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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An angel rising out of times of darkness

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Berg wrote a memorial for a dead girl. © Charles Thibo

The first bars betray already the era in which this music was written: A dark, sad, occasionally dissonant tune announcing death and mourning. A child had died, and Alban Berg, for that is the composer’s name, wrote a requiem in the shape of a violin concerto in the summer of 1935. The child was 18 years old Manon Gropius, one of the daughters of Alma Mahler, married to Anton Mahler before her short liaison with the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. Berg called his violin concerto “To the memory of an angel”. I heard it yesterday in Luxembourg, performed by the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra.

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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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