Friede Auf Erden – Peace On Earth

Without a doubt, the most intriguing piece on our upcoming concert set is Schoenberg’s Opus 13, “Friede auf Erden.” The music is extremely challenging and full of densely beautiful melodic/harmonic elements from Schoenberg’s early period; this is truly rich chromatic harmony of the late Romantic era.

No less challenging is the text, by Swiss writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898). Here is an excerpt, translated from the German, from toward the middle of the poem:

“… the heavens continued to resound: 
“Peace, peace on earth!”

Since the angels gave that counsel, 
Oh, how many bloody deeds
Have been perpetrated by Discord, 
Steel-clad on its savage steed!”

I can tell you the text is brilliantly set, complete with word painting, to highlight the intent of the text, which levels a direct challenge to humankind about our part in either creating peace or creating something else entirely.

Music Director Lynne Morrow gave us the following insight on this work:

When I was thinking about the program for December 2015, I wanted something seasonal as well as something that made a statement about what we want for the world. Schoenberg’s “Friede auf Erden” says it all: Peace on Earth. It does not say it simply, it does not make it easy to attain, but the message is there. Strive for peace, listen for harmony. Schoenberg talked about “Friede” in a transcendent way, that mixed up descriptions of the musical work with descriptions of human harmony.

“Friede auf Erden” was written in 1906 and Schoenberg believed that “pure harmony was conceivable.” In a 1923 letter, he called the piece “an illusion for mixed choir.” He began to understand that the harmonies in “Friede auf Erden” should be “safeguarded…, not left unaccompanied.”  And we will perform them with the piano accompanying. But he firmly believed that this early work of his was a “natural forerunner” of his later works and that he was “a natural continuer of properly understood good old tradition!”

We invite you to steep yourselves in the purity of these harmonies and meditate on the challenge in the text at our upcoming concerts!

— Elisabeth Eliassen

Teresa Tauchi