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Lessons from Music History

Lesson 5- Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

~ Served with bagels and lox


Courage to Say No-When No Makes No Sense

Listen for the Inner Voice

Arnold Schoenberg, an innovative composer years ahead of his time, was not a wealthy man. Born in Vienna, Austria, he lived in Berlin when Hitler was first coming to power. Like thousands of others, he was aware of the ominous political speeches but hoped against hope that things would calm down. As he waited for that day, he eked out a living and continued to write his imaginative music.


With his wife Gertrud as librettist, Schoenberg composed a one-act comic opera called Von Haute auf Morgen (From Day to Day). Unfortunately , its premiere was not well-performed; the disapproving composer addressed the orchestra, “Gentlemen, the difference between what you have played tonight and what I wrote in my score would make a new opera!”


But this very composition soon presented the Schoenbergs with the opportunity—or temptation—of a lifetime. In those uncertain political times, when they were hardly able to pay their monthly bills, the Schoenbergs were unexpectedly offered the huge sum of one hundred thousand Reichsmarks for the right to publish their opera. But the deal had a strange stipulation. The publisher insisted, “I’m leaving tomorrow; you’ll have to decide within ten minutes."


So in a private office, the husband and wife team conferred about the curious offer. Arnold wasn’t comfortable with the time pressure, but the money was far more than he had ever been offered for his music. His wife was cautious: “I don’t like the way this man is trying to pressure us into making a decision. Let’s say no. Anyone can say yes to one hundred thousand Reichsmarks, but how many can say no?”


Arnold agreed, and they refused the offer.


Years later, they would say that this difficult decision saved their lives: “If we had taken the money, we would have a bought a beautiful home, filled it with lovely furniture and , like so many others, would not have been able to leave immediately when Hitler came to power”. Instead, the Schonenbergs left Germany at the earliest opportunity, settled in California, and lived many more productive years.


In this story I see a lesson that involves both courage and discernment. Let me recap the scenario: A door opens. The opportunity doesn’t seem to be overladen with moral issues in which one choice is obviously right and the other wrong. Actually the opportunity looks great—almost too good to be true.  Why would anyone not say yes?


But one’s heart says that something is not right here, It’s not just your natural resistance or fear of “the new”. It’s an underlying lack of peace that says no—stop.


Not every open door is meant to be walked through, sometimes God wants us to have the courage to say no—to follow His leading and trust Him for an open door with His blessing.


~ From Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh


“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7


“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10


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