In the last years of his life, years spent in Los Angeles, Arnold Schoenberg wanted to respond to what he called "accusations of anarchy and revolution" made about him and his music.
In 1949, five years after his retirement from the UCLA faculty, Schoenberg wrote "My Evolution" in response to an invitation to speak at the Westwood campus.
The speech became a tract outlining his odyssey as a composer--from the late-Romantic style in which he wrote as a student, through the maze of pre-atonality which characterized his compositions in midlife, and into the highly organized 12-tone musical language of his last period.
Schoenberg read the paper to an audience in Royce Hall on the Westwood Campus in November, 1949.
The speech is documented on a recent film made under university auspices--it was produced by the UCLA Office of Instructional Development--and will be shown, for the first time publicly in this city, today at 2:30 p.m. in Haines Hall at UCLA, just across the walk from the place where "My Evolution" was first spoken, four decades ago. (It was first shown publicly at a celebration of Schoenberg at the Juilliard School in New York last year.)
With narration by Robert Winter, "My Evolution" builds a fascinating, 50-minute aural portrait of the composer around the sounds of a wire tape of his speech, 42 years ago.
The visuals include photographs of the composer, his colleagues and family, throughout his life; pictures of compositional artifacts and of the composer's workroom; close-ups of his manuscripts, and analyses of several Schoenberg works.
Bonuses, scattered all through the film, are looks at a large number of the composer's paintings, many of them self-portraits either realistic or abstract, which add another dimension of meaning to the now-familiar sounds of his music.
Striking insights into the process of composition are sprinkled through the speech.
At one point, Schoenberg says, "A composer's only yardstick is his sense of balance on behalf of his musical thinking." At another, he is self-critical: "My inspiration was right, though my mind was wrong."
The bottom line comes soon after: "I am still more of a composer than a theorist."
Time and again, narrator Winter puts the composer and his surroundings in a genuine historical context. He reminds us, for instance, that Schoenberg throughout his life bore "a profound conviction of his connection to the past," and that, "after Arnold Schoenberg, the musical world was never the same again."
The screening will precede the 4 p.m. concert in Royce Hall by the touring Schoenberg String Quartet from the Netherlands, a concert of music from the Second Viennese School, which Schoenberg represents. The program: Alban Berg's Quartet, Opus 3 (1910); Anton Webern's Five Movements, Opus 5 (1909), and Schoenberg's Quartet in D minor, Opus 7 (1905).
The 15-year-old Schoenberg String Quartet, based in The Hague, specializes in recent music, as well as that of the Second Viennese School. Its members are violinists Janneke van der Meer, Wim de Jong, violist Henk Guittart and cellist Viola de Hoog.
Postscript: UCLA Center for the Arts, sponsor of the double event today, is an outgrowth of the university's Committee on Fine Arts Productions, which itself was preceded by the Committee on Lectures and Drama, sponsor of the speech Schoenberg gave in 1949.