cp2 recordings ARTUR SCHNABEL

Paul Zukofsky
Conductor and Violinist


ARTUR SCHNABEL (1882-1951) wrote his Dance and Secret & Joy and Peace in 1944. In the chronology of Schnabel's compositions these two works for chorus and orchestra follow directly after Symphony No. 2 (CP2104). The genesis of these choral works, and the impetus which gave rise to them, is best described by quotations from three Schnabel letters, written from Gascon Ranch, New Mexico, and addressed to Mary Virginia Foreman. Some introductory comments are, however, in order.

The Robert Frost poem of Dance and Secret is "The Secret Sits"

"We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows."

which first appeared April, 19361. Of particular interest to me is Schnabel's word distribution over time, with words 3-6 of line 1 not entering until approximately 2 ½ minutes into the work; words 7 and 8 entering until approximately 3 ½ minutes; and the second line finally appearing (rather straightforwardly) at approximately 5 ½ minutes. This temporal expansion of the poem is in direct contrast to the textual contraction used in Joy and Peace. That text is extracted from Isaiah chapter 55 and the first verse of chapter 60, and it behooves the reader to compare the original (i.e. King James) Isaiah with Schnabel's "selection," so as to observe the wondrous choices used to transform one of the more thunderous Prophets into something consummately lyrical.

The letter excerpts follow. Note that I have revised the letter's quoted Isaiah text (which tends to follow the King James) so as to conform to the actual words sung by the chorus. I have also taken the liberty of parsing the text into 6 paragraphs congruent with the main choral segments.

Gascon Ranch, New Mexico, August 6, 1944: "In a few days I shall approach the “We dance, it sits'” Choral Symphony. In my mind since New York days, as you know, Frost's two lines were incessantly boring. They have now succeeded to force me into the experiment to produce a big piece of music with, and around, these few words which, in my opinion are not only particularly well-suited, but absolutely sufficient for music—Dance, Round, Guess, Secret; Surface and Gist."

August 28: "Dance and Secret is almost finished, though not yet orchestrated. I learned a lot. The two bodies of chorus and orchestra are almost opposites. The human voice is, by comparison very limited in range, speed, and endurance. In writing for 4 or 6 voices it must not be too polytonal or polymelodic, or polyrhythmical. For such functions voices are not sufficiently independent. There is scarcely any 'dissonant' literature for choruses. The voices would automatically, if not specially trained for years, incline towards the usual harmonies, and the result of such arbitrariness would, of course, be disastrous for the music as it was intended to sound. My music is polymelodic, rhythmical, and tonal. I tried a compromise, made it as singable for the singer's ears, not their larynxes — as possible, rather like chamber music with symphonic sonorities. The parts that the Orchestra has alone are then an intended contrast, all frictions permitted. When the Orchestra sounds together with the singers, it is mostly kept as high or low as the voices can reach. The piece is partly dark and fierce, but the sweet secret is; comfort, refuge from idleness of pretensions and illusions, almost as if Truth was that which we do not know. (We certainly know better what 'lie' is.)"

September 2, 1944: "I started writing another piece for chorus and orchestra. It is meant to be a sharp contrast and thus a necessary completion of the first one; they are, for me, inseparable in the order I made them. Frost's two lines express that man's possible knowledge is limited to mere guess-work. They do, however, by no means deny the existence of human reason. It is, actually, this reason which shows them the limit. The second piece has a Biblical text. The words are taken, selected and arranged, from the book for the second Isaiah. They express that faith is more than knowledge. Faith is absolute, and beyond change. It is no abstraction; one has it, as one has reason. Combined faith and reason lead the individual to a productive acceptance of life and of destructive forces even, which have to be fought in one's own system of impulses. The words are:

'Every one who thirsteth, come ye to the waters!

Wherefore do ye spend your labour for that which satisfieth not?

Hearken diligently unto Him, and eat ye that which is good. Incline your ear and come unto him: hear, and your soul shall live. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near.

For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall His word be that goes forth out of His mouth; it shall not return into Him void, but it shall accomplish that which pleases Him, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto He sent it.

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees in the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree, and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sing that shall not be cut off.

Arise, shine! For thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee...'

That was long before the 19th century! It holds."

"I have, today [September 7] finished; it requires only elaboration, ornamentation, instrumentation—this second of my choral pieces. I think it has the adequate atmosphere as far as this is possible. Joy and Peace can, of course, appear in numerous expressions, in exactly opposite ones. A Biblical text sung by a group, ought to get some rather generalized, super-personal, tho not conventional, collective exhaltation and yet [be] valid and convincing for every individual. It ought to be representative, including simply, the human. To work on it attracted me immensely— The instrumentation for the handmade playthings has to be added— The pieces can presumably not be sight-read, but are, also, not forbidding."

It is a pleasure to acknowledge Gregg Smith's help in preparing the chorus. He is a valuable and valued colleague. Last, but by no means least, Musical Observations and I gratefully acknowledge the extraordinary assistance provided this recording, as well as those of Schnabel's Symphonies 1, 2, & 3, by Mary Virginia Foreman Le Garrec. In all probability, without her existence, none of this would ever have been possible. We are greatly in her debt.


The following were written some 10 years ago for the original (first recording) LP release of the Solo Sonata. While in hindsight I find the notes somewhat fulsome, my feelings for and about the Sonata remain fervent, and the notes do express a certain initial rush of enthusiasm that time, exposure to, and involvement with much more of Schnabel's music have only served to increase. Honesty, historical curiosity, and personal sloth therefore compel reprinting of the original notes. I should point out the fortuitous fact that Joy and Peace ends on the very same "pitch-class" (C#) that opens the Solo Sonata. Such coincidences are the doorways that allow for architectures larger than individual compositions, and which enable the extremes to touch.

ARTUR SCHNABEL wrote this Sonata (originally entitled Five Movements in the Form of a Suite) in the summer of 1919. It was first performed by Carl Flesch in November 1920 in Berlin. The third movement was printed as part of the supplement to the second volume of Flesch's Art of Violin Playing. Milton Babbitt speaks of a private performance in New York in the late forties at which both this Sonata, and the Solo Cello Sonata of 1931 were performed. Other than that—silence. Of course there must have been the odd performance here and there but general knowledge of, interest in, curiosity about on the part of violinists specifically, or the musical public in general?


It is a measure of my continuing mental youth that that still shocks and saddens me.

I first saw the third movement of this work around 1965 because of Flesch's book which, while it did present an entire movement to the public, did so with so many reservations about the whole genre of modern unaccompanied violin works, with so many references to the unviolinistic aspects of this particular work (whatever they may be), and damned the whole with such faint praise, that one could only wonder why it was included in the first place. In short, even though the presentation in the volume was similar in style and flavor to the acknowledgement contained in this paragraph, it was a starting place for me.

I was already in love with Schnabel's music, and involved with the 1935 Sonata for Violin and Piano, (recorded with Ursula Oppens on CP28) [reissued on CP2 102]. I decided that I was definitely going to do the solo sonata. It became 1977 before I could begin serious work (my thanks to Karl Ulrich and Stefan Schnabel for providing me the manuscript). I had hoped to have had the recording available in time for Schnabel's centennial (which went past with little if any acknowledgment of the existence of his compositions, let alone their value and beauty) but personal developments delayed that goal. What however are a few years between old friends?—therefore, Happy Centennial, dear ARTUR, (albeit a little late), and many more with a proper acknowledgement and regard for your music, and an understanding and acceptance as to why you yourself valued your composing ahead of your concertizing.

There are, as always, many questions—such as: why is the score riddled with phrase after phrase of verbal instructions? Whence comes this subtle and frequent usage to try to convey an emotional state? Almost Satie-like, although not as aphoristic. Was it the times' concern with exactness—a rejection of older performance practices (our present assumption that all dead composers suffered form sinus arrhythmia is an overwhelming improbability)? A remainder/reminder of Jean Paul? To be helpful to the performers? Were they as out of touch then, and behind, as they are now? Desperation?

And bar-lines!

Forty-five pages of music, and not one bar-line.

In 1919.

And not just a cadenza.

Why this solution? What idea gave rise to it? Was it simply a desire for ambiguity (which doesn't seem to be the case)? It is true Hindemith hinted at it in a few solo works but that was at least a few years later. Was it in the air? A sense of needing an unbounded trajectory of phrase?

What influence did this work have on Schnabel's friends Krenek and Hindemith, who wrote their solo violin sonatas in 1924? And what music influenced it? Surely not Reger? Ysaÿe? But his six solo sonatas are also from 1924. Schoenberg? Hardly, if at all.

And why solo violin, and later solo cello? Not mediums one would associate with a composer/pianist. And violinistic, germane, understanding of the instrument without creating a false-image of Bach.

And why such a monumental length? Did he start out with that idea, or did it just grow by itself? And balances—how did he control them over such a time span, in such an almost stream-of-consciousness piece?

And the personal-psychological question of what makes one produce such music without much support from those composers who might be thought of as allies, and virtual total rejection by one's performing colleagues, (except when they could no longer avoid it), thereby reinforcing the dichotomy of a man who hardly ever performed 20th century music in public, and in his writings hardly ever discussed his composing.

And yet, there is no question in my mind that the famous interpreter would not have contributed what he did were it not for his composing—indeed, would not have been able to.

May the time come when Schnabel is recognized for the major composer he was, without regard for his pianistic abilities, and may this record be helpful in that process.

Paul Zukofsky, April 1985
(PZ, November, 1995)



1. Dance and Secret (12:16)
2. Joy and Peace (10:39)
Time = 23:03


PAUL ZUKOFSKY, conductor


3. I. Langsam, sehr frei und leidenschaftlich (9:36)
4. II. In kräftig-frölichem Wanderschritt durchweg sehr lebendig (2:24)
5. III. Zart und anmutig, durchaus ruhig (13:00)
6. IV. Äusserst rasch (Prestissimo) (5:50)
7. V. Sehr langsame Halbe, mit feierlichem ernstem Ausdruck, doch stets schlicht (16:41)

Time = 46:56


TOTAL TIME = 71:27

Dance and Secret & Joy and Peace by Artur Schnabel
were recorded February, 1993 at BMG (originally RCA) Studio A, New York City.

Producer: Joanna Nickrenz
Sound Engineer: Jay Newland
Montage: PZ, with Elite Recordings, New York City
Mastering: Soundbyte Productions, New York City

Sonata for Solo Violin by Artur Schnabel was recorded June 13 and 21, 1983 at Rutgers Church, New York City.

Producer: Marc Aubort/Joanna Nickrenz
Sound Engineer: Elite Recordings, New York City
Montage: PZ, with Elite Recordings, New York City
Mastering: Soundbyte Productions, New York City

1"The Secret Sits" from THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1942 by Robert Frost, ©1969 by Henry Holt and Co., ©1970 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Recorded by arrangement with the Estate of Robert Frost and Henry Holt and Co., New York.

© 1996 Musical Observations, Inc.
Warning: Copyright subsists in all recordings issued under this label.