The Arnold Schönberg Center digitizes public domain records and makes them available for free. For the 100th birthday of Schönberg’s Wind Quintet, op. 26 on 14 April, we present its first complete recording.

In August 1949, Eduard Steuermann informed his former teacher Arnold Schönberg that he planned to record some of his piano music for DIAL Records. Ross Russell, the head of DIAL Records who up to that point was known primarily for promoting contemporary jazz music, wanted to concentrate more on the musical avant-garde: “He also wants to record other works of yours, especially the Wind Quintet, for which the horn player Gunther Schuller [...] is putting together an ensemble. He is a good horn player, very enthusiastic [...] and asked me to assist the ensemble during the rehearsals, which of course I will do to the best of my ability.” Gunther Schuller, himself a composer well known for his fusion of jazz and classical compositional techniques, wrote to Schönberg on February 6, 1950: “When I visited you back in 1948, we had already discussed the Quintet a little, and [now] I remember that it was very important to you for the playing to be rhythmically very precise. Since the Quintet is incredibly difficult to perform, we will probably not succeed 100%, but I think we will get to 90% or 95%.” The recording took place on February 17 and April 6, 1951, at WOR Radio Studios, New York. It was released later that year, though probably not until after Schönberg’s death on July 13. The liner notes for the album were written by Josef Marx: this was probably the oboist and musicologist born in Berlin in 1913 that had already emigrated to Cincinnati in 1927, and with whom Schuller was well acquainted. His text places the work squarely within a modernist context. Marx explains the twelve-tone row as a unifying principle that makes it possible to present the same material in ever new guises. He claims to recognize similar structural techniques in James Joyce, and quotes a passage from Finnegans Wake: “Themes have thimes and habit reburns. To flame in you.”

View record in the Arnold Schönberg Audio Archive