Artur Schnabel is remembered today by most as having been a great concert pianist who specialized in the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, the latter being the most "modern" composer to be performed by Schnabel; it might be assumed, therefore, that Schnabel's own music would be imspired by that of the classical period and that he avoided or disliked modernism. This was definitely not the case.
Artur Schnabel was very reserved about his own music, hardly any of it being heard during his lifetime; he referred to himself as an "amateur composer" and to composing as a "sport" and due to the difficulty of most of his works, performances were relatively rare. His Notturno of 1914, a setting of a Richard Dehmel poem for contralto and piano was not performed until 1929 at festivals at Weisbaden and Amsterdam, and like much of his work was irritating to the conservative music critics of his day.
Schnabel's music is marked by a distinctive personal style and extreme musical adventurism which generally comes as a surprise to those who expect him to be a post-romantic; he admired Schoenberg but never imitated him, and while not actually an atonalist, many of his works have a definite serial or as they used to say "dodecaphonic" sound. He composed a number of chamber works, some remarkable piano music, three symphonies and a few short orchestral pieces.
The Sonata for Solo Violin remains one of Schnabel's most astonishing works. Composed in 1919, it was performed the following year by Carl Flesch, who published the third movement in his Art of Violin Playing, Vol. 2. Just under 50 minutes long, this amazing piece is 45 pages of music with no bar lines, with verbal instructions placed throughout the music. Violinist Paul Zukofsky discovered and recorded it on the CP2 label in 1985 as well as the 1935 Sonata for Violin and Piano, a brilliant and difficult work of consideral power and brittle pointillism.
The String Trio of 1925 is a product of the composer's middle period and marks a bridge of sorts between the traditional form and structure of chamber music and the oncoming forces of atonality. It was first performed in Vienna ten years after its composition to generally receptive criticism. It is one of Schnabel's more tonally accessible works, though still marked with his highly inventive style.
His last composition was the richly-evolved Duodecimet (1950), written a year before his death; as the name would suggest, it is a work for 12 voices, and features each of 12 solo instruments in a tonally experimental setting which in many ways succeeded in much that Schnabel had worked for in melodic, thythmic and polyphonic freedom. The Duodecimet and String Trio were recorded in 1958 by Columbia by the Monod Ensemble and Galimir Trio respectively and released at that time on AML 5447. At present the only works on CD are Paul Zukofsky's recordings of the Violin and Piano Sonata (with Ursula Oppens) and the Second Symphony, both on CP2. ~ Philip Krumm
© 2014 Rovi Corporation.