Schoenberg composed the Suite in G for String Orchestra
in 1934 shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles upon fleeing Germany in the wake of the growing Nazi regime. Martin Bernstein, a young bass player from New York University, urged him to write something for college orchestras and the Suite
became his first piece in the New World. Schoenberg overestimated the modest abilities of the students who’d play the piece, so that it was up to the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, under Otto Klemperer, to perform the work for its premiere.
J.S. Bach inspired Schoenberg throughout his life and his era was brilliantly reflected in this work "im Alten Stil" or in the "Olden Style." The Suite in G for String Orchestra
is marked by a hectic counterpoint, richly chromaticized harmony based on traditional foundations, and constructed in five movements in the Baroque manner. The complexity of the work surprised no one, but its unabashed tonality did. Critics at the time did a double-take upon hearing this clearly tonal creation from the father of atonalism and puzzled over its meaning. However, Schoenberg anticipated their speculation in the forward to the autograph of the score, which was never quoted in any publications about the piece at the time, and at once acknowledges his temporary departure to tonality and dispels any thought it might have reflected a change of heart: "This piece indicates no renunciation of my previous creations."
This work belongs in the string orchestra canon as more than a novelty from this giant it is a piece of the American legacy, (along with his Concerto for Violin
, Op. 36 and the Chamber Symphony No. 2
, Op. 38) which Schoenberg created in his new life, in between tennis games with his neighbors the Gershwins.
Suite in G for String Orchestra (1934)