Ode to Napoleon, op. 41 (1942)

for speaker, 2 violins, viola, 'cello, piano
By Arnold Schoenberg
Austrian/American

Below is the program note written by Schoenberg for the work’s premiere.

The League of Composers had asked me (1942) to write a piece of chamber music for their concert season. It should employ only a limited number of instruments. I had at once the idea that this piece must not ignore the agitation aroused in mankind against the crimes that provoked this war. I remembered Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, supporting repeal of the jus prime noctis, Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, Goethe’s Egmont, Beethoven’s Eroica and Wellington’s Victory, and I knew it was the moral duty of intelligentsia to take a stand against tyranny.

But this was only my secondary motive. I had long speculated about the more profound meaning of the Nazi philosophy. There was one element that puzzled me extremely: the resemblance of the valueless individual being’s life in respect to the totality of the community or its representative: the Queen or the Führer. I could not see why a whole generation of bees or of Germans should live only in order to produce another generation of the same sort, which on their part should also fulfill the same task: to keep the race alive. I even surmised that bees (or ants) instinctively believe their destiny was to be successors of mankind, when this had destroyed itself in the same manner in which our predecessors, the Giants, Magicians, Lindworms, Dinosaurs and others had destroyed themselves and their world, so that first men knew only a few isolated specimens. Their and the ants’ capacity of forming states and living according to laws- senseless and primitive, as they might look to us- this capacity, unique among animals, had an attractive similarity to our own life; and in our imagination we could muse a story, seeing them growing to dominating power, size and shape and creating a world of their own resembling very little the original beehive.

Text of Byron’s Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte

Other works by Arnold Schoenberg:
“A gentleman brought music to his lady's window, who hated him,...and when he persisted, she threw stones at him. Whereupon a friend of his that was within his company, said to him; "What greater honour can you have to your music, than that stones come about you, as they did to Orpheus."”
--Francis Bacon