A democratic revolution – all notes are equal

Disharmony. © Charles Thibo

Use the twelve semitones of the chromatic scale* and consider each note just as important as any other – by combining the number 12 with a principle of democracy, equality, the Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg invented at the beginning of the 20th century a new form of musical harmony. A very crude summary of what is called the Twelve-tone technique, I agree. And since this sounds rather abstract, let’s listen to Schönberg’s music, which is much less abstract. In 1927 he wrote String Quartet No. 3 Op. 30. He did not indicate any tonality, and that’s what duodecaphony is about – equal treatment for all notes. There must not be any prevalent tonality!

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A Light is Sown for the Repenting Sinner

A ram's horn is blown atvthe end of Yom Kippur. © Charles Thibo
A ram’s horn is blown at the end of Yom Kippur. © Charles Thibo

Tonight millions of people will start celebrating Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is the most important celebration of the Jewish liturgical year and celebrates the reconciliation between God and the faithful. In the Book of Leviticus 16, 30 God makes a promise to Moses: Before the Lord all your sins will be washed away. The celebration opens with a prayer repeated three times. All promises made to God prematurely under the influence of fear or false doctrines and remaining unfulfilled are null and void IF the sinner truly repents. The prayer’s name: Kol Nidrei. The German composer Max Bruch (1838-1920) has set it to music in 1881. Beautifully.

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Walk with Me into the Night

The night - a different dimension. © Charles Thibo
The night – a different dimension. © Charles Thibo

Darkness. Tchaikovsky comes to my mind. Oppression. Shostakovitch is not far. Fear… may be Rachmaninov? But then there is light! Strauss! It must be Strauss. It isn’t. It’s Arnold Schönberg. Wait, the rebel from Vienna, he cannot have written such a piece? There is tonality. And chromaticism*. And melody and all you would not expect. Well, Schönberg wanted to go beyond the existing means of musical expression, but to get there, he first had to work his way through precisely those traditional means of musical expression.

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