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  • Markus Hunt

This is Not Bach

A brief conversation with Arnold Schoenberg's grandson served as a lasting lesson on expectations.

For a brief time I was a stage director for Opera Works (NYC) under the direction of David Leighton. Schoenberg Foundation was one of our benefactors and on one occasion, I got to meet Arnold Schoenberg's grandson who recounted the first time he heard his grandfather's music. There was great anticipation when their parents had purchased the household's first phonograph and even greater anticipation when Arnold Schoenberg's music was played for the first time. Tears streamed down the faces of the grandchildren as the record began to play. Sensing that they were not tears of joy, their father asked what was wrong. "The record player is broken," they cried.


The grandchildren were clearly unfamiliar with their grandfather's work. Perhaps they were expecting to be serenaded by baroque instead of being faced with the demanding music of one the greatest composers of the 20th century. Schoenberg's notoriety was of little consolation for the assault of notes that betrayed expectation. When expectation and reality are misaligned, disappointment may ensue. Over time, Schoenberg's grandchildren grew to understand and appreciate the mastery of the music; and, I retell this story in hopes that this little moment and moments like this can serve as life lessons. Just because it isn't what we're expecting, it doesn't mean that all is lost. An initially disappointing event can be an unexpected gift.


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