Gespräche mit dem Tod for alto and orchestra
Klenau, Paul August von
Paul von Klenau – Gespräch mit dem Tod (Conversations with Death)
(b. Copenhagen, 11 February 1883 – d. Copenhagen, 31 August 1946)
The development of twelve-tone music was an extremely messy affair. Contrary to the linear textbook account (which composer Michael Finnissy mocks as a patrilineal catechism: “and Schoenberg begat Webern who begat Stockhausen…”), the early twentieth-century saw a proliferation of composers devising wildly different systems for chromatic organisation. There was considerable overlap between these systems – to use a prominent example, Alban Berg utilised techniques developed by both Josef Mathias Hauer and his student Fritz Heinrich Klein in works from his “twelve-tone” period, which demarcates his musical development from that of Schoenberg and Webern. Nevertheless, the multiplicity of twelve-note systems (which might collectively be referred to as “total chromaticism”), their multiplicity of origins, and the wildly different aesthetic ends to which they were deployed, demonstrates that the linear, prescriptivist teleology of modern music – the story passed down from Theodor W. Adorno, René Leibowitz, and Pierre Boulez to contemporary textbooks – could only be conceived in retrospect.
One of the most complicated cases in the interwar development of twelve-tone music is that of Paul von Klenau. Together with fellow Schoenberg pupil Winfried Zillig, Klenau was one of the few composers who gained recognition using twelve-tone technique during the National Socialist period. Since twelve-tone music was officially categorised as degenerate, this was both an unusual and extremely risky position for Klenau to take. But he was more than prepared to defend his aesthetics: after his first opera incorporating twelve-tone passages was met with some hostile reviews, he wrote a defence of twelve-tone technique – without mentioning the name of his former teacher, Arnold Schoenberg – arguing that such a technique in fact operated in parallel with the Führerprinzip, eliminating “musical dilettantism” through its strict “totalitarian” construction.
In practice, however, Klenau’s twelve-tone music would never be mistaken as that of the three more central members of the Second Viennese school. Instead of the “twelve notes related only to each other” of Schoneberg’s theory, Klenau creates a series of triadic key centres which operate hierarchically but without tonal/cadential function. Somewhat ironically, the aural result of this schematic organisation sounds very free and frequently sumptuous, reminiscent of the “suspended tonality” of Franz Schreker. It is perhaps for this reason that the recent revival of interest in Klenau has seen him evaluated as one of the last participants in the romantic tradition (several CD releases of his work have the category “Late Romantic” on the cover) rather than one of the first participants of the modernist tradition…
by Max Erwin
Read full preface > HERE