I spent this morning searching through Bartletts’ Familiar Quotations in an attempt to find the appropriate quotation from either the Bible or Shakespeare, by which this interview with Arnold Schoenberg might achieve an air of dignity and a learned touch. Later in the day the mail arrived, bringing with it Dika Newlin’s erudite article on “Schoenberg’s Variations on a Recitative for Organ, Opus 40” in the February issue of PAN PIPES. I then felt as if I were really trespassing on territory which might be forbidden to one of the uninitiated – to one who has scarcely progressed passed tonic and dominant harmonies. However, my visit with Dr. Schoenberg was so pleasant, that I should like to present it with the slant that “the great are approachable,” although perhaps I should have liked to have found in Shakespeare’s words something like his “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
In preparation for this interview, I had gone to the library, read Slonimsky, Saminsky, and Virgil Thomson, in addition to a background of music history, but thought that I’d be safe in completely leaving out of my interview any mention of the “twelvetone scale,” although as an officer-member of Pro Musica, I had heard many of the Schoenberg compositions played by chamber music groups, and am greatly interested in the influence of Schoenberg on the music of present-day composers, many of whom are right here in Hollywood.
With a sense of great insecurity, I approached the Schoenberg home in Brentwood, parked under a live oak tree on the side of a hill and walked around the circular driveway up to the doorway. At one side of the house, Mrs. Schoenberg was demonstrating sharp-shooting to her young sons, ten-year-old Ronnie, whose name “Ronald” was created by Mrs. Schoenberg from the letters of the father’s first name, and alert young seven-year old Larry. My escort to the door was “Champagne” – “Hic” for short, a nine-week old cocker spaniel puppy with red ears. He “introduced” me to lovely, blue-eyed Nuria, the graceful sixteen year old Schoenberg daughter, who was home from school for the weekend and who graciously ushered me into the spacious Spanish living room.
With many apologies, Dr. Schoenberg asked if he might continue his discussion of the correction of copy with Adolph Koldofsky, violinist, who is participating in an all-Schoenberg program, one of the “Evenings on the Roof” series of concerts of modern music, to be held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on May 10. I was glad for a brief respite, for it would enable me to collect my faculties and still my fears. As I sat there, I watched Dr. Schoenberg and Mr. Koldofsky checking parts of his newly composed String Trio, opus 45, with the original score. This manuscript was suspended from an easel, placed against the concert grand piano, painstakingly written with marked crayon, upon lines drawn about half an inch apart upon sheets of white wrapping-paper, which Mrs. Schoenberg had obtained from the local butcher. All of his work must be greatly magnified for legibility on the part of its composer. His great driving force, this “enormous vitality” – to quote many a biographer – was ever-present in this observation.
As I collected my thoughts, I looked at the gentle, sensitive face of the great musician, subtly caught by a sculptor in the bronze bust placed on the harmonium set between the french windows, and my fear passed abruptly as the “Usual” California sunlight streamed in the windows and the breeze from the Pacific Ocean about a mile away carried with it the laughter of the children outside. Thinking of other great composers of history, I compared their surroundings –
bleak, cold garrets, vacuums of silence – with this present setting of joy, warmth and sunlight. In between this daydreaming, I overheard such corrections as “In the 192nd bar there is no diminuendo from fortissimo” and in another bar “that pizzicato must be in 32nds” and was awed by this display of great knowledge, although the tennis racquets in the corner helped bring me back to reality.
In talking with Mr. Koldofsky later, he said that another number to be played at the coming all-Schoenberg program is his String Sextet which fifty years ago was used for ballet. Many have seen this work and judged it impossible to play. “Fifty years ago it was more impossible … After doing a lot of modern music, I believe that Schoenberg is the most advanced. Schoenberg is not a mathematician … though there has been an enormous amount of controversy. There are the ‘twelve-toners’ and there are those who are diametrically opposed to the use of the twelve-tone scale.” Mr. Koldofsky is a great admirer of Dr. Schoenberg’s and was able to check the copy without having played it, therefore must have a great understanding of his work.
Attempting to further regain my poise, I counted five sight-seeing buses, which all paused to point out the home of Shirley Temple across the road. It rather hurt me as a music lover to realize that the name of this famous man of music, whom all have revered for many years, was probably not even mentioned to the curious visitors – although his fame was of fifty years standing. Perhaps my Shakespeare quotation is suitable.
After his other visitor left, I explained to Dr. Schoenberg that I should not attempt to discuss in this article anything as profound as his music, but should like to transmit to the girls of SAI a glimpse of him in his home, extending to each one of them some of the thrill that was mine in being granted this interview. We talked of his family and he said that his wife, who has studied both voice and piano, had the very “best understanding for my music.” I told him of my visit in Detroit during our national convention with Dr. Dika Newlin, one of his former students at the University of California at Los Angeles, and whose recently published book, Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg, was on display nearby. He said that she was a brilliant student and that she would complete his three-hour final examinations in half an hour!
Although a Viennese, rather than a native Californian, Dr. Schoenberg proudly claims that he has been an American citizen for the past eight years, and was a pioneer of the now-movie-colony-suburb of Brentwood, where the Schoenbergs have lived for over fourteen years. I suggested that I should like to have a candid shot of him in his informal home, with its gracious hospitality, featuring his delightfully shy smile, but he said that he preferred we use the glossy print which would give him an expression of “dignity.” When I asked how he could compose with the background of laughter which constantly invaded the music room, he claimed that his elaborate discipline was so habitual that he could concentrate on the task in hand, whatever the circum- stances.
When asked for a message to the Sigma Alpha Iota music students throughout the country, he gave me a direct quotation, admiring meanwhile my college shorthand – which only I could decipher – one of many abbreviations, and no hieroglyphics.
“I believe in Spartan education … Some of you will be amateurs and music lovers, and you should not forget your classics over the moderns and vice versa. Many of you might become music teachers. To you I give one bit of advice. A teacher should be a model to his pupils. That means he should be as good as he wants his pupils to be. Now, it is only the problem: How good does he want them to be?”
As I walked back to the car, flanked by Nuria and “Hic,” I breathed a sigh of relief and with astonishment thought, “Could this shy, modest unassuming individual be the great Schoenberg ?”

Pan Pipes 11/4 (April 1948)