September 13, 2014
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number “13.” The composer Arnold Schoenberg had a deep fear of that number, and in fact, died on Friday the 13th. He was reminded by his friend, mentor, and a fellow composer, Oskar Adler that when he attained the age of 76, and that the numbers 7 + 6 = 13. At that point, Schoenberg avoided multiples of 13, but never considered adding the digits of his age. For that whole year, Schoenberg suffered intense fear, in fact, the day he died he was feeling fine, but the thought of “13” made him go to bed, where he was sick, depressed and anxious. Like his friend Oskar, Arnold was also obsessed with the horoscope. A dear friend of Schoenberg, Oskar taught the great composer the rudiments of music and played chamber music with him. As well as being a member of the Society for Private Musical Performances, organized by Schoenberg as a private listening club for the purpose of playing modern music to other composers and those who are fans of the “new,” also gave spiritual advice as well as horoscope readings.
To go to the concerts presented by The Society For Private Musical Performances, you have to join the organization, and it was an attempt to keep out hostile critics who would attack the music or performances. On the entrance door as read “Critics are forbidden entry.” Also applause was not permitted after the performance of any of the music carried out by the musicians. To be a member, you have to be interested in modern music and one is there to basically be exposed to the music that was being made in Vienna, 1918. It was regarded as a success, because the organization gave 353 performances of 154 works in a total of 117 concerts. Schoenberg, who created the series didn’t allow any of his music to be played for the first two years of the organization. Instead programs included works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Webern, Berg, and others.
When Schoenberg moved to Los Angeles to teach music composition at USC, he met a very young woman by the name of Amy Camus, who either came from Brooklyn or as she later claimed, from Callao, Peru. Nevertheless she wished to study with him, specifically voice. She had a singing voice that was over four octaves from B2 to C♯7 (approximately 123 to 2270 Hz). According to the composer Virgil Thomson, her voice is “very low and warm, very high and birdlike”, but nevertheless her range “is very close to four octaves, but is in no way inhuman or outlandish in sound.” This is a viewpoint not shared by Schoenberg.
Camus had a sound that was eerie, and it sounded like it came from another part of the world. Some would think “Peru,” but it could have been anywhere from Central or South America. As an European, Schoenberg had never been exposed to such a voice, or a culture that Amy brought to the table. He was totally intrigued by the range and sound of her voice, but once she filled out the application stating that her birthday was on September 13, he withdraws that application, and claimed to have lost it. Nevertheless she did find some success, and eventually signed a record contract with Capital Records, where she had numerous hits during the 1950s.
As for Schoenberg, he was offered a chance to do the soundtrack to a Hollywood film. The studio wanted him to write incidental music as well as a major theme in the film’s beginning and ending credits. But Schoenberg insisted that if he takes the job, he would need to have complete control not only of the music, but the entire soundtrack of the film, including all dialogue spoken in the movie. The producers were taken back by his demands, because they have not previously heard such a thing. Sadly, the studio had to turn him down, and a young Les Baxter was approached and ended doing the music for “Ritual of the Savage.” The film never came out, but it did become a Broadway show, that unfortunately wasn’t much of a financial success. It was reportedly inspired by a book by Raymond Roussel called “Impressions of Africa.” The producers pulled the plug of that show after only 13 performances.