Arnold Schoenberg: Friede auf Erden

Context

Arnold Schoenberg composed Friede auf Erden in 1907, with the style reflecting his late Romantic influences. The work was premiered in 1911, after many cancellations from the choir as they struggled to get through it. Schoenberg was very aware of the troubles that choirs were having to perform this work, so he also created an orchestral accompaniment to help keep the singers on track and in time. Though often regarded as one of the most challenging works in the choral canon, Friede auf Erden is also known as one of the greatest modern choral works. 

 

The Text

The text that Schoenberg uses for Friede auf Erden comes from Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. The first verse describes the birth of Jesus, the second of the bloodshed at war, the third and fourth return to the idea of peace and the final verse brings the work to a dramatic finish inferring visions of something heavenly. 

 

Da die Hirten ihre Herde
Ließen und des Engles Worte
Trugen durch die niedre Pforte
Zu der Mutter mit dem Kind,
Fuhr das himmlische Gesind
Fort im Sternenraum zu singen,
Fuhr der Himmel fort zu klingen:
“Friede, Friede! auf der Erde!”


Seit die Engel so geraten,
O wie viele blut’ge Taten
Hat der Streit auf wildem Pferde,
Der geharnischte vollbracht!
In wie mancher heiligen Nacht
Sang der Chor der Geister zagend,
Dringlich flehend, leis verklagend: “Friede, Friede… auf der Erde!”


Doch es ist ein ewiger Glaube,
Dass der Schwache nicht zum Raube
Jeder frechen Mordgebärde
Werde fallen allezeit:
Etwas wie Gerechtigkeit
Webt und wirkt in Mord und Grauen
Und ein Reich will sich erbauen,
Das den Frieden sucht der Erde.


Mählich wird es sich gestalten,
Seines heiligen Amtes walten,
Waffen schmieden ohne Fährde,
Flammenschwerter für das Recht,
Und ein königlich Geschlecht
Wird erblühn mit starken Söhnen,
Dessen helle Tuben dröhnen:
Friede, Friede auf der Erde!

 

The Music

Friede auf Erden takes the listener on an extraordinary emotional journey through more stabilised sections that are centred around one key, to much more tumultuous sections that showcases Schoenberg’s flair for handling dissonances. The style of the work is highly stylised and shows Schoenberg taking parts of late-Romantic style and structuring it around atonality and expression. 

The voices quickly move between different characters and atmospheres during Friede auf Erden. Starting with a tender sound, the voices grow into brash and brutal sections, which are then answered by those of gentle fragility. The work plays with the emotions, with the quick changes being really effective. The work centres around the idea of “Peace on Earth”, which can be heard in the unison passages and those that carry more hope. This idea makes it all the more brutal when Schoenberg flicks the switch and writes harsh dissonances and fierce contrapuntal lines.

At the end of the work Schoenberg returns to more traditional tonality as to signify that harmony is indeed possible between humans. Schoenberg hadn’t found much peace at this point, instead he had experienced hatred and war. He commented on this some years after Friede auf Erden was premiered:

 

“Friede auf Erden was an illusion created in my previous innocence, one created when I still believed such unity was possible.”

 

Final Thoughts

Although a fiendishly difficult work to sing, Arnold Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden is still performed regularly around the world. The harsh changes and the rich textures and harmonies makes it a true stand out in the repertory.

 

Happy Reading!

Image Source

 

You might also enjoy… Steven Stucky:  Lulajże, Jezuniu

 

Recommended Recordings:

Categories: BlogsChoral

0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *