Program Note Archive- Debussy (arr. Schoenberg), Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune

The Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performances) was founded by Arnold Schoenberg and his friends and students in the second decade of the 20th century to provide composers an opportunity to hear important scores of the day in an environment that was conducive to developing a deeper understanding of the musical tools and innovations of the era. Among the leading musicians in this circle were, of course, Arnold Schoenberg, his famous students Berg and Webern and other leading composers and arrangers working in and around Vienna, notably Erwin Stein. A number of important works of the New Vienna School were performed initially at these private concerts, but the Society was also interested in presenting performances of works meriting discussion or analysis not written by its members.

They also did not want to be limited solely to performing and discussing chamber works, so, at the behest of Schoenberg, they began making arrangements of orchestral works for a small ensemble, usually one consisting of solo strings, piano and harmonium and a few solo woodwinds or horns. Among the works transcribed under Schoenberg’s supervision were Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and his epic song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde, Bruckner’s 7th Symphony and lighter works such as the Strauss Emperor Waltz. Many of the arrangements were started by Schoenberg himself, but completed by one of his apprentices, often Stein (who did the entire arrangement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony).Although the tastes of the Society were generally very Teutonic, Debussy’s tone poem Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune was so radical and influential a work that it was certainly an irresistible subject for the Society. It is known that Schoenberg made extensive notes on how the arrangement should be made, but it seems likely that he left the actually final bar-by-bar writing out to one of his students. Remarkably, Schoenberg and his colleagues were able to create an arrangement that keeps intact the incredible variety of color and mood that is present in the original, while also giving the work an added element of intimacy and clarity.

c. 2005 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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2 comments on “Program Note Archive- Debussy (arr. Schoenberg), Prelude a l’apres midi d’un faune”

  1. CB

    Debussy was the more radical composer of his day, more so than Wagner or Arnold in theirs (*cough sik), and hardly anyone knows or understands this.

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