Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

The New York Times

“At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the conductor Leon Botstein discussed Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), a one-act monodrama for soprano and orchestra, written in 1909, and led The Orchestra Now, an ensemble from Bard College (where Mr. Botstein is the president), and the soprano Kirsten Chambers in excerpts from the piece to illustrate his points.

Mr. Botstein began by describing both “Erwartung” and the paintings of Munch (the subject of a major exhibition at the museum’s Met Breuer space) as works of Expressionism. The Expressionists rejected conventional reality, he said, believing that individuals, including artists, create their own.

Calling “Erwartung” the “first Freudian opera,” Mr. Botstein played excerpts to illustrate the work’s restless, sometimes rootless harmonic language, the skittish interplay of contrapuntal lines, the composer’s use of recurring motifs and the tormented emotional cast of the music. He drew rich, expressive playing from the orchestra, and Ms. Chambers’s bright lyric soprano lent fragile innocence to her portrayal of the desperate Woman.” – Anthony Tommasini

Photo by David DeNee