APM: Composers Datebook

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Jul 12, 2018 In 1949, while on his deathbed, the German composer Richard Strauss supposedly turned to his beloved daughter-in-law, and said: “Funny thing, Alice. Dying is just the way I composed it in ‘Death and Transfiguration.” Strauss was referring to a tone-poem he had written some 60 years earlier, when he himself was in the pink of health. “Death and Transfiguration” was a musical depiction of an artist on his deathbed, reviewing his life in art between bouts of an eventually fatal fever. On today’s date in 1951, the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg was on HIS deathbed in Los Angeles, on a Friday the 13th, in fact. Now, as most music lovers know, Schoenberg had a “thing” about numbers. He developed an atonal “12-tone” style of composition, and assigned a mystical, quasi-religious significance to numbers in general and musical mathematics in particular. We’re not sure if, before he departed, Schoenberg turned to someone he loved and said: “Funny thing: I’m dying on Friday the 13th at the age of 76, which, numerically speaking, is 7+6, or 13, don’t you see... ” We are sure, though, that in 1946, after suffering a near-fatal heart attack, Schoenberg wrote this String Trio. He told his friend Thomas Mann it was a musical representation of both that coronary incident and its subsequent medical treatment. Schoenberg even claimed at one point his Trio depicted the penetration of a hypodermic needle!

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