Do not expect the form before the ideal

headThat headline is pretty typical of the English translation of the libretto of Schoenberg’s Aron und Moses.  “Holy is genital power” is another gem.  The whole thing is basically an extended debate about the nature of God with Moses arguing for an extreme degree of abstraction and Aron championing a more populist version that “the people” can relate to.  There are ideas in there that could probably be staged quite spectacularly, such as the Golden Calf scenes and a spot of human sacrifice.  There’s even a fairly decent opportunity for an orgy.  In their 1975 film Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub reject any opportunity for visual excess or even representation almost as rigidly as Moses himself.

moses-aaronIn fact this is the most static piece of film making I have ever seen.  It opens with a shot of the back of Moses’ head which the camera holds for more than four minutes.  The camera then pans around an empty land and skyscape for another seven or eight minutes before setting into a series of long shots of a completely immobile Moses, Aron and chorus.  Nobody moves until slightly after the thirty minute mark when Aron hands a staff to Moses.  It doesn’t get much more visually interesting after that.  The only real element of motion is a quartet dancing round the Golden Calf but they are pretty lame.  Think stoned hippy dance collective.

calfThe music is quite interesting.  It’s rigidly twelve tone.  There’s lots of Sprechstimme (and quite a bit of speech.  The whole of the short third act is music free ETA: because Schoenberg never got around to writing it).  Moses mostly operates with a simple monotonous rhythm and a single tempo.  Aron’s part is much more lyrical and some of the choral lines are quite interesting.  It’s certainly more interesting than the visuals!  Decent performances too from Günther Reich as Moses and Louis Devos as Aron.  Michael Gielen gets an appropriately accurate but restrained performance from the Austrian Radio Orchestra and Chorus.

endThe picture is 4:3 and looks a little washed out and flickery.  The sound is OK mono.  The whole thing looks and sounds dated.  There is a massively boring documentary about Schoenberg as a bonus on the disk.  The documentation is better and includes a complete libretto.  Subtitles are English only.

Overall, I think this piece probably could be made into an interesting stage production but this version has the feeling of people who spent too much time in basement apartments smoking Gauloises and listening to Stockhausen.  Probably best left to fans of the 1970s avant-garde.

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3 thoughts on “Do not expect the form before the ideal

  1. Pingback: All the Schoenberg | operaramblings

  2. Pingback: When the going gets weird | operaramblings

  3. Pingback: Castellucci’s Moses und Aron | operaramblings

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