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Interview with Katarina Markovic

Katarina Markovic is a musicologist and pianist specializing in late- and post-Romantic music. She has contributed articles to Beethoven Forum and New Sound International Magazine, and read papers at national and international conferences on a wide range of topics, including the music of Gustav Mahler, Mahler’s Beethoven interpretations, cyclicity in the nineteenth-century symphony, the lament in Balkan folk traditions, and French Early Modern Opera. Her scholarly interests are interdisciplinary in nature, and also include fin-de-siècle European arts and culture, German Idealist aesthetics, and music and national identity in the Balkan region. A native of Belgrade, Serbia, she has lived both in Europe and in the U.S. Katarina is a recipient of research grants and awards from the French Ministry of Culture, Max Kade and Sachar Foundations, and Brandeis University.

What’s the first piece by Schoenberg that you’d performed?

The sixth and final piece of the Sechs kleine Klavierstücke (Op. 19). It’s dedicated to Mahler and I wanted to figure out how Mahler is reflected in it.

How did you prepare for this performance, mentally and physically?

The pieces by Schoenberg that I’d performed weren’t technically challenging, but mentally they were. I tried to figure out how to create a logical experience for the listener and myself, to show how everything fits together. That’s much harder in Schoenberg, so you have to look all the more carefully at sonorities, intervals and motives, even if you don’t recognise them at first.

Do you feel this way when you’re listening to his works at a concert?

Not really, because I’m not a lay audience member. Some pieces present difficulties, though. Erwartung (Op. 17), for example. I’ve analysed the work, I know everything about it, but it’s still hard to listen to it. It really depends on the piece. In some cases, everything’s clear and organised. But in others, Schoenberg has eradicated every kind of sign-post—melodic, harmonic and formal—so these are quite challenging.

It depends on the context too. If you hear a Schoenberg piece at the end of a ‘new music’ festival, you’d probably think, “Wow! this is so classical, so clear!”

Why do you think people don’t listen to Schoenberg’s music as often as Mozart’s, for example?

It’s hard to say, becasuse it could be that we’re innately conditioned to prefer certain sounds over others, but then again it could be that we’re socially conditioned. I don’t know if it’s the one or the other. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two. We probably do react more positively to consonance by nature. Moreover, our upbringing and culture are based on consonance, so it’s all the harder to go along with dissonances. However, the concept of consonance has also changed over time, so we hear dissonances differently now.

In Schoenberg’s case, the lack of melody is another factor. Stravinsky is dissonant enough, but people react differently to him, because he has motivically recognisable elements that people can grasp and there are a lot of sign-posts. They’re much more subtle in Schoenberg, probably because he didn’t want to make his music accessible for everyone. He thought you had to employ all your faculties—not just your emotions, but also your thinking faculty, your spiritual faculty and your ability to transcend your immediate existence—and that’s hard for most people.

As things are now in the world, I don’t see it happening. Something has to change substantively in how we live our lives for people to listen to Schoenberg like Mozart. Also, in order to tap into Schoenberg, you need to tap into a certain mood. A kind of angst and interest in the fate of the world. But most people just want to be happy.

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