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Hilary Hahn

Celebrate Schoenberg

September 10, 2008 at 4:16 PM

At the end of last season, after a concert, a group of girls came up to me with an art card they'd created. It read, "Hilary Hahn Sleepover!" and was covered with all sorts of birthday references. Turns out my concert was part of a bigger event; all the kids had attended to start off the birthday girl's sleepover, and they were on their way to her house for the rest of the party. I thought that was a terrific idea. When I was their age, I loved birthday sleepovers. It was such a treat to go to TGI Friday's for dinner and then go to a movie en masse, decorate the cake together, and, the next morning, to wake up on the living room floor surrounded by friends. (Apparently I talked in my sleep on several occasions.) Finally, we'd rush to the table for animal-shaped pancakes, and then the parents would arrive to drive everyone home. But no one I knew ever went to a big event to kick it all off.

I thought this group's concert sleepover sounded like so much fun, I started trying to figure out other ways to connect birthdays and musical events. I wanted to honor a more unlikely subject than a pre-teen: someone who might not have had a sleepover within the past twenty years: someone important: someone wry yet perceived as humorless, who would in all actuality get a kick out of a random mass birthday event:

Arnold Schoenberg

Someone like Arnold Schoenberg.

Having just released a recording of Schoenberg's unfairly neglected Violin Concerto, I was fired up. Not that this year would bring a particularly big anniversary; that would have been too symmetrical. This would be simply his 134th birthday, as good an excuse as any to bring people together in his memory. But now I needed a plan. Arnold Schoenberg Sleepovers? I tried to imagine a vast array of music dorks (like me) of all ages, ordering peanut-butter-sandwich cakes in the shape of Schoenberg's head, making crafts modeled on tone rows or building miniature instruments, and then, at the end of the evening, laying out the sleeping bags and drifting off to the Sprechstimme dreamland of Pierrot Lunaire. Or Schoenberg Listening Parties? – at which people would gather on steel-and-leather sofas to roll their own cigarettes and talk musical philosophy over a marathon of notes before passing out, drunk on theory and innovation. Maybe costume parties themed on the number 13? I pictured some odd gatherings indeed. I couldn't think of any context that would draw everyone in.

Then it occurred to me that I could provide a location where everyone interested could join together – people from many different backgrounds and ages, who didn't know each other, who were all either fans of Schoenberg or curious about him. A channel on YouTube seemed like the best location; I could post self-recorded answers to questions I'd receive before the big day, September 13, and viewers could post video responses to anything under the sun (as long as it's kid-friendly). We could create a nice little tribute to the composer. And all of us dorks and geeks would be happy.

Thus the Hilary Hahn YouTube channel was born. It will launch on September 13. In the end, then, Schoenberg not only pushed me in new directions with his violin concerto, he led me to experiment on the Web – Schoenberg, a man who never even heard of the Internet. Something tells me he'd enjoy that irony.

If you'd like to submit a question about Schoenberg for me to answer on YouTube, please post them in the comment section below, or you can e-mail questions(at)

From Brian Hong
Posted on September 10, 2008 at 5:36 PM
Thank you so much, Ms. Hahn. This will be a great opportunity to learn more about this great composer.

I am currently struggling with Schoenberg's Phantasy, a very beautiful and intense piece written by him near the end of his life. Have you ever come across this piece and, if so, do you intend to study it?

Your recording of the Schoenberg Concerto has inspired me to work even harder on my piece, and I look forward to your Youtube Channel. Thank you so much!

From Sydney Menees
Posted on September 10, 2008 at 6:49 PM
I'm excited for this!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 10, 2008 at 6:52 PM
Ideas for your videos...I think I have one. But it's a little long-winded, sorry!

I find that absorbing atonal or twelve-tone music takes a slightly different process for me than absorbing something more traditional. And I'm not talking about analyzing it on paper, I'm talking about getting it into my head aurally, as music.

For traditional music, I hear a melody, and it just sinks right in. I'm probably whistling it by the time I walk out the door. Whatever adventure the composer takes me on with that theme or melody, I'm ready. It might be slightly surprising, but all within the realm of expectation.

But...for example, with the Berg Concerto. I had to listen to it many times before anything "stuck" in my head. Then, it came in disconnected fragments. I did end up enjoying and absorbing the piece, but it was a different adventure.

With modern music, what sticks for me is often a clever transition, or a melodic fragment. Maybe it's an interesting rhythm. Upon these things, I can build the music in my mind.

So I'm wondering, what are the most intriguing little pieces of the Schoenberg Concerto, the little things a listener might fall in love with, and build on? Maybe you could play a few of them, and talk about them in one of your videos for your Youtube site?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 10, 2008 at 7:01 PM
I'll add, I find it much easier to take in a modern piece if I'm playing it (which usually means its something orchestral for me). Maybe playing such a piece causes an automatic merging of the aural and the formal and the physical or something. I find modern music very fun to play, I love all the mixed rhythms and twists and turns.
From Bill Busen
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 12:02 AM
I REALLY like Laurie's idea. Modern music makes so many passing references to emotions instead of full expositions of those emotions, and it took me forever to notice those as anything but accidental byproducts unconnected to human expression.

Addressing that could be a real eye-opener. Eye-opener for a sleepover, hmm, needs work...

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 2:49 AM
Sleepover party and that picture of S. doesn't go together. If there's no photograph of him when he's 9, just get Emily to draw one...
From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 1:40 PM
What a darling post, a thoughtful read, and such a pleasure to see you sharing your thoughts here with us, Hilary. Through the past few years I've very much enjoyed reading your online journal, as well. I love the sound of your YouTube channel – count on me as an eager visitor (alas, more "curious" than "fan," I will admit) on September 13th.

Schoenberg’s a lucky guy to have you in his camp. Or hosting his sleepover, as it were. Even if, at 134, he’s not around to tell you thanks himself.

Please do return to us on the 13th to post the directions (well, the link) to the party. And thanks again for sharing your thoughts and words with the community here.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 1:46 PM
...And I'll have you know that just now, in honor of MY birthday, which is four days after Mr. Schoenberg's (but don't worry, I won't expect you to schedule a YouTube event for mine), and Schoenberg's own auspicious day, I have ordered your new CD (a doubly exciting purchase as I am a huge fan of the Sibelius VC) and will now properly celebrate in style.
From Rev. Edwin Perez
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 1:50 PM
Thanks for all that you do. I am looking forward to your You Tube channel. I know I will enjoy it just as much as I enjoy your website (thanks for updating it) which I find very entertaining as well as edifying. You are an inspiration to others as well as myself. Because of your CD recordings and the liner notes you wrote accompanying them, I have a greater appreciation for Shostakovich (Concerto #1 in a minor Op. 77/99 is my favorite violin concerto), Bernstein, Spohr, etc. Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. I will be looking forward to your recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
From Royce Faina
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 5:01 PM
What an honor it is to have you here, and interact with the community!!! Looking forwards to hearing more of this composer and your inputs too!!!! And last but not least, you are one of the violinists that I look for when buying CDs to see if there is something of yours that I don't have yet. Thank you also for the your Youtube sight!
From Todd Carlsen
Posted on September 11, 2008 at 11:37 PM
For the record, Hahn's mastering the "unplayable" Schoenberg concerto is a monumental achievement. The composer -- or was it Heifetz? -- said that you would have to have six fingers to play it.


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 5:21 AM
might I suggest that you have a competition to see who can create the most imaginative `Schoenburger` recipe and award a copy of your CD as a prize?
From Christian Vachon
Posted on September 12, 2008 at 12:21 PM
Ms. Hahn,

What a delight, pleasure and honour to say you post here.

I agree with much for Laurie's post. I think that with music that is not readily tonal or melodic, what to listen for is a challenge for the listener.

My question then might be this - What is it that you would clearly be drawn to listening to a work? Are there images conveyed by the sound and structure, ideas in sound (chords, clusters, recurring structures)? I think that opening people's ears in how to listen to dodecaphonic music and helping get in touch with it, especially emotionally (or intellectually if the appeal is greater) would help a lot. After all, the beauty of a sleepover is the anticipation of the event and how you might feel with your friends once there!

Thanks, all my best and cheers for all that you do!


From Tasha Miner
Posted on September 13, 2008 at 1:47 AM
I am so excited. I watch your youtube videos over breakfast nearly every morning. It motivates me to practice.

Thank you so much for all you do.

From Tim Johannessen
Posted on September 13, 2008 at 11:39 AM
Great idea! Can't wait to see the first postings.
And here is my question:
Did you analyze the Schoenberg concert's 12-toneucture before playing or recording it?
In my experience, it's quite difficult if not impossible to find all the motivic and thematic relations (using retrograde and inversed rows..) in a twelve-tone work, if one analyzes it like a romantic piece, not using the rows.
Your recording sounds very transparent, hence the question.

Finally, I'll have to post a link to one of my favorite youtube videos, a "twelve tone commercial."

Best wishes from Germany,


From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on September 13, 2008 at 11:48 AM
It is great you are writing a blog on and it is great you try to promote a rare piece, Schoenberg, by recording it and opening a Youtube-site for it. I heard your Elgar (also quite rare) in Rotterdam about 2 years ago.
From Hilary Hahn
Posted on September 13, 2008 at 7:54 PM
I think Stephen’s idea is brilliant, so he’ll be receiving a copy of the Schoenberg/Sibelius album by way of thanks. The Schoenburger contest is now underway! Here are the guidelines:
1) Anything goes, as long as it resembles a burger. Feel free to submit vegetarian and/or gluten-free options, if you’re so inclined. Be creative!
2) Along with the recipe, write a brief explanation of your choices of ingredients and/or your cooking methods (for example, “I’m topping this with onions because Schoenberg’s music moves me to tears”).
3) Be sure to include your first name, age, and email address or phone number. All contact information will be kept strictly confidential. Remember, if we can’t reach you, you can’t win.
4) Keep your words kid-friendly.
5) Submit as many entries as you like.
6) You have until 11:59 pm EST on Saturday, September 20, to email your submission to I will review all of the entries when I return to the United States from Norway the next day.
7) The winner will receive one copy of my latest album (Schoenberg and Sibelius violin concertos) and see the winning recipe posted on my YouTube channel, my website, my Facebook and MySpace pages, and on Monday, September 22.

I can’t wait to read all of your submissions. Good luck!
From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on September 13, 2008 at 10:20 PM
It is great Hilary is celebrating the 134th B-day of Schoenberg.
But I missed a similar action on 16-7-2008 when Ysaye had his 150th B-day.
So I did that with this Youtubevideo of fragments of pieces of his sonata's and his pieces for violin and orchestra, like Poeme Elegiaque op.12 and Ysaye's violinconcerto:

Ysaye, Eugene 150 th birthday (16-7-2008) fragments

(I have plans to upload the fast 3th part of the cd of Hilary's very very fast Barber violinconcerto[I doubt whether I get permission]. How many notes in 1 second you play the last 10 seconds?? It is incredible fast. Perhaps you were at that moment the fastest violinplayer in the world I guess.)

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 13, 2008 at 11:32 PM
Please be sure to share with us the winning Schoenburger recipe, LOL, I love it!

Also, everyone, Hilary has posted a lot of answers to our questions! Thank you, this is turning out to be such a fun experiment!

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 14, 2008 at 1:30 AM
regarding age, do you want biological age or the one we act out in?
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 14, 2008 at 3:26 AM
>" I love it! "

She knows not to say "i'm lovin' it" and get sued.

From stephen kelley
Posted on September 14, 2008 at 5:08 AM
A Schoenburger should be so big we need twelve fingers to hold it.
Steve Kelley
PS: Is it time for a new cd of the Serge Nigg concerto?
From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 15, 2008 at 2:23 AM
Oh, a Schoenburger contest - this is hilarious! Laurie - do you want to create a general discussion thread about this, so that non-blog-reading types can get in on the action? But wait. That would dilute my own chances.

Okay. Fuggettabout the non-blog-readers. It's every musician for him/herself.

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