Puckish Schoenberg, bored with Bach
now assaults the tonic scale,
pounding (his a frontal shock),
on Mozart’s coffin, a modernist nail.

He scans the twelve established tones,
then briskly rolls the musical dice,
overturning melody’s throne,
emancipating dissonance.

What’s he doing, anyway?
Has he made a radical break
from the well-tuned keys of classical play?

Not quite. Such sounds oddly disjoint,
seem pre-harmonic counterpoint.
No earthquake. Just a paltry shake!



October Palette

This season is nature’s wild fiesta show.
The trees don motley, harvest hues aglow.

The pattern in this scene, the bold effect:
clear greens, autumnal colors splashed and flecked.

Sugar maples turn an orangey red,
their crowns with Rembrandt’s carmine palette spread.

Black gumtrees glow Fortuny aubergine;
their fronds exude a glossy eggplant sheen.

Hickory branches shower bright green nuts.
Squirrels grab cheeksful, stash in covert pits.

The white-trunked birches’ leaves, a silvery yellow,
fall fleetly: branches bald, stems winter-fallow.

Oaks mutate to burnished golden brown.
Leaf litter floods like sea-brit on the ground.

Ere long, the fallen leaves crunch underfoot;
soon lumpy piles, by winds mischievously put.

This pointillist painting lasts but half a month.
Hard sleety rain unveils the bare-trunk plinth.

Soon the vista shimmers wintry white.
By day, warm sunlight, nights by cold moonlight.

God so ordains all certain sequenced change.
Seems humdrum clockwork, yet how passing strange.



Mary Jane Myers resides in Springfield, Illinois.  She  is a retired JD/CPA tax specialist.    Her debut short story collection Curious Affairs was published by Paul Dry Books in 2018.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

16 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Now I know what to call dissonance in modern music-Shoenbergian. “October Palette” is rich with beautiful words invoking color in our minds. I could just picture them as I appreciated your rhyming verses.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Your second is a.fine tribute to fall (although that master Rembrandt might have said, “My paintings are with nature’s carmine spread”); I especially like “… branches bald, stems winter-fallow.”
      Your first begs a rebuttal, which I’ll undertake (briefly), although most here will side with you. Schoenberg may have been wrong-headed (I don’t think he was) and his efforts (in tonal, free atonal, and serial contexts were inconsistent, but he was a true genius, as is shown in, e.g., the end of “Transfigured Night,” the Orchestral Songs, Op. 16, the end of Act II of Moses und Aron, and the String Trio. From the beginning he was a deep thinker about harmony and both free and strict polyphony (he wrote a number of posthumously published tonal canons). He was heavily influenced by Liszt and Wagner, but was also a close student of Bach and Brahms. (He made imaginative, though again arguably wrong-headed, orchestral transcriptions of the music of the last two composers.) Lastly (for what it’s worth) he was respected by esthetic musical friends (Mahler) and opponents (Gershwin, Stravinsky). All this is not to say that many classical musicians, maybe even most, find his music disagreeable.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Sorry–not to say they don’t find it disagreeable.

      • Mary Jane Myers

        Dear Julian (and everyone!)

        Thank you for your perceptive comments about Schoenberg. I, like you, am fascinated with twelve-tone music. I perhaps undermine my poem’s “argument” that twelve-tone music is nothing-new, but a return to pre-harmonic counterpoint, by my flippant statement in line 1 that Schoenberg is “bored with Bach.” Schoenberg and his students Webern and Berg (the “second Viennese school” were obsessed with the precise mathematics of the twelve tones, and were experts in pre-18th century music.

        Twelve-tone or “serial” music arose in response to a perceived crisis, described as breakdown of structure in the works of late Romantic composers. Schoenberg set out to restore music to a condition of order, and invented twelve-tone technique in 1921. This invention was preceded by a period of so-called atonality, which dispensed with the tonic but had no intrinsic principle of order.

        The four strictly-followed postulates of composition (I’m quoting Perle, 1962) are: 1. A set comprises all twelve tones of the semitonal scale, arranged in a specific linear order. 2.No note appears more than once within the set. 3. The set is statable in any of its linear aspects: prime, inversion, retrograde, and retrograde-inversion. 4.The set, in each of its four transformations (i.e., linear aspects), is statable upon any degree of the semitonal scale.

        This method of composition replaces the governing role of the tonic triad or I-chord, and banishes tonal and chordal dynamic qualities. There is no theoretical preference for the set’s prime or original statement, which may equally be regarded as a permutation of any of the other versions of itself. There is no longer any “free note.” The result is tonal egalitarianism. dissonance is now emancipated. Dissonance now becomes something unexceptional and even risks becoming a cliché.

        Music no longer has a narrative structure but lives in the moment. Tension still exists (indeed, it is there all the time), but it is not directed to a goal. It is more like free-floating unsettledness. Music becomes the raw expression of passion, especially the violent emotion of the moment.

        According to Theodore Adorno, The Philosophy of New Music, “The true beneficiary of twelve-tone technique is unquestionably counterpoint…[T]welve-tone technique is contrapuntal in its origin—for all the simultaneous notes in it are equally independent, given that they are integral components of the row.”

        Sincerely, Mary Jane

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Lovely commentary on Shoenberg, Mary Jane, just as pithy but far more lyric than any of his rows.

    Reminds me of the old story where Webern and Berg (both compositional students of Schoenberg) met in a stationery story, each of them purchasing a box of pencils. Berg eyed what Webern was purchasing and asked, “Erasers? Why do you need erasers?”

    I also enjoyed your word painting in “October Palette.” A veritable pastiche of primaries, secondaries, and pastels, capturing the splendor of Autumn just past.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      James, I sat in on a composition class taught by Stockhausen in 1967. One of his 1st pieces of advice: “do most of your composing with an eraser.” (This from a guy who was eventually using helicopters in one of his creations.)

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Thank you for your kind comments. I love your whimsical anecdote! I moved back to the Midwest four years ago, after many years of living in Los Angeles. I always missed the “the seasons.” Now once again I have the opportunity to observe closely the dramatic seasonal changes in nature. What a wonderful inspiration for versifying!
      Sincerely Mary Jane

  3. Daniel Kemper

    Nice pairing! One, a poem on the incredibly different, which was really quite close to the same; the other, a poem on the same old, same old, which actually is infused with uniqueness.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear Daniel
      Thank you for your kind and perceptive comments. I thought these two poems were unrelated, but now you observe that they are nicely paired!

      Most sincerely
      Mary Jane

  4. James Sale

    Your second poem is beautifully descriptive, and there is only one anomaly with your first, which may not be down to you but Evan: the music of Schoenberg? Isn’t that the ‘noise of’? Schoenberg? Orpheus he ain’t. We think of hell suspended when we consider Orpheus and his music, but with Schoenberg we consider him part of the wallpaper of hell.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      It’s interesting, Mr. Sale, that Schoenberg’s favorite poet, at least the one he set the most (he also reached as far back as Goethe) was Stefan George, a formalist par excellence.

      • James Sale

        Thanks for this interesting observation, Julian, which I did not know – because I try to avoid studying the lives and works of those who wreck beauty and destroy harmony. But, of course, you are right: it is good to study the enemy if only to learn what their hypocrisies and inconsistencies are – and that they ‘are’ is always the case.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear James
      Thank you for your whimsical observations. Yes, twelve-tone music hardly reminds us of the angelic choirs! In twelve-tone music, the emotion is “in the moment” and tends toward the expression of angst, hysteria, frustration, melancholy, and other modes of psychic distress.
      Most sincerely,
      Mary Jane

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    An issue with Schoenberg (and also with Cage) is that they were both highly trained and sophisticated musicians, but both were swept up in the revolution of modernism, which demanded from them an adversarial stance against tradition. This was a culture-wide problem affecting all the arts in the early 20th century. Compare T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, who could write amazingly beautiful poetry and crystal-clear prose respectively, but who nevertheless felt obliged to go off in strange and jarring directions.

    • Mary Jane Myers

      Dear Joseph
      Thank you for your comments. Luckily, the mansions of both music and literature are huge–and there are many rooms! I am amused when I attend concerts. The experimental music is always played first, so that the audience won’t leave!
      Mary Jane


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.