Bad Headlines, and Schoenberg Redux

A bad headline can go a good way towards making an otherwise interesting article seem condescending or off point. Slate seems particularly inept (or adept, depending on the intention) in choosing titles, a characteristic which must be particularly irritating for authors. A case in point: this recent article by J. Bryan Lowder in which he discusses Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. This blog has previously linked to Pierrot Lunaire, so there’s no complaint here about the selection, nor indeed of the article itself. But the headline “A Schoenberg piece you will actually like” suggests something quite different, and presenting Schoenberg’s Pierrot under that headline is a little like recommending Finnegans Wake in a column entitled “some light reading for the Beach this summer.” (No doubt when JSE gets around to writing the definitive Slate piece on Grothendieck, we can expect the title to be “Rings, you’re doing it wrong.”) As far as user friendly Schoenberg goes, there’s an obvious choice, namely the Verklärte Nacht Op. 4 string sextet from his pre twelve-tone days. Curiously enough, even this was panned as ultra-modern in its time. One critic described the sound “as if the score of Tristan had been smeared while the ink was still wet”, which actually sounds pretty good to me.

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