Two Pieces by Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel


Monod Ensemble; Jacques Monod, conductor

I - Introduction
II - Intermezzo
III - Scherzo
IV - Epilogue


Felix Galimir, violin; Renee Hurtig, viola; Charles P. McCracken, cello

I - Allegro energice
(add'l percussion by surface schmutz)
II - Larghetto
III - Vivacissimo

The works here recorded were performed in the Schnabel Memorial Concerts in New York the Trio by members of the Galimir Trio, and the Duodecimet by an ensemble of players under the leadership of Jacques Monod. Performances of the still-unheard works and the eventual publication of all Schnabel's works is one of the purposes of the Artur Schnabel Memorial Committee at 103 Park Avenue, New York.

On Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel (1882-1951), who achieved world-wide fame as a pianist and teacher, has only in recent years become more widely known as a composer of bold originality and splendid accomplishment. He began composing in childhood and published his first piano pieces at the age of sixteen. In his twenties he wrote numerous songs which were sung by his wife, Thérèse Behr-Schnabel, famous in Europe as one of the great lieder singers of her day. All these early works, in the current style of the post-romantic composers from Brahms to Strauss, found ready acceptance, but were eventually discarded by the composer, who in his middle years began to explore the new world of abstract musical expression, aspiring to the utmost freedom from the fetters of musical convention tonal, harmonic and rhythmic. The leading pioneer of this new school was Arnold Schoenberg, whom Schnabel admired but did not imitate, while carving out new and highly personal and adventurous paths of expression for himself.

In his own slowly evolving style Schnabel produced, during the free intervals of his busy concert career, a moderate number of works five string quartets, solo and chamber music in various combinations, as well as four symphonic works and several groups of pieces for piano. Only a few of these compositions were performed in his lifetime. This was due in part to their uncompromising originality and the tremendous demands they made on the performers not to mention the composer's apparent passivity concerning them. Once a work was finished (usually during a summer vacation in the mountains) he returned to his other activities as the "professional musician" playing and teaching. As he became more and more famous and in demand as a performer, he sometimes referred to himself as an "amateur composer," and to his composing as a "sport." Unlike other great composer-pianists he wrote relatively little for his own instrument and almost never played any of it in public.

This reluctance, more than anything else, retarded public recognition of Schnabel as a composer. Nevertheless, from the end of World War I onward, Schnabel's increasingly "modern" works were occasionally heard in first performances, arousing controversy among the musicians and raising the ire of conservative critics. In 1929 his Notturno (1914) for contralto voice and piano a very free and highly dramatic setting of a poem by Richard Dehmel was performed at music festivals in Amsterdam and Wiesbaden. His first string quartet, written in 1918 and first performed in Berlin, was heard again at the German Tonkünstler Festival of 1922 at Düsseldorf and was overwhelmingly acclaimed by musicians and critics from all over Germany. Thus, at the age of forty, Schnabel's more advanced music was beginning to be recognized. His first symphony was completed in 1938 but was not performed until 1947 in Minneapolis under Mitropoulos, followed by the Rhapsody for Orchestra in Cleveland under Szell. Other projected performances were postponed as a result of Schnabel's untimely death. Only his early works for piano and for voice, the first string quartet, and the first of three symphonies have thus far appeared in print.

Artur Schnabel was born in Austrian Silesia in 1882, lived most of his adult life in Germany, in Italy and his adopted country, the United States. He died at the age of sixty-nine within sight of his beloved Alpine landscape, in Switzerland. Throughout his life he was, by his own description, a professional musician: a person who performed, taught and composed music in the tradition of all true professional musicians since the days of Bach. All three activities were equally important to him throughout his life.

As a performer and teacher, he considered himself an appointed servant of "the art," which imposed an obligation as well as a limitation. As a result, he eventually became known as the unsurpassed interpreter of the great German classics, from Mozart to Brahms, with a special predilection for Schubert; and he attained his greatest achievement with the interpretation of Beethoven's thirty-two sonatas in a five-day cycle, which he played and repeated in Berlin, in London and in New York. Schnabel made a profound study of these works and eventually published his own annotated edition of the Beethoven sonatas, first published in Germany, then in England, Italy and the United States.

While it was in Beethoven's works that he found the greatest inspiration for his own philosophy and his own creative activity, it was the study of Mozart's sonatas and long-neglected concertos that occupied him during the later period of his life. He revived many of Mozart's works in public performance, as he had done with Schubert's almost forgotten sonatas in earlier days.

A profound thinker on the spiritual and ethical aspects of musical art, Schnabel published "Reflections on Music" (1933) and "Music and the Line of Most Resistance" (1942).

String Trio (1925)

Schnabel's String Trio (for violin, viola and cello) is the last of four chamber works written during successive summer holidays from 1921 to 1925 and may be regarded as representative of his "middle" period. He was still under forty and in the midst of a highly successful European season as Germany's top-ranking pianist when he suddenly retired from the concert platform to spend the winter alone in a remote Austrian mountain village. Here he put his creative powers to a new and severe test to explore the resources of the "linear" contrapuntal style, free from the current traditional harmonic conventions and rhythmic patterns, but also from the newly invented devices of atonality adopted by the radical contemporaries of the day. The result was the first movement of a new string quartet, his second, which was to be completed the following summer. It was a radical break with the past and specifically his own. And it was the beginning of what we now know as Schnabel's mature style.

This new and highly individual manner of writing was to produce some of his most remarkable works, including the third and fourth quartets as well as the String Trio of 1925. This work, though shorter and more concise than its immediate predecessors, constitutes the epitome of this chamber music group, and was the last to appear for over five years. It consists of three relatively short movements. The first (Allegro energico) is forceful and expressive, clear and characteristically rich in its contrapuntal design. The second (Larghetto) opens with a virtually diatonic two-voiced theme which combines stateliness with serenity. The same theme is quoted literally in the strong third movement (Vivacissimo), but in an entirely different light.

When first performed by the International Society for Contemporary Music in Vienna, ten years after it was written, its composer was hailed by the critics as a "creative musician of power and originality." No other works of Schnabel had been heard in Vienna where he had spent his youth and "learned his trade."

Duodecimet (1950)

The "Duodecimet" is, as its name implies, a piece for twelve voices, or parts. According to sketchy indications in the manuscript score, and the nature of the music itself, it is meant for twelve solo instruments strings, wind instruments and percussion. It is Schnabel's last composition, finished one year before his death, at Axenstein (Switzerland) within sight of Lake Lucerne and the mountains beyond it a view "beautiful beyond description" in Schnabel's own words.

These four short movements, as close to abstract music as he had ever written, seem nevertheless to reflect the beauty of the idyllic scene. In them the composer achieved what he had long striven for: the utmost freedom in melodic, rhythmic and polyphonic design and expression. The first movement is a vigorous, moderately fast Introduzione; the second, presumably slow, is followed by a Scherzo and an Epilogue (moderato).

The whole work is characteristic of what Krenek calls "Schnabel's peculiar kaleidoscopic technique of motivic design," i.e., each movement has its characteristic melodic unit which appears again and again to form ever new combinations. While this use of a tone-group in ever-changing juxtaposition may be reminiscent of the so-called "twelve-tone" technique used by certain contemporary composers, it is important to remember that Schnabel regarded this or any prescribed method or system as incompatible with complete freedom of invention.


Library of Congress catalog card number R58-1227 applies to this record.

Columbia ML 5447