Three Satires for Mixed Chorus, op. 28

I. Am Scheideweg (At the crossroads) II. Vielseitigkeit (Versatility) III. Der neue Klassizismus (The new classicism)


Three Satires is one of the most remarkable compositional cycles in music. It was written in 1925 at a time when practically all the most important trends of the first half of the twentieth century also crystallised. Schoenberg published his first dodecaphonic compositions in 1923 and a year later, a periodical first presented an article on this new compositional method. In these same years, however, Neo-Classicism also began to win adherents. Its was initially embodied by the French composers of the %u201CLes Six” group, but soon, its principal exponent was recognised as Stravinsky. Bartók, Kodály and others traversed their own path, integrating peasant music elements into their musical language, while in Northern Europe, composers such as Karl Nielsen and Jan Sibelius had subtly reinterpreted the structural role played by tonality. Schoenberg naturally had a deep faith in his own truth and historic mission. He rejected every other approach which he assessed as being harmful. He was particularly angered by Neo-Classicism, which instead of progress, he considered an unnecessary regression to styles of the past. He regarded Stravinsky, the undisputed “multi-talented” dictator of musical fashion in Western Europe, as his greatest enemy.


In these three strange poems, Schoenberg poured out his poison. He wrote a preface to the composition, just in case anyone there was anyone obtuse enough not to fully understand the references. It aims his fire as just about everything and everyone. At those, who are looking for the “middle way” (Schonberg quips that “only the middle way does not lead to Rome”),  followers of the Neo-movements, the “folklorists” talking forever in a dialect and finally, every other kind of “ist.”


Schoenberg sets the first two of these mocking examples of free verse as chorus canons based on dodecaphonic rows. In “At the crossroads”  the dodecaphonic row commences with a breaking down of a C major triad, which symbolises the word “tonal”, old style tonality. Versatility is a bravura double mirror canon (the bass is the soprano line read backwards, with the necessary changes of clef, and there are similar relationships between the other two inner voices). The third piece is a cantata-like structure concluding with an immense fugue. Here the voices are supplemented with instruments.


It is a strange irony of fate that Schoenberg, who was so hostile to Neo-Classicism, nevertheless turned to earlier musical practices in his first dodecaphonic works, such as the Piano Suite, which has movements entitled Preludium, Gavotte, Musette, Intermezzo, Menuet and Gigue%u2026


Stravinksy, the “little Modernsky” looked at the score of the Satires a few years later. He didn't take kindly to the mockery aimed at himself, but said “I couldn't be angry because the canon was so good.”