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Schoenberg, Arnold - Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten, Op. 15



Type of Spiritual Experience


In October 1901, Schoenberg married Mathilde Zemlinsky, the sister of the conductor and composer Alexander von Zemlinsky, with whom Schoenberg had been studying since about 1894.

He and Mathilde had two children, Gertrud (1902–1947) and Georg (1906–1974). Gertrud would marry Schoenberg's pupil Felix Greissle in 1921 (Neighbour 2001).

During the summer of 1908, his wife Mathilde left him for several months for a young Austrian painter, Richard Gerstl.

This period marked a distinct change in Schoenberg's work. It was during the absence of his wife that he composed "You lean against a silver-willow" (German: Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide), the thirteenth song in the cycle Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten, Op. 15, based on the collection of the same name by the German mystical poet Stefan George. This was the first composition without any reference at all to a key (Stuckenschmidt 1977, 96). Also in this year, he completed one of his most revolutionary compositions, the String Quartet No. 2, whose first two movements, though chromatic in colour, use traditional key signatures, yet whose final two movements, also settings of George, daringly weaken the links with traditional tonality. Both movements end on tonic chords, and the work is not fully non-tonal. Breaking with previous string-quartet practice, it incorporates a soprano vocal line.

A description of the experience

Arnold Schoenberg, Das Buch der Hängende Gärten, Op. 15

Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten (The Book of the Hanging Gardens) is a fifteen-part song cycle composed by Arnold Schoenberg between 1908 and 1909, setting poems of Stefan George. George's poems, also under the same title, track the failed love affair of two adolescent youths in a garden, ending with the woman's departure and the disintegration of the garden. The song cycle is set for solo voice and piano. The Book of the Hanging Gardens breaks away from conventional musical order through its usage of atonality.

The Book of the Hanging Gardens served as the start to the atonal period in Schoenberg's music. Atonal compositions, referred to as "pantonal" by Schoenberg, typically contain features such as a lack of central tonality, pervading harmonic dissonance rather than consonance, and a general absence of traditional melodic progressions.

Program note for the 1910 first performance of The Book of the Hanging Gardens:
With the [Stefan] George songs I have for the first time succeeded in approaching an ideal of expression and form which has been in my mind for many years. Until now I lacked the strength and confidence to make it a reality. I am being forced in this direction ... not because my invention or technique is inadequate, but [because] I am obeying an inner compulsion, which is stronger than any upbringing. I am obeying the formative process which, being the one natural to me, is stronger than my artistic education.

Schoenberg's libretto transcends the tragic love poems of George and become a deeper reflection of Schoenberg's mood during this period when viewing his personal life.

Moods are conveyed though harmony, texture, tempo, and declamation.

The source of the experience

Schoenberg, Arnold

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