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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arnold Schoenberg - Quintet for Wind Instruments, Op. 26 (1957)

Liner Notes:

Schoenberg's first two creative "periods" were both crowded into the sixteen years before the First World War. During this comparatively short space of time, he traversed such different styles as those of Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4, and Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21. From 1914 to 1923, however, he published no music at all. It would almost surely be incorrect to suppose that his creative powers were simply lying fallow during these years, and were to spring completely rejuvenated to loftier conceptions at their end. Actually, the time was spent in serving two rather brief stretches in the Austrian army, doing some literary writing, sketching the music for Die Jakobsleiter (an oratorio that he was never able to bring himself to complete), and teaching some of his best pupils.

Schoenberg was never a man to write music merely for the sake of doing something. He seems always to have felt that he must have something definite to say, and he preferred that that something should be fresh and new. In his later compositions, this general attitude caused him to avoid exact repetitions of his thematic materials. But in addition to this characteristic, there are reasons for supposing that by 1914 he had come to realize, consciously or unconsciously, that the freedom he had gained through espousing atonal music with its equal use of all twelve tones of the chromatic scale was simply not enough. Music may seem to flourish from a completely free use of fancy, but past centuries have demonstrated very conclusively that the difference between man-made music and that of the birds is that man prefers to work within the prescribed limitations of an organized system of tones.

At any rate, Schoenberg only started to compose once more when he moved to Mödling near Vienna in 1920 and met Josef Matthias Hauer. Schoenberg has hotly maintained that he "invented" the row-technique and, conversely, that he was uninfluenced by Hauer, but those who were close to him during those years, notably Egon Wellesz, have admitted that this was not quite true. However much the row-technique differs from Hauer's Tropes and Grundgestalten, the idea of organizing the twelve tones according to some new principle, together with details of method and terminology, are sparks from Hauer that set Schoenberg's tinder once more in flame.

It is easy to see from the first compositions of this period that the technique had not matured during any previous "fallow" period. The five piano pieces of Opus 23 show a definite striving towards new types of organization, but only the last of them, Walzer, is completely realized in the row-technique. And even it uses the row in the most primitive fashion possible. There is a single 12-tone row, used only in its prime position without recourse to a mirror inversion, and only two statements of the crab of the row are introduced near the end of the piece by way of furnishing accompaniment. In the Serenade for baritone and seven instruments, Op. 24, the picture is not much different. Of its seven movements, the third, V ariationen, is based on a theme of 14 notes (one of the twelve notes is omitted and three are repeated), and only the fourth movement, Sonett Nr. 217 von Petraca, uses the technique consistently. In both movements, the first regular use of the mirror inversion may be found, but still no transpositions of either the row or the mirror. Indeed, the baritone (who sings only in the fourth movement) must negotiate nearly thirteen straight statements of the prime row, varied only rhythmically and by occasional octave displacements of the notes.

With the Suite Ai. Klavier, Op. 25, the first use of a transposition occurs, but even here it is introduced for a special purpose. The row includes a tritone, G to D-flat, and Schoenberg inverts it about an axis that will produce the interval on the same two notes; he also transposes both row and mirror up a tritone, so that the same notes will also appear in these transpositions. Needless to say, the emphasis on these two notes make them predominate throughout the Suite, and Schoenberg has to display considerable ingenuity to restore the balance between his "twelve equal notes."

Thus only with the Wind Quintet, Op. 26, does Schoenberg's experimentation with the method reach its logical and and give us the first composition written with all of the resources that we now associate with the technique. This, of course, is not to say that for Schoenberg the Quintet marks the end of the road. It was, in fact, only a beginning, and periodically he instituted changes in the method to perfect it further. For example, in the Quintet he used the various transpositions merely to provide himself with different series of notes. Since they had no functional significance for him at this stage, he could use more than one transposition simultaneously. Starting with the Begleitungsmusik, Op. 34, however, the transpositions were treated exactly like keys. By using only one at a time, he could establish pitch-levels and build structures resembling the forms of classical music. What he gained thereby from the point of view of form, however, deprived him of a free use of the transpositions and lessened motility in the design of subtly aried themes. It is precisely this characteristic that is exemplified at its richest in the Wind Quintet, making it a work particularly worth close listening and study. To aid in this, the remainder of these notes will be devoted to some old-fashioned thematic analysis on the theory that with this very new-fashioned composition a little guidance may prove helpful.


  • William Kincaid, Flutist
  • John de Lancie, Oboist
  • Anthony Gigliotti, Clarinetist
  • Sol Schoenbach, Bassoonist
  • Mason Jones, French Horn Player
Track List:
  1. I Schwungvoll
  2. II Anmutig und heiter, scherzando
  3. III Etwas langsam
  4. IV Rondo
Download Link: Enjoy the Music!


1 comment:

  1. Sigh, this one would be nice to hear...but thank you for the liner notes transfer!