Schönberg composed Gurrelieder in a white heat of inspiration in a little over two months, between the sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), 1899, and the symphonic poem Pelleas und Mélisande, Op. 5, 1901. Beginning work in Vienna in early March 1900, Schönberg had Part I and II and much of Part III completed in short score by late spring, along with much of the orchestration. At that point pressing financial needs forced him to abandon work on Gurrelieder, and to take on bread and butter work orchestrating operettas of other composers — some six thousand manuscript pages in all, we are told. In March 1901 he was finally able to finish composing Part III, but then, again, more operetta arranging intervened, and it was not until much later, in August of that year, that Schönberg could finish the instrumentation of Gurrelieder and the writing out of the final full score.
It is a wonder, in view of the multiple interruptions, stretched out over so many years, plaguing the creation of this work, that Gurrelieder is so perfect in its form and continuity — essentially Lied forms linked together by orchestral interludes — and in its remarkable inner logic, its deep and broad Mississippi-like flow. One might readily assume the opposite: that the scoring, perhaps even some of the actual musical substance, and the work’s consistency of form and style, had been adversely affected by the delays — especially in relation to the last three-quarters of Part III.
Writing years later about the creation of Gurrelieder, Schönberg made reference to this matter: "It can easily be seen that the 1910 and 1911 manner of scoring in Part III was very different than that of the first and second Parts, done ten years earlier. I never had the intention to conceal this. On the contrary, it is self-evident that I would orchestrate differently ten years later. In the production of the final score I reworked the instrumentation in very few places. Everything else (even some things that I would love to have changed) was left as it was originally set. I would not have been able to recapture that original style…. The few corrections [I made] gave me more trouble than the whole initial composing."
— Gunther Schuller (an excerpt from the liner notes)
"BIGGEST SURPRISE: In 1977, Gunther Schuller somehow inspired the students of NEC to transcend the expected limits of a school orchestra and deliver an astonishingly good performance of Schoenberg's grand late-Romantic masterpiece in Jordan Hall."
— Top Ten Classical CD's of 2010, Boston Globe