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Object #93 / Arnold Schönberg: Theory of Form


Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

“I am just reading in a criticism of my Georgelieder [Karl Storck: Geschichte der Musik] that I ‘do not shrink from doing violence to nature’. What is meant is doubtless that I do not feel the need to write anything banal, conventional, obsolete. For it must be apparent, in view of what I have just said, that one must, on the contrary, in all circumstances, use force on nature, on the material – sounds: that one must force them to keep to a direction and succession laid down by us. One has to force nature – the material – by means of nature – our way of thinking – to work naturally according to our nature; otherwise we can either not grasp it or else, if one lets the sounds run as they please, it remains a children’s game, like electrical experiments with elderberries or tobogganing or the like. Every more developed game comes about because the course of nature is modified by a force from outside.
Thus in nine-pins the task is not merely to hurl a ball, but to knock down nine-pins with it, and in billiards the cushions and countless other more or less arbitrary, artificial conditions restrict the natural aim of the stroke to such a degree that it can be taken as meaningful and successful only in terms of a very modified goal. One of the most primitive games, dice (primitive because its intellectual conditions are very simple and their number very small), is content to increase the interest of the question, ‘which side will be up?’, giving the various sides differing values – winning values, to appeal to our lowest instincts! Accorclingly the higher an artistic idea stands, the greater the range of questions, complexes, associations, problems, feelings and so on it will have to cover, and the better it succeeds in compressing this universality into a minimum of space, the higher it will stand. The further presentation of the idea will indeed proceed according to the same laws, but will use a more popular or a stricter manner of expression, presentation and development, depending on the hearer to whom it addresses itself. And yet one will have to designate as the highest forms those in which the presentation is concise, comprehensive and exhaustive, the richness of discovered relationships to the subject impressive, the elimination of inessentials carried through consistently and uncompromisingly, and yet the presentation suited to taste, and no harder to grasp than the state of the subject demands.”

Arnold Schönberg: Style and Idea

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