A gateway looking to the twentieth century’s atonalism and equally to the end of the romantic era, Friede auf Erden
is a baffling exception to categorisation, and a choral essay with which Schoenberg became disillusioned as much as with the likelihood of universal harmony among his fellow men. The work was the significant last of his previous tonal period, in his own words in 1923, 'an illusion created in his previous innocence'. In the inter-war years this pessimism was perhaps unsurprising, when Anton Webern asked in 1928: 'Have you even heard your chorus at all? In that case, do you know how beautiful it is? Unprecedented! What a sound!' The practicalities of performing the piece, composed in 1907 but not performed until 1911, and then only with the addition of purely-supporting instrumental accompaniment, have led to a certain performance fear. Certainly, at a point of metamorphosis for the composer from late Romanticism to atonal Expressionism, the building-blocks of the textures are grounded in the part-writing tradition of Brahms, linked to the discipline of the Polyphonic Masters. The cause of the initial abandonment of rehearsals by the Vienna Singverein must have been the challenge of the tonal journey throughout, which is not facilitated by any harmonic or melodic implication nor any helping hand from instrumental lines, since it was conceived as an a cappella composition. The text is a poem from 1886 by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898) which he wrote for the Christmas edition of Schorers Familienblatt
, a family newspaper. Despite both the title and the narrative of the Nativity of Christ in the first stanza, the content is of a secular, somewhat utopian slant although the musical treatment gives at least a reverential tone to the concept of Peace upon Earth if not actual sacredness.
from notes by Greg Murray © 2018