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Chamber Symphonies – Sunday Classics

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The Chamber Symphony nr. 1 by Arnold Schoenberg (1873-1951) was premiered in february 1907. The piece marked a stage in his continual development of composing methods
and in his experiments with different formats and bigger instrumental groups in
chamber music. He considered the piece to be a “true turning point” with which he believed
to have found a “personal style of composing” and to have solved the essential
problems in which the “young composers had been involved through the harmonic,
formal, orchestral and emotional innovations of Richard Wagner”

The piece is composed for fifteen instrumentalists and is in one movement
divided into five sections without pause. Besides using the conventional major and minor scales Schoenberg also uses whole tone scales and quartal harmony. The premiere in Vienna didn’t get a lot of attention, but the the second time the symphony was performed as a part of the famed Skandalkonzert in 1913 which also included works by Alban Berg and Webern, it got more reaction.  The shocked audience protested and broke into a fight prematurely ending the concert.

The Chamber Symphony (1992) by John Adams (1947) is inspired by Schoenberg’s
Chamber Symphony.  Here he describes the beginning process: “I was sitting in my studio, studying the score of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony, and as I was doing so I became aware that my seven year old son Sam was in the  adjacent room watching cartoons (good cartoons, old ones from the fifties).  The
hyperactive, insistently aggressive and acrobatic scores for the cartoons mixed in my head with the Schoenberg music, itself hyperactive, acrobatic and not a little agressive, and I realized suddenly how much these two traditions had in common.”

“For a long time my music has been conceived for large forces and has involved broad brush strokes on big canvasses.  These works have been either symphonic or operatic.  Chamber music, with its inherently polyphonic and democratic sharing of roles, was always difficult for me to compose.  But the Schoenberg symphony provided a key to unlock that door, and it did so by suggesting a format in which the weight and mass of a symphonic work could be married to the transparency and mobility of a chamber work.”