1. Bild: Die Bühne ist fast ganz finster. Vorn liegt der Mann, das Gesicht am Boden. Auf seinem Rücken sitzt ein katzenartiges Fabeltier

2. Bild: Ein etwas größerer Bühnenausschnitt; tiefer und breiter als der erste. Im Hintergrund eine zart lichtblaue, himmelartige Leinwand. Unten links, ganz nahe dem hellbraunen Erdboden

3. Bild: ...Nun ist bei vollständig ausgenützter Bühnentiefe und -breite folgendes Bild zu sehen: Wilde Felsenlandschaft; schwärzlichgraue, mit wenigen Nadelbäumen (die silbergraue Äste haben) bewachsene Felsen... sowie die Scene erhellt ist, sieht man den Mann aus der Schlucht heraussteigen

4. Bild: Das Bild von der ersten Scene

DURATION: ca. 18 Min.

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Universal Edition
Belmont Music Publishers (USA, Kanada, Mexico)

Schönberg’s “Drama with Music in one act” was first performed in the Vienna Volksoper on 14 October 1924, although it had been composed quite some time earlier. Schönberg had already published the text, as his first completed and separately published literary work, in the “Merker” already in 1911. It was written as soon as he had finished composing “Erwartung” (“Expectation”) between September 1909 and June 1910. Although Schönberg had at the same time started on drafts for the music but – unusually for a work that lasts only 20 minutes – it was only at the end of 1913, as he wrote to Franz Schreker, that he took the work at last “in his lucky hand.” Egon Welesz characterized the composition as an exemplary work of musical expressionism, giving as his reason especially the use of “Strindberg’s technique of short scenes as a drama form of the individual seeking to make his way through an alien world instead of relying on human relationships.” And in fact, in the stylized characters and the static scenery, the influence particularly of “Ein Traumspiel,” but also of “Der Vater” or of the first part of “Nach Damaskus” can be seen. The sequence of scenes is held together principally by the abstract figure of the protagonist, representing the brilliant artist incapable of communicating with the world around him, who resembles “Strindberg’s Einsamer” (“the lonely one”) (Theodor W. Adorno). In Schönberg’s aphorism of 1909: “The world moves inside him.” In front of the stage lies a man, face down. On his back crouches a cat-like, fantastic animal that seems to have sunk its teeth into his neck. Through slight gaps in the rear curtain peer the faces of six men and six women. They speak very softly. Driven by the desire for unfulfillable dreams and hopes of happiness, the man tries to face reality. The voices warn: “You, who have the divine in you, and covet the worldly! You cannot win out.” Out of growing circle of light in the middle of the stage the man lets himself be drawn into the bright sunlight by reality in the shape of a beautiful young woman, who offers him a goblet. As he drinks, the woman watches him with waning interest; indifferently she turns to an elegant gentleman and leaves the stage on his arm. Although she returns, the man does not notice. He gazes at his hands while he speaks: “Now I possess you forever.” In the following scene he is seen climbing out of a ravine, at the end of which two grottoes are visible. In one of them men are at work. He approaches an anvil, lays a piece of gold upon it. He splits and anvil with a hammer blow. When he pulls the gold piece out of the cleft in which it has fallen, it has become a richly set diadem. “This is the way to make jewels” he tells the workers, who begin to threaten him. The workshop disappears, and in the second grotto the woman appears, half-naked. The gentleman throws the missing piece of clothing to the man with calm, cold indifference. Desperately, the man tries to reach the woman. As he gets close to her on a rock, it becomes a monstrous sneering mask. The woman pushes the rock, it topples over and hurtles down upon the man, changing into the fantastic animal seen at the beginning, with its teeth sunk into his neck. As in the beginning, the voices whisper to the man on the ground: “Did you have to live again what you have so often lived? And still you seek! – And torment yourself, and are without rest.” Schönberg’s one-act drama, defined by a “dream logic” (Kurt Blaukopf), reveals an interface between the metaphysics of art of the 19th century and the ideas of the avant-garde modern. On the one hand, his highly meaningful symbolical language seems to be closely connected with the romantic idea of the artist, compelled to reflect upon his ego, renouncing love and society for the sake of his art. He only finds comfort in what he creates through his experience with the blessed, “lucky” hand. On the other hand, the composer works musically with the speech voice technique used in “Pierrot,” in which pitch and rhythm are exactly prescribed, but does not attempt to be either singing or solely speech. Orchestral polyphony and musical-dramatic technique show themselves to be as radically applied as in the earlier-composed “Erwartung.” At the same time, Schönberg returns to the monodrama and also to more solid forms and to a clear architecture of repetition. While he was composing “Erwartung” and “Die glückliche Hand” – Schönberg, as a vehicle for his concept of merging expression, was investigating the possibilities of the psychology of colours, and here he found similarities with the thoughts of Wassily Kandinsky. It is therefore hardly surprising that his “Drama with Music” attempts to treat gestures, colours and light “as sounds are treated, as playing with the appearances of colours and forms”. Later, the composer pointed out resemblances between “Die glückliche Hand” and Kandinsky in the play “Der gelbe Klang” (“The yellow sound”), which appeared in the “Blauer Reiter” almanac. Certain similarities can also be found between Kandinsky’s “Conerning the Spiritual in Art” and Schönberg’s sketches for “Die glückliche Hand.” Central to Kandinsky’s reflections is the idea of an “inner sound” within the colour, causing “spiritual vibrations,” and thus being able to exercise “a direct influence on the spirit.” “A spiritual event in the plot does not express itself only with gestures, movements and music” but also by means of “colours and light,” with which “music is made,” remarked Schönberg in 1928. His artistic idea fulfilled itself in the “equality of structure” (Reinhard Brinkmann) of all levels of the drama necessary to transmit an overall form scenically, optically, musically and textually.

Matthias Schmidt | © Arnold Schönberg Center

Libretto and Introduction: PDF