Music History and Theory Forum: Severine Neff

Event Date: 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 -
3:30pm to 4:45pm

Event Location: 

  • Music Room 1145 (UCSB)

Event Price: 

Admission is free.

The UCSB Musicology and Music Theory Programs present Severine Neff, the Eugene Falk Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, in a lecture titled, "How Not to Hear The Rite of Spring: Schoenberg’s Theories, Leibowitz’s Recording." Wednesday, February 3, 3016. 3:30-4:45 p.m. Music Room 1145. Admission is free.
"The 50th anniversary of Le Sacre du Printemps was marked by a recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by René Leibowitz. The interpretation is intriguing because Leibowitz was a deeply devoted Schoenbergian. Convinced of Schoenberg’s outlook on musical performance, as re-formulated and expressed by the composer’s brother-in-law and student Rudolf Kolisch, Leibowitz thus contrived to apply Austro-German analytic and performance principles to Stravinsky’s Russian music.
This talk will begin by focusing on Schoenberg’s lifelong admiration of Stravinsky’s early works despite the theoretical and aesthetic beliefs that pushed him into opposition with Stravinsky in the 1920s. Leibowitz espoused both Schoenberg’s positive and negative thoughts toward Stravinsky, and they determined his approach to Le Sacre. Following the performance practices of Kolisch (that I will discuss in some detail), Leibowitz would interpret Le Sacre with a Schoenbergian analysis in mind’s ear and eye. I will offer such an analysis of the Introduction to Part I as a case study showing the insights it offers about the piece and Leibowitz’s reading of it.
I will argue that Leibowitz’s reading is valuable in a historical sense. Moreover, a Schoenbergian pitch analysis can direct us to a renewed appreciation of Stravinsky’s technical proficiency in raising orchestration to an unprecedented level of structural importance in compositional design. And it is this fact that is crucial not only in evaluating Leibowitz’s reading but also in assessing Schoenberg’s positive reception of early Stravinsky. As I will show from other extant manuscripts, it was Stravinsky’s structural orchestration, which captivated Schoenberg, along with the whole world of music." - Professor Severine Neff
Severine Neff, Eugene Falk Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a music theorist whose scholarly life has been devoted to the works of composer Arnold Schoenberg, the eminent Austro-German master of musical modernism. Her first book Coherence, Counterpoint, Instrumentation, Instruction in Form (University of Nebraska Press) presents an edition, translation and an extended commentary on an extraordinary manuscript in which Schoenberg outlined his entire projected writings on music. Her second book The Musical Idea and the Logic, Technique, and Art of Its Presentation by Arnold Schoenberg (edited and translated with Schoenberg’s student, Patricia Carpenter for Columbia University Press) presents Schoenberg’s most comprehensive attempt to examine the philosophical and compositional underpinnings of his art. The Times Literary Supplement in London called The Musical Idea, “a miracle of scholarship.” The volume has been published in a second edition by Indiana University Press and appeared in September 2015 in a Chinese translation under the auspices of the most prestigious music publishing house in China, the Central Conservatory of Beijing Press. A third book, Arnold Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet in F# Minor, Opus 10: A Norton Critical Score, is part of a long established (1972–) and highly respected series, at W. W. Norton, dealing with the cultural, historical, theoretical, and performance aspects of a single work. The critic Alex Ross in The New Yorker, called the book a “formidable” work. In 2016 Indiana University Press will publish The Rite at 100: 1913/2013 edited by Professor Neff with Professor Maureen Carr, The Pennsylvania State University, and Professor Gretchen Horlacher, Indiana University at Bloomington. Professor Neff is now also General Editor (with Prof, Sabine Feisst, Arizona State University), of the Oxford University Press 9- volume book series, “Schoenberg in Words,” Her text is entitled Schoenberg on Counterpoint. From 2008–12, Professor Neff was Editor-in-Chief of Music Theory Spectrum, the journal of the Society for Music Theory, the main scholarly organization in her field. She was the first woman to hold this position in the history of the Society.
Professor Neff has also published over 60 book chapters and articles in Music Theory Spectrum, Perspectives of New Music, Theory and Practice, Indiana Theory Review, Gamut, Contemporary Music Review, Current Musicology, MLA Notes, The Musical Quarterly, College Music Symposium, Journal of the Arnold Schönberg Center, Journal of the Society for American Music, The New Grove Dictionary of Music, Dictionary of Contemporary Composers, and recently in the Cambridge Companion to Schoenberg. Further essays have been translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, and Korean. Her seminal essay “Schoenberg and Goethe: Organicism and Analysis” was in many ways a seminal work, making clear to me the extent of Schoenberg’s was first published in Music Theory and The Exploration of the Past (ed. Christopher Hatch and David W. Bernstein, University of Chicago Press); it was translated into Russian by Mikhail Krishtal and Elena Dolenko where it appears in Arnold Schoenberg: 13 September 1999 (edited by Eugenia Tchergerova), the first book-length work on Schoenberg to appear in Russia. A cover essay in the respected journal, The Musical Quarterly, dealt with Neff’s discovery of a hitherto unknown work by Schoenberg, an untitled fugue expressing his emotions about the horrors of Kristallnacht. The work was played in New York at YIVO, The Center for Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, by the Grammy-award honoree, pianist David Holzman.


Severine Neff (courtesy photo)