www.mediathek.at (Screenshot)

Arnold Schönberg owned over 400 phonograph records of his own compositions, others’ works and spoken-voice recordings. Professional productions and audio documentaries reflect the complex of reproduction aesthetics and recording techniques in the first half of the 20th century, as well as documenting the life and work of a composer active in several countries on two continents.

For decades, the recordings – some of them unique specimens – remained in California, where Schönberg lived after emigrating in 1933 until his death in 1951. In 1998, this sonic message-in-a-bottle was transferred to Vienna and opened a short while ago by the Österreichische Mediathek.

In April 2019, the Österreichische Mediathek took over Schönberg’s record collection from the Arnold Schönberg Center’s archive for digitization and long-term preservation. It contains shellac recordings and self-made discs owned by the composer, recordings and test pressings of his works, as well as some private recordings. The Österreichische Mediathek has digitized the audio recordings and digitally restored them for use in an online exhibition.

Beyond musical significance, the legacy is testimony to a transatlantic biography. The earliest audio documents date back to Schönberg’s time in Berlin and his increasing involvement with radio; he was quick to recognize its potential for propagating contemporary music. Despite all criticism, he was open to technical innovations, using the medium of audio recording in many ways. During his American exile, he made voice recordings together with his wife Gertrud and daughter Nuria, self-pressed discs to send as messages of greeting to Henriette Kolisch, his mother-in-law still living in Vienna at the time. After the war, phonograph records became an important means of communication in contact with the Old World; Schönberg received many audio recordings from Europe documenting its reviving concert life, giving him hope that his work would live on, irrespective of his direct influence.

Link: Online Exhibition