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Analysis of

Schoenbergs Suite
for piano op. 25

Matan Daniel Porat

I. Background

Schoenbergs suite for solo piano, op. 25, composed in 1921, is a pivotal work in his
Oeuvre. As the Three Piano Pieces op. 11 was his first atonal composition, in this
suite Schoenberg firstly implied a dodecaphonic row for an entire work, an idea which
he first introduced in the last piece (Waltzer) of the five pieces for piano op. 23, and
in the fourth movement of the Serenade op. 24 for voice and seven instruments. It is
clear that Schoenberg wanted to show what his new writing style can produce, and
therefore chose known classical forms. The dances chosen for the suite- Prelude,
Gavotte, Musette, Intermezzo, Menuett and Gigue are all rooted in the baroque, apart
from the Intermezzo, which was a popular middle movement in the works of
Schumann and especially Brahms.
Neo-classicistic works begin to flourish in the 20s, especially through the works of
Stravinsky and the French composers. The suite is one of Schoenbergs first pieces
that can be seen as neo-classical. Approaching his fifties, Schoenberg was in a
beginning of a new phase in his life. As he almost did not compose anything during
1913-1921, the suite marks a triumphal return to composition. Among Schoenbergs
50 opus numbers, this piece stands in the middle, and from now on his compositions
are strictly dodecaphonic. It is astonishing to see that even as being the first work in
that style, Schoenberg already discovered most of the potential of a 12-tones row,
including its divisions into sub-groups. In an article published close to his death (My
technique and style, c. 1950) he describes the suite as one of the most decisive steps
forward he took in his life. Schoenberg revives Bachs techniques in his
compositions for keyboard, and uses various contrapuntal devices, imitations, canon,
inversions and augmentations. But perhaps the truly remarkable thing about this suite
is that Schoenberg was able to grasp all the grace and gallantry style of the baroque
dances, and in the same time to offer a completely new modern approach to them.
In my work I will write notes about each movement, and also present a full detailed
analysis of the whole piece.

II. Analysis

Schoenbergs dodecaphonic row for the entire suite is divided into three groups:
E,F,G,Db | Gb,Eb,Ab,D | B,C,A,Bb.
Clearly, the most important characteristic for this row is the tritone: There are two
tritones in the end of the first and second group (G,Db and Ab,D), the inversion of the
first group produces Db and Gb as well, and the first and last note in the row make
another tritone (E,Bb). To strengthen this feature Schoenberg is using only one
transposition for all the piece- a tritone transposition, which starts and finishes with
Bb and E again, and also has Db,G in its first group. One more feature of this row can
be found in the retrograde version of third group, as B,C,A,Bb in backward form the
name BACH (Bb,A,C,B).
Schoenberg is using eight versions of this row- The row in its prime form and its three
inversions (retrograde, inversion, retrograde-inversion), and the row in a tritone
transposition and its three inversions. The eight versions of the row are:
P0: E,F,G,Db | Gb,Eb,Ab,D | B,C,A,Bb
I0: E,Eb,Db,G | D,F,C,Gb | A,Ab,B,Bb
R0: Bb,A,C,B | D,Ab,Eb,Gb | Db,G,F,E
RI0: Bb,B,Ab,A | Gb,C,F,D | G,Db,Eb,E
P6: Bb,B,Db,G | C,A,D,Ab | F,Gb,Eb,E
I6: Bb,A,G,Db | Ab,B,Gb,C | Eb,D,F,E
R6: E,Eb,Gb,F | Ab,D,A,C | G,Db,B,Bb
RI6: E,F,D,Eb | C,Gb,B,Ab | Db,G,A,Bb

Prludium

As in the classical tradition, the prelude serves to introduce the entire piece. We can
find here many hints for the future movements, as well as various techniques which
Schoenberg will explore in greater depth later on.
The original row is being introduced to us right in the beginning, in the right hand
(measures 1-3), while the prime form of the tritone transposition is presented in the
left hand (m. 1-3). Already here Schoenberg is cutting the row into the three sections,
letting the upper voice in the left hand play the second section and the lower voice the
third.
The piece main motives are the repeated note (first introduced in m. 3), and the dotted
rhythm figures (usually given to the row in its tritone transposition).
We can generally sense three sections of the piece (A starting at 1-9, B at 10-16 and C
17-24).
Gavotte
The gavotte is full of grace and charm. As the Gavotte the phrases begin in the middle
of the measure, Schoenberg starts his rows usually on the second beat. He is using
palindromes in the beginning of the Gavotte (a symmetrical device, such as
F,G,E,A,E,G,F). With a palindrome being used on the third section of the prime form
(B,C,A,Bb), Bachs name is revealed (Bb,A,C,B)= B,A,C,H.
Musette
In this folk dance the first beat of every measure is very strong, followed by a weaker
beat. Schoenberg is repeating the G throughout the whole first section (m. 1-9) and
last section (m. 21-30), and shows the important connection between G and Db (the
two notes that return in the first group of the original row, the inversion, and the
tritone transposition) in measures 10-11. The connection between the Gavotte with its
strong beat in the middle and the Musette with a very strong first beat is marvelous.

Intermezzo
This movement that comes in the exact middle of the piece is very different from the
other parts, not only by not being a dance, but also by its much more homophonic
texture. Unlike most movements, where we can find in a single bar one or two rows,
sometimes it takes up to two or three measures for the row to unfold. Also, we have
more of a melody and accompaniment feeling, especially due to the repeated figures
of the right hand (for example, the very beginning- measures 1-2). As it is also the
only slow movement in the suite, the atmosphere is very nostalgic, and reminiscences
of Schoenberg atonal style (and, in a way, of the second piano piece op. 11) can be
heard. It is possible to look at the general structure as some kind of a ABA form:
A (1-10), B (11-30), A (31-45).
Menuett
In the Menuett Schoenberg returns to the grace and charm he used in the Gavotte.
Also a homophonic movement, there are many repeated memorable motives, such as
the right hand figure in measure 5 and the right and left hand figures in measure 9,
second and third quarter. In the Menuett Schoenberg begins with the second group of
the original row, and it is the only movement to do so. The repeated first section of the
Menuett (1-11) makes the two sections nicely even at length (22 measures for both).
Trio
The Menuetts trio is a fast and vigorous Canon in a tritone inversion. Divided to two
repeated sections of five measures each, the trio is very coherent and straightforwarded.

Gigue
The Gigue serves a virtuosic finale. Full of leaps and jumps, it is very often suggests
common violin figures (for example, measures 5-9, right hand). Fifths and tritones are

extremely common throughout this movement, which is both very rhythmic and
polyphonic. Schoenberg mixes the row and its different group so much that it is
sometimes very hard to tell to where the notes belong. Also, there are many tempo
changes, and different sudden melodies (such as this one, in m. 14-15). In the same
way that the Prelude served as an introduction to the whole suite, the Gigue is more of
a conclusion, ending majestically with the original row (m. 74-75).

Bibliography:

Armitage, M. (editor): Schoenberg. The piano music of Schoenberg, by Eduard


Steuermann, G. Schirmer, New York, 1937.
Rosen, C.: Arnold Schoenberg. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Schoenberg, A.: Style and Idea. Selected writings of Arnold Schoenberg edited by
Leonard Stein. University of California Press, 1984.
Schoenberg, A.: Suite fr klavier op. 25. Universal Editon, 1925.