Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

A quarter century of musical conviction

The Schoenberg Quartet celebrates a milestone

Niek Nelissen

In search of the sources I: Los Angeles

It must have been shortly after the genesis of the Schoenberg Ensemble that Henk Guittart found himself faced with a number of questions regarding certain measures in Schoenberg’s Suite. He initially attempted to solve the problem by corresponding with Lawrence Schoenberg, the last-born son of Schoenberg’s second marriage. He also wrote to Leonard Stein, who shortly prior to that had been appointed director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles. Henk Guittart recalls that Jan van Vlijmen, director of the conservatory, had mediated his application to the CRM, the then Ministry of Culture, for a travel scholarship. In May 1978, Guittart spent three weeks at the Los Angeles Institute, which had opened just one year previously.

His visit was to take on a significance that Guittart at the time could not have suspected. “The grass surrounding the building had just been planted. Leonard Stein, who had been Schoenberg’s assistant for 16 years, was its director. Clara Steuermann, also a former pupil of Schoenberg, was the librarian. During my visit I also got to know Schoenberg’s children. Every day for three weeks I dug around in manuscripts of which I had previously only been aware from Josef Rufer’s catalogue. Everything that Schoenberg had taken from Berlin and Vienna in 1933 was there. I leafed through all the arrangements made for the Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen, such as the one of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Much of that material was then totally unknown, but it fitted in beautifully with the programmes we were performing with the ensemble. I also found Schoenberg’s Scherzo for string quartet, written in 1897, which I copied out in full by hand, trying to decide whether illegible notes were D or E.” Guittart returned from Los Angeles with a case full of manuscripts. His study trip not only provided access to the musical sources, it also laid the foundation for the links with Nuria, Ronald and Larry Schoenberg, the children of the composer. With them a friendship developed that soon extended to the other members of the quartet. Although Guittart later returned frequently to Los Angeles for archival research, his investigations also took him to New York, Washington and Basle, journeys which all yielded vast new quantities of material.