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Inside the Music

Putting the "Art" in "Erwartung"

A detail of Edvard Munch's painting, "The Scream"
Edvard Munch, "The Scream" (1893). Munch’s now iconic image is indicative of early Expressionism’s bold color palette and unsettling subject matter.

On March 8-9, Minnesota Orchestra audiences will have the chance to hear a nearly 115-year-old work that has not yet been performed at Orchestra Hall: Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg’s landmark monodrama Erwartung for soprano and orchestra. Written in 1909 but not premiered until 1924, Erwartung is representative of Schoenberg’s departure from a maximalist romantic aesthetic to a musical ideal firmly rooted in an artistic movement called Expressionism that took hold of Europe in the early years of the 20th century.  

Expressionism found its roots in France with the Fauvists, who valued bold, saturated colors and focused on individual expression. This focus on individual expression—and depicting the inner world of the artist in stark and oftentimes unsettling ways—found its way outside of France and the world of visual art and into dance, theater, literature and music.

In Germany and Vienna especially, Expressionist artists fused their works with their mounting anxiety and discontent with the modern age, felt even more intensely in the years leading up to, during and following World War I.”

This generation of artists was deeply dedicated to this new path and broke with years of accepted aesthetics to create innovative works that dared to explore the unknown depths of the human subconscious.

Alongside composing music, Schoenberg was also an amateur painter and created several self-portraits during his life. He was also friends with Wassily Kandinsky, an influential Russian painter whose work—like Schoenberg’s—broke with accepted traditions.

The gallery below features several works by Expressionist painters, showcasing the various ways individual artists created a bold path forward in visual art, just as Schoenberg did in music. Each gives a brief glimpse into the artistic environment Schoenberg and his contemporaries were working in.

Don't miss the Minnesota Orchestra premiere of the Erwartung that's 115 years in the making.

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