Preliminary Remark to Volume 29 A

The oratorio Jacob’s Ladder, one of Schoenberg’s major works in both aim and content, was never finished. The Text was written by the composer himself between 1915 and 1917 (date of completion: May 26, 1917), and Schoenberg composed bars 1 to 601 between the beginning of June and the 19th of September 1917, the date on which he was conscripted into the army. After being discharged in December of the same year, Schoenberg went back to work on the oratorio; between then and 1922 he composed bars 602 to 701, as well as a few sections of the next part of the text, but he did not get beyond the sketching state. To the extent that it was composed by Schoenberg, Jacob’s Ladder is present in sketches (contained in two sketchbooks) and in a short score of bars 1 to 685. In 1944, when Schoenberg decided to revise and finish the work, he began a new short score, but this did not proceed beyond the first 44 bars. He also made entries in enlarged photographs of the original short score (bars 58–104).
The performance score of Jacob’s Ladder was written by Schoenberg’s pupil Winfried Zillig (1905–1963), who worked from the manuscript sources which were made available to him. In the manuscripts there are many indications of the instrumentation I want, and these are often quite detailed, wrote Schoenberg on June 27, 1951 to the conductor Karl Rankl, whom he had asked to write out the score. These indications – without which any work on the score would have been impossible – were used to the full extent by Zillig.
1The present full score will always be a tribute to Zillig’s faithful devotion and his outstanding musical skill. The score is now published in revised form, having been compared once again with the sources, but this means only that slips and oversights have been corrected and some annotations have been added. It does not seem appropriate to list the slips individually. Indications of principal and subsidiary parts (H, N, ¬) found in the sources have been included, since, although used neither consistently nor throughout, they would seem to be sufficiently important. All annotations and indications in parentheses represent additions to Schoenberg’s notated text, though in the nature of the case it has not been possible to mark all additions in this way. Expression marks were given by Schoenberg partly in German and partly Italian; he did not use abbreviations consistently. Zillig replaced numerous German indications with Italian ones, without doing so consistently. He also, following Schoenberg’s later notational practice, supplied all notes (except immediately repeated ones) with accidentals (#, b, natural). One decision of Zillig’s has been revised by the present editor: in the short score Schoenberg notates the spoken-voice part (Sprechstimme) with the symbols [NB: Crotchet with x-shaped note head] and [NB: Minim with rhombic note head] up to bar 51 inclusive, while from bar 55 onwards he consistently uses [NB: Crotchet with crossed note stem] and [NB: Minim with crossed note head]. The latter notation, which Schoenberg also used in the printed editions of his works Die Glueckliche Hand Op. 18 and Pierrot lunaire Op. 21, would seem to be more appropriate here. (Zillig came to prefer the other notation as a result of his work on the opera Moses and Aron.) The off-stage groups (Fernmusik) pose some problems. In the short score there is a comment (probably dating from 1917 or 1918) which we quote in full because of its importance:

In this interlude some off-stage groups are used (orchestras, choruses, etc.; H1, H2, F1, F2… CH1, CH2, etc.), some of them are to be placed high up in the hall, and some are at distance.

1. When these off-stage groups play, the conductor must accompany them and suit his conducting to them; that is, without paying attention to principal and subsidiary parts (for purely acoustical reasons), his tempo must be elastic enough that highest conformity is achieved.
2. In the off-stage orchestras it will be permissible to have slower-moving harmonies and perhaps one or another subsidiary part played by echo organs or echo harmoniums (console in the on-stage orchestra), or by off-stage harmoniums. The principal parts, however, should always be played by the instruments that appear in the score.
3. The off-stage orchestras must be placed nearby or not far away; it is enough to get the impression of distance.
H1, for example, 1 or 2 metres above the highest point of the orchestra, ideally facing the conductor directly.
H2 is less elevated than H1 and closer (considerably closer than H1), ideally, for example, to the right of the conductor.
F2 is more distant than F1.

The off-stage choruses (CH1, etc.) were not used at all by Schoenberg in the part of the work he completed. He gave a great deal of thought to the optimum realization of the off-stage music, going so far at one point as to devise a curious system of pipes. Towards the end of his life, when he turned again to Jacob’s Ladder, he considered the following mode of performance:

All off-stage or elevated orchestras or choruses (distant, high, low) can be ‘played’ in acoustically shut-off rooms and heard at remote points by means of microphones.
The sub-conductors of the off-stage groups hear the main orchestra via microphones.
The principal conductor accompanies what he hears on the platform (without microphones).
Off-stage groups that play simultaneously are heard by the conductor via microphones.

Finally, we make special mention of the fact that the spoken voice (Sprechstimme) must always precisely intone the written pitch. Some comments on the full score are also called for at this point. Schoenberg at first planned the work for very large orchestra indeed, but later retreated from this gigantic setting. The 1944 draft of the score finally envisages a normal large orchestra. Schoenberg’s aim in instrumentation at the time of the composition of the oratorio was to create homogeneous, i. e. timbrally unified, sounds and bands of sound consisting of many notes. He did not abandon this idea, but later it did not seem to him to be so important. Nevertheless in bar 520 Zillig was quite right to replace the designated 4 bass clarinets with 4 bassoons (3 bassoons and 1 double bassoon), because even though the timbre is changed its homogeneity is preserved. Possibly a second bass clarinet should have been considered for inclusion in the full score, and not only on account of bar 553; perhaps also a mandoline (cf. bars 424, 621). As is only to be expected, close study of the work repeatedly reveals passages which might have been scored differently, as well as ones which give the impression of incompleteness. Thus in bars 110ff. Zillig adds instrumental support (Schoenberg writes in bar 115 of the short score, Orchestra still to be done), whereas in bars 142–157 he refrains from making additions. The oratorio is a torso, and Zillig’s arrangement makes no attempt to disguise this; the torso character is demonstrated not only by the fact that Schoenberg composed only half of his text, but also in the nature of Zillig’s score. And yet, Zillig was perfectly right when he wrote: Strangely enough, the conclusion of the ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ fragment is one of the most impressive endings in the whole of Occidental music. Schonberg’s invention of sounds floating in space does in fact lead to new regions. The enchantment is complete despite the fragmentary character. Indeed, one cannot help thinking that this strange and unique enchantment arises directly from the work’s unfinished state; for such a work, given its intellectual premise, can provide only an incomplete answer in view of mankind’s limitations when facing the eternal.2

Rudolf Stephan
Berlin, March 1976 / May 1977

Postscript (1985)

The revision of the score of Die Jakobsleiter by W. Zillig completed a decade ago was first published as a study score (with an abridged preface) in Vienna at the beginning of 1981 (U.E. No. 13356). In the summer of 1984, on the basis of experience gained from a number of performances, it was again thoroughly checked. In the process additional dynamic and expression marks, in particular, were supplied. (An important notational error, previously unnoticed, was also corrected: in bar 396 all the flute parts had been notated a third too low, because a ledger line had been omitted.)
Since no volume in Series B will be published to accompany this first supplement to the Complete Edition, it seemed desirable to include certain essential references here. The original short score, with accompanying documents, will appear as Volume 17 in both series in due course. The reader is particularly referred to these in advance.

Berlin, August 1985 R. St.

Translation Richard Deveson

  1. Reference may be made here to two essays by Winfried Zillig: 'Arnold Schonberg's "Jakobsleiter"', in: Österreichische Musikzeitschrift, vol. 16, 1961, pp. 193-204; and 'Bericht über Arnold Schönbergs "Jakobsleiter"', in: Neue Musik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Dokumentation 1960/61, Kassel, 1961, pp. 29-40. Zurückspringen
  2. Bayerischer Rundfunk, Konzerte mit Neuer Musik, 14th year, 53rd series, 1963, p. 20.Zurückspringen