About this Recording
8.557524 - SCHOENBERG, A.: 5 Orchestral Pieces / BRAHMS, J.: Piano Quartet No. 1 (orch. Schoenberg) (Craft) (Schoenberg, Vol. 5)
English 

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Five Pieces for Orchestra
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (after Monn)
Piano Quartet in G minor (Brahms/Schoenberg )

 

The Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16, and Erwartung, written immediately after, embody Schoenberg's artistic credo:

Art belongs to the unconscious. One must express oneself directly. Not one's taste, or one's upbringing, or one's intelligence, knowledge, or skill. Not all these acquired characteristics, but that which is inborn, instinctive.

Composed in 1909, the Five Orchestral Pieces, untitled originally, were performed for the first time by Sir Henry Wood and the Queen's Hall Orchestra, 3 September 1912, in the Royal Albert Hall, London. Schoenberg's diary for 27 January 1912, tells us that the publisher:

wants titles for the orchestral pieces, for publisher's reasons. Maybe I'll give in, since I've found titles that are at least possible. On the whole, unsympathetic to the idea. For the wonderful thing about music is that one can say everything in it, so that he who knows understands everything; and yet one hasn't given away one's secrets, the things one doesn't admit even to oneself. But titles give you away. Besides, whatever has to be said has been said by the music. Why, then, words as well? If words were necessary, they would be there in the first place. But music says more than words. Now, the titles which I may provide give nothing away, because some of them are very obscure and others highly technical. To wit:

Premonitions (everyone has those)
The Past (everyone has that, too)
Chord-Colours (technical)
Peripeteia (general enough, I think)
The Obbligato (perhaps better the "fully-developed" or the "endless") Recitative.

There should be a note that these titles were added for technical reasons of publication and not to give a "poetic" content.

In Premonitions the basic melodic-intervallic, harmonic, and rhythmic materials are exposed in the first three bars. The three-note motive of the upper line (cellos), with its repetition in sequence (cellos and oboe), describes an augmented triad on the longer, emphasized notes F, A, C sharp. The "pedal" harmony that underlies the music from bar 23 to the end. The last three notes of the piece become a principal motive in the Obbligato Recitative, and hence help to interconnect the Five Pieces. Still another motive, in faster note values, becomes a bridge from the start-and-stop introduction to the continuous main section of the piece. The three-note motive returns prominently near the end of Premonitions. A steady tempo is established in the next passage, which exposes the principal motive at the climax of the piece.

The second piece, The Past, in contrasting slow tempi to the first, exposes the fundamental materials at the beginning and makes extensive use of ostinati. True to the title, the first melody is "old-fashioned" in sentiment, as well as in its surprisingly literal returns. The transfixingly beautiful final cadence begins with an upward D minor arpeggio in the celesta that connects with the piccolo, which then repeats the first melodic interval of the piece above three final notes in the clarinets, recognized by every musical ear, consciously or otherwise—Brentano's distinction between sensory and noetic perception—as the first three notes of Premonitions in reverse order.

Schoenberg, Harmonielehre. 1911: "I cannot unreservedly agree with the distinction between colour and pitch. I find that a note is perceived by its colour, one of whose dimensions is pitch. Colour, then, is the great realm, pitch one of its provinces… If the ear could discriminate between differences of colour, it might be feasible to invent melodies that are built of colours (klangfarbenmelodien). But who dares to develop such theories?"

In Chord-Colours rhythmic and motivic activity, dynamic and harmonic change, increase and quicken, until boiling point, two-thirds of the way through, then abruptly deconnect and return to the near stasis at the beginning. Colours is a crescendo-diminuendo of movement, as distinguished from the melodic-harmonic returns in The Past, and the alternation of instrumental colors is the means by which the "changing chord" is kept in motion. The five-note chord is stationary at the beginning. A repeated, gradually changing chord (Note 1) overlaps and blends with itself in different orchestral combinations, thereby creating an antiphonal effect of canonic movement, at the distance of two beats in the upper parts and of one beat in the bass, the note C played by viola sola on the strong beats and by bass on the weak. Schoenberg's performance directions serve notice that Colours is "without motives to be brought out", or thematic development. All the same, the melodic structure shapes the piece. In the first section, this reduces to A natural, B flat, and A flat, repeated several times. In the second section (bars 12–19), the pitch range, edging upward, is marked by harmonic relocation and a new application of the changing-colours principle: a different instrument, or combination of instruments, plays each different note of a chord, spreading the chord out, so to speak, and sustaining it. The third section (bars 20–30) joins more events in more movement, and at the zenith, with the beat subdivided into units of three and four, the flux of overlapping and dovetailing color particles challenges the analytical powers of even the keenest ear. The "leaping-fish" (Note 2) motive, introduced in the second section, is heard eight times from there to the end, its six upward-directed forms at the same pitches, and its two downward-directed ones at their same pitches, an indication of Schoenberg's need at this stage to establish tonal identities.

Peripeteia is defined by Rudolf Kassner as "a sudden change of fortune, a sudden change of direction". As in Premonitions, the thematic materials are set forth in the first part of the piece, but their development here is successive rather than superimposed. The prominence of the augmented triad is another link with Premonitions: the trumpet "smear" that follows the chord in bar 2 and returns at the end of the piece consists of seven parallel augmented triads. The ever-changing tempo, as the title allows, and the rubato character, are in extreme contrast to the quasi-motionless Colours and the even-keeled, one-tempo Obbligato Recitative that follows. The highlights of Peripeteia are the rich thematic intrigue, toward the middle of the piece, of as many as six voices, and the ending. The latter begins with three canonic pairs twirled in motion like a juggling act over three other polyphonic parts, followed by the swarming of the whole orchestra to a tremendous crash, which includes a whistling noise produced by drawing a cello bow along the rim of a cymbal (following the principle of rubbing the rim of a drinking glass with a humected finger). The crash is followed by the coup de grâce gurgle in the clarinets, and a dust-settling tremolo in the lower strings.

Unlike the other pieces, The Obbligato Recitative makes no use of ostinati, sustained chords, and changes of tempo and metre. The rhythmic vocabulary, moreover, all but excludes triplets and is largely restricted to dotted and even-note figures: one of the latter, a rest at the beginning of a bar followed by five even notes, occurs seventeen times. The Obbligato Recitative can be described as a composition in three- to six-voice atonal polyphony in which a leading line "H." indicated by Schoenberg, moves rapidly high and low through the orchestra, always speaking in different voices. The form is dramatic and does not reflect any classical plan of exposition, development, recapitulation: two incomplete climaxes are followed by a third, fulfilled and extended, and a quiet ending in which the same chord is relayed through three overlapping combinations of instruments. The first motive reappears, transposed, in the cellos, violas, and then flute. The late musicologist Carl Dahlhaus remarked on the "rigorous avoidance of melodic restatement", but restatements occur as early as bar 4, which repeats, untransposed, most of the principal-voice clarinet part of bar 2. Another high-profile instance of repetition is the falling minor third in the same clarinet phrase: it reappears in the violas, octave-doubled by oboes, soon after, as well as in the section ending immediately before the start of the first aborted climax, then in the top line at the breaking point of the next climax, and again in the final one. In fact, the coherence of the piece depends upon these motives, on the continuity of the leading melodic voice as it passes through one combination of instruments to another, and on the contrast between close chromatic movement and wide intervals. The instrumental voicing of the harmony is unprecedented. For one example, in the second phrase of the ultimate climax, the lowest line is played by trombones, tuba, bass clarinet, and bassoons, while the basses and cellos play middle voices. These chords, the densest in modern full-orchestra harmony, are perfectly balanced, perfectly transparent.

 

The Cello Concerto, "freely adapted" by Schoenberg from Georg Matthias Monn's 1746 concerto for clavicembalo in D major, was composed in the Villa Stresa, Arcachon, in a single creative burst, the first movement between 11 November and 11 December 1932, the second in the next twelve days, and the third in the following seven: the completed work is dated 4 January 1933. (The Schoenbergs were again in Arcachon in August 1933, and left from there for Le Havre and New York, on the Ile de France, in October 1933.) The piece is dedicated to Pablo Casals, to whom Schoenberg offered the first performance. A connection between the two men had begun twenty years earlier in Vienna, where, on 20 February 1912, they had appeared in the same concert together, Schoenberg conducting his Pelleas und Melisande and Casals playing one of the Saint-Saëns concertos. In October 1931 Schoenberg moved from Berlin to Barcelona in the hope of finding relief from the attacks of bronchial asthma that made life in the northern city perilous for him. Casals and his Catalonian orchestra welcomed the composer warmly, and Schoenberg conducted his Pelleas there.

The composer wrote to the cellist:

I think it has turned out to be a very brilliant work. In any event, I have taken a great deal of trouble with the sound and am well satisfied with it. In certain respects it is less soloistic than a concerto by Monn would be: for very often the function of the cello is more like that of a soloist in a piece of chamber music, through whose brilliant playing a very beautiful, interesting sound is produced. My principal concern was to get rid of the deficiencies of the Handelian style of the original, just as Mozart did with Handel's Messiah. I have taken away whole handfuls of sequences ("rosalias," "shoemaker's patches") and replaced them with real substance. I also did my best to deal with the other principal fault of the Handel style: the theme is always best when it first appears and it grows weaker and more insignificant as the piece progresses. I think that I have succeeded in bringing the whole piece somewhat nearer the style of Haydn. As far as harmony is concerned, I often go a bit beyond this style (and often more than a bit). Nowhere, however, does it go essentially further than Brahms: in any event, there are no dissonances which are not to be understood in terms of the older rules of harmony and nowhere is it atonal.

Casals must have gasped at the vertiginous technical demands of the cello part in the first movement, but he waited seven months before sending a negative reply. He is reputed to have played the work once, privately, in his Barcelona home, but this is hardly believable, if only for the reason that if he had discovered the third movement's lilting Spanish dance tunes and the delightful parody of the Spanish guitar produced by pizzicato glissandos in the cello, he would surely have sent a proper acknowledgment of the honour Schoenberg had paid him. The first performance, nearly three years later, was in London on 7 December 1935, with Emmanuel Feuermann as the soloist and Edward Clark conducting the BBC Orchestra.
Fred Sherry brings the composer's wit to life, while reveling in the intricacies of his unparalleled inventions. The eminent cellist has referred to the Concerto as Schoenberg's Pulcinella, pointing out that both Schoenberg and Stravinsky follow the melodic, harmonic, and key-signature templates established by their respective eighteenth-century originals, "Pergolesi" and Monn, and that both composers achieve many of their modernising transformations through instrumentation. Schoenberg's re-composition is the deeper of the two in its discoveries of polyphonic spinoffs, and in its brief excursions into harmonic "waywardness", but it is an impertinence to compare masterpieces.

 

Schoenberg began the instrumentation of Brahms's Piano Quartet in G minor on 2 May 1937, completed the first movement on 16 July, the second some time in July, the third on 22 August, and the fourth on 19 September. He preserved Brahms's movement titles, but added a metronomic 132 for the quarter-note (crotchet) to the first movement. A letter (in English) from Schoenberg to Alfred Frankenstein, of the San Francisco Chronicle, 18 March 1939, reveals almost all that needs to be said about the transcription:

Here are a few remarks about Brahms.

My reasons:
I like the piece.
It is seldom played.
It is always very badly played, because, the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings [violin, viola, cello]. I wanted [for] once to hear everything, and this I achieved.

My intentions:
To remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he had lived today.
To watch carefully all the laws to which Brahms obeyed and not to violate them, which are only known to musicians educated in his environment.

How I did it:
For almost 50 years, I have been very thoroughly acquainted with Brahms' style and his principles. I have analyzed many of his works for myself and with my pupils. I have played the work as violist and cellist numerous times: I therefore knew how it should sound. I had only to transpose this sound to the orchestra and this is in fact what I did.
Of course, there were heavy problems. Brahms likes very low basses, for which the orchestra possesses only a small number of instruments. He likes a full accompaniment with broken chord figures, often in different rhythms. And most of these figures cannot easily be changed, because generally they have a structural meaning in his style. I think I resolved this problem, but this merit of mine will not mean very much to our present day musicians because they do not know about them and if you tell them there are such, they do not care. But to me it means something.

Schoenberg wrote to Pierre Monteux, the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, urging him to play the piece, and referring to it as Brahms's Fifth Symphony. But Schoenberg knew better than anyone that the original quartet, composed in Brahms's 29th year, does not stand comparison with the four symphonies of his maturity. Nor is it likely that he would ever have employed the orchestra as Schoenberg did in 1937, though it must be admitted that in the horn solo followed by oboe at the return to tempo primo in the second movement, Schoenberg seems to be imitating a passage in Brahms' Second Symphony. But Schoenberg's fourth movement, with its xylophone and glockenspiel, trombone glissandos and double-tonguing fast passages, muted trumpets, divisi strings, numerous cymbal crashes, would be remote from Brahms at any time. In fact, the scoring of the first theme in the first bar for three different timbres of clarinets, in octaves, would probably remain foreign to him, as would the use of string harmonics mixed with pizzicati, in the last bars of the Intermezzo, an exquisite effect. The piece should be listened to for Schoenberg, not Brahms. The arrangement provides a Traité d'instrumentation for teachers as well as students, especially concerning balances, doublings, and the voicing of melodic lines and inner parts. For general audiences, as well as specialised ones, and for children, the piece is an orchestra feast.

Robert Craft

 

Notes:

(1) "The color of a sustained chord keeps changing," Schoenberg's pupil Erwin Stein wrote in The Elements of Musical Form. But the pitches change, too, and the color does not "keep" changing at the outset but is limited to two regularly alternating and overlapping combinations.

(2) In 1949, Schoenberg renamed the piece "Morning by a Lake," but he had always called it that privately (E. Wellesz: Arnold Schoenberg, London: Dent, 1925), and had even identified a "jumping-fish" motive.

 


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