About this Recording
8.557522 - SCHOENBERG, A.: Serenade / Variations for Orchestra / Bach Orchestrations (Craft) (Schoenberg, Vol. 4)
English  German 

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Serenade, Op. 24 • Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 • Bach Orchestrations


The most immediately striking aspects of the Serenade are its exuberant mood, melodiousness, usages of Classical form-models, and the unprecedented repetition (for Schoenberg) of entire segments: most of the middle section of the first movement returns as the last movement, albeit with changes near the beginning and end; half of the Minuet is repeated as well, and about a third of the Dance Scene. Also, uniquely in Schoenberg, the March is without tempo modification from beginning to end.

"Viennese strumming", Leoš Janáček wrote after hearing the Serenade in Venice in September 1925, referring to the mandolin-guitar foundation of the sonority, the pizzicati and bouncing of the wood of the violin, viola, and cello bows on the strings, as well as the flutter-tonguing of the clarinets, which extend and complement the articulation of the strummed and plucked instruments. At the beginning of the repeated section of the first movement, these efforts of bariolage occupy the stage centre.

The Minuet is a quiet, mellow piece, in which the strings are muted throughout the first section and again in the Coda. Whereas the main part of the movement is more song than dance, the Trio, which begins with an ostinato in the viola and guitar, is more dance than song.

The Variations movement, the most delectable of the seven, consists of a comparatively long theme in the clarinet, and six brief variations (the sixth is the Coda), each with the same number of bars as the theme itself. The expressive intensities of the music are reflected in the frequent changes of tempo, the many tempo controls (ritardando, più allegro, etc.), and the dynamic nuances. The Coda, with its dialogues between the clarinets, then between guitar and mandolin, and its gradual slackening of pace to the end, is the Serenade's most intricately carved jewel.

The Petrarch Sonnet (No. 217 in Schoenberg's score, but No. 256 in the standard Italian editions) is the Serenade's centrepiece, at once the most highly organized movement of the seven, and the most chaotic-sounding. At the start the violin plays the first two notes of a twelve-tone series as a melodic fragment. Each note is followed by a mandolin / guitar chord containing the remaining ten pitches of the chromatic scale. The twelve pitches are then exposed in melodic order in the vocal part, and repeated in the same order twelve times (the twelfth is incomplete), but with differences in octave registers and in the position of the series vis-à-vis the musical phrases. The first of the twelve notes becomes, successively, the second, third, fourth, and fifth note in the next four phrases, for the reason that Petrarch's eleven-syllable line leaves a leftover note in each repetition of the series. Since the original first note becomes the last note before the final, longest, and most hectic of the three instrumental interludes that separate the poem's four stanzas, and notes 2-12 follow after a considerable break, Schoenberg obviously did not intend the series to be heard integrally.

The instrumental accompaniment provides musical images for textural references, evoking a lion's roar with loud glissandos and tremolos in the strings and clarinets, and, at the word "death" introducing a pulsation alien to the meter of the rest of the piece.

The melodies of the Dance Scene, the Serenade's most popular movement, are also its most immediately memorable. The full Ländler melody (clarinet) and its counter-melody are repeated several times untransposed, rare instances of same-pitch repetition in Schoenberg's "atonal period." Worth mentioning, too, is the interruption of the four-metre ostinato in the mandolin and, later, violin, relieving the three-in-one rhythm.

The violin sings the "Song Without Words" first, followed by cello, then bass clarinet. The guitar accompaniment, with major thirds doubled by viola and cello at the end of the first phrase, recalls 'O alter Duft', the nostalgic concluding piece of Pierrot Lunaire. The final March repeats the first movement, with alterations, including the return of the Ländler as a counter melody, and, shortly before the end, a brief, slow inset combining the principal melodies of the two preceding movements.


In an interview in Berlin, 6 October 1928, Schoenberg introduces his greatest orchestra piece, Variations, Op. 31, with a denigration of American sensibilities: "If it were not for America, we in Europe would be composing only for reduced orchestras, chamber orchestras. But countries with younger cultures and less refined nerves require the monumental".

All of the variations are short and clearly delineated. Their succession follows the tradition of a fast, full-orchestra piece succeeded by a slower one for few instruments, and each with a contrasting character, metre, and sonority. The twelve-tone, or serial, principle that Schoenberg conceived in 1921 and, in the next six years, developed into a new method of composition, achieves fruition in the Variations. One of his goals was to "resurrect an old classicism in order to make a new one possible." Another, which perhaps should be admitted sotto voce, was "to assure the supremacy of German music for at least another hundred years."

Introduction. The music begins softly with a repeated note, B flat, in harp harmonics, answered by basses playing harmonics a minor-third lower (G). Clarinet and bassoon join with a tritone triplet figure that anticipates the twelve-tone series of the work. Other components of the series follow in muted horn, oboe, flute, and trumpet, then a brief, passionate, and large orchestral outburst in accordance with the word 'steigernd'. After this, the BACH motive ("B" is B flat in German letter notation, and "H" is B natural), the principal one of the entire piece - the Variations are Schoenberg's homage to his great predecessor - is sounded in the trombone.

In Variation I the theme is in the bass, at a speed considerably increased by the exact preservation of the ductus and the rhythmic configuration. A subsidiary strand is heard in woodwind pairs playing short legato phrases. The third strand, dovetailing rhythmically with the second, is made up of light staccato motives in strings and horns.

Variation II: This highly contrapuntal piece is a concourse of canons. The principal one is between solo violin and oboe.

Variation III returns to the original theme, now in two horns.

Variation IV distances itself from the original image of the theme in order to intercalate a relatively selfcontained "character piece," here in Waltzertempo.

Variation V, the centrepiece of the Variations, displays the full splendour of the orchestra.

Here it should be observed that the principal orchestral innovation in the Variations is that the basses often play in the cello range, the cellos in the viola range, the violas in the violin, and the violins an octave higher than usual. The melodic line in the violins describes the semi-tone construction of the second hexachord of the series.

Variation VI features a small group of solo instruments.

In Variation VII, the bassoon is the principal voice, not the high tintinnabulating triplet figures produced by piccolo, celesta, glockenspiel, and solo violin.

Variation VIII: The leading part is a canon, by inversion, between oboes and bassoons, each in triple unison, a brilliant sonority. Note the steady rhythm of the string accompaniment, the shifting accents, and the uneven subdivision into groups of twos and threes.

Variation IX departs from the basic metrical scheme, but the new metrical division conveys a sense of temporising.

The Finale is a free, extended epilogue. The sprawling bass recitative with which it begins reminds us of the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It divides into five variously extended sections, each in turn giving way to one of the alternatives. The lovely Grazioso section contains the only solo, duet, and trio music in all of Schoenberg's orchestral music. The BACH motive, last heard in Variation II and at the climax of the central Variation (No. V), reappears at the beginning of the Finale and asserts itself repeatedly with increasing power during the course of it. The piece might be described as a free invention on the name BACH. This motive, in straight, retrograde, and mirrored spellings, dominates, while the pace quickens by fits and starts. Just before the end, a quiet recapitulation of the Theme in an intimate adagio precedes the plunge into the final Presto.


Fuga (a 5 voci) in E flat major, transcribed for orchestra by Schoenberg in 1928, received its première in Vienna, conducted by Anton Webern, on 10 November 1929. The first part of this triple fugue is for woodwinds, two horns, and tuba. Part two features the strings with added punctuation by a few wind instruments and harp. The beginning of part three is scored for brass only, with the whole orchestra gradually joining in. Robert Schumann remarked that Bach's original is "as priceless, deep and full of sound as any piece of music that ever sprang from a true artist's imagination". Schumann would surely agree that this sound is even deeper and fuller in Schoenberg's orchestration.

The unsung text of 'Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist' (Come, God the creator, Holy Ghost), the first of the two organ chorale-preludes that Schoenberg transcribed for large orchestra in 1922, is based on Luther's paraphrase of the ninth-century Whitsunday hymn, 'Veni creator spiritus', and the melody is that of the Gregorian Chant. Bach's elaboration, in 3/8 metre, gives the music a gigue-like character. The rhythmic emphasis on the third, off-beat eighth (quaver) in each bar has traditionally been interpreted as symbolizing the Holy Ghost, the third component of the Trinity. The work comes from the Orgelbüchlein which is (uncertainly) dated to 1714.

The unsung text of 'Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele' is a hymn for the Eucharist, intended for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity. Bach also introduces the melody in his Eucharist cantata, No. 180, and Brahms in one of his Op. 122 organ chorale preludes. Schoenberg's lively metronomic markings (quarter-note [crotchet] equals 94) and his additional indication, Poco allegretto, indicate that he conceived this happy lyrical piece as dance-like in character. The complex interweaving of the instrumental lines and the subdividing of the strings require the utmost attention to dynamics and balances. In the present performance, no attempt has been made to update Schoenberg's ornamentation in the cello part, which plays the chorale melody throughout.

The first performance of the chorale-preludes was by the New York Philharmonic under Josef Stransky on 7 December 1922.

Robert Craft

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