Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

To Print, please either disable HTML viewing under Settings, or use the following Full-Screen Link: http://www.scribd.com/full/53002007?access_key=key-rx6h3nw91tpwvxn8vxc

Schoenberg and Webern: Voices of Modernism?

A Brief Discussion of

Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21
and

Anton Webern’s Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9

By: Payman Akhlaghi

Music 266A

Professor David Lefkowitz

Fall 1999 UCLA
Final Paper
December 15th, 1999
Page 1 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Introduction

The primary thrust of this paper is an attempt in understanding the place of two quintessentially twentieth century compositions within our current discussion of Modernism and according to our present conclusions in the seminar for which the paper is being written. Yet, thereafter, it also tries to achieve a better understanding of Modernism itself, in the light of these two compositions. Here, something should be noted. Although at first this might seem to suggest a basically circular argument in nature, I believe it is far from being so. It should be rather considered a reflection of the dialectic relationship between the general definition of a class on one hand, and the particular species on the other. Indeed, this has been the methodology that was adopted from the outset by the seminar, and considering the illusive and controversial nature of the subject at hand, namely Modernism, it proved to have been a quite suitable approach.

***

For the purpose of our comparative discussion in regards to Modernism in the first half of the twentieth century, Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912)
Page 2 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

and Anton Webern’s Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9 (1911-1913; pub. 1924) seem to be excellent candidates. To begin with, both of the pieces were composed within one year, both belong to two of the three pillars of the so-called Second Viennese School, and they were both composed during a period of close artistic contact between their respective composers. Furthermore, the sonic worlds of the two pieces manifest a sharp degree of departure from that of the music of the preceding periods. Listening to them, one can realize, without much hesitation, that they belong to our century; that they could not have been written in any earlier period; and that only our century, with all its extremes of tension and liberation could have justified their understanding, or even their existence in the first place. Still, the two pieces could not have been more distant from each other. While Pierrot, a rather extroverted setting of 21 selected poems, unfolds patiently, stretching around 35 minutes, the Bagatelles manifest a high degree of introspection and an utmost level of brevity, lasting for approximately 4 minutes. While the world of Pierrot is in part justified by the content of the words, the Bagatelles have to stand for themselves, with no evident extra musical context to assist them in this task. Even while both compositions employ an “atonal” style, or preferably, language, the differences between their stylistic characteristics are enough to endow each of them with a unique pitch-world of their own. And yet, Pierrot and the Bagatelles are unmistakenably two daring manifestation of an early twentieth century cherished idealism in regards to the notions of progress and originality in music, shared by both composers, finding uniquely personal expressions in the case of each individual.

Page 3 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

*Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912)

Foreword:

In 1912, Schoenberg undertook a commission from an actress named Albertine Zehme, to compose “a set of melodramas that she could perform in her musically accompanied poetry recitals.” (Lustig) The result was Pierrot Lunaire, about which Pierre Boulez has said, “The ambiguities that [Pierrot lunaire] contains and Schoenberg’s bold idea about the relationship between words and music represent an inexhaustible wellspring for the future…The name of Schoenberg remains identified with Pierrot Lunaire.” (Quoted in Watkins’) In 1942, as part of a harsh reply to a masters' student at UCLA who had only asked Schoenberg about his credentials, he identified himself as “the composer of Pierrot Lunaire and other works which have changed the history of music…” (H. C. Schoenberg) About Pierrot, H. C. Schoenberg says, “Pierrot Lunaire is a magical and evocative score that inhabits a ghostly, miniature, imagery-ridden world full of blood symbolism. Today it is recognized as being as seminal a work as Le Sacre du Printemps, Joyce’s Ulysses, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and the reasoning that led to E=mc².” (H. C. Schoenberg) Along with Harmonielehre, which had been published a year earlier, Pierrot was the first of Schoenberg’s compositions to gain him the approval of both the public and the influential circles of the musical world. Its importance was immediately known to the listeners, a fact that the composer too was well aware of. Perhaps, Prof. Roger Bourland
Page 4 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

once best summed it all, saying, “I love Pierrot Lunaire: there is no other piece that sounds like it.” (class address, 1997)

Background and Evaluation

Pierrot was one of the several established characters of the French comedia dell’arte, itself having its origins in the mid-sixteenth century Italy. (For a more thorough study of the evolution of Pierrot see Watkins, pp. 183-185.) Many poets and composers had already been attracted to this pale and melancholic personage, Boudlaire and Debussy among them. In 1884, Albert Giraud published a cycle of 50 poems on Pierrot, which soon inspired Debussy’s Suite Bergamesque. Schoenberg selected 21 of these poems in their German translation by Otto Erich Harleben, dividing them into three groups of seven, and scoring the work for five solo instrumentalists playing eight instruments (the piano, flute/piccolo, clarinet/the bass clarinet, violin/viola, and cello), besides a [female] “singer”, who has to “speak-sing” the Sprechstimme vocal line. While the instrumentation, in part, reflected some of the economic considerations rooted in the cabaret music, itself exerted an immense aesthetic individuality on the piece, which further influenced the future course of writing for the chamber ensembles. On the other hand, this was also a continuation of Schoenberg’s conscious attempts in employing alternative instrumental combinations, which had earlier culminated in the Chamber Symphony, Op. 9.

Page 5 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Yet it was the large-scale introduction of the Sprechstimme, Sprechgesang, or “speak-singing”, into the world of music that remains the most striking aspect of Pierrot. In this vocal technique, the vocalist only approximates the given pitches, while being rhythmically precise. In effect, the notation mostly indicates the contour of the vocal line and the slope of its relative rises and falls, at times exploring the extremes of the vocal range. The overall result is a mid-way between singing and speaking, or one could say, declamation in an exaggerated and controlled manner, tangent to singing. From the outset, Schoenberg’s idea of this technique was very clear, as can be seen from his foreword to the score of Pierrot. In Pierrot, the Sprechstimme “pitches” are marked by an “x” sign on the stems of the notes. (Later, in Moses und Aron, the “x” would replace the note heads while the Sprechstimme would find further philosophical significance.) Schoenberg’s application of the Sprechstimme was remarkably original. Even considering the often mentioned reminder about a similar passage in a lesser known work of Humperdinck, does not necessarily nullify the claim on the originality of Schoenberg’s invention; the counterexample seems to be too obscure and too isolated to have been able to exert a lasting influence. In Pierrot, Sprechstimme is not a mere accessory, but a constructive element of the sonic structure of the entire work. The instrumental ensemble of Pierrot is not mere accompaniment to the voice, it interacts and interweaves with it, and together, they create a coherent sonic fabric. The above emphasis on the originality of Schoenberg’s idea, however, does not inhibit us of finding possible evolutionary paths that could have led to the Sprechstimme of Pierrot, besides that asserted by the composer himself in some of his writings (Style and Idea). Among the preceding works of Schoenberg, the melodic lines of Erwartung
Page 6 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

(1909) come close to suggest that gestational stage of the Sprechstimme. Watkins reminds us of the tradition of poetry declamation which was at vogue in the Viennese cabarets of the time. One could even examine the path of operatic recitative as “sung” conversation, and its future evolvement into the purely spoken words in Mozart’s German operas, as early signs of the need and the search for a middle ground between conversation and singing. And still, one realizes that these hypothetical genealogies can not come close to disqualifying Pierrot’s Sprechstimme from being called a truly original invention, simply because the slope of its departure from the preceding traditions of vocal writing is sharp enough to mark it as a revolutionary point in the mostly evolutionary context of the history of music.

***

By the time of Pierrot, Schoenberg had already discovered a personal “tonal” style, which was to be coined as “atonalism”, a term which was disliked by Schoenberg himself. At the heart of this style (language?) lied what he called the “emancipation f dissonance”, a reference to “the comprehensibility of dissonance”: treating the dissonances equally as the consonances, and “renouncing a tonal center.” Schoenberg traces the origins of this style to 1908, to the works of himself, and later, that of Webern and Berg (H. C. Schoenberg, pp. 567-568). I call this style of composition essentially “centrifugal”. Generally speaking, in the preceding tonal periods, all the pitches in the compositional palette of a given piece were conceived and defined in terms of the intensity of their “pull” toward the tonal
Page 7 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

center. Even in the so-called period of the“extended tonality” (possibly, a term which was first used by Schoenberg, referring to the late-romantic style, specially that of Wagner), part of the driving force of the compositions is derived from the rapid shift of an illusive tonal center, which still, at any given moment, would define and re-define other pitches in relationship to itself. I say that in contrast, in the early atonal compositions, the pitches are defined by “negation”, by the degree of their pull from a center, rather than their attraction toward it. Such a way of thinking about this style of music might help to better understand the following perplexing passage, found in My Evolution (Style and Idea, p. 86): “…In my Harmonielehre (1911), I maintained that the future would certainly prove that a centralizing power comparable to the gravitation exerted by the root is still operative in these pieces [Two Songs Op. 14, Hanging Gardens, Three Piano Pieces Op. 11].” Let’s consider the first five measures of Pierrot (ex. 1):

Example 1: Moondrunk, measures 1-5

Page 8 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

The instrumental lines consist of 10 out of the 12 chromatic pitches, none repeated or doubled, except for the F# which is common between the flute and the violin parts. While a separate route of study could discuss the passage as a precursor to the up-coming 12tone method, here it would be enough to note that its organizational logic is primarily governed by a tendency toward escaping away from a uniquely identifiable central pitch. Alternatively, however, one could argue that the piano spells an augmented C triad and a C#°9 successively, while the violin and the flute spell a D#° triad, superimposed on the piano’s arpeggiated harmony (with the Bb being considered as a neighboring tone.)Even if that were indeed the origin of the selection of these pitches, it should be noted that the mere identification of certain elements of the tonal vocabulary in isolation does not necessarily mean that the composition as a whole could be understood within a tonal context. Furthermore, even from this point of view, two facts could be clearly observed; first, that the choice of three distant roots (C, C#, and D#) makes the establishment of a single audible tonic extremely difficult; second, that the cited tonal vocabulary, i.e. the augmented triad and the diminished chords, are themselves notorious in the tonal arena for their tonal ambiguity. In short, despite the presence of certain identifiable tonal elements, and even if they were interpreted as tonally audible pitch aggregates, the passage evidently displays a clear “renouncement” of a certain pitch as the tonic. The entrance of the Sprechstimme in the second measure only adds another layer of tonal obscurity to the passage. The opening strategy of “Moondrunk” remains consistent throughout the first number, and indeed, throughout the entire Pierrot. This essentially melodic passage also paves the way for the upcoming dissonant harmonies in the rest of the piece. Major and
Page 9 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

minor seconds and sevenths, as well as tritones, are part of the prevalent constitutional elements of Pierrot (ex. 2):

Example 2: Valse de Chopin, measures 5-7

The parallel motion of the resultant harmonies is also ubiquitous (ex. 3; see also the piano part of Columbine, measures 33-37):

Example 3: The Dandy, measure 3

It seems that “emancipation of dissonance” is the most radical of all of the six emancipations in Pierrot. Rhythm too has received special treatment. To begin with, in this 1912 score, one does not have to painfully excavate in search of the traces of a contrasting metric change or the presence of composite meters, the way that it had been required, say, up until the lat decade of the nineteenth century. For example, Moondrunk is partially organized
Page 10 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

around the alternation of 2/4 and 3/4 meters. More subtly, however, one can realize how the sense of meter is disrupted in many of the movements, such as in Moondrunk, Valse de Chopin, or The Sick Moon, despite the usage of metered notation. This is primarily a result of the extended phrases, irregularly placed subdivisions, misplaced accents, and the overall interaction of the lines. Unlike the bold results of the rhythmic emancipation in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Pierrot delivers smoothly flowing lines, which are almost liberated from the meter (not the pulse), and the effect of which is quite in accordance with the surreal atmosphere of the work. No. 4, Valse de Chopin, is a good example of such an effect. The piece is rather like the reflection of a waltz on the rippling surface of the world of Pierrot, rather than a precise rendition of a waltz. By any measure, it is completely odd for a waltz to begin on the second beat of the measure (ex. 4):

Example 4: Valse de Chopin, measure 1

The contrasting length of the simultaneous phrases adds more to the ambiguity of meter (ex. 5 and 6):

Page 11 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Exmple 5: Valse de Chopin, measures 2-4

Example 6: Valse de Chopin, measues 6-8

The phrases start and end mostly irrelevant of the meter (ex. 7):

Page 12 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Example 7: Valse de Chopin, measures 9-11

The metric ambiguity is further enhanced by the interaction of the Sprechstimme. *** Formal Strategies in Pierrot

At least during this period, Schoenberg’s pace of composition was generally fast, and Pierrot was not an exception. In Style and Idea (p. 55) we read: “…Several times, I wrote two or three pieces of Pierrot Lunaire[…]in one day.” Thus, it might seem plausible to maintain that Pierrot was through-composed, more or less the way Erwartung had been composed in 21 days. This could imply that the unifying elements of Pierrot are at minimum. However, a close examination of the score seems to suggest the contrary. While tonality is mostly gone, some new or traditional means of coherence have been employed systematically, although some of them might not be conspicuous on the early hearings.

Page 13 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

The first of such means is the motivic relationship. Let’s recall ex. 1, the opening passage of the first movement, Moondrunk. Rhythmically, the piano passage is composed of two main groups, “a” and “b”, and their combination, “c” (Ex. 8a):

Example 8a: Extracted rhythmic motives from the opening of Pierrot Lunaire

The violin presents an augmented version of “a” (Ex. 8b):

Example 8b: Augmentation of the rhythmic motive (a)

These two motives appear recurrently throughout other movements, as well (ex. 9, and 10):

Example 9: The Dandy, measures 3-5

Example 10: Valse de chopin, measure 13
Page 14 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Furthermore, the overall contour of the opening passage is also reflected in the later occurrences of the motivic phrase, either directly (ex. 11, and 12), or in inverted form (ex. 13):

Example 11: The Dandy, measures 15-16

Example 12: Valse de Chopin, measures 28-29

Example 13: Valse de Chopin, measure 17

The motive can also be found as an isolated rhythm with contrasting articulations (ex. 14):

Page 15 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Example 14: Valse de Chopin, measure 21

On the other hand, the prevalence of the dissonant sonorities has given the piece another level of cohesion. On a larger scope, certain traditional forms have been employed. No. 8, Night, is a true passacaglia, as its subtitle claims. And Valse de Chopin is at least reminiscent of a waltz. Besides the above, some other means of unity and contrast, at times traditional ones, are freely employed. The melodic ideas are quite often fragmented and sequenced (ex. 15), at least with contour preservation, and the opening passage too has been treated as such recurrently:

Example 15: Moondrunk, measures 26-28

There also seems a tendency toward the achievement of coherence by the means of intervallic motives. The opening m3rd interval of the violin has been found by scholars to be a major element in Pierrot (Watkins). I also find a pre-occupation with certain
Page 16 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

symmetrical motivic structures to be present. The augmented and diminished sonorities of the opening passage are known to be symmetrical. Also consider the following passage played by the flute (ex. 16):

Example 16: Moondrunk, measures 37-38

At first, the choice of the pitches for the flute seems to be perplexing. Upon a possible parsing of the passage, however, we could find three conspicuous fragments of essentially symmetrical intervallic structure (ex. 17):

Example 17: Symmetrical pitch-aggregates in Moondrunk, measures 37-38

Page 17 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Even if this is considered to be too much reading into the passage, the sense of the balance of the contour in this passage, and in effect, in the entire piece, cannot be denied. Besides the repetition of the motivic figures, or merely their contour, intact or inverted, contrary motion of the parts in, at times chromatic steps, is present. In addition, rhythmic diminution and augmentation are not limited to the treatment of the opening passage. The instrumentation too contributes to the overall coherence of the work. The very fact that all of the instruments never appear together in any of the movements except in the last one suggests a dramatic organization which assists the forward motion of the entire composition. Most of the time, the instruments are required to play within their normal ranges, and few extended techniques can be found throughout the work, although the piece is not devoid of subtle application of such techniques. (One such occasion appears in the measure 28 of The Dandy, where the piano non ped is asked to play a “silent” chord, below which a melodic passage will resonate the overtones of the undamped strings.) On the other extreme, The Sick Moon is only scored for voice and flute, giving the movement an extremely meditative mood. The poems themselves play a major role in the general coherence of the piece, as well. All 21 of them are in 13-line rondeau form, in which the verses have the following repetitive pattern:

A B _____ _____ A

______ ______ A B

_______ _______ _______ _______ Page 18 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Schoenberg’s selection and organization of the poems also suggest a linear dramatic development in itself, while the general melancholic mood of all the poems determines the overall atmosphere of the work in its entirety. And above all, the unique sound of the Sprechstimme connects the separate movements to each other, like a thread through the beads.

*** Conclusion: Based on the above discussion, the musical world of Pierrot Lunaire seems to demonstrate strongly three of the emancipations, which have been under discussion in our seminar, namely the emancipation of dissonance (seen for example in the treatment of parallel dissonances), sonority, and timbre (mainly represented by the Sprechstimme, and to some degree, by the instrumentation.) In regards to overall sonority, Pierrot seems to be the first convincing outcome of the early 20th century atonalism. The case for the other three emancipations needs some supporting argument. At first, the fact that Pierrot’s textural technique is essentially an extension of the traditional German polyphony makes it hard to defend the emancipation of texture in Pierrot. But considering the combined effect of the musical elements, the textural fabric is actually heard as a strikingly fresh and innovative one, which is a clear hint to the emancipation of texture in this piece. This is by a large extent due to the interaction of the Sprechstimme with the instrumental lines, as well.

Page 19 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

The emancipation of rhythm, however, although subtly present, does not equally match the boldness of the first three emancipations. And perhaps because of the limitations, which are imposed by the demands of the text, the form of the piece seems to be less adventurous of all. Also, the fact that Pierrot’s sonic world is in major part justified by the content of the words does only further complicate the case. Still, Pierrot seems to claim a unique emancipation, which rightly and almost exclusively belongs to it: the revolutionary introduction of a new musical genre. Not since the culmination of the genre of symphony in the early 1800’s, or at least, not since the introduction of the German Singspiel (Hansel und Gretel) in the later part of the nineteenth century any boldly original genre had been introduced to the musical world. Oddly enough, Pierrot itself also achieved the culmination of its own genre, due to the rare comprehensibility of its conception.

********

*Six Bagatelles for the String Quartet, Op. 9 (1911-1913; pub. 1924)

A comparably detailed study of the Bagatelles is out of the purpose and scope of the present paper. Hence, I contend with a mere brief discussion of this work.

Background

Page 20 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

By 1911, Webern, who had already begun his studies with Schoenberg, was developing a uniquely personal style of composition, quite distinct from the lateromanticism of his first compositional period. Three Pieces for the String Quartet were composed in this year, and 4 other such short pieces were followed in 1913. In 1924, the middle movement of the 1911 cycle, the only one which contained words and voice, was omitted, and the first and the third movements of the cycle, slightly modified, bracketed the 1913 cycle. The resulting Bagatelles, Op. 9, were thus published, with a rather romantic foreword by Schoenberg, in which he had emphasized the brevity of the pieces, and their independence from extra musical context. (For an English translation of the foreword, see Style and Idea, p. 483.)

Evaluation

The first striking aspect of the Bagatelles is their extreme brevity, both aurally and visually. Each movement is deliberately laid out in one single page, and the total performance time of the cycle is less than 4 minutes. However, despite their short durations, each movement demonstrates a maximum degree of musical density. As in the case of Schoenberg, the precision of tempo, dynamic and articulation markings has been given the utmost care, while here, the presence of so many markings in a relatively short span of time, brings each piece to a pointillistic exactitude. Even the technique with which each “phrase” or even each single pitch has to be sounded (arco, staccato, pizzicato, spiccato, sul punticello, sul tasto, etc.) is clearly marked. Special sonic effects are achieved through cross-voicing (the cello sounding above the viola, etc), the extended
Page 21 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

use of harmonics (both natural and artificial), at times combined with the sul punticello command, further enhanced by a tremolando effect with, say, a pp dynamic. Such a crystalline organization elevates each pitch and each pitch aggregate to an unprecedented syntactical, or perhaps even semantical, significance. Besides, the quick linear change of the timbre results in what Schoenberg had [?] coined in his 1911 Harmonielehre as the Klangfarbenmelodie, or “tone-color melody”, i.e. a melody of timbres. The pitch selection of the Bagatelles is as equally precise and detailed. Overall speaking, they employ an “atonal” style (language?) as the vehicle of their expression. But Webern’s stylistic personality remains completely distinct from, say, Schenberg’s Pierrot. With a certain degree of compromise, it can be seen that each movement is developed out of a central melodic idea, or a “cell”, which provides the essential intervallic content of each movement. Thereafter, some of the melodic and harmonic potentials of the cell are explored, while the cell itself goes through certain transformations, such as intervallic augmentation or diminution, transposition, inversion, retrograde, and their possible combinations. Besides, Webern’s compositional technique comes extremely close to what I call “three-dimensional composition”, where the traditional ideas of melody and harmony give way to a simultaneous and equal treatment of the entire span of the musical space. Furthermore, because of the one-page layout of each movement and their temporal brevity, it also becomes possible to view them as essentially spatial compositions, where each given point of time finds a simultaneous reference to both the future and the past. (I admit that the latter point could be an extremely subjective perception.)

Page 22 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

The Bagatelles have little to do with tradition. In regards to their instrumentation, they sharply depart from their contemporarily revered tradition of the writing for the string quartet. In other words, except for the mere choice of the combination, their timbral world is quite original. The Bagatelles indeed discover some of the, until then, unknown potentials of the quartet writing. Here, as in the case of Pierrto, or perhaps even more so, a subtle emancipation of rhythm is present, resulting in a free sense of metric flow. While, again, the movements are notated in the traditional metric style, the relative lack of standard phrase structures, and the misplacement of other factors which contribute to a sense of rhythm (dynamics, accents, even timbral effects) disrupts a regulated sense of time. Put another way, the “events” are organized along the time axis with much more complexity than the given meters suggest. In terms of their non-repetitive forms, the Bagatelles are possibly without precedent in the history of classical music. (One could counter with the Emfindsamkeit of the rococo; but upon further examination, it seems evident that the meaning of nonrepetition in the Bagatelles is a quite distinct one.)And in regards to their sheer brevity, only some of the shorter Chopin Preludes (Op. 28) come to mind. Besides, in comparison with Pierrot, they venture to justify their musical world without the assistance of any (verbal) extra musical context. The texture of the Bagatelles is also equally unique and original. If we were set to trace the origins of pointillism in the twentieth century music, these would surely be suitable contenders.

Page 23 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

And clearly, the emancipations of dissonance and sonority are the most evident of all of the six emancipations in the Bagatelles. ****

Overall Conclusion

Both Pierrot Lunaire and the Bagatelles are unmistakenably true voices of the early twentieth century, and because of the many facets of their ground-breaking originality, each of them deserves to be given an appropriate niche in the pantheon of Modernism, even though it must be according to different definitions. The Bagatelles have this clear advantage that because of the absence of a conspicuous extra-musical elements in their conception (such as a text), they can better fit into the hard definition of Modernism, on the grounds of their self-sufficiency. This is besides the fact that in the genealogy of the twentieth century Modernism, the lineage to the mid-century serialism is now collectively believed to pass through Webern, thanks in major part to the polemic efforts of Pierre Boulez. Pierrot, however, does not allow for such a definition to be applied to it, at least, because of the important role of verbal content in the composition, and also because of the clear evidence of traditional “residues”, as could be seen in the detailed analysis of its form and its employment of contrapuntal techniques, among others. Pierrot seems to be too deeply reliant on the outside to qualify for the criterion of self-sufficiency. Even so, Pierrot can certainly pass as a truly Modern piece, according to the second group of the Prof. Lefkowitz’ definitions, considering its boldly original innovations.
Page 24 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

****** Afterwords

Still, for a piece with the stature and the origianlity of Pierrot, I find it a rather undesired compromise, as if we have mercifully granted it a secondary path to the shrine of Modernism. The problem of Pierrot poses one side of dilemma with which I am faced. On the other hand I am concerned about the shared traits of Modernism in the musical periods before the twentieth century. I have often found the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Consecration of the House, titled The Dance of the Dervishes, a remarkable illustration. A radically distinct sound within the composer’s oeuvre, the movement stands for me as a testament to the fact that, all being equal, the only limiting element on the road of the creative artist’s imagination is the problem of justification. When Beethoven found an opportunity for “exoticism” in music, he employed a wilder side of his musical fantasy, something he might have normally refrained to do. This limitation is a result of what I call “the paradox of the creative artist”. The artist is expected to deliver something new, while the thing should not be so new that cannot be understood. In short, the existence of his/her creations depends on the extent of their justifiability. Besides I have also often thought of Bach’s Three-Part Invention in Fm as an extremely self-sufficient composition, despite its clear tonal associations. To put it briefly, it seems that in this piece, the motivic development supercedes the tonal language as the means of coherence.
Page 25 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Thus, can we say of these two remote compositions (and their respective composers) to be Modern? If so, shouldn’t we re-define Modernism, so that our definition can accurately be applied to everything that is truly modern? Marginally, let’s not forget that the existence and understanding of many traditions of the twentieth century musical innovations is itself consistently being justified by the powerful context of “the paradigm of Modernism”, a fact, which is so subtle that, is normally neglected. Thus, at this point of my inquiries, in an attempt to answering the aforementioned dilemma, I present the following rather crude definition, which tries to understand Modernism in general, and the twentieth century Modernism in particular:

I think modernism can be viewed as the isolated concentration on the enhancement of purely musical elements, resulting in the expansion of the vocabulary and the syntax of music, and

ultimately leading to a higher order of musical semantics, in a justifiable manner.

The 20th century Modernism, in particular, while fitting within this general scheme, is further distinguished from the Modernism of the past in that it has almost consistently manifested the highest degree yet of such focused orientation
Page 26 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

amongst the individual composers, unprecedented throughout the history of music in terms of its intensity, specifity, the rate of progress, selfawareness, the extent of its diversity and freedom, and its wide-spread demographic prevalence.

***

Page 27 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Schoenberg & Webern: Voices of Modernism?

Author: Payman Akhlaghi

Graduate Studies Paper (1999)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 vs. Webern’s Six Bagatelles, Op. 9

Bibliography

Scores: Schoenberg, Arnold: Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21; 1914, Universal Webern, Anton: Sechs Bagatelles für Streichquartet, Op. 9; 1924, Universal

Recordings: Webern’s Works for String Quartet: Emerson Quartet; 1995; DG Pierrot Lunaire: Peter Eötvös, Phylis Byrn-Julson, Ensemble Modern, 1993, RCA

Sources: Griffith, Paul: Jacket notes to the Webern recording Lustig, Roger L.: Jacket notes to the Schoenberg recording Schoenberg, Arnold: Style and Idea, editor Leonard Stein; 1975, UC Press Schonberg, H. C.: The Lives of the Great Composers, Norton 1970 Watkins, Glenn: Soundings; Music in the Twentieth Century, 1st ed., Schirmer Books, 1995.

Page 28 of 28 © Copyright: 1999, 2011, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights Reserved. www.ComposerPA.com

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful