The phenomenon of loneliness in Schoenberg’s Erwartung, op. 17

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During the 20th century the concept of loneliness was under scrutiny by various philosophers and scholars of the psyche, and most authors agree that there are both positive and negative aspects to loneliness.

In the first section of this article I focus on the writings on loneliness by three thinkers: Rubin Gotesky (1965), Ben Mijuskovic (1979), and Karin Dahlberg (2007). Gotesky breaks loneliness up into four types: aloneness, loneliness, isolation and solitude. He provides a phenomenological perspective on these four types. Each type has specific characteristics and leads to a specific type of experience. Aloneness is neutral, loneliness and isolation are negative, and solitude is positive. Philosophical and psychological standpoints on loneliness are discussed by Ben Mijuskovic and he postulates a theory of consciousness centred on the phenomenon: loneliness and the drive to avoid isolation is what motivates all human consciousness and conduct. In putting forward this universal theory, he is one of the few authors that disagrees with the idea that loneliness can be positive. Mental health scientist Karin Dahlberg conducted a case study in which she analysed the core components of loneliness, as reported by a group of interviewees, through a phenomenological method. She found several concepts recurring in the interviews: loneliness is to be without others; loneliness can be with others; loneliness is negative; loneliness is creative; and companionship outlines loneliness. The writings of Mijuskovic serve as the bridge between Gotesky’s purely philosophical view and Dahlberg’s findings in clinical psychology.

The works of expressionist painters, poets, dramatists and composers often emphasise the phenomenon of loneliness; examples include Wassily Kandinsky’s Der Blaue Reiter (1903), Richard Dehmel’s Verklärte Nacht (1896), and, as I show in the second section of this article, the composer Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung (1909).

During the composer’s atonal phase (1908–1922), he set to music various texts by expressionist poets that depict lost or unrequited love, and it was during this period that he commissioned Marie Pappenheim to write a libretto, which he adapted and set to music as she completed each section. Pappenheim, with a clear background in psychoanalysis as a medical student in Vienna, incorporated into the libretto various aspects of Sigmund Freud’s writings, most notably from Studien über Hysterie (1895), “Bruchstücke einer Hysterie-Analyse” (1905) and Die Traumdeutung (1899). The plot of Pappenheim’s libretto follows a single character (a hysterical woman) who searches for her lover in a dark forest. The Woman experiences visual and aural hallucinations, most notably mistaking a tree trunk for her lover’s corpse, which she later actually (believes that she) finds, tries to resurrect, and toward which she expresses erotic feelings. It is not difficult to relate the concept of loneliness to Pappenheim’s text, but it is important to note that Schoenberg’s music further emphasises the phenomenon.

Several methods have been proposed and various attempts made to pinpoint the musical coherence (which, at least at surface level, matches the incoherence of the character’s internal state and fragmented utterances) in Erwartung. Both Alan Lessem (1979) and Herbert Buchanan (1967) maintain that there are specific pitch sets used often and that tonal centres (mostly D) are indeed present in the monodrama. These “tonal” materials are derived from the quotation of an earlier Schoenberg song, “Am Wegrand” (Op. 6 no. 6, 1907), near the end of Erwartung. Lessem and Buchanan claim that different structural elements of the song provide the pitch material for the melodrama. Melanie Feilotter (1995) disputes the set theory approach, claiming that the sets are heard in extremely different textural contexts, lessening the unification sought by Lessem and Buchanan. Although both the last-mentioned authors touch on ostinato patterns, Feilotter sees these patterns as an intrinsic aspect of the drama. In an earlier article, Phillip Friedheim (1966) suggests that degrees of rhythmic stability divide Erwartung into smaller sections and he also highlights the importance of ostinati. Katherine Elizabeth Harder (1979) incorporates aspects of all the listed theoretical perspectives (except Feilotter’s) in her characterisation of the climactic moments in the work.

As is clear from the writings of the aforementioned authors, much theoretical work has been done on the monodrama (this was especially the case in the 1960s and 1970s); however, the extra-musical aspects of the work have often been neglected. Although studies by Lewis Wickes (1989) and more recently Alexander Carpenter (2010) investigated the influences of psychoanalysis on the expressionist works of Schoenberg, loneliness as a specific feature of the psyche is yet to be studied as it pertains to Schoenberg’s stage works.

In this article I demonstrate the ways in which the music and text of Schoenberg and Pappenheim’s Erwartung is an intense portrayal of loneliness. I provide an overview of the literature on the concept of loneliness by Gotesky, Mijuskovic and Dahlberg in an attempt to explain this phenomenon and I then discuss the monodrama critically through the lens of loneliness. I analyse the textual symbols, character(s), locale, and finally the music. I argue that loneliness, as conceptualised and described by the three authors, can be linked to the various elements in Schoenberg and Pappenheim’s Erwartung.

The dreamscape setting creates and facilitates isolation not only by the dark forest mise-en-scène, but also by implying The Woman’s internal struggle. Certain symbols (such as the moon and the shadows) are regularly mentioned at times of increased loneliness, while colour complementarity, in particular between red and green and between black and white, also strengthen notions of loneliness and the multifaceted nature of the phenomenon. In addition to the contrast between the single character on the stage and the vast orchestra accompanying her, which highlights her loneliness, the orchestra also provides sustained chords in heterogeneous timbres when The Woman experiences extreme cases of the phenomenon. Like the dreamscape setting, the athematic, atonal and formless music depicts The Woman’s rapidly shifting emotions and thoughts, which follow the same associative rules as those which Schoenberg maintains should guide structure in music: form should be heard intuitively, at the unconscious level rather than on the surface, just as it has been conceived. Finally, the composer’s own description of the work as “everything that happens during a spiritual second of excitement, stretching it out to half an hour” strongly echoes feelings of timelessness that those that experience loneliness often report.

My study adds loneliness to the discourse on psychoanalysis and music by focusing on this specific aspect of human experience and its musical and textual portrayal in Erwartung.

Keywords: Arnold Schoenberg; Erwartung op. 17; expressionism; loneliness; Marie Pappenheim; musicology; phenomenology; psychoanalysis and music

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Eensaamheid as verskynsel in Arnold Schoenberg se Erwartung, op. 17

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