1. Satz: Adagio

2. Satz: Con fuoco

DURATION: ca. 20 Min.

Frühfassung (1907/1908)
Endfassung (1939) >>> Quellen
Fassung für kleines Orchester (1907/1908/1939)
Fassung für zwei Klaviere (op. 38B; 1942) >>> Quellen

Universal Edition 
(Taschenpartitur/Fassung für zwei Klaviere)
Belmont Music Publishers (USA, Canada, Mexico)
G. Schirmer (Music Sales Classical - Studienpartitur/Aufführungsmaterial)

“I have been working on the second chamber symphony for a month now. I spend most of the time trying to discover ‘What did the author mean here?’ My style has now become very consolidated and it is now effortful to unify what I wrote down back then, justifiably trusting in my feeling for form, with my current extensive requirements for ‘visible logic’” (Schönberg to Fritz Stiedry, autumn 1939).

Schönberg started composing the second chamber symphony only a few days after finishing the Chamber Symphony Op. 9. Begun in Rottach-Egern am Tegernsee in early August 1906, it was not completed until 1939/40, after many interruptions, as Op. 38. With the First Chamber Symphony, Schönberg had departed along new paths, in terms of his use of material and as regards the concept of a single-movement form with internal, latent multi-form elements embracing moments of both sonata form and sonata-cyclic shape. Multidimensional formal thinking, an overabundance of motivic-thematic material and a complex harmonic system (major-minor tonality, whole tones and fourth chords) reveal in Op. 9 a multi-perspectival ethos which was a turning point in Schönberg’s artistic development; a turning away from the late-Romantic orchestral sound and a gradual “emancipation of the dissonance.” “I believed I had found ways to form and use themes and melodies which were comprehensible, characteristic, original and expressive despite the expanded harmonic system we had inherited from Wagner. It was at once a beautiful dream and a disappointing mistake. I had begun a second chamber symphony; but after I had composed almost two movements – or almost half the entire work – I was inspired by poems of Stefan George, the German poet, to compose some of them. [. . .] These Lieder evince a style which was completely different from everything I had written before” (“How one becomes lonely,” 1937).

After a short period of composition in summer 1907, the work on the chamber symphony ceased for several years, to be taken up again in November 1911 in Berlin, where Schönberg was giving lectures at the Stern Conservatory. Another hiatus of several years passed before he returned to the manuscript in late 1916, drafting a program for it which he called “Turning Point.” Its melodramatic text consists of a description of ambivalent feeling; every ending is followed by a new beginning of happy upswing, its impulse derived from the prior experience of desperation and sorrow. Spiritual directionlessness evolves into trust in a (happy) turning point.

It was not until Schönberg was commissioned to compose a piece by the New Friends of Music in 1939 (Schönberg had emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1933 and was teaching at the University of California at Los Angeles) that he returned again to the two fragmentary movements of the chamber symphony, a “disturbing skeleton in his musical closet” (Glenn Gould).

It was Fritz Stiedry who provided the main impetus for the composer to finish the work. Stiedry had already conducted the world premiere of Schönberg’s opera Die glückliche Hand in Vienna in 1924; now, referring to Bruckner’s First Symphony and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, he reminded Schönberg that the history of music was not wanting in early works finished in later years. A short while later, the composer reported that the first movement was finished; he said it was “easy to play, incidentally: very easy.” He was unable to realize a third movement in the form of a heroic Maestoso, and added the E-flat minor epilog he had intended for it to the second movement. Op. 38 remained (incomplete) in two movements; “The musical and ‘intellectual’ problems are exhaustively presented in the two complete movements,” Schönberg noted with an indirect reference to the 1916 program.

In a letter to Fritz Stiedry (who had conducted the “completed torso” in New York on December 14, 1940, in a concert which also featured Bach’s first and fourth Brandenburg Concertos), Schönberg offers insight into the musical realization: “As to the shaping, it was generally compelling, but it suffered much by the tempi being too slow, some of them far too slow. E.g. Bar 219, the Animando (and likewise in all analogous places) of course means “schwungvoll” in German” [sic] [. . .] I feel it is important to correct everything for future performances.” (January 8, 1941).

In the early 1930s – about 10 years after he had developed a “method of composing with 12 tones related only to one another” – and a series of works of various types using that method, Schönberg again wrote a tonal composition, the chorus Verbundenheit (“Closeness”), soon followed by the Suite for String Orchestra in G major.

Other tonally oriented works ensued during the years of American exile between 1936 and 1943, among them the Second Chamber Symphony Op. 38, a work filled with relationships of densely textured triadic forms. The first movement, with its large share of harmonic parallelisms and chromatic sequences, yields a “certain tonal ennui” (Glenn Gould). In the sections not composed until 1939 (especially the E-flat minor epilog in the second movement), the motivic and rhythmic texture is more sharply emphasized in comparison to the sketches. “A longing to return to the old style was always powerful in me; and I was forced to yield to that urge from time to time. So sometimes I compose tonal music. Stylistic differences of this kind have no special importance for me. I don’t know which of my compositions are better; I like them all, because I liked them when I was writing them” (Schönberg, On revient toujours, 1848).

Therese Muxeneder
© Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum