Translated by Kenneth Chalmers
Arnold Schoenberg – Revolutionary, Humanist and Visionary
“For the great artist must somehow be punished in his lifetime for the honour he will enjoy later.”ARNOLD SCHOENBERG1
On 13 September 1949 Schoenberg celebrated his 75th birthday in Los Angeles, surrounded by his family. Congratulations poured in from friends and pupils, and a few days later he wrote a thank-you letter entitled “To gain recognition only after one’s death” which he sent in facsimile to everyone who had written to him. There are many documents that reveal something about great artists, but this letter is one of the most upsetting. It reads:2
“In these last few days I have met with much personal recognition, which has given me great pleasure because it testifies to the respect in which I am held by my friends and other well-disposed people.
On the other hand, however, I have for many years been resigned to the fact that I cannot count on living to see full and sympathetic understanding of my work, that is, of what I have to say in music. I do indeed know that more than a few of my friends have come to feel at home with my mode of expression and are familiar with my ideas. It is likely then to be such as they who will fulfil what I prophesied in an aphorism exactly thirty-seven years ago:
‘The second half of this century will be spoilt by overestimation of whatever the first half’s underestimation left unspoilt’.
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