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Analysis project:

Arnold Schoenberg:

(From Five Pieces for Piano Op.23)

by Carlos Amat
Class: Analytical Techniques
Professor: Orlando J. Garcia


Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was born in Vienna and there he lived for most
of his life until he emigrated to the United States in 1933, where he spent his last years.
Although he was practically self-taught, he received some teaching form Alexander von
Zemlinsky, a famous Austrian composer at that time. He nurtured in the musical life of
Vienna, learning the literature of both the Classical and Wagnerian schools, and carrying
the implications of Brahms and, especially, Wagners late Romantic chromaticism to
the extreme, which led him, after a long, life-time process of evolution, to abandon the
tonality and all its boundaries and open up a new solution, a new path to follow that
would influence composers in the twentieth-century far more that Schoenberg and his
followers themselves would have expected.
We can distinguish three stages in Schoenbergs evolution as a composer, clearly
delimited by two pieces of especial importance: the first one, his Tonal Period, embraces
his works written before his Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11 (1909), and includes pieces like
Verklaerte Nacht (1899), for string quartet, the orchestral tone poem Pelleas und
Melisande (1903), the oratorio Gurrelieder (1901-3) and the First Chamber Symphony

(1906); with his Op. 11 piano pieces Schoenberg went into a new period of free
atonality, writing works such as Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 (1909), and
Pierrot Lunaire (1921); finally, the last period, in which he sets the basis for the new
Serial Technique, we find all his compositions written with the twelve-tone technique,
including his Variations for Orchestra Op. 31 (126-28) and Moses und Aron (1930-32),
his only opera; towards the end of his life he wrote some late tonal works and a long list
of arrangements of pieces from the classical and romantic era. The first work in the last
period is the Five Piano Pieces Op. 23 (1923). Op. 11 and Op. 23 are, thus, well
defined turning points in the career of Arnold Schoenberg.

However, piano pieces are not one of Schoenbergs most important categories.
The works that are most characteristic of his three stylistic periods are those written for
chamber ensembles or for orchestra. It is remarkable, however, that at decisive turning
points in his style we find one or more compositions for the piano. When Schoenberg
had to make difficult decissions concerning the orientation and renewal of his musical
language, he usually turned to piano pieces, for they offered him the elasticity of form
needed in the search for new means of expression. The tradition of romantic piano
music permits such an interpretation of the piano piece: of all the traditional genres, it is
perhaps the freest, with the greatest range of variety. In this respect it is comparable
only to the art song.


Because of its twelve-tone organization and the fact that Schoenberg employs Po
almost exclusively throughout (this will be discussed later), the best way (perhaps the
only one) to understand the internal organization of this piece is to consider its
rhythmical, dynamic and textural events.
From a general point of view, the piece preserves the typical ternary structure of
a waltz, that is, A-B-A. In a Gestalt analysis each of these three main sections would be
called sequences.

Gestalt Analysis:
Sequence 1
Klang 1

Sequence 2
Klang 2

Klang 3

Sequence 3
Klang 4

Klang 5

Klang 6

Klang 7

Klang 8

The main sign of a change of Klang in this piece comes defined by a change of
tempo, usually after a ritardando or an accellerando, like in the change form Klangs 2
to 3, where we find a two-measure ritardando, followed by a tempo expression. This is
not, however, the only indication for a change of phrase or section. There is a big
contrast between the writing before and after measure 29: it goes from chordal, staccato,
relatively soft texture and dynamic, to a cantabile melody accompanied by a legato line.
This line marks the beginning of what one might call development or second

The three Klangs that compose this section have a clear progressive

character: they develop motivically, but also dynamically (form soft to loud) and in
texture. In fact, Klangs 3 and 5 build their high points after one hemiola each, with a
motivic variation in each of them (mm.35-37 and 70-74). The The middle Klang of this
section (mm.44-60) is good example of Klangfarbenmelodie in which a four-part

writing, choral-style, describes four repetitions of the primary row (Po) across the four
voices up to measure 57, with a rhythm diminution in the last two measures that builds
up to the fortissimo that culminates the phrase. A special device towards unity in this
piece has been used in mm.22-27 and 93-99: the recurrence of the sequential pair (mm.)
[22-3]-[24-5]1, from the beginning of the piece, at the end, with the pairs (mm.)[93-4][95-6], followed in both cases by a development increasing in chordal texture and

The twelve-tone implications of these measures will be discussed later on page 6 and 7.


In June 3rd, 1937, Schoenberg wrote to Nicolas Slonimsky about his Five Piano
Here I arrived at a technique which I called (for myself) composing with
tones, a very vague term, but it meant something to me. Namely: in contrast to
the ordinary way of using a motive, I used it already almost in the manner of a
basic set of twelve-tones. I built other motives and themes from it, and also
accompaniments and other chords but the theme did not consist of twelve tones. 2

This composition is based on a twelve-tone set: C# A B G Ab F# A# D E Eb C F. With

one exception (Ro in mm. 104-110), Po is the only set form used. 3 For this reason, a lot
of discussions on the Waltz have commented on the elementary level of its twelve-tone
technique. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss this work out of hand. In this
piece Schoenberg finds interesting solutions to some of the problems he had faced since
the beginning of his serial period. He had been concerned with the problem of building
an entire piece from one set. He remarked:

In the first works in which I employed this method, I was not yet convinced that the
exclusive use of one set would not result in monotony. Would it allow the creation of a
sufficient number of characteristically differentiated themes, phrases, motives,
sentences, and other forms? At this time, I used complicated devices to assure variety. 4

Smith, Joan Alley, Schoenberg and His Circle. A Viennese Portrait (New York, 1986).

Attached to this discussion, there is a complete analysis with order numbers of all the series used in this
Rufer, Josef, Composition with Twelve Notes, trans. Humphrey Searle (London, 1954), 224

In the Waltz, Schoenberg set for himself the challenge of building an entire
composition from very limited material: one set form. In the process of meeting this
compositional challenge he developed ways of manipulating his material in some
interesting, subtle ways, some of them already discussed above.

Schoenberg assured sufficient variety by avoiding the regular congruence of

phrases and set statements. For example, the phrase in mm. 8-13 begins with the last
two elements of one statement, proceeds through two more complete statements and the
first five elements of a third. Thus, neither the beginning nor the end of this phrase is
coincidental with the beginning or the end of a set statement. Moreover, the set forms
do not mark off the subdivisions within the phrase. Because of this constant alteration
of the material used to initiate and conclude phrases and phrase subdivisions,
Schoenberg makes sure that there will be no ostinato-like repetitiveness.

Yet, it would be a serious underestimation of Schoenbergs compositional

abilities to presume that he was merely after an easy, almost predictable variety within
unity. Rather, even within the confines of this repetitive serial ordering, Schoenberg
found a way to replicate some of the free-flowing development of his earlier, non-serial
works, resulting in some kind of mixture of serial technique and contiuous developing
variation, like in mm. 22-7. Because the first phrase (mm.22-3) spans a total of fourteen
order positions beginning with the first element of the set, the next phrase (mm. 24-5)
must begin with the third element.

By holding rhythm, articulation, contour, and

durations fixed, Schoenberg highlights these two as parallel passages (sequences). But,
because events in equivalent metric positions are from different points in their
respective set statements, Schoenberg manages to create a developmental dynamic. For

instance, the last three of the four sixteenth-note dyads from the first statement appear at
the beginning of the second phrase. Moreover, the five-note chords share three pitch
classes. The third phrase (m. 26) starts off related to the second as the second was to the
first its first dyad is the second dyad in m. 24, but then continues past the range of the
two previous statements. The result is a developmental process: the patterns of the first
phrase are preserved, but rearranged.

Along the Waltz many similar passages

demonstrate Schoenbergs growing ability to reconcile serial consistency and

developing variation.

Other passages indicate Schoenbergs maturation in handling the series. In mm.

14-15 the right hand plays a brief figure that starts out as if it were a transposition of the
opening motive of the composition. But, of course, it is not. What Schoenberg has
found in his set is that order positions 5, 7, and 8 are a transposition, five semitones up,
of order positions 0-2 of the set. Thus, by partitioning the set in m. 14 so that the Bb
(order position 6) is in a lower voice, and by assigning the rhythm of m. 1 to order
positions 5, 7, and 8, Schoenberg creates a seeming transposition that breaks off from
the continuation in m. 15 (Eb instead of the transpositionally expected C which,
however, does appear in the left hand). Here we have a compositional curiosity: on one
hand this may be understood as a varied transposition; on the other hand it should also
be understood as the latter half of the set.


The Five Piano Pieces Op. 23 and the Suite for Piano Op. 25 were written
between 1920 and 1923, and they are referred to in the Schoenberg literature primarily
because of their compositional technique: as I said above, in the third and fifth pieces
of Op. 23 and in the entire Suite, Schoenberg uses the twelve-tone method for the first

However, in the Op. 23 pieces, the change of method does not produce a

noticeable change in style or sound. All five pieces have in common a compactness of
material, a high degree of organization and a polyphonic construction. In no other work
by Schoenberg is it perhaps so strongly evident that the evolution to the twelve-tone
method was the result of an organic process in Schoenbergs art. His choice of form in
the fifth of the pieces Op.23 Walzer- and in the entire Suite Op.25 seems rather
peculiar. However, it can hardly have been an accident that he took these traditional,
strict structures: since Schoenberg had as yet no clear idea of the formal consequences
the note row might have, he chose to put his ideas into an already existing framework.


The Waltz marks an important stage in the evolution of the serial idea.
Schoenberg had now achieved enough experience with serial organization and now he
was able to use the series to provide both an underlying unity, as well as to guide the
process of developing variation. Moreover, he felt confident enough of his skill in
handling the series so that he could construct a movement of 113 measures based
entirely on one set form.


- Bailey, Walter B., ed., The Arnold Schoenberg Companion (Connecticut, 1998).

- Cope, David, New Directions in Music (Iowa, 1971).

- Morgan, Robert P., Twentieth-Century Music (New York, 1991).

- Payne, Anthony, Schoenberg (Oxford University Press, 1968).

- Rufer, Josef, Composition with Twelve Notes, trans. Humphrey Searle (London,

- Schoenberg, Arnold, Style and Idea, ed. Leonard Stein, trans. Leo Black (New York,

- Smith, Joan Alley, Schoenberg and His Circle. A Viennese Portrait (New York, 1986).

- Stein, Erwin, Arnold Schoenberg Letters (New York, 1965).

- Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz, Arnold Schoenberg (Connecticut,1979).

- Wellesz, Egon, Arnold Schoenberg (Connecticut, 1970).