Schoenberg's Moses and Aron

CLASSICAL& OPERA With Duncan Hadfield
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The Independent Culture
Schoenberg's Moses and Aron is at London's Royal Festival Hall on 27 Oct at 7.30pm.

I n these still musically conservative shores, the works of arch-Modernist, Arnold Schoenberg, have never really caught on. A Schoenberg piece might be slipped into a concert between a couple of established classics, but an entire evening of him is another matter. Which might explain why his only full-length opera, Moses and Aron, never seems to see the light of day.

Yet over in Paris's Chatelet auditorium, Moses was mounted recently, and thanks to our own Philharmonia Orchestra's partial residency there, now crosses the Channel for a rare semi-staging, using the same principals - Auge Haagland and Philip Langridge - and conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi.

Schoenberg compiled the libretto to Moses, drawing on the events of Exodus to provide an allegorical framework for 20th-century Jewry also being led out of the wilderness towards a new promised land. For Schoenberg himself that promised land was America, which he set sail for in 1933 when events in Germany forced him into exile.

Almost more akin to an oratorio than an opera, Moses employs extensive choral writing, almost in the manner of Bach. In fact, Moses and Aron, are the opera's only named characters - and Moses himself doesn't even "sing", as such, but uses Schoenberg's much-favoured speaking voice technique. The composer was also highly superstitious and omitted the second "a" in Aaron's name so as not to have a title with 13 letters in it. So, instead, there's 12, which might also hint at Schoenberg's full-scale adoption of his new, 12-tone compositional method.

And it's just that method which won him a pre-eminent place in the story of 20th- century music... but probably lost him a good many listeners in the process. Yet don't be one of them - Moses and Aron is a modern masterwork.