12 Apr 2013

Schoenberg – My Horses Ain’t Hungry

by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: unaccompanied chorus

THE COMPOSER – ARNOLD SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) – Schoenberg moved to America in 1933 to escape the escalating anti-Semitism in Europe. After initially settling in the northeast, he became quite ill and realized that a warmer climate would be necessary if he wanted to rid himself of his chronic complaints. Once Schoenberg arrived in Los Angeles in 1934, he never left, though America (and California in particular) would continue to seem quite foreign to him.      

THE MUSIC – Recently uncovered in 2004 was Schoenberg’s 1935 attempt at an American folk song arrangement. It was taken on at the suggestion of his publisher Carl Engel (G. Schirmer) after Engel sent him a collection entitled Songs of the Hill-folk: Twelve Ballads from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina by John Jacob Niles. Number 10 in the set was the love dialogue My Horses Ain’t Hungry. Biographer Sabine Feisst proposed that Schoenberg was likely drawn to the conversational, back-and-forth quality of Horses and her theory makes perfect sense given Schoenberg’s contemporaneous focus on the libretto for Moses und Aron. The original Horses text tells of Johnny who, feeling too poor to be worthy of Polly, tries to leave her in peace. But Polly doesn’t care what her parents think and, in the end, she goes away with Johnny to a new life. Schoenberg never completed the piece (it was finished by Allen Anderson) and though it is hard to know the reasons for its abandonment, it is fascinating to recall the context of its place. Schoenberg, in 1935, was in the odd position of defending his more traditional recent musical choices when critic Olin Downes commented that Schoenberg’s sporadic return to a “melodic manner” and “recognizable keys” was an example of “what Hollywood had done to [him].” Schoenberg tactfully objected but admitted an ongoing affinity for old forms that occasionally led him down a few (gasp!) traditional roads.

THE WORLD – Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935. That same year, the Nuremburg Laws went into effect in Germany, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) died in England and the Vuelta a España bike race was held for the first time.

THE CONNECTION – Along with Friede auf Erden, these are the Utah Symphony Chorus’ premiere performances of My Horses Ain’t Hungry.