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Part IV: Schoenberg’s Children on How you knew him as a father

Part IV: Schoenberg’s Children on How you knew him as a father

Did you view of your father change after reading his writings and hearing his music?

Nuria: I learned a great deal about him when I read all of his writings and his letters and those of his colleagues and friends while I was preparing the “Lebensgeschichte in Begegnungen”. But the respect and love for him only became greater with more knowledge.

Is there a side in your father that you knew as children and think that if other people knew it, it would change the way his music is being perceived?

Nuria: I believe that the multimedia exhibition Larry and I curated in the ‘90’s has made a change in the attitude of a lot of people who saw and heard it.  I am hoping the new one at the Schoenberg Center in Vienna will do the same. They both attempt to show Schoenberg in a many-faceted presentation: as a composer, a teacher, a writer and as a family man with a sense of humour.  Making people familiar with him as a person seems to make it easier to approach his music with an open mind.

Did your perspective of your father and his music change during the years?

Nuria: No

Larry: I have also learned much about him by reading what others who knew him have written.  I have been interested especially in the writings of those who studied with him or visited him here in Los Angeles. Recently I read an article in the American Organist in which the author described an afternoon at our Rockingham house.  It is interesting for me to see how those normal for me events at home are filtered through others.

I must comment on what I consider to be the many false characterizations of my father:

He was stern, autocratic, demanding.  

He composed mathematically using formulas.

He forced his students to compose as he did.

Moving the Schoenberg Nachlass to Vienna

I have heard a few Americans and Israelis who think that it was wrong to move the Nachlass to Vienna. They mention various reasons: Vienna treated Schoenberg badly; it should have stayed in America or should have moved to Israel; the move to Vienna supports a certain perspective of Schoenberg, etc. What is you opinion on this? Looking back at the move from California to Vienna, was it a good one?

Nuria: It was very fortunate for us that we could move the Nachlass to Vienna where it is appreciated so much more and is accessible to so many more people. In Los Angeles the Institute did a very good job of conserving the materials, but there was less and less interest in the study of the sources and ultimately almost no public activities. When the University requested that we should remove the Nachlass from the Arnold Schoenberg Institute and we made it known that it was available to be moved elsewhere, there was practically no reaction in Los Angeles in favor of keeping this Archive in California. My brothers will be more specific on this subject, I am sure.

When people say we should not have returned it to Vienna, I always answer: Schoenberg belongs in Vienna (because of the musical tradition of this city) and it is the Nazis that should not have been in Vienna. We have been treated extremely well by the authorities and by the large numbers of people who frequent the Center.

Larry: The history of the disposition of the legacy goes back to the 1950’s when my father was approached by the Library of Congress.  He did decide to give his entire correspondence to the Library.  I was involved with my mother in selecting, packing and shipping the items that were sent their each year.  After my mother died we decided to transfer all of the remaining correspondence to the Library.  While my mother was still alive there were some very serious attempts by various institutions to acquire the full legacy – the City of Darmstadt, the Academy in Berlin, Robert Owen Lehman (who intended to locate the materials in Lincoln Center) and the University of California in Los Angeles.  When my mother died in 1967 we then became entrusted to secure the future location for the legacy.  The University of Michigan proved to be the most serious among the many Universities who desired to house the collection.  We had established a very good relationship with the representatives from the Music Department and had already signed a provisional agreement when a consortium of “local” universities requested that they give us a few months to see if they could develop an alternative that would allow for us to keep the materials in Los Angeles.  The history of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California is well documented. 

In 1995, after being formally evicted from the University, we once again had the opportunity to find a new home. Among the serious possibilities were the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles, the Peter Treistman Fine Arts Center for New Media at the University of Arizona, The Library of Congress (Music Division) in Washington, D.C., The Stanford University Libraries, Harvard University, the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Pepperdine University in Malibu as well as the University of Rochester/Eastman School of Music.  None of these proved satisfactory in meeting our goals.

We were fortunate to have four excellent choices from among which to select the new home: a consortium made up of the Juilliard School of Music, Lincoln Center and the New York Public Library; The Hague; The Academy of Arts in Berlin and the City of Vienna.

We eliminated the consortium and concentrated on the other three.  Each of us had our favorite always for different reasons:  Ronny – The Hague, Nuria – Berlin and I — Vienna.  We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each location for months.  We traveled together to each possible site and compared and contrasted the tree superb options.  In the end we decided upon Vienna.  We felt then and feel even more so now that it was the RIGHT choice.   

The internet site – the ability for students and scholars to easily access the materials including facsimiles, transcriptions and translations of the correspondence and writings,   the educational projects, the preservation of the materials, the China Project, the safe storage of the paintings and drawings, the Avenir scholarships, the cooperation with the Gesamtausgabe, the conferences, symposia and master classes, the new Multi-Media exhibition, the special exhibitions, the new recording projects, the superb facility for scholars and students, the international activities, the guaranteed funding, the excellent staff, the re-furbishing of the Schoenberg House in Moedling and the establishment of a museum there, the Journals, the Newsletters, the YouTube videos, the Jukebox, the active and enthusiastic Board and Beirat ….   Am I satisfied?  YES!

Vienna treated Schoenberg badly, Berlin treated Schoenberg badly, Los Angeles treated Schoenberg badly. 

The University was throwing us out.  There was no clamor in Los Angeles to stop that.  The New York Times wrote very negative things about the family indicating that we were too restrictive and infringed on academic freedom!  No University in the United States presented us a serious offer.  The Library of Congress Music Division was in disarray.  The Getty Center was not interested.  The consortium in New York was disorganized.  Stanford University, Pepperdine University, Arizona State all were either not serious or did not offer anything comparable to what we were offered in The Hague, Vienna or Berlin.  Correspondence from Israel only came well after we had already made our preliminary decision and was very vague.  I, for selfish reasons, wanted the Institute to remain in the States – hopefully in California.

I feel very fortunate that the Center is established in Vienna and I especially look forward to the upcoming exchanges with China.

Ronald: The best answer to those that criticize our move to Vienna is to ask the Complainer, “Where else.” We realized that we had only one opportunity to choose a place, that if we now for any reason failed or if our choice failed, it would be almost impossible to later find more than a repository.  After USC made clear that it did not want the Archives there any longer, or at least that it would not accept any restrictions on what they could or couldn’t do with the Archives or the Archival Building, there was only one semi-serious offer from the United States which came too late with too little.  That “offer” came at a time when we could not afford to keep the three main contenders waiting any longer while we looked into the new prospect. Moreover, it came from one very energetic and influential person. So we had to consider, what if that one person is no longer interested or around. Finally, it was clearly inferior to our three main offers: Vienna, The Hague and Berlin.  Although for sentimental reasons, we favored the United States, what interest we found there amounted to mainly storing the materials and one rather ambitious computerized archival program with little music qualifications. This was probably largely because of the misinformation and bad publicity that USC was spreading about us to further their lawsuit. There was no offer from Israel. As for Germany, the objections to that country would be largely the same as to Austria. The Academy of Art had a very good proposal, placing the Archives on one floor of a new Academy Building. However, plans for that building were not yet funded, were projected far in the future and Berlin was undergoing serious financial problems.  Accepting Berlin’s generous offer meant depositing the Materials there and then having to hope that funding plans succeeded. Furthermore, as a part of the Academy’s rather rigid Archival System, we felt that there would be considerably less chance of our achieving the open access and modern computer techniques that we have been able to put into use in Vienna. The Hague proposed a very attractive plan which we came much closer to accepting than anyone realized. It came from a love of Schoenberg and his music not stemmed from any nationalistic connections.  The choice of Vienna was finally because it was the best offer from the best location where there was the best chance of success.  We did not overlook Austria’s (and Germany’s) past. And we do not pretend that Anti-Semitism is completely dead there. However, one cannot exclude a country forever. We consider the Center as a part of Austria’s coming to terms with its past. In supporting the Center, Austria has answered the question: Who belongs in Austria, Hitler’s Nazis or the Jews.  From our bad experience at USC, we found it easy to be distrustful of the Austrian’s promises.  But Austria has more than lived up to its contractual obligations with respect to the Center. It has proudly encouraged, embraced and funded the Center as its own jewel. Anyone who sees, either in person or on the internet, the many varied Center projects, must acknowledge  the correctness of our choice.    

Continue to read the interview here:

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

Part I: Childhood

Part II: On performance

Part III: Religion and customs

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