Schönberg’s Early Symphonic Poems


Arnold Schönberg’s early works have long been at the centre of renewed musicological interest. This growing interest is closely linked to a new historiographical trend within Schönbergforschung, which has worked to free itself from the cumbersome authority of the composer and to abandon earlier apologetic positions. In this process of emancipation, a decisive step has been the decision to question Schönberg’s authorial image, starting with a critical reconsideration of his artistic evolution. An important contribution to the definition of this new historiographical framework comes from an examination of the early works by the Viennese composer, particularly from the period prior to Verklärte Nacht op. 4 (1899).
The work of the young Schönberg is enveloped in what Max Reger called the “Brahmsian fog”, apparent in Schönberg’s preference for dances, Lieder with piano and other chamber music, as well as his obsessive application of developing variations, eg. in the Quartet in D major (1897). Once he had reached a saturation point in his commitment to Brahmsian techniques, he turned to a style of composing that Schönberg himself would have defined as “more progressive”. Two unfinished symphonic poems composed between the spring and summer of 1898, Frühlings Tod and Toter Winkel, with texts by Nikolaus Lenau and Gustav Falke, respectively, provide evidence of a new poetics: they represent the first attempt by Schönberg to establish, both on formal and thematic levels, a connection with the artistic and literary avant-gardes of his time.

Francesco Finocchiaro, Il poema sinfonico nell’opera giovanile di Arnold Schönberg, “Gli spazi della musica”, vol. 8 (2019), Glosse sull’Espressionismo, pp. 12–32 (Read the full article here).