The performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 on March 13, 1913 in Vienna was what could be called an unforgettable concert experience.
Before its abrupt and unplanned end, the presentation of unconventional works by Schoenberg and other members of the Second Viennese School would have turned into full-contact chamber music, with fist fights and flying furniture.
It even earned its own moniker, “The Scandal Concert,” which you should totally Google right now.
“The police were called, and even the police couldn’t keep things quiet,” said Thomas Wilson, associate conductor of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra, who will lead a 15-member ensemble through a performance of Schoenberg’s “controversial” work during the season. Philharmonic Orchestra Signature Series opening at the Ent Center for the Arts’ Shockley-Zalabak Theatre.
What attendees will hear, as part of a bill that also includes a larger ensemble performing Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, is a sonic tour through changing times, into the lives of the composers who created the works and those who showed up to watch and listen – boxes and (increasingly) cheap seats.
While the Scandal Concert compositions explored new tonal territory and influences from classical musical traditions across Europe, and to historic ears probably sounded like “pretty modern stuff overall, (it was) nothing overwhelming,” Wilson said.
He said he believed it was the octave shift in society’s power dynamics, and the way music reflected that shift, that struck a bad chord with the ruling class. The new music wasn’t just ambitious, it was gritty and sometimes jarring. Like real life.
“At the beginning of the 20th century, a new middle class was being built, with new young intellectuals who went to concerts and art galleries… (who) had not been brought up in protected environments, and they wanted art really speaks to people and captures the human experience,” Wilson said.
The change in musical style underscored a growing awareness among the aristocracy, who for centuries financed and dictated the direction of the arts. Concert halls, and the stories told there, were no longer reserved or reserved for the elite.
“The music dissonance that they almost considered political dissonance in a way,” Wilson said. “Now it’s amazing to think that this room (Schoenberg) that some would still call too modern is over 100 years old. It gives you an idea of how avant-garde these composers were.