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Part I - Schoenberg’s children on their childhood

Schoenberg’s children on their childhood

What is your very first memory of your father?

Nuria: It is hard to say. Some “memories” might be from photographs, but I think it is going for a walk with him when I was about 4.

Larry: I now have a new “very first memory” since I recently received an email from the brother of the architect Richard Neutra who mentioned that his Aunt Regula Thorston delivered me!

Could you please share with us a memory of your father that you treasure?

Nuria: There are so many.

One of the lessons I received from him which has influenced my behavior in many situations is the following: On his 75th birthday there was a large birthday party planned at our house. It happened that it was also the day on which I had to sign up for my first year at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). When I reached the University campus I found about 2000 other students waiting to register and I realized that I would be too late for the birthday celebration if I waited in line. So I decided to ask a professor in the administration whom I knew from the time my father taught there if he could help me to register more quickly. When he heard the reason for my request he gave me a note so that I could go to the head of the line and in no time I had registered and was on my way home. When I got there I told my father how lucky I had been and how nice Prof. Lazier had been to help me. But my father said: You used my name to gain an advantage. You must never do that again; you must earn your advantages yourself. I think it was an exaggerated response to that situation: I had done it for him, not just for myself, but the ethical lesson has always stayed in my mind.

Ronald: We had a Gentlemen’s Club for which my Father composed an anthem which we sang while he accompanied us on the piano. The family would often play games in the evening: he constructed a roulette board and chips .He also liked to play solitaire and I would kibbitz.

Larry: I am quite certain that one my earliest memories of my father is related to my attempt to open a can of peaches using a wall can opener. After opening the top lid part way I, as maybe a foolish 3 or 4 year old might do, attempted to pull out the tin lid.  My thumb got caught between the cut lid and the circumference of the top of the can and the lid cut though my thumb on my left hand.  I screamed and my father came to the rescue.  He unfortunately turned the opener the wrong way (though I am not sure that there was a "right" way) such that the lid continued to sever more deeply into my thumb.  The doctor was able to sew the thumb back together and healed perfectly preventing me from following my uncle Rudi in becoming a left-handed violinist.  I recall vividly how distressed my father was after this encounter with me and the can opener and the peaches in bright red sugary syrup.

Also among the earliest memories that I had was when I discovered my father sitting in a chair in the living room crying uncontrollably.  This would have been when he discovered that his daughter Gertrud had died.

One memory that I treasure must have taken place when I was 4 or 5 years old in Kindergarten. I recall watching him make little axes and lanterns from “silver paper”, cardboard, dog food cans and various other materials for my classroom play: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I recall the after dinner walks.

Recently I was asked to record the answer to the same question.   I responded as follows:

Early Memories:

I must have been about 4 years old when I clearly remember my father collecting “silver paper” from cigarette packages.  He also saved some empty dog food cans.  What could this be for? 

Then, one evening, I saw him with my mother arranging the cans, the silver paper and some cardboard on our large dinner table.  I was told that tomorrow morning I would find out what they were doing.

In the morning my mother took me to my Kindergarten class and brought along a large bag.  I still had no idea what was in the bag.  It was a very exciting time for me in Kindergarten since we were preparing a production of “Snow White” and I was to play the character “bashful”. 

In the classroom she gave the bag to the teacher who opened it and there it was:

Seven, I assume now, beautiful bright silver hatchets and seven little lanterns.

I was very proud of my father!

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We often took automobile trips to a nearby village, Westwood.  When we were there we would stop by the Gas Company office.  The Gas Company sponsored an evening concert program on the radio.  The two-hour program only played classical music.  Each week they would issue a new printed program listing the radio concerts for the next week.  When we got the program I was given the opportunity to search through it to find out if there were any works by “Schoenberg” to be broadcast.  I would get a dime, 10 cents for each one I could find.  I didn’t get rich but once in a while I’d find one – usually “Transfigured Night”. 

I learned the importance of reading early on in my life.

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Family automobile trips up the Pacific Coast Highway were always special for me.  We, my sister, brother and I would often stop a roadside stand that served fresh orange juice.  One summer in 1947 on our way to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, we made our usual detour to the SANTA CLAUS LANE ORANGE JUICE STAND. The stand had a large Santa Claus and outdoor speaker that would play Christmas songs.   But this time something very special happened.  When we drove up, my mother and father were alerted to something different.  Then we found out what was happening – instead of “Jingle Bells” blaring over the loudspeaker it was Verklaerte Nacht!

We had a great time and never had any trouble convincing my father that we should stop there in the future.

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I only learned well after my father died why I was not allowed to join the “cub scouts”. It was, of course, because of the uniforms.

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On the Saturday before his classes that he taught at home I was allowed to make staff lines on the butcher paper that he used for his music examples.  He had made a device that would inscribe all five lines simultaneously using 5 black crayons.

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I loved Christmas when he would play Holiday Songs on the harmonium. 

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I was learning to play the violin.  I had very little talent and knew, even at a very early age, that this was not going to be my career.  I recall practicing – screeching when I heard my father call out – falsch!  It was comical because I did at least have a good ear and knew that it was falsch.

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We always kissed our parents “good night”, every evening, without exception.  During the night that he died – or perhaps it was in the morning, my mother told me to kiss him “good bye”.  I was confused since I though that I had already kissed him good night. 

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We went out shopping on day.  My mother would always do the driving; my father would sit in the front passenger seat.  She would always spend a great deal of time shopping while he would remain the car.  When my mother and I returned to the car after completing the shopping she pushed the starter button to engage the engine.  There was a terribly loud noise from the engine.  She turned the key off and then on and again pushed the starter button – the noise again appeared.  My father seemed unconcerned and continued to work in his sketchbook.  After this kept happening a few times some strangers came to help out.  Someone discovered that my father’s left foot was fully depressing the accelerator! 

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Your father is famous as being an excellent teacher. Was this also evident in family life?

Nuria: I remember when he explained to me the movement of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth, using the living room uplighter lamp and objects from the furnishings. He loved to teach.

Ronald: While Nuria was getting her braces tightened, he would take us to a hot dog stand. He told us that the hot dog vendor was a Master of the hot dog.

Larry: I am probably more aware of his capacity as a teacher vis-à-vis others. I knew how much he prepared for his Sunday classes at home.  I later was told by Leonard Stein how my father would design separate exams for each student in his University classes based on each student’s ability. I read the book Schoenberg Remembered by his student Dika Newlin. And I have seen and heard the many who have testified to his teaching ability.

I don’t recall any specific times when he was explicitly teaching me something though I suspect that our after dinner games of roulette and cards had an educational purpose.  And of course I learned a little French  = Rien ne va plus! (I actually thought that it meant that you are going to get your hand slapped).  I know that he was proud of my mathematical ability as evidenced by his famous composition Larry got an A in Arithmetic.  Too bad that he only had the text by Max Blonda (Jolly Joker)! 

Were your friends at School aware that you are children of a very important composer? Did anyone bother you or admire you because of this? 

Nuria: I seriously doubt it 

Ronald: Very few friends were aware of who my Father was. I myself was barely aware of that. After all, he certainly wasn’t famous in Los Angeles, and he didn’t fit the criteria for stardom—wealth, nor did he have any hit songs or compose for the movies. 

Larry: If they were, I didn’t know about it.  The most that I can recall is that a teacher mentioned that he was a famous “conductor”.  I should add that most of the kids and teachers considered conductor and composer synonyms. 

I am not an objective observer. And I don’t pretend to be. When I was very young there was always the conflict between “great composer – very famous father” and “who ..  shonburg”.   I recall asking my mother and later my cousin Richard Hoffmann regarding his fame.

I have never been able to differentiate clearly between the serious admirers and the superficial detractors.  Their words always spoke softer than their actions.

Did your father invest time with you or was he too busy?

Nuria: When I was very young I think he spent quite a lot of time with me. In Los Angeles we had meals together and he would tell us stories and ask about school. But he did not have too much time because he had to teach at the University and private lessons and needed time to compose.

Larry: I never felt that he was “too busy”.  My relationship to him was defined by what was happening.  There was never any comparison with what should be happening.  Again, I was 10 years old when he died and he was ill the last few years of his life.

Was it possible to approach him while he was composing?

Nuria: His study was closed off to us and I went in only to call him for meals or if he called me to show me something.

Larry: I never felt any constraints though I am now told that I was not allowed to go into the work room when he was working.  That was “news to me” now.

What music did you hear at home?

Nuria: We had very few recordings, but there were some of his works on LPs. Mostly, we listened to a radio program that broadcast classical music every evening from 8-10 PM. One of my happiest memories is listening to the radio and looking over my father’s shoulder as he followed the music in the score. On his birthdays they often played Gurrelieder. That was a special occasion, since we had no possibility of hearing it live.

Larry: Nuria and Ronny had phonograph records with, as best as I can recall, patriotic songs.  We sat in the living room listening to the classical radio station music though I can’t imagine that I would have been up that late (8-10PM) very often. 

Performers and performing groups would visit my father and often perform in the living room. (Kolisch Quartet, Steuermann, Feuermann) 

Did you go and/or participate in any other cultural activities with your father or were encouraged by him? 

Nuria: Not really. He considered the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its conductor mediocre and did not encourage me to go to concerts. I did go to concerts of modern music at the famous “Evenings on the Roof” and special events like the Kolisch Quartet or Arthur Schnabel at UCLA. 

Larry: None that I can recall. I would like to remark on how he instilled the importance of work ethic.  For us the milkman, Mr. Kirby, or the occasional repairman that came to the house were characterized as “heroes” – they performed their work admirably.  It did not matter what they were doing it was always a question of how well they did it.

Continue to read the interview here:

Part II: On performance

Part III: Religion and customs

Part IV: How you knew him as a father and Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

Part V: Your mother and children and Appendix 1: Larry’s list of works that ‘would not “frighten the audiences”’

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children - introduction

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