A MATTER OF DISSONANCE

New York­er, August 26 & Sep­tem­ber 2, 1996

LETTER FROM LOS ANGELES Arnold Schoenberg’s music was dar­ing, dis­cor­dant, and endur­ing­ly unpop­u­lar. U.S.C. is a uni­ver­si­ty famous for its foot­ball tro­phies and film school. Who­ev­er thought the composer’s lega­cy belonged in a place like that?
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BY FREDRIC DANNEN

SHORT, bald, quick-witted, and irri­ta­ble, the Aus­tri­an com­poser Arnold Schoen­berg judged peo­ple accord­ing to how they judged his music. Schoen­berg set­tled in Los Ange­les in 1934, four years before the Nazis annexed his home­land; in return for polit­i­cal asy­lum, and a warm cli­mate that was gen­tle to his asth­ma, came a lev­el of dis­re­gard for his work that he must have found excru­ci­at­ing. His music was sel­dom per­formed in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The man who once had tutored Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and oth­er promi­nent com­posers, found it nec­es­sary to give pri­vate lessons to writ­ers of Hol­ly­wood film scores. (When one sought his guid­ance on an air­plane scene, Schoen­berg, in his thick Vien­nese accent, advised him, with char­ac­ter­is­tic sar­casm, to write music for “big bees.”)
     At sev­en­ty, Schoen­berg was forcibly retired from his teach­ing post at U.C.L.A., and award­ed a pen­sion of thirty-eight dol­lars a month—scarcely enough to sup­port his wife, Gertrud, his German-born daugh­ter, Nuria, and his two American-born sons, Ronald and Lawrence. Though his health was fail­ing, he con­tin­ued to teach pri­vate­ly until his death, in Los Ange­les, in 1951.
     “Peo­ple always ask what it was like hav­ing a famous father,” Lawrence, fifty-five, a retired math teacher in the Paci­fic Pal­isades, says today. “My answer to that is, if fame is based on mon­ey or pop­u­lar­i­ty, nei­ther of which he had, then he wasn’t famous in Los Ange­les.” Ronald, fifty-nine, a Los Ange­les munic­i­pal judge, vivid­ly recalls a time in his child­hood when his fam­i­ly drove up to a high­way fruit-juice stand in San­ta Bar­bara, and, in Schoenberg’s hon­or, loud­speak­ers were blar­ing his ear­ly tone-poem “Verk­lärte Nacht” (Trans­fig­ured Night). The com­poser was thrilled—at least some­body in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia knew who he was.
     With­out a doubt, Schoen­berg could have been far more pop­u­lar, and finan­cial­ly sol­vent, had he not been, for all his dis­agree­able­ness, a man of great intel­lec­tu­al courage. Though his ear­ly, post-Romantic music, inspired by Brahms and Wag­n­er, brought him acclaim, he renounced that style of com­pos­ing, he said, to write as “my des­tiny orders me.” Schoen­berg believed that the prime uni­fy­ing force in West­ern music for more than four hun­dred years—a tonal cen­ter, around which dis­so­nance resolves into consonance—had run its course. By the ear­ly nineteen-twenties, he had devised an entire­ly new sys­tem of writ­ing music, known as twelve-tone com­po­si­tion, in which there is no tonal cen­ter, and dis­so­nance is “eman­ci­pat­ed” from the need to resolve at all. Schoen­berg there­by assured his place as one of the most impor­tant musi­cal inno­va­tors of the cen­tu­ry, but he also made cer­tain that his music would not find a wide audi­ence in his life­time.
     Gertrud Schoen­berg proved to be as fierce­ly proud as her hus­band. When he died, she need­ed to bor­row mon­ey for his funer­al; nev­er­the­less, she repeat­ed­ly turned down lucra­tive offers for his orig­i­nal man­u­scripts, instead mak­ing them avail­able for free to schol­ars. Apart from his let­ters, which he’d given to the Library of Congress—remarkably feisty let­ters that show his pen­chant for a good fight—Schoenberg, it seemed, had held on to almost every­thing he’d ever owned. By the time Gertrud died, in 1967, she had deeply impressed upon her three chil­dren, who were now in their twen­ties and thir­ties, that their father’s lega­cy must always remain intact.
     With­in a few years, the chil­dren began seek­ing a spon­sor to con­struct an Arnold Schoen­berg Institute—an archive for the composer’s papers and arti­facts; a space in which to hold con­certs, lec­tures, and exhi­bi­tions cen­tered around his work; and, frankly, a mon­u­ment to his mem­o­ry. The heirs enter­tained a num­ber of seri­ous bids, but ulti­mate­ly agreed to donate their father’s mate­ri­als to the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where Schoen­berg had lec­tured for a year before mov­ing on to U.C.L.A. The insti­tute opened its doors on the U.S.C. cam­pus in 1977.
     Two decades lat­er, it seems hard to under­stand why any­one ever thought the matchup of Schoen­berg and U.S.C., a uni­ver­si­ty famous for its foot­ball tro­phies and film school, would work. Mem­bers of the cur­rent uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tion, none of whom were on hand when the insti­tute was built, have made the star­tling dis­cov­ery that Arnold Schoen­berg is not good box office—that, as one offi­cial points out, “Not a lot of peo­ple will go to a Hol­ly­wood Bowl con­cert where the sole selec­tion is Mr. Schoenberg’s music.” For years, U.S.C. has attempt­ed to use the insti­tute build­ing to hold class­es, lec­tures, and con­certs utter­ly unre­lat­ed to Schoen­berg, but last year the uni­ver­si­ty insist­ed on the right to make such use a mat­ter of pol­i­cy.
     The result has been a war of law­suits, coun­ter­suits, and vitu­per­a­tion sel­dom equaled in the field of seri­ous music, and a deter­mi­na­tion by the Schoen­berg chil­dren to take back their father’s lega­cy and find it a new home—perhaps even in Berlin or Vien­na, where Schoen­berg had been per­se­cut­ed as a Jew, but where his music is per­formed reg­u­lar­ly, and admired. U.S.C. offi­cials who knew lit­tle about Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method have at least learned some­thing about his genes. “The per­son­al­i­ty of Arnold Schoen­berg hangs over this whole thing,” Lloyd Arm­strong, Jr., the provost of U.S.C., said recent­ly. He sound­ed weary. Dur­ing the rhetor­i­cal bat­tle accom­pa­ny­ing the legal skir­mish, the heirs had sued him and two oth­er uni­ver­si­ty offi­cials per­son­al­ly, for defama­tion.

 

THE ARNOLD Schoen­berg Insti­tute is a mod­ern, can­tilevered, two-story struc­ture, sit­u­at­ed near larg­er build­ings named for John­ny Car­son and George Lucas, and just adja­cent to Her­itage Hall, the ath­let­ic exhi­bi­tion space from which the foot­ball jer­sey and 1968 Heis­man tro­phy of the U.S.C. alum­nus O.J. Simp­son were stolen a few weeks after his homi­cide arrest. The insti­tute holds the sin­gle largest col­lec­tion of man­u­scripts of any major Twentieth-Century com­poser, if not any major com­poser, peri­od. R. Wayne Shoaf, the institute’s archivist, counts about four hun­dred vis­i­tors per year, musi­cians and schol­ars who, when they describe the col­lec­tion, tend to be effu­sive. “This is the lega­cy of one of the century’s sem­i­nal cul­tur­al fig­ures, a man who changed the way we hear music,” says the pianist Michael Boriskin, who played a solo con­cert at the insti­tute in 1992. “And that lega­cy is intact. Frankly, there are no oth­er com­posers of Schoenberg’s lev­el of influ­ence of whom that can be said. Brahms’s man­u­scripts are in six dif­fer­ent cities over­seas; for Bartók, you have to go to three places.”
     Indeed, apart from Schoenberg’s let­ters in the Library of Con­gress, and his expres­sion­ist paint­ings and draw­ings, which his heirs still own (the com­poser was an artist of sur­pris­ing tal­ent), the col­lec­tion at U.S.C. has few gaps. There are lit­er­al­ly tens of thou­sands of items, with an esti­mat­ed com­bined val­ue, for insur­ance pur­pos­es, of fifty-four mil­lion dol­lars. The archive, which is kept in a cold-storage vault, includes the orig­i­nal hand­writ­ten scores of a large num­ber of Schoenberg’s com­po­si­tions, such as the 1903 sym­phon­ic poem “Pel­leas und Melisande,” and the unfin­ished opera “Moses und Aron,” com­posed between 1930 and 1932, and con­sid­ered by many to be Schoenberg’s mas­ter­piece. The opera’s libret­to, which is also by Schoenberg—he was a pro­lific writer as well—is pre­served in its orig­i­nal type­script, with lay­ers of cor­rec­tions, some of them sewn to the page on patch­es of cloth. Schoen­berg saved pro­grams of ear­ly per­for­mances of his works, and clip­pings of reviews from region­al news­pa­pers. His home library of books, many of them with his anno­ta­tions, are in the archive. There are orig­i­nal sound record­ings of his speak­ing voice, and of per­for­mances of his works that he super­vised.
     There is also, on the upper floor of the insti­tute, a repli­ca of Schoenberg’s Los Ange­les study, com­plete with his piano, and a fake win­dow look­ing out on an artist’s ren­der­ing of his front lawn. Schoen­berg was among a large hand­ful of impor­tant musi­cal, lit­er­ary, and artis­tic émi­grés who set­tled in Los Ange­les dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, but one of the few to be hon­ored by his adopt­ed city with a repos­i­to­ry for his mate­ri­als. Though Igor Stravin­sky, for instance, lived just off the Sun­set Strip, about twelve miles from Schoen­berg, the cream of his man­u­scripts are at the Sacher Insti­tute in Basel, Switzer­land; Thomas Mann, mean­while, lived in the Paci­fic Pal­isades, but his papers are also to be found in Switzer­land, as well as at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty and the Library of Con­gress.
     Schoen­berg was on close terms with a num­ber of his fellow-exiles, and the insti­tute con­tains memen­tos of a few of them, includ­ing an auto­graphed copy of Mann’s 1948 nov­el “Doc­tor Faustus”—a book that caused a scan­dal often men­tioned as evi­dence of Schoenberg’s sup­posed para­noia. The novel’s pro­tag­o­nist, a com­poser who devel­ops a rev­o­lu­tion­ary method of writ­ing music with a twelve-tone scale, was obvi­ous­ly inspired by Schoen­berg who, rather than feel­ing flat­tered, charged Mann with steal­ing his intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty. After Schoen­berg took his accu­sa­tion pub­lic, on the let­ters page of the Sat­ur­day Review of Lit­er­a­ture, Mann agreed to add a note of acknowl­edg­ment to the nov­el; but he con­clud­ed that Schoen­berg suf­fered from “delu­sions of per­se­cu­tion,” the result of “a life sus­pend­ed between glo­ri­fi­ca­tion and neglect.”
     The descrip­tion of Schoenberg’s life was an apt one. He was born in 1874 in the Jew­ish quar­ter of Vien­na, the son of a shoe-store pro­pri­etor. At eight, he took up the vio­lin, and began com­pos­ing almost imme­di­ate­ly; at twenty-three, his first pub­licly per­formed work, a string quar­tet, was greet­ed with enthu­si­asm. For the next quar­ter cen­tu­ry, how­ev­er, Schoenberg’s home town had dif­fi­cul­ty keep­ing up with his artis­tic devel­op­ment, and his high­ly dis­so­nant works were often jeered. It was not until Schoenberg’s fifti­eth birth­day that Vien­na final­ly hon­ored the com­poser with a fes­ti­val of his music.
     That same year he was mar­ried for a sec­ond time, to Gertrud Kolis­ch, the sis­ter of a renowned vio­lin­ist. (His first wife had died after a long ill­ness; they had a daugh­ter, whom Schoen­berg out­lived.) In 1925, Schoen­berg was invit­ed to direct the mas­ter class in com­po­si­tion at the Prus­sian Acad­e­my of Arts in Berlin, one of the most pres­ti­gious teach­ing posts in music. He might have end­ed his days in the Ger­man city, but in 1933, the Nation­al Social­ists came to pow­er, and man­dat­ed that “Jew­ish influ­ence” be elim­i­nat­ed from the acad­e­my.
     After a brief stay in Paris, and a year of teach­ing at the small Malk­in Con­ser­va­to­ry in Boston, where he found the win­ter intol­er­a­ble, Schoen­berg moved to Los Ange­les. He gave pri­vate lessons in music the­o­ry, lec­tured at U.S.C., and, in 1936, accept­ed a teach­ing post at U.C.L.A. That year, he set­tled in Brent­wood, on North Rock­ing­ham Boule­vard, down the block from Shirley Tem­ple, in a house that was bare­ly afford­able on his teach­ing salary. Despite his age, and lim­it­ed means, Schoen­berg con­tin­ued to have chil­dren. Nuria had been born in Berlin in 1932; Ronald was born in 1937; and Lawrence in 1941. By then, Schoen­berg was sixty-seven, and had ten more years to live.

 

WHATEVER char­ac­ter­is­tics the three chil­dren may have inherit­ed from their father, musi­cal tal­ent was unfor­tu­nate­ly not among them. Lawrence, who is called Lar­ry, recalls scratch­ing at a vio­lin as a child, and hear­ing his father’s anguished cry of “Falsch!”—wrong note—from upstairs. Lar­ry has tou­sled hair, and is the most vol­uble and out­ward­ly aggres­sive of the three chil­dren. He retired from teach­ing math at Paci­fic Pal­isades High School in 1995 to spend more time at the Arnold Schoen­berg Insti­tute, just as the dis­cord start­ed, and runs Bel­mont Pub­lish­ing, the music pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny for Schoenberg’s works, out of his house.
     Ronald, an acronym for Arnold, is bald­ing, about five foot three, a few inch­es short­er than Lar­ry, and is con­sid­ered the shyest of the three chil­dren. At fif­teen, he was the top-seeded play­er for his age in the nation­al ten­nis cham­pi­onships, but was defeat­ed in the semi-finals; he went on to prac­tice law, and became a munic­i­pal judge in 1979. He still lives in the North Rock­ing­ham house, nine doors down from O.J. Simp­son, who brought him bad publicity—it was Judge Schoen­berg, it turned out, who, in 1989, sen­tenced Simp­son to pro­ba­tion and a small fine for beat­ing his wife. (Com­par­ing that con­tro­ver­sy with the fam­i­ly bat­tle again­st U.S.C., Ron says, “In terms of wor­ry and loss of sleep, I can’t say which has been worse.”) Nuria lives in Venice, where she main­tains an archive of the man­u­scripts of her late hus­band, the avant-garde Ital­ian com­poser Luigi Nono, who died in 1990.
     All three of the Schoen­berg chil­dren recall their father’s sense of humor, but seem most­ly to remem­ber him as strict. “We grew up with the idea of ethics embed­ded in us,” Lar­ry says. “Ethics, moral­i­ty, and rules.” Nuria says that the day she enrolled at U.C.L.A., at sev­en­teen, her father was cel­e­brat­ing his seventy-fifth birth­day, and she was allowed to cut to the head of the enroll­ment line so that she would not miss his par­ty. “He was furi­ous with me,” she recalls. “He said, ‘You used my name to get an advan­tage!’”
     The broth­ers both vivid­ly remem­ber the toys their father made them—such as a stop sign for a tricycle—out of card­board, the sil­ver foil from cig­a­ret­te pack­ages, and oth­er house­hold items. Though Schoen­berg loved to work with his hands, his home­made objects, many of which are stored at the archive, also tell of his finan­cial straits. (The archive even con­tains a box of his used razor blades, with the hope­ful inscrip­tion, “In 2 to 3 years they will be good again.”) Lar­ry remem­bers wear­ing hand-me-down pants that sagged to the ground. “We at times had the feel­ing that we were poor,” Ron says.
     The feel­ing could only have inten­si­fied in 1944, when Schoen­berg turned sev­en­ty and was forced to retire on his thirty-eight-dollar-a-month pen­sion from U.C.L.A. He had spent eight years at the uni­ver­si­ty, and expect­ed full retire­ment ben­e­fits, in the Euro­pean tra­di­tion, so that he could devote his last years to com­pos­ing. “It was not hon­or­able for a per­son like my father to get such a small pen­sion,” Nuria says. “He was very upset at that. It kept him teach­ing pri­vate­ly for the rest of his life, and not fin­ish­ing his com­po­si­tions.” After a pause, she adds, “But I think now I’m sound­ing bit­ter, and that’s not the right fla­vor. My father was extreme­ly pos­i­tive.”

 

IN ANY CASE, if Schoen­berg had naive­ly trust­ed U.C.L.A. to take care of him, his chil­dren were not about to donate his mate­ri­als to a uni­ver­si­ty with­out a rig­or­ous con­tract. The agree­ment to cre­ate the Arnold Schoen­berg Insti­tute, large­ly draft­ed by Ronald in the ear­ly sev­en­ties, called for a seven-person advi­so­ry board, of which the heirs would make up three mem­bers. The sib­lings have nev­er appeared to dis­agree among them­selves about how they want­ed the insti­tute used, or lacked for sug­ges­tions.
     The con­tract was ini­tial­ly draft­ed for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, at Ann Arbor, which had bid enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly for the Schoen­berg lega­cy, but short­ly before it was to be signed, the dean of per­form­ing arts at U.S.C., a man named Grant Beglar­i­an, inter­vened. Beglar­i­an was able to per­suade U.S.C., with some ini­tial finan­cial help from U.C.L.A. and two oth­er local col­leges, to spon­sor con­struc­tion of the insti­tute. The Schoen­bergs were thrilled to be able to keep their father’s mate­ri­als in Los Ange­les, and equal­ly pleased that U.S.C. planned to house the lega­cy in its own new struc­ture.
     The papers were signed by U.S.C.‘s vice-president, on Decem­ber 11, 1973, with all their tough terms intact. U.S.C. would be given rea­son­able oppor­tu­ni­ty to cure breach­es of the con­tract, but if it failed to do so, the heirs had an ulti­mate remedy—the right to repos­sess their entire dona­tion, and have it moved else­where at U.S.C.‘s expense. It did not take the uni­ver­si­ty long to dis­cov­er that the Schoen­bergs intend­ed to stand by their rights. When con­struc­tion of the insti­tute build­ing fell behind sched­ule, they cit­ed U.S.C. for breach for what was lat­er cal­cu­lat­ed to be the first of six times, and demand­ed a writ­ten pro­gress report every two weeks.
     In the mean­time, the Schoen­bergs helped secure the elec­tion of the institute’s first direc­tor, Leonard Stein, their father’s for­mer teach­ing assis­tant, and a not­ed pianist. Stein had watched the chil­dren grow up—he’d given them piano lessons and tak­en them to ballgames—and con­sid­ered him­self a fam­i­ly friend. Lar­ry thought so, too. “Friends are peo­ple you can argue with,” he says.
     They argued often. Stein, now a spry man of eighty with a white mus­tache, believes that Schoenberg’s wid­ow, Gertrud, even more than the com­poser him­self, imbued the chil­dren with the con­vic­tion that “They didn’t treat Schoen­berg right, and we’ll show them.” Stein was more prag­mat­ic; as direc­tor of the insti­tute, he was a salaried U.S.C. employ­ee, and, much to the family’s dis­may, he’d con­clud­ed that “you can’t fight with the orga­ni­za­tion that you’re a part of. This is aca­d­e­mic life.”
     As direc­tor, Stein put his empha­sis on use of the institute’s two-hundred-and-twenty-nine seat recital hall. He pro­grammed lec­tures, mas­ter class­es, and about fifty con­certs a year, by an impres­sive array of musi­cians, includ­ing the Kro­nos Quar­tet, the sopra­nos Marni Nixon and Lucy Shel­ton, and the pianists Charles Rosen and Richard Goode. Schoenberg’s music was fea­tured about fif­teen per cent of the time, and the works of oth­er Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry com­posers made up much of the dif­fer­ence. This arrange­ment might well have pleased Schoen­berg, who, in 1918 helped found a cham­ber music soci­ety in Vien­na to cham­pi­on con­tem­po­rary music; but it did not appear to please the heirs. “Some of Leonard’s con­certs were poor­ly attend­ed and seemed kind of use­less,” Nuria says today.
     Even worse from the heirs’ per­spec­tive, Stein per­mit­ted the uni­ver­si­ty to use the recital space for its own func­tions, lec­tures, and con­certs, which invari­ably had noth­ing to do with Schoen­berg. One evening in 1984, Lar­ry stopped by the insti­tute and found that the uni­ver­si­ty, with­out Stein’s knowl­edge, was hold­ing a jazz con­cert there. “Kids were drink­ing and smok­ing pot,” Lar­ry recalls. “I said, ‘This is insane.’”
     Before long, the heirs were open­ly feud­ing with the uni­ver­si­ty. On July 15, 1984, Ron Schoen­berg wrote a furi­ous let­ter to the then-provost, Cor­nelius J. Pings, lam­bast­ing him for hav­ing the “audac­i­ty” to ask the fam­i­ly to trust Stein, who had “acqui­esced in and even tried to jus­ti­fy the mis­us­es” of the insti­tute build­ing. Six months lat­er, Pings and Ron Schoen­berg joint­ly signed a cod­i­cil to the orig­i­nal 1973 con­tract, reaf­firm­ing that “events hav­ing no demon­stra­ble con­nec­tion to the pur­pos­es of the ASI”—the Arnold Schoen­berg Institute—“shall not occur in the build­ing.”
     The Schoen­bergs had won that round, but remained wary of the uni­ver­si­ty; and when Stein announced in 1991 that he would retire the fol­low­ing year, they sought to replace him with a per­son more of their own tem­pera­ment, a fight­er, who would not give in eas­i­ly to the U.S.C. bureau­cra­cy. The unfor­tu­nate result might have been foretold—the man the fam­i­ly suc­cess­ful­ly endorsed, a Brooklyn-born vio­lin­ist and con­duc­tor named Paul Zukof­sky, was a fight­er, all right, but in the end he was fight­ing with the Schoen­bergs, and sid­ing with the uni­ver­si­ty. Stein, who had opposed Zukofsky’s appoint­ment, decli­nes to com­ment on him, apart from call­ing him “a first-class fid­dler”; but he says, laugh­ing, “The Schoen­bergs and I are now on the very best terms we’ve ever been.”
     Lar­ry Schoen­berg says he can­not dis­cuss Zukof­sky with­out becom­ing “emo­tion­al” and “filled with bit­ter­ness,” but he agrees that the heirs all pushed strong­ly for his appoint­ment as direc­tor. “I’m not going to deny that,” he says. “After Leonard, we real­ly want­ed to get some­one who could stand up to the uni­ver­si­ty. If you lis­tened to what Zukof­sky said he was going to do, you’d have want­ed him, too. He told us, ‘I do not com­pro­mise. I have ide­als, and I stick to them.’ We said, ‘That’s great! That’s exact­ly how our father was.’”
     Zukof­sky, who became direc­tor in Jan­u­ary, 1992, now says, “It appar­ent­ly nev­er occurred to the Schoen­bergs that we could dif­fer.” He, too, had a cel­e­brat­ed father, the late poet Louis Zukof­sky, who immor­tal­ized his only child in a nov­el, “Lit­tle,” about a cod­dled vio­lin prodi­gy. Zukof­sky is bald­ing, with a broad face and wire-rim glass­es; he is an engag­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist who pep­pers his speech with Yid­dish and pro­fan­i­ty, as well as name-dropping ref­er­ences to com­posers who have writ­ten vio­lin music for him. He dri­ves a Lin­coln Town Car with a phone, but makes no secret of his loathing for Los Angeles—“I’m like a duck out of water here,” he says.
     Though Zukof­sky pre­vi­ous­ly ran the cham­ber music depart­ment at the Juil­liard School in New York—a job that he says paid poor­ly com­pared with his post at U.S.C.—he has left the con­cert hall at the insti­tute almost unused. Instead, he has put most of his con­cen­tra­tion on the institute’s schol­ar­ly, bian­nu­al jour­nal, which he edits main­ly from home. The staff does not mind his absence. “We’re sup­posed to be a public-service insti­tu­tion, but Paul doesn’t like peo­ple,” says Mar­i­lyn McCoy, the assis­tant archivist. “He’ll just start scream­ing at you with­out any warn­ing.”
     Zukof­sky claims not to know what caused a rift between him and the Schoenbergs—“It was pret­ty damned sud­den,” he says—but cor­re­spon­dence unearthed in the course of lit­i­ga­tion shows that by ear­ly 1994 he had lost patience with the fam­i­ly. In March of that year, he described the heirs in an inter­nal memo as “an irri­tant that one wish­es would go away.” The fam­i­ly claims that, apart from edit­ing the jour­nal, Zukof­sky did lit­tle or no work, and want­ed to keep the heirs away so that they could not expose him to the uni­ver­si­ty. (He denies this.)
     In late Novem­ber, 1994, Zukof­sky acci­den­tal­ly over­heard Nuria dis­cuss plans to get rid of him; from that point for­ward, he and the Schoen­bergs were at war. A week lat­er, he wrote a memo to Lynn Sipe, the act­ing direc­tor of the uni­ver­si­ty library, which had been given over­sight of the insti­tute. In it, he com­plained that the heirs had come to view the insti­tute as prac­ti­cal­ly “their third garage,” and blamed U.S.C for giv­ing in to the Schoen­bergs every time “they throw a tantrum.” He urged the uni­ver­si­ty to tough­en its pol­i­cy toward the fam­i­ly, adding, “the Schoen­bergs must be deacid­i­fied.”
     Zukofsky’s advice seems to found a recep­tive audi­ence. Per­haps the uni­ver­si­ty had at long last become fed up with the Schoen­bergs, but it also appears that offi­cials no longer held the insti­tute in high esteem. The university’s cur­rent provost, Lloyd Arm­strong, states flat­ly that a time of shrink­ing finan­cial resources, an insti­tute for Schoen­berg does not jus­ti­fy its annu­al bud­get of about three hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars. Schoen­berg, he says, is “an inter­est­ing aca­d­e­mic study,” but, unfor­tu­nate­ly, his music is not ter­ri­bly pop­u­lar. “I think it’s true that if we had an insti­tute for Stravinsky—someone whose music is played in every con­cert sea­son of the Los Ange­les Philharmonic—it would attract more atten­tion to the cam­pus, and provide more bang for the buck,” he adds.
     Arm­strong met per­son­al­ly with the Schoen­berg broth­ers in Feb­ru­ary, 1995, after the fam­i­ly had filed yet anoth­er notice of breach—this time on the ground that the advi­so­ry board had failed to con­vene for over a year. The meet­ing, he says, did not go well. The provost insist­ed that the time had come for the con­tract between the uni­ver­si­ty and fam­i­ly to be rewrit­ten, so that, among oth­er things, the school of music, which des­per­ate­ly lacked per­for­mance space, could have access to the building’s recital hall. “Basi­cal­ly, their posi­tion was there was noth­ing they want­ed to change, that the insti­tute need­ed to be ded­i­cat­ed total­ly to their father’s mem­o­ry, and that we should sim­ply work hard­er to uphold the agree­ment,” he says.
     A few weeks lat­er, Arm­strong informed the heirs in a let­ter that they were free to exer­cise their con­trac­tu­al right to take back their father’s col­lec­tion and find it a new home. “The notice of breach was always a kind of threat, but this time the uni­ver­si­ty said, ‘So what?’” Leonard Stein says. “I think the Schoen­bergs were absolute­ly shocked.”

 

THEY soon turned liti­gious. In July, 1995, the Schoen­bergs sued the uni­ver­si­ty for breach—an amend­ed com­plaint was filed two months later—in order to keep U.S.C. from using the insti­tute build­ing until its con­tents had been trans­ferred else­where. The lawyer for the fam­i­ly was Ronald’s son, E. Ran­dol Schoen­berg, who is now twenty-nine, and is called Randy. (Ran­dol is anoth­er acronym for Arnold.) Randy, an asso­ciate at Kat­ten Much­in & Zav­is, got his law degree from U.S.C., and says of the uni­ver­si­ty, “I’ll bet they rue the day they let me in the door.” Robert Lane, the gen­er­al coun­sel for U.S.C., calls Randy “a very good lawyer,” but adds, “I think it’s very dif­fi­cult to rep­re­sent your par­ents and not be emo­tion­al.”
     The uni­ver­si­ty may have been less emo­tion­al­ly involved in the dis­pute, but its coun­terof­fen­sive again­st the Schoen­bergs won sym­pa­thy for them, even from peo­ple who had con­sid­ered them dif­fi­cult. Either as a pub­lic rela­tions ploy, or because uni­ver­si­ty offi­cials actu­al­ly believed it, offi­cials repeat­ed­ly accused the Schoen­bergs of using their copy­right own­er­ship of their father’s writ­ings to frus­trate schol­ar­ly pub­li­ca­tion. In a depo­si­tion, Wayne Shoaf, the archivist since 1987, tes­ti­fied that this had nev­er occurred to his knowl­edge; yet offi­cials con­tin­ued to insist the Schoen­bergs had at least inter­fered with an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of one of their father’s writ­ings. The trans­la­tor, Moshe Lazar, says, how­ev­er, that the fam­i­ly actu­al­ly pro­vid­ed wel­come assis­tance. As recent­ly as last mon­th, Scott Bice, the dean of the U.S.C. law school, repeat­ed the charge of aca­d­e­mic inter­fer­ence in an inter­view, and cit­ed Paul Zukof­sky as his prin­ci­pal source, adding, “I’ve nev­er known him to shade the truth.”
     U.S.C. lost even more of its sup­port­ers last March, when it filed a cross-complaint again­st the Schoen­bergs, alleg­ing, under an untest­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of the tax code, that the uni­ver­si­ty was enti­tled to all of the composer’s per­for­mance roy­alties in the twenty-three years since the fam­i­ly had donat­ed his man­u­scripts. “Every­body knows that when you donate a man­u­script, you don’t give up the copy­right,” Randy says. “It’s crazy. But we fig­ured, if they’re going to sue us for every­thing we own, then all bets are off.”
     Infu­ri­at­ed, the Schoen­bergs filed their own cross-complaint, again­st the uni­ver­si­ty, Lloyd Arm­strong, Paul Zukof­sky, and the head librar­i­an Lynn Sipe, for alleged­ly defam­ing them by spread­ing the word that they had inter­fered with aca­d­e­mic schol­ar­ship. (There was an addi­tion­al charge again­st Zukof­sky for alleged­ly destroy­ing let­ters that had been sub­poe­naed.) U.S.C., in turn, stat­ed that it decid­ed not to relin­quish some thou­sands of Schoenberg-related mate­ri­als that had been donat­ed to the insti­tute by non-family mem­bers. The bat­tle lines were drawn.
     By ear­ly last mon­th, Robert Lane, the university’s gen­er­al coun­sel, esti­mat­ed that the dis­pute had cost the school close to a mil­lion dol­lars. Lar­ry, mean­while, put the cost to the fam­i­ly at about two hun­dred thousand—Randy’s law firm billed the Schoen­bergs at his full fee of one-eighty-five an hour—and added, “I sup­pose the uni­ver­si­ty thinks they can bleed us to death. But I don’t care how much it costs. This is our life, our her­itage. The uni­ver­si­ty can’t seem to under­stand that.”
     The mes­sage had final­ly sunk in, how­ev­er. “This case is a jihad for the Schoenbergs—they come at you behind every cor­ner and around every turn,” Scott Edel­man, U.S.C.‘s out­side coun­sel, said ear­ly last mon­th. The school had had enough. On July 11th, both sides reached a set­tle­ment, and all charges were dropped. The uni­ver­si­ty will return the entire col­lec­tion to the Schoen­bergs, includ­ing all mate­ri­als donat­ed by oth­ers, give them until Decem­ber 31, 1998, to remove every­thing, main­tain the insti­tute in the mean­time with a full staff of three—not includ­ing Paul Zukof­sky, who is expect­ed to step down—and pay a quar­ter mil­lion dol­lars toward mov­ing costs. The Schoen­bergs will allow U.S.C. imme­di­ate access to the recital hall.

 

WHILE the set­tle­ment is a tremen­dous relief to the Schoenbergs—“I have cramps in my cheeks from smil­ing,” Ron says—the heirs are frankly wor­ried about find­ing a suit­able new loca­tion for the archive. Schol­ars and musi­cians have cause to be wor­ried as well. Con­struc­tion of a new build­ing specif­i­cal­ly designed for the col­lec­tion, like the one at U.S.C., is less eco­nom­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble today than it was in the sev­en­ties. (The heirs say they will set­tle for no less than an entire­ly sep­a­rate wing of a build­ing, with what Ron calls “a mon­u­men­tal or museum-like qual­i­ty.”) More­over, the build­ing at U.S.C. has been remark­ably accessible—in most cas­es, with­out an appoint­ment. Access to oth­er com­posers’ archives, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Europe, tends to be more restric­tive.
     The Schoen­bergs appear inclined toward a Euro­pean home for their father’s mate­ri­als, how­ev­er. “In Europe, we haven’t had to explain who Arnold Schoen­berg is,” Ron says. He notes that “Moses und Aron,” part of the stan­dard reper­to­ry at the Vien­na Opera, is still rarely per­formed in the Unit­ed States, to cite just one of Schoenberg’s com­po­si­tions; and he sug­gests that Provost Armstrong’s com­ment about “bang for the buck” is an illus­tra­tion of America’s fail­ure to hon­or seri­ous music and high cul­ture. (Schoen­berg him­self once com­plained of the Unit­ed States that “No seri­ous com­poser in this coun­try is capa­ble of liv­ing from his art.”) The heirs are fond of point­ing out that the Miche­lin Guide to Los Ange­les cites U.S.C. for the Schoen­berg insti­tute, yet makes no men­tion at all of the Tro­jan foot­ball sta­di­um.
     At the moment, the fam­i­ly is nego­ti­at­ing seri­ous­ly with three poten­tial donees in Europe: the Akademie Der Kun­st in Berlin, the city of Vien­na, and the Gmeen­te Muse­um in the Hague. Some peo­ple have ques­tioned whether the cur­rent appre­ci­a­tion for Schoenberg’s music in the first two cities out­weighs the per­se­cu­tion the com­poser expe­ri­enced there as a Jew. Clau­dio Spies, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of music at Prince­ton, and an estranged fam­i­ly friend of the Schoen­bergs, calls it a “mon­strous treach­ery” for them to con­sid­er Berlin or Vien­na, and sug­gests that the chil­dren, who were brought up Roman Catholic like their moth­er, are not sen­si­tive to the issue of anti-Semitism. Ron dis­putes this, but says, “If peo­ple want to make amends, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be given the oppor­tu­ni­ty.”
     Mean­while, nego­ti­a­tions with a num­ber of Amer­i­can insti­tu­tions have stalled, either because of lack of funds, or because the Schoen­bergs were per­ceived by them as too demand­ing and dif­fi­cult, or because the heirs are right that the Unit­ed States under­val­ues its high art. At present, only the Man­nes School of Music in New York remains as a seri­ous con­tender to keep the Schoen­berg lega­cy from leav­ing the Unit­ed States. Michael Boriskin, the pianist, act­ing as an advis­er to the fam­i­ly, says, “It would be a great cul­tur­al blow for the Unit­ed States to lose this archive. Even if the Unit­ed States doesn’t real­ize it.”♦