Society for Private Musical Performances

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The Society for Private Musical Performances (in German, the Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen) was an organization founded in Vienna in the Autumn of 1918 by Arnold Schoenberg with the intention of making carefully rehearsed and comprehensible performances of newly composed music available to genuinely interested members of the musical public. In the three years between February 1919 and 5 December 1921 (when the Verein had to cease its activities due to Austrian hyperinflation), the organisation gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts.

Circumstances permitting, concerts were given at the rate of one per week, with each programme consisting entirely of modern works. The range of music included was very wide, the 'allowable' composers not being confined to the 'Schoenberg circle' but drawn from all those who had (as he himself put it) a real face or name. During the Society's first two years, in fact, Schoenberg did not allow any of his own music to be performed; instead, the programmes included works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Webern, Berg, and many others.

The players at these events were chosen from among the most gifted young musicians available, and each work was rehearsed intensively, either under Schoenberg himself or by a Vortragsmeister ('Performance Director') specifically appointed by him. Clarity and comprehensibility of the musical presentation was the over-riding aim, with audiences sometimes being permitted to hear 'open rehearsals', and complex works sometimes being played more than once in the same concert.

Only those who had joined the organisation were admitted to the events: the intention was to exclude 'sensation-seeking' members of the Viennese public (who would often attend concerts with the express intention of whistling derisively at 'modern' works by blowing across their house-keys) as well as keep out hostile critics who would attack such music in their publications: a sign displayed on the door – in the manner of a police notice – would state that Kritikern ist der Eintritt verboten ('Critics are forbidden entry'). Applause was not permitted after the performance of any work on the program.

A successor Society under the aegis of Alexander von Zemlinsky, with Schoenberg as Honorary President and Heinrich Jalowetz and Viktor Ullmann among the 'Performance Directors', operated in Prague from April 1922 to May 1924. At its peak its membership was over 400, substantially larger than the Vienna Society - and, also unlike the Vienna society, whose membership was largely made up of professional musicians, the membership of the Prague society was chiefly amateurs: a study published in 1974 instances 'civil servants, writers, doctors, lawyers, university and school teachers, businessmen, actors and painters' as well as 'students and musicians of all kinds'.

Bibliography: Walter Szmolyan, 'Schönbergs Wiener Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen'; Ivan Vojtech, 'Der Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen in Prag' - both in Ernst Hilmar, ed. Arnold Schönberg Gedenkausstellung (Vienna, 1974)

Schönbergs Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen. Musik-Konzepte 36 (Munich 1984)