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Schoenberg’s Heirs, University Feud over Composer’s Collection

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For almost two decades, the Arnold Schoenberg Institute on the campus of the University of Southern California has housed the definitive collection of the composer’s works and memorabilia, and has been a magnet for research on 20th century music.

Now a bitter dispute between the university and Schoenberg’s three children makes it all but certain that most of the institute’s holdings, including 6,000 pages of Schoenberg’s published and unpublished music, will leave the campus and Los Angeles.

Schoenberg’s heirs recently obtained a court injunction to prevent university officials from removing any material from the institute and from using its 200- seat concert hall for any purpose not sanctioned in the original contract.

The contract specified that the hall would be used exclusively for performance of Schoenberg’s works. Lawrence Schoenberg, the composer’s son, charges that in practice, only 10 percent of current programs deal with father’s compositions. Other issues in contention include control over copyrights.

Lynn Sipe, acting director of University Libraries at USC, said the institute’s “single focus” on Schoenberg is overly restrictive and that limited the use of the concert hall impinges on the university’s academic freedom.

Schoenberg lived in Los Angeles during the 17 years preceding his death in 1951, and taught at both USC and the University of California at Los Angeles. The music building on the UCLA campus bears his name.

Besides the 6,000-page collection of Schoenberg’s music, sketches, essays and poems, the USC institute holds 2,000 books, as well as photograph, records and tapes. The composer’s private study has been reconstructed, and contains his desk and piano. Lawrence Schoenberg values the collection at $50 million.

Even if the main collection is moved, much of the material will be copies on microfilm and retained by USC, Sipe said.

At this point, neither party believes that the dispute can be resolved.

“Given the current level of antipathy, it seems highly unlikely we can work this out,” said Sipe.

Lawrence Schoenberg said, “There is no chance that we can settle this thing. USC has essentially told us to get out. They have been terrifically arrogant.”

Schoenberg added that six to seven institutions have shown a serious interest in taking over the collection, and he hopes that a decision will be reached by early next year.

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