Today is the 138th birthday of the amazing Austrian composer, Arnold Schoenberg. Since I recently wrote a thesis that dealt largely with his work, I thought I'd share a portion of my thesis with you. The footnotes aren't totally complete and I did have to do a little bit of summarizing so that this section would work on it's own, but I'd be happy to provide a complete bibliography if anyone would like to see it. I tried to hide it behind a tl;dr-type link, but it didn't work.
***My only request is that you be a decent human being and not copy my work as your own. I'd be more than happy to share any information and help out if I can, but I did work very hard on this. Contact me if you use this or want to cite it, or if you like it. Or if you don't...Or whatever. Just play fair. Enjoy!***
All about Arnie! (well, not really...)
The development of a compositional system that removed the need for a tonal center was easily one of the most important and influential (and certainly controversial) musical developments of the 20th century. Arnold Schoenberg's refinement of twelve-tone through multiple compositional techniques will be discussed, and using his mature twelve-tone works to demonstrate their characteristics will be of top priority. There will not be a thorough discussion of every late dodecaphonic work, but brief overviews of certain pieces from Schoenberg's oeuvre will be included. These demonstrate the intricacies made possible by the technique in the hands of a skilled. This discussion begins with Schoenberg's conceptual inklings which surfaced in sketches of a work for choir and orchestra, but will focus on the development of the 1920's and move forward to the highly developed works of the 1930's and later.
Arnold Schoenberg began using melodies and chordal successions that used all twelve chromatic pitches as early as 1910. They can be seen in his Die glückliche Hand, Op. 18 (1910-1913) as well as in sketches for an unfinished choral symphony of 1914-15, and are discussed in his treatise of 1910-1911, Harmonielehre [Theory of Harmony]. He did not use twelve-tone technique throughout an entire piece until 1923 (Suite für Klavier, Op. 25), and the first piece to use a single row as the source for its entire pitch content was the Wind Quintet, Op. 26 (1924).
The first example of a theme by Schoenberg using all twelve tones only once is found in a fragment of the Scherzo movement of his unfinished choral symphony. It does appear transposed up a fourth in measure twelve which arguably points forward to the twelve-tone techniques yet to come, but the similarities between this fragment and fully developed twelve-tone technique end here. Each restatement the theme has the same melodic contour and rhythmic proportion. Additionally, the accompanying materials found in the fragment are not derived from the ordering of the tones in the melody, but rather are seemingly written to suit the personal taste of the composer.
As Ethan Haimo argues in his article “The Evolution of the Twelve-tone Method,” was not intended to be a part of a larger twelve-tone work in the sense that all material is derived from a single twelve-tone ordering. Rather, he demonstrates that the existence of this fragment shows the germ of an idea that has the potential to develop into the serial system yet to come.
As Schoenberg's style evolved, he found ways to use a single twelve-tone row as the seed from which an entire piece would develop. These methods or structures, in varying amounts and combinations, are shared among all of his works that feature the twelve-tone method. Some of his more common techniques that are directly applied to the row include transposition, inversion, retrograde, as well as the combination of one or more of these. All of these were used to create variety while still maintaining a sense of cohesiveness.
A significant step in the development of this new compositional process was to use a single twelve-tone row to not just a single movement but to an entire work. The Serenade, Op. 24 (1920/23) was Schoenberg's earliest attempt at using a single row as the source from which the entire pitch content of a multi-movement work is derived. Although he did not achieve that goal in this work, he was able to successfully do so in the Suite für Klavier, Op. 25, and in the Wind Quintet, Op. 26. Also to be seen in the Op. 26 is the manner in which Schoenberg dealt with issues of polyphony and melodic variety.
The Wind Quintet was begun in 1923 and finished in the summer of 1924. It is an early example of a solution to what Haimo refers to as the problem of “twelve-tone form.” That is, the Quintet is one of his first works written entirely in twelve-tone that was not reliant on a neoclassical form to define its parameters. This work was also a major breakthrough for Schoenberg, because he found multiple ways to use a single row throughout a whole, multi-movement work.
The first movement is in extended ternary form, with five large sections: A , B, Transition, A', and Coda. There are two collections of rows used, one primarily in the A section, the other solely in the B section. The A section uses P3, I3, and I8 along with their retrogrades; the B section uses I9 and I2 along with their retrogrades. The transition uses selected rows from both of the collections (specifically the rows of the A section along with P9 and its retrograde), while the coda uses the same rows as the A section. These collections of rows are specific to certain formal divisions of the piece which allow for both better cohesion throughout the work and for sectional distinctiveness. This assignment of collections of rows to particular sections of a work is a precursor to the later development known as an “area,” where the different sections of the work are more clearly distinguished as a result of the structural unit is complete and contained.
In the Wind Quintet, issues of polyphony and melodic interest were very relevant, and Schoenberg found several ways to address them. One method he used was rotation. Rotation is the process of starting a row on a pitch class other than the first pitch class of the row, moving the tones not used at the beginning of the presentation to the end. The actual ordering of the pitches is held invariant, simply commencing with perhaps the fourth pitch class instead of the first. This allows for twelve more permutations of the row, granting myriad related variations.
Before the Quintet, polyphonic passages in Schoenberg's serial works generally used one presentation of one row per voice: a passage written for two voices would include two different rows, three voices would use three rows, etc. In the Quintet, however, Schoenberg began using a new technique called “extraction.”
Extraction is the creation of secondary, generally melodic, lines by pulling any number of tones from a row being used. This helps create polyphony more easily and grants more melodic interest, since it allows for the use of a row without the necessity of a literal restatement. It can be seen in the opening measures of the Wind Quintet's third movement, where the three presentations of the row used (P3) are simultaneously divided between the horn and bassoon. When both parts are read horizontally, the original row appears three times. When the line in the horn is considered independently, all twelve pitch classes are present, but their ordering is changed - a new row is created. While Schoenberg would sometimes create a new and complete row that used all twelve tones, he would also occasionally pull only a few tones at a time, creating motivic fragments or figures that he could then use in the development of a piece.
As evidenced in the Quintet, a most significant gain from Schoenberg’s devising of a systematic approach to atonal music was a sense of “long-range coherence” that had been lacking in his earlier, free-atonal works. Further examples of various methods of manipulations upon a serial row can be seen in the Violin Concerto, Op. 36, Fourth String Quartet, Op. 37, and the Piano Concerto, Op. 42.
Since literature on the basic semantics of dodecaphonic principles abounds, this document will assume that the reader either has an existing knowledge of how the system works or will have access to those resources as needed. If the reader would like more information, please see George Perle’s “Serialism and Atonality” and Arnold Schoenberg’s essays “Composition in Twelve Tones” I and II, in Style and Idea.
Auner, “Schoenberg’s Row Tables,” 157.
Haimo, “Evolution of the Twelve-tone Method,” 103.
When discussing serial ordering of tones in this document, C = 0, C# = 1, etc. 10 will be ‘t’, and 11 will be ‘e’. Thus, P3 refers to use of the prime row (P) starting on pitch class 3 (E♭).
Mead, “Large-Scale Strategy,” 131.
The original pitch class index [1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12] would become [4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 1; 2; 3].
Haimo, “Evolution,” 121-22.
Mead, “Large-Scale Strategy,” 121.tl;dr: All about Arnie! (well, not really...)