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Mention “Arnold Schönberg” in a conversation, and you can expect
it to turn into a discussion about atonality. However, believing that
his works are limited to that style would be a mistake. Today, we
heard a disc of works by Schönberg (1874-1951) entitled,
“Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses,” on the Naxos label. This CD also
included Schönberg’s “String Quartet No. 2 in F-Sharp Minor,” and
his “Suite in G for String Orchestra.”

The “Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses,” are Schönberg’s harmonic
transcriptions of 16th Century German folk songs, which he completed
in 1928 and 1948. These are not atonal works!

During 1907 and 1908, Schönberg wrote his “String Quartet No. 2
in F-Sharp Minor” and in the first movement, pushed tonality to
the absolute limit. The last two movements of this four-movement
piece features soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge, singing lyrics
derived from “Der siebente Ring,” a collection of poems by Stefan
George (1868-1933). These final two movements represent the
earliest example of Arnold Schönberg’s “break with tonality,” and
are very Expressionistic.

Schönberg’s “Suite in G for String Orchestra,” adheres to the “old”
musical conventions, in five movements. It uses French dance forms,
including the Menuet (a French spelling of “Minuet”), Gavotte and
Gigue. This 1934 composition is tonal and charming, in a
“neoclassical” way.

Conductor Robert Craft is at the helm of this successful project.
Along with the aforementioned Ms. Welch-Babidge, it also features
the Simon Joly Singers, the Fred Sherry String Quartet and the
Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble. The result is marvelous,
with great recorded sound.