoint Records in placing their facilities at the disposal of Mr. Mitropoulos and his distinguished colleagues, to record brilliantly this significant work.
It goes almost without saying that audiences and composers have for a long time been in the debt of Dimitri Mitropoulos. Such courage and imagination in presenting works of immense importance is seldom to be met in the all-too-commercial world of music today.2 “
Schönberg’s Serenade Op.24. Schönberg composed it between 1920 and 1923, writing most of the material in 1923. It is neoclassical in style, and has seven movements lasting over a half an hour in all. It is scored for clarinet, bass clarinet, mandolin, guitar, violin, viola, and cello. At those times he was working simultaneously on two other landmark compositions: the Five Piano Pieces, opus 23, and the Suite for Piano, opus 25.7 As a group, these works mark a transition from the atonality exemplified by The Five Orchestral Pieces, opus 16, in Erwartung, opus 17, and Pierrot lunaire, opus 21; to the ‘twelve-tone style’ of works like the Wind Quintet, opus 26, the Third String Quartet, opus 30, and the Variations for Orchestra, opus 31.
Of the seven movements, all but two make use of a twelve-tone row (a series of all the possible chromatic tones chosen at the discretion of the composer to suit all his musical purposes). The Third movement (Variations) uses an eleven-tone series; and the sixty movement (Song Without Words) is composed in free style. In only one of the movements does Schoenberg make use of vocal possibilities — the Fourth movement, where a Baritone voice intones the Sonnet, No. 217, of the medieval Italian poet Petrarca, with the other instruments accompanying.
The other movements evoke classical forms, fitting for movements of a serenade. The first movement is a march, the second a menuet, and the third a theme and variations. After the sonnet, there is a “dance scene,” a brief Lied ohne Worte, and a finale that recapitulates material from other movements, especially the march, which returns to close the work. The inclusion of a substantial guitar part, unprecedented and unrepeated in Schoenberg’s works, marks the entrance of this instrument into the music of the twentieth-century avant-garde.
Leos Janacek, upon hearing its performance in September 1925 in Venice, remarked that the Serenade was a piece of ‘Viennese strumming.’8 Charles Rosen puts it beautifully: “The ostensibly light character of the Serenade, opus 24, is still a stumbling block in appreciating its merits; its high gloss can awaken resentment.”
Coming after a long break in production, between the years 1916 and 1923, the Serenade marks a definite stylistic shift. Schoenberg was turning away from the expressionistic tone of his previous works, and moving towards a more elegant and controlled sound. Pierre Boulez, in his infamous article “Schoenberg is Dead,” saw the neoclassicism of these pieces as an undue recourse to tradition. In his view, the concept of serialism demanded a total rethinking of musical form.3Charles Rosen proposes that serialism was, in effect, a conservative solution to the problems of atonality, and as such, an integral function of Schoenberg’s neoclassical style. He cites Schoenberg’s apparent dissatisfaction (in his later writings) with the lack of unity in works such as the Pieces for Orchestra and Erwartung. He writes: “The invention of serialism was specifically a move to resurrect an old classicism as well as to make a new one possible.”4 In other words, Schoenberg was not retreating into tradition upon ‘discovering’ serial technique. Thus, what happens when a composer uses the chromatic series is still “tonality,” or as Schoenberg put it “composing with tones.”
There is some disagreement about which movements in the Serenade use twelve-tone rows, and which do not. The author, unidentified, of the liner notes for the world premiere recording of the Serenade claims that only two movements are non-twelve-tone: the Variations (which use an eleven-note row), and the Lied ohne Worte. Whatever the case, it seems clear from a hearing of the Serenade that the instrumental movements draw on the proto-serialist techniques of transposition, inversion, and retrograding, but show a high degree of freely melodic and rhythmic motivicism. The Sonnet is the one movement in which a twelve-note row is clearly exposed.
The Serenade was first world premiered for a private gathering at the home of Dr. Schwarzmann in Vienna on May 2ndy, 1924, with Schoenberg conducting. Italian music writer Enzo Restagno wrote in his book “Schonberg e Stravinsky Storia di un’amicizia impossibile” that Schwarzmann’s home in Krugerstrasse 175, should have been a nice big home, big and comfy enough to permit to an ensemble to play inside. The guitar player who premiered that evening was Hans Schlagradl.
The Italian premiere of the Serenade, opus 24, was played on September 7th , 1925 during the ISCM festival in Venice, still with Hans Schlagradl playing the guitar’s parts. ISCM festival was born in 1922 from Internationale Kammermusik-Auffuhrungen organized with Salisburg’s festival with the participation of Webern, Hindemith,Bartok, Kodaly, Honegger and Milhaud. It was a great success and several ISCM’s sections was born in different countries organizing several music festivals.8
Jeremy Bass wrote about Hans Schlagradl: “( Schlagradl) was born in 1897, studied with Jakob Ortner (who also taught Louise Walker) and was performing in the 1920s and 1930s, sometimes as a member of the Vienna Guitar Quartet.5 Nevertheless, what can be inferred from Schlagradl’s performance under Schoenberg’s baton is that in the 1920s, the level of musicianship of Viennese classical guitarists was exceptionally high”.9
The American premiere, according to Carlos Salzedo, took place in Aeloian Haoo, New York City, on Marh 1, 1925, at a concert of the International Composers Guild. Conducted by Leopold Stokowski, the ensemble of was made up of the first chairs of the the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the work was well received. The Serenade, in common with the other compositions Schoenberg continues to produce, is eminently expressive of his artistic integrity, his imagination and his desire to explore and to bring to understanding the wealth of experience possible in the art of sound that we call music.10
Enzo Restagno suggests that the term Serenade us back to a very practiced genre in Vienna in the eighteenth century, which involved the use of string instruments and wind. The use of the guitar and the mandolin is a quite unusual element, which will no longer be replicated by the composer later, and serves to introduce unexpected timbral combinations. The musical reflection of Schoenberg that focuses on a confluence of elements too cultured and popular, not to mention a popular music genre vienneseche dated from the mid-nineteenth century and was still widely practiced in the years of his youth: the Schrammelmusik. The graft of this popular genre within the Serenade demonstrates the complex and elaborate process of metabolism which Schoenberg submitted elements of popular tradition in its most intellectually daring compositional operations.11
Curiously the American music critic Alex Ross in his book “The rest is noise” wrote: “even as Schoenberg vented against the popular styles of the day, he not so subtly assimilated them in his music. The Serenade, for example, originally had movements titeld “Jo-Jo-Foxtrot,” “Film Dva,” and “Teen Sky”.12
By comparison, for the world premiere recording of the Serenade, which took place in 1948 in New York, no competent classical guitarist could be found. The great jazz guitarist Johnny Smith (listed as “John Smith” on the record sleeve) played the guitar part. I think that for this recording, Smith gave a superlative performance, even if he played his steel-string archtop guitar and not a classic one. Maybe his sound blends perhaps excessively. It’s fun to think that this premier was played by a not classical guitarist.
John Henry “Johnny” Smith13, (June 25, 1922 – June 11, 2013) in fact was an American cool jazz and mainstream jazz guitarist, inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. He was famous in the pop-rock scenes because he wrote the tune “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1954. An extremely diverse musician, Johnny Smith was equally at home playing in the famous Birdland jazz clubor sight-reading scores in the orchestral pit of the New York Philharmonic. From Schoenberg to Gershwin to originals, Smith was one of the most versatile guitarists of the 1950s. As a staff studio guitarist and arranger for NBC from 1946 to 1951, and on a freelance basis thereafter until 1958, he played in a variety of settings from solo to full orchestra and had his own trio, The Playboys, with Mort Lindsey and Arlo Hults. His most critically acclaimed album was Moonlight in Vermont (one of Down Beat magazine’s top two jazz records for 1952, featuring saxophonist Stan Getz). As we said before, his most famous musical composition is the tune “Walk Don’t Run“, written for a 1954 recording session as counter-melody to the chord changes of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”. This tune was covered by a lot of personas and groups: fingerpicking guitarist Chet Atkins recored a neo-classical rendition of the song on the electric guitar for his Hi Fi in Focus album which preceded the famous Ventures’ hit by three years.
Guild, Gibson, and Heritage have all made guitar models designed and endorsed by Johnny Smith. In each case, the guitar was designed wholly or in part by Smith. Each design was a full-bodied archtop guitar with a top carved from solid spruce and a back and sides made of solid maple. All the on-board electronics for each guitar, from the small pickup in the neck position through the volume knob to the output jack, were mounted on the pickguard.
Different versions of this record:
Serenade Opus 24 (LP, Album, Red) Esoteric, Esoteric ES-501, ES 501, US, 1949
Serenade Opus 24 (LP, Album, RE, Mono) Counterpoint / Esoteric Records, Counterpoint CPT 501, US, 1958
Serenade Op. 24 (1923) For Septet And Baritone Voice (LP, Album, RE) Counterpoint / Esoteric Records CPTS 5501, US, 1968
Serenade Op. 24 (1923) Pour Septuor Et Baryton (LP) Barclay 920113, France, date unknown
1 Esoteric was American label established in 1949 by Bill Fox and Jerry Newman. The label was renamed to Counterpoint in 1957, and eventually, after being first sold to Eichler Record Corporation in 1960, and then to Everest Record Group in 1963, to Counterpoint / Esoteric Records.
2 notes by Ben Weber in the back of the record
3Pierre Boulez. “Shoenberg is Dead” in Notes of an Apprenticeship pag 268
4Charles Rosen, Arnold Schoenberg, pag 73
5 Enzo Restagno- Schonberg e Stravinsky-pag. 162-163
6Robert Craft in the notes of Schoenberg Variation for ML 5244
7 Enzo Restagno- Schonberg e Stravinsky-pag. 175
8 Enzo Restagno- Schonberg e Stravinsky-pag. 134
9Jeremy Bass, The Guitar in A. Schoenberg’s Serenade opus 24, Academia.edu pag. 1
10 notes by Ben Weber in the back of the record
11 Enzo Restagno- Schonberg e Stravinsky-pag. 167-168
12Alex Ross, The Rest si Noise, pag. 216